The following is a column submitted by Mendocino County Superintendent of Schools Michelle Hutchins, published here as a letter-to-the-editor:
When we talk about jobs in education, most of us think of teaching. The truth is education requires a whole host of people doing all sorts of jobs to provide students with the support they need to succeed. We transport children to and from school—with bus drivers. We feed students—with food service employees. We give them additional attention and support—with paraprofessionals (instructional aides). We provide clean, safe environments for learning—with custodians and maintenance workers.
When students returned to the classroom after more than a year of remote learning, schools began hiring for vacant positions, but fears about COVID reduced the number of applicants. I’m here to let you know, schools are a great place to work—specifically because they have so many safety measures in place! In October, the Mendocino County Public Health Department hosted a meeting of local K-12 leaders where Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren complimented attendees on how well schools had minimized the risk of infection.
COVID does exist in our communities, but schools are safer than many workplaces. On school campuses, everyone wears masks indoors, schools continue to clean and disinfect high-traffic areas, and regular testing occurs. And with the approval of COVID vaccines for students as young as five years old, we have another layer of protection for students and staff.
So, this is a great time to consider a career in education. Here are some options.
Schools throughout Mendocino County need bus drivers. Being a bus driver requires special training and a special license, and because drivers interact with students, they must pass a rigorous background check and drug screening. The work is done via a split shift (transporting students in the morning and then again in the afternoon with a break in the middle). Most positions are part-time and pay between $16.06 and $31.00 per hour Some districts are combining bus driving with maintenance work, so employees have a full-time position, but even with this creative solution, it is difficult to find enough drivers.
Paraprofessional – Instructional Aide
If bus driving isn’t your thing, maybe you’d prefer to become an instructional or special education paraprofessional (aide). Teachers depend on paraprofessionals to assist with several important tasks. For example, in any given subject, students range from proficient to struggling. When a teacher has the support of a “para,” the teacher can provide information at a slower pace for those who need it. Paras also help by preparing materials, grading, working with the class while the teacher attends to a specific situation, and so much more. Special education paras work with students who have developmental disabilities and other challenges. These paras accompany students with special needs to help them overcome learning challenges.
To become a para, you do not need a college degree, but you must pass the paraprofessional exam, which is usually at the educational level of an associate’s degree. Paras are always under the guidance of a teacher, using the curriculum and instructional plans provided by the teacher. Paraprofessionals usually work part time and positions pay between $13.72 and $25.50 per hour, depending on the district.
The next job in high demand is a food service worker. Preparing and serving nutritious meals to students provides students with the fuel they need to succeed. Many students throughout the county depend on school meals for good nutrition. In many schools, we provide both breakfast and lunch, and this year, all school meals are provided to all students free of charge. Food service workers earn between $13.72 and $25.50 per hour.
Another important job is that of custodian. The great thing about this position is that work is often done after hours, allowing it to serve as a second job. Custodians, in partnership with the daytime maintenance crew, help keep classrooms clean and safe. Custodial work involves cleaning floors, bathrooms, and other areas. Custodians earn between $14.13 and $28.12 per hour.
If you’re looking for work and like the idea of helping children, consider working in education. They say one of the biggest determining factors of success for children is the presence of a consistent and supportive adult in their life. That could be a teacher, of course, but it could just as easily be a bus driver, a para, or any number of other adults working in education.