Paraprofessionals earn less than other school-based staff and commonly juggle multiple responsibilities while working full time and raising families. Going back to school to get a teaching license or college degree can be expensive and incredibly difficult, and a part-time college program could take years to complete.

Education leaders who want to bolster a more diverse teaching workforce have a few tools to better support these professionals to become teachers. They can support or create flexible educator preparation programs so paraprofessionals can take classes in the evenings or on weekends. In partnership with schools and districts, higher education institutions can design and implement programs that credit paraprofessionals for the significant, relevant work and life experience they’ve gained. For example, Equity Unbound, the program I co-launched in partnership with College Unbound, can be completed in less than three years, resulting in a bachelor’s degree. College Unbound counts past college credits and life experiences towards degree requirements.

Once engaged in an educator preparation program, paraprofessionals, like any person, can benefit from an extensive support network. Each of the participants in our program has a dedicated adviser who provides one-to-one coaching and plays multiple roles, including academic problem-solver, confidante, success coach, consultant and motivational speaker. Additionally, they meet weekly to discuss opportunities, challenges and overall progress.

State and local government leaders can also play a pivotal role in supporting access to flexible educator pathway programs. They can allocate funding for paraprofessionals to become certified teachers and support partnerships among higher education institutions, community-based organizations, and schools and districts that implement alternative preparation programs. Through a generous grant from NewSchools Venture Fund, we were able to provide the majority of our program participants with scholarships to offset the costs of attending college. We’re looking to develop partnerships with government entities in addition to foundations to ensure a sustainable cost-sharing model so participants’ finances don’t limit their participation.

Read the full article about diverse teacher workforce by Carlon Howard at The 74.