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Head of the Class: RSD Paraprofessional Becomes Teacher

  • Teacher works with studentWe use the term #RSDProud often in the Reading School District because that’s what we have — great pride in our staff who are dedicated every day to providing students with excellent academic experiences, the resources they need to succeed, and the encouragement to reach and exceed their potential.

    Today we’re spotlighting Saeeda Biswas, a Reading paraprofessional-turned-teacher. We spoke with Saeeda Biswas, Kimberly Jones and Rebecca Titus to understand how paraprofessionals interested in becoming a teacher can follow Saeeda, and what challenges or barriers they may face.

    “Being a paraprofessional can be a great stepping stone for when someone is going to school to be a teacher,” said Kimberly Jones, Paraprofessional at Reading High School and President of the Reading Educational Support Professionals Association, the union that represents the District’s paraprofessionals and parent outreach assistants. . “A lot of our paraprofessionals live within the school community. Paraprofessionals are vital for students because they are with students day-in and day-out. We are their constant. The students know they can come to us for help.”

    Saeeda Biswas agrees. “I know how difficult it is to study English as a second language. I know many of the barriers that students face today. I plan to help my students navigate and overcome those barriers to thrive as productive citizens of our society and be successful in their future careers.” Saeeda did that as a paraprofessional, and beginning in March 2022, she is also doing that as a Reading School District teacher.

    Paraprofessionals in the Reading School District already have a high school diploma or GED, and some have college credits. To be eligible, candidates must hold either an associate's degree, have completed 48 college credits, or have passed the state-approved paraprofessional test (a requirement under Title I), which can be given by the District at no cost to the applicant as part of the hiring process. Paraprofessionals supporting Special Education or English as a Second Language programs may have additional requirements. Building on those qualifications, if they are interested in becoming a teacher, Reading School District stands ready to support them.

    “The advice I would offer to someone looking to become a paraprofessional is to be flexible, supportive, a good listener, and patient,” said Jones. “We encourage the children to be independent and give them organizational skills for their future. It is a very rewarding profession.”

    Once a paraprofessional is hired, Reading School District provides the training they need at no cost. If a paraprofessional wants to further their training to become a teacher, the District offers a tuition reimbursement program of up to 6 credits per year at $350 per credit.

    Working as a paraprofessional positioned Saeeda Biswas well on her journey to become a teacher. “I started as a paraprofessional in 2016 at Riverside Elementary. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences there, working in so many various areas: helping with door duty, lunch duty, PSSA duty, MTSS Student Services, virtual services, acceleration, daycare, late pick-up, bus duty, reading specialists, and more! I gained so much from this meaningful training and observation. It also drove my desire to develop my skills and become a certified teacher.”

    Rebecca Titus, President of the Reading Education Association, the union that represents the District’s teachers, nurses, social workers, and counselors, believes that paraprofessionals gain invaluable skills that prepare them to transition into a teaching role. “Working as a paraprofessional allows for hands-on experience with a multitude of learners. Book knowledge is very different from real-world knowledge, and working directly with students allows for an individual to be better prepared for all the possible scenarios educators face.”

    When asked what advice they have to share for anyone interested in making the transition from paraprofessional to teacher, Rebecca Titus had this advice:

    • Work closely with the teachers whose classrooms you are in. Collaborate with the teacher regarding lesson planning, parent contacts, assessments, classroom management techniques, and differentiating instruction for students. 

    • Learn from seeing many different teaching styles and being able to implement techniques that work best for your students. 

    “If I can do it, you can do it!” Saeeda Biswas shared, “Getting my teacher's license was a lot of work for me. I just had my second child; I was taking care of a big family, and on top of that, English is my second language. So when I first started the program, it was difficult because I had to learn how to study and be a student again. What helped me was the support and encouragement from the Reading School District, my colleagues, and of course, my family. I was so lucky to be a part of the Riverside family and be an employee at Reading School District.”

    “I had some fantastic classroom teachers as mentors. I also received some financial assistance from the Reading School District. Everyone stood behind me and supported me as I reached my goals. It was confusing and scary at times but ultimately rewarding. I can’t wait to be a role model for my students and plan to share my story to help motivate them.” 

    Reading paraprofessionals interested in pursuing a teaching certification are encouraged to contact their school principal or Human Resources for additional information. Reading School District offers a tuition reimbursement program up to 6 credits per year at $350 per credit for all bargaining groups.