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Instructional Assistant vs. Paraprofessional: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

Instructional assistants and paraprofessionals are both important members of a school’s support staff. They work with students, teachers and other school personnel to provide assistance and ensure that everyone has the resources they need to be successful. While instructional assistants and paraprofessionals share some similarities, there are also several key differences between the two roles. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between instructional assistants and paraprofessionals, and we provide information on what you need to know to pursue either of these careers.

What is an Instructional Assistant?

Instructional Assistants work in classrooms alongside teachers to provide one-on-one or small group instruction to students. They may also be responsible for grading assignments, preparing materials and leading activities. Instructional Assistants typically have a high school diploma, although some positions may require postsecondary education, and must complete a training program specific to their state. They must also pass a background check. Instructional Assistants typically work in public schools, although some may work in private schools or childcare centers.

What is a Paraprofessional?

Paraprofessionals, also called Paraprofs or Paraeducators, work with students in a variety of settings to provide academic, behavioral and emotional support. They often work with students who have special needs, such as those with physical, developmental or mental disabilities. Paraprofessionals typically work under the supervision of a licensed teacher and may be responsible for leading small groups of students, providing one-on-one instruction or working with students in a general classroom setting. They also often develop and implement behavior plans, assist with communication between families and school staff and provide emotional support to students.

Instructional Assistant vs. Paraprofessional

Here are the main differences between an instructional assistant and a paraprofessional.

Job Duties

Instructional assistants typically perform a wide variety of duties that help teachers and students succeed. Their job responsibilities may include helping students with disabilities learn how to read, assisting general education students with writing assignments and taking standardized tests and providing emotional support to students who are struggling. Instructional assistants also often assist teachers by running classroom activities, managing student behavior and maintaining order in the classroom.

Paraprofessionals usually work with students with intellectual or developmental disabilities. They may provide one-on-one instruction on life skills like cooking, cleaning or personal finance. Paraprofessionals may also assist general education students by monitoring their behavior in class or helping them organize their homework and study for exams.

Job Requirements

Instructional assistants and paraprofessionals typically need at least a high school diploma to enter the field. However, some employers may prefer candidates with an associate degree or some college coursework related to education. Many instructional assistants and paraprofessionals also complete on-the-job training to learn specific skills they need for their position. For example, instructional assistants who work with students who have special needs might receive training in how to effectively communicate with these students.

Work Environment

Instructional assistants and paraprofessionals typically work in schools, but their job duties may differ depending on the school’s needs. Instructional assistants often work directly with students to help them learn new skills or complete assignments. They may also assist teachers by providing additional support for students who need it. Paraprofessionals usually work in classrooms as classroom aides, where they provide assistance to teachers and students.


There are several similarities in the skills used by instructional assistants and paraprofessionals. Both groups need to have excellent communication skills, as they will be working with students, teachers and parents on a daily basis. They also both need to be patient and organized, as they will often be helping students who require extra assistance or who have special needs.

However, there are some differences in the skills used by these two groups. Instructional assistants typically need to have more formal education than paraprofessionals, as they often need to possess at least an associate’s degree. They also may benefit from having teaching experience or knowledge of curriculum development. Paraprofessionals, on the other hand, tend to focus more on providing one-on-one support to students and may not need as much formal education. However, they still need to have a strong understanding of the subject matter they will be assisting with.


Instructional assistants and paraprofessionals both work in educational settings, but they have different responsibilities. Instructional assistants typically earn an average salary of $36,421 per year, while paraprofessionals earn an average salary of $34,281 per year.


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