It’s an umbrella term for a position that has multiple names with multiple hats. Teacher’s helper, teacher’s assistant, instructional assistant, teacher’s aide, and paraprofessional all mean the same when it comes to this position and to what it entails.
Paraprofessional is a title given to individuals in various occupational fields, such as education, healthcare, engineering, and law. In terms of education, key skills necessary to become an educational paraprofessional include a nurturing demeanor, people skills, patience, communication skills, spreadsheet software, data entry, and educational software. Paraprofessionals mainly help with paperwork such as making copies or preparing projects for students to work on. There are districts where paraprofessionals can serve as lunch aides and school secretaries.
Regarding employment, paraprofessionals can either be hired by the district or a third-party agency. One can find paraprofessionals in elementary and secondary school settings.
Now in my experience, a paraprofessional worked closely with the lead teacher of a class to assist a student that had an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) should a student have a learning disability (ADHD, Dyslexia, cognitive issues, etc.), special education, or behavioral issues (ABA–Applied Behavior Analysis) (Very Well Family–Understanding the Role of Paraprofessionals).
The “para”, as they would be called for short, would help with modifications and accommodations for the student/s that they would work with such as differentiating tests and assignments, seating arrangements, assisting them to the resource center. Basically, paras have to make sure the students they are assigned to have their needs met.
In regards to the IEP, it is a legal document under United States law that is developed for each public school child in the U.S. who needs special education. It is a document that most paraprofessionals do not have access to view or read. This document is reviewed among the teacher/s, district personnel and the students’ parents. The lead teacher advises the paraprofessional on how to work with the student but cannot show this legal document due to district protocol.
To become a para, one needs to have 60 college credits along with having their fingerprints on record. Paraprofessionals need to have a high school diploma or GED. Most employers would prefer that their paras have completed a college education, at least obtain an associate or a bachelor’s degree. Before starting work, a paraprofessional has to obtain training and/or certification.