ERIC Identifier: ED406362
Publication Date: 1997-04-00
Author: Genzuk, Michael
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teaching and Teacher Education Washington DC.
Diversifying the Teaching Force: Preparing Paraeducators as
Teachers. ERIC Digest.
The current demographic makeup of our student and teaching populations, as
well as the projections for the future, show a striking discontinuity between
teacher and student diversity (American Association of Colleges for Teacher
Education, 1994). The nation's nearly 500,000 paraeducators working in K-12
classrooms embody a promising source of prospective teachers who represent and
may be more rooted in the communities they serve. Paraeducators are school
employees whose responsibilities are either instructional in nature or who
deliver other services to students. They work under the supervision of teachers
or other professional personnel who have the ultimate responsibility for
educational programs (Pickett, 1994). Paraeducator to teacher programs
capitalize on the attributes that paraeducators bring to the program and the
program streamlines their pathway into teaching. These programs foster stronger
school/university collaboration, improved induction into teaching, and more
graduated assumption of teaching roles as knowledge and skills are refined.
Studies suggest that paraeducator to teacher program graduates bring a wealth of
community and student knowledge to their practice, attributes that are highly
regarded in today's diverse classrooms (Haselkorn & Fideler, 1996).
PARAEDUCATORS AS A SOURCE OF FUTURE TEACHERS
reasons, paraeducators have the potential to become the ideal teachers of our
nation s students. They expand the pool of potential teachers from
underrepresented groups. A large percentage of this population have been shown
to be prospective teachers of color (Haselkorn & Fideler, 1996). School
reformers have pointed to the lack of synchrony between home and school culture
as a significant obstacle to minority student achievement (Brice Heath, 1986).
Because paraeducators tend to know their students and communities well they help
make the school experience less alienating and connect it to the students'
cultural experience. In many cases they are native speakers of the students'
languages and provide a sorely needed language resource. They bring with them a
great deal of classroom experience and a sense of how children learn based on
how they themselves learn.
Another compelling indication that paraeducators have great potential for
being outstanding educators is the large number of such individuals currently
employed in schools who have expressed a desire to become teachers. Survey
research estimates that 52% of the Latino paraeducator population in Los Angeles
schools aspired to become teachers before they had become paraeducators. After
having worked as paraeducators for an average of 5 years, 75% now wish to become
teachers (Genzuk, 1995).
High rates of teacher attrition, particularly in urban schools, have
contributed to a wide variety of fiscal, as well as pedagogic concerns.
Paraeducators, with already strong roots in the community, suggest a staying
power that's critically needed (Hentschke, 1995). This not only provides
stability and consistency to schools' instructional programs, but suggests the
cost associated with support for paraeducator-to-teacher programs is more than
offset by savings associated with lower attrition rates in teacher education
programs and among newly hired teachers (Hentschke, 1995).
BARRIERS TO PARAEDCATOR TEACHER PRODUCTION
four primary obstacles that, if mediated, may facilitate successful pathways for
paraeducators attempting to receive teacher certification (Genzuk, Lavadenz, & Krashen, 1994).
Financial. Students of low socioeconomic status depend greatly, if not
entirely, on financial aid to pursue degrees in higher education. Aid, however,
is not easily available. There has been a shift from grants for minority
students to loan programs. Understandably, many paraeducators are less inclined
to incur more indebtedness. In addition, higher education institutions, from
community colleges to 4-year institutions, have made notably few efforts to
secure funding to increase their minority enrollment (Leighton, Hightower, &
Social. It appears that for many students, minority and white students alike,
social factors may strongly influence their educational and occupational
pursuits (Tinto, 1993; Genzuk, 1995). External communities (families,
neighborhoods, and places of work) and their support, or lack thereof, may play
a pivotal role in minority student success at the university. Such communities
may differ from college communities in the values, norms, and behavioral and
intellectual styles that characterize everyday life. As a result, the adaptation
of behaviors and norms appropriate to college may be more difficult for minority
The majority of paraeducators are women who are also responsible for caring
for a family. Lack of support and obligations imposed by spouses, parents, and
children, in addition to other social pressures encountered by paraeducators,
are often obstructive. Houston and Calderon (1991) point out that minorities,
often have no role models to emulate. Many are the first persons from their
family to attend college, and emotional support and encouragement comes only
from their peers at the college. For this reason it could be expected that
persons from backgrounds with low rates of higher educational participation may
face particularly severe barriers in attempting to complete degree programs.
While pressures of family and peers for minority students may be no different in
kind than those for other students, they may however, be more intense.
Academic. Though there is little direct evidence, there is reason to
hypothesize that minority paraeducators attempting to become teachers will run
into more academic problems than other teacher education candidates. For
example, minority candidates have a lower than average pass rate on admissions
tests for teacher education and on teacher competency tests (Gillis, 1991). The
use of tests for teacher certification has reduced the certification rate
disproportionately among minorities even more (Crawford, 1995).
External Communities. Many paraeducators find it daunting to accommodate the
multiple demands of work, family, and studies. The obligations entailed in
employment exemplify how conditions external to the university can be both
detrimental and supportive to minority students. Previous studies have suggested
obligations entailed in employment pull students away from participation in
their college activities (Tinto, 1993). The effect of employment upon
persistence depends in part on how the employer views college attendance. When
employment is not irrelevant to but part of a larger career plan, the effects of
work upon retention may be positive (Astin, 1975). In those situations, the
demands of the external work place may direct the individual towards
college-related activities rather than away. For paraeducators in a Los Angeles
study, external demands at the work site (the school site) were not
countervailing. Indeed, survey data indicated that work-site responsibility
appears to have bolstered the individual's commitment to his or her educational
and professional goals of becoming a teacher (Genzuk, 1995).
Critical to and essential for effective
recruitment and retention of paraeducators into the teaching force are
well-designed paraeducator to teacher programs. Programs designed for the
typical college-bound student may not be appropriate. The literature suggests
that such programs are advanced by considering the following factors:
Financial support--access to grants, scholarships, and other financial aid.
Social support--provision of programs and events for sensitizing the
paraeducator's entire support community to the academic and social pressures
they may encounter including from family, university faculty, school site
personnel, and other external communities.
Academic enrichment--counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and extended programs
for promising candidates who need expanded academic time frameworks to achieve.
School site assisted performance--improved working conditions (salary,
benefits, job security); nurturing, supportive environment mediating career
pathway into teaching including, direct mentoring.
Paraeducators provide a rich source of potential teachers. Teacher educators
and policy makers are increasingly endorsing the concept of an elongated
apprenticeship continuum as part of a new paradigm for the development of a
professional teacher. The paraeducator-to-teacher model provides a promising
example of that continuum.
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