Paraprofessional-to-teacher programs: Experiences of the participants

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Joseph Shedd


Paraprofessional-to-teacher, Teacher aide, Certification programs, Program completion

Subject Categories

Education | Family, Life Course, and Society | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Teacher Education and Professional Development


This study describes the experiences of paraprofessionals who completed paraprofessional-to-teacher certification programs at three urban centered programs in New York State. Previous studies about paraprofessionals have been conducted to identify and evaluate the efficacy of paraprofessional-to-teacher programs across the country. Others assessed whether paraprofessional-to-teacher programs: increased minority teachers in the profession, increased teacher career longevity, influenced improved performance for paraprofessionals who became teachers, or had an impact on minority paraprofessional-turned-teacher in the areas of student literacy. Results of those studies speak to the enhanced professional characteristics of the paraprofessional-turned-teachers and the rich personal and classroom experiences they bring to the profession.

Little of the existing research is based on the individual perspectives of the paraprofessional-turned-teachers themselves, or about the factors that enable or inhibit individuals who make the journey. Although there are many programs developed for the purpose of assisting paraprofessionals to become teachers, little is understood about the experiences of participants who complete the journey, or what enabled them to do so. This study is limited to an exploration of the phenomena from the perspectives of program "completers." It reveals the experiences of 15 paraprofessionals who completed paraprofessional-to-teacher programs in Buffalo, Rochester and New York City. Data collection techniques included meetings with program administrators at each site, a review of available program brochures and related collective bargaining agreements, and interviews with participants from each program.

A goal of the study was to uncover experiences that enabled or inhibited this dedicated group of "completers" in their pursuit of the teaching profession. What it determined is that paraprofessionals often start the journey from a disadvantaged perspective, including: educational levels, financial status, language or cultural barriers, family obligations and incomplete knowledge of opportunities. Yet, despite the barriers they faced, the paraprofessionals in this study created their own pathways toward the profession by making connections to a variety of resources. Among them, the "completers" in the study seized educational opportunities, thrived through mentored relationships, re-created their own family structures and tenaciously, albeit sometimes slowly, completed their programs of study.

The findings of this study provide a clearer understanding about the personal, educational and professional experiences of paraprofessionals who pursue and complete paraprofessional-to-teacher programs. By drawing on the knowledge and experiences of those who successfully complete the transition, it is anticipated that future paraprofessional-to-teacher candidates and programs will be better informed through a deeper understanding of those experiences. It is clear that this learned and experienced pool enriches the educational community. Through the reflections of their journeys, future and existing paraprofessional-to-teacher programs can continue their focus on this experienced pool of candidates.


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