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Para-educators Who Want to Become Teachers Purpose of Changing Program

Kristin Courtney

Faculty member Kristin Courtney has been a leader in the development of the paraeducator program.

By Lorraine Nelson

A new version of an existing teaching degree and credential program is starting on campus this summer with its first cohort of students.

The program is for para-educators—also known as instructional assistants or teacher’s aides—to get a master’s degree in teaching and a teaching credential while continuing to work, compared to the traditional master’s degree in teaching (MIT) which is a fast-paced, 13-month program that necessitates people take a year off work.

“The programs both require a bachelor’s degree for admission and are for people who got their undergraduate degrees before deciding they wanted to be a teacher,” said Janet Frost, Ph.D., academic director of the WSU College of Education’s Spokane office. Through a series of afternoon and evening classes over a period of two school years and three summers the new para-educators program offers people the opportunity to become certified K-8 teachers.

“The para-educators program will address a teacher shortage in the community, particularly in special education,” Frost said.

An information night held in January on the WSU Spokane campus drew 35 interested para-educators from local schools.

Frost credits faculty member and MIT program coordinator, Kristin Courtney, Ph.D., with taking a leadership role in developing the para-educator program.

“The idea for this new approach came from similar programs offered by the College of Education on the Tri-Cities and Vancouver campuses,” Frost said. “The difference is that the para-educators on those two campuses are offered undergraduate degree programs, but this one is for people who already have undergraduate degrees and want the teaching credential.”

Demand for the traditional MIT program in Spokane has declined over the last several years due to the difficulty of balancing a job while enrolled in the program, and so adjusting the timing of courses to better support working professionals was a goal of this adapted program.

In addition to their work with new teachers, faculty in Spokane have expertise in math and science education, educational psychology, and educational leadership and participating in teaching classes via videoconference to students on other WSU campuses. Several also participate in operating the Health Sciences STEM Education Research Center on campus and a professional development program for teachers of science—Project Lead the Way.

For more information about degrees and credentials available from the WSU Spokane campus, go to