Dear Paraprofessional, Paraeducator, Teacher’s Aide and Instructional Assistant,

I see you.

I see you working so hard with the students you love. I see you celebrating when a previously unknown concept is grasped by a student who has been struggling to learn it. I see you building amazing relationships with the students you’re with all day, every day, five days a week.

I see you because I was you.

For seven years, I worked as a paraprofessional. I followed the lesson plans, implemented the behavior supports and supported the strategies developed by the classroom teachers. I offered ideas of my own, too. So much so that, one day, my principal looked at me and asked, “When are you going to get your teaching certification?” I let the comment slide. I was a mom and already working full-time. Perhaps you’ve thought of going to school for teaching certification and come up with your own list of “why nots.” It’s impossible . . . right? But then again, why not?

I couldn’t get the thought out of my head or heart. For years, I had worked in the field I loved with students I adored, but suddenly, my dreams grew bigger. I imagined what I would do in my own classroom, the ideas I would love to try and strategies I was sure would work. Chances are you’ve had the same thoughts.

Still, I didn’t think I could actually make it work. Going back to school would take up a lot of time in my already full schedule, and I’m sure you have a tight schedule of your own. It would be a huge investment, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that this was something I was supposed to do. I would be able to make more of a difference in the classroom and in the lives of my students.

Paraprofessionals are in unique positions to return as college students or seek an education degree. Having the opportunity to be in a classroom for years, we have seen what has worked, what could be improved and developed ideas for how to do so. We can do more, so why not do more?

I decided to take the leap.

I knew traditional classes would not work for me. There was no way I would be able to attend lectures on campus. I needed flexibility in my schedule and looked for ways I could make going back to school work for me. I kept coming back to distance learning courses that I could take online, such as the degree paths offered online through The University of West Alabama.

Become Certified to Teach

The University of West Alabama offers several undergraduate programs designed for students who have already been working in education as a paraprofessional or instructional aide.

Explore Teaching Degrees

The flexibility of online classes allows students to set their own schedules. If I had to complete an assignment on a weekend, wait to listen to a presentation until after my daughter went to bed or wake up early to answer a discussion question, I could. Through the option of an online degree, so many of my “why nots” were solved. Suddenly, I could see my dream becoming a reality.

The next step was to find the degree option that was right for me.

As paraprofessionals, returning to school to earn our teaching certifications gives us the opportunity to showcase our skill sets. It lets us utilize the real-world experience we’ve garnered over the years and apply it to our assignments. We can be vital team members when working with our classmates and provide insight into a classroom because we’ve been there. And once the degree is earned, we are ready to step into a different classroom: one of our own.

The University of West Alabama offers several undergraduate programs designed for students who have already been working in education as a paraprofessional or instructional aide:

In May 2018, after seven years of working as a paraprofessional, I reached my goal and walked across the stage to graduate with my master’s degree in education to become a special education teacher. I recently completed my first year of teaching, and it was everything I thought it would be and more. I was able to draw from my experiences as a paraprofessional to establish effective classroom routines, positive behavior strategies, and classroom management. As a first-year teacher, I definitely felt like I was ahead of the curve of understanding the ins and outs of working in a school environment and in a special education classroom. Everything I thought I could do while working as a paraprofessional came to fruition once I decided to take the leap and go back to school to earn my teaching certification.

It was hard work, but the flexibility of online courses made the dream of becoming a teacher attainable when I thought it wasn’t possible. The investment I made in myself has been so worth it. My only regret is not doing it sooner.

If you’ve been considering earning your teaching certification or  thought “I could do more,” consider this letter a personal invitation to explore your options. Never settle. Never lessen your dreams and goals. Take the leap. You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author

This blog post was written by guest contributor Rebekah Poe of Lessons and Lattes. Rebekah is a resource teacher for kindergarten through third grade in Birmingham, Alabama. You can follow her on her blog or on Instagram @lessons_and_lattes.