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Paraprofessional vs. Substitute Teacher: What Are the Differences?

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

Paraprofessionals and substitute teachers are both important roles in the education field. Paraprofessionals work closely with students and teachers to provide support in the classroom, while substitute teachers fill in for absent teachers. If you’re interested in working in education, understanding the similarities and differences between these two positions can help you decide which is right for you. In this article, we compare paraprofessionals and substitute teachers, including their duties, responsibilities and required qualifications.

What is a Paraprofessional?

Paraprofessionals work in a variety of settings, including schools, hospitals and private practices, to provide support to professionals in their field. In schools, Paraprofessionals typically work with students who have special needs, such as those with physical, emotional or learning disabilities. They may help students with their schoolwork, act as a liaison between teachers and parents, or provide one-on-one instruction. In hospitals, Paraprofessionals may work as patient advocates, providing emotional support and practical assistance to patients and their families. In private practices, Paraprofessionals may provide administrative support or clinical care under the supervision of a licensed professional.

What is a Substitute Teacher?

Substitute Teachers fill in for absent teachers on a short-term basis. They typically work on an as-needed basis, which can include days, weeks or even months, depending on the school’s needs. Substitute Teachers must be able to quickly adapt to new surroundings and lesson plans. They typically teach the same lesson that the absent teacher left behind, but they may also be asked to teach a different lesson if the school’s needs have changed. Substitute Teachers must be able to keep students engaged and on task while also maintaining a positive learning environment.

Paraprofessional vs. Substitute Teacher

Here are the main differences between a paraprofessional and a substitute teacher.

Job Duties

Paraprofessionals and substitute teachers share some of their job duties. They both prepare for the day by reviewing class materials, lesson plans or student files. They also help students with academic work such as completing homework assignments and answering questions about course material. Paraprofessionals and substitute teachers may differ in the level of assistance they provide to students. A paraprofessional may focus more on providing support with classroom management and behavior management techniques.

Another difference is that a paraprofessional may have additional responsibilities at school. For example, they may be responsible for overseeing after-school activities, such as sports or clubs. They may also assist other staff members when needed, such as by helping with technology or filing paperwork.

Job Requirements

Paraprofessionals typically need to have at least a high school diploma, although some jobs may require an associate’s degree or postsecondary coursework. Many paraprofessionals also complete training programs offered by their employers. Substitute teachers usually need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, although some school districts may allow candidates with a high school diploma to substitute teach on a limited basis. Many states also require substitute teachers to complete a training program before they can work in the classroom.

Work Environment

Substitute teachers work in a variety of environments, depending on the school district and grade level they teach. They may work in elementary schools, middle schools or high schools. Paraprofessionals typically work in special education classrooms for students with disabilities. These professionals also work in K-12 settings, but their work environment is more specialized than that of substitute teachers.


Both paraprofessionals and substitute teachers work with students in a school setting. Paraprofessionals typically provide support to students with special needs, while substitute teachers fill in for absent teachers. Both roles require excellent communication skills, as they need to be able to effectively communicate with students, parents/guardians and other staff members.

Paraprofessionals also need to have strong organizational skills to keep track of the individualized education plans (IEPs) for the students they work with. They may also need to be able to lift students or assist them with physical activities, so physical strength can be important in this role. Substitute teachers do not typically need to have the same level of physical strength, but they must be able to maintain control of a classroom full of students.


Paraprofessionals can earn an average salary of $34,281 per year, while substitute teachers can earn an average salary of $29,824 per year. The average salary for both positions may vary depending on the state in which you work, the school district you work for and the level of education you have.


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