It Takes a Team: A Profile of Support Staff in American Education

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First-of-its-kind Study Describes "Everyday Heroes" Working In Schools

These workers are critical to the success of a school and the safety of its students, but statistics about their work were scarce and scattered. AFT's report, It Takes a Team: A Profile of Support Staff in American Education, for the first time brings together a wealth of information on salaries, benefits, hours and working conditions of school support workers - paraprofessionals, teacher assistants, secretaries, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, security officers and others.

The report tells the stories of some of the everyday heroes in our nation's schools, including:

  • Patsy Arnold, a bus driver and paraprofessional in Pasco County, Fla. After driving a school bus for nine years, Arnold sought extra training so that she could work as a classroom paraprofessional during the hours she wasn't driving, providing the continuity of attention and care so crucial for special education students.
  • Julia Martinez and Margaret Espinoza of New York City, paraprofessionals at a school just two blocks from the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, they rescued two wheelchair-bound students, even carrying them on their backs when debris and uneven terrain made it impossible to push the wheelchairs.
  • Shirley Magden, a school secretary in Detroit, Mich. Magden bought alarm clocks for elementary students who were tardy because no one at home got them up on time for school.
  • John Wicks, a truant officer and security guard in West Proviso, Ill. Students give Wicks and his colleagues credit for steering them away from trouble and helping to put them on the right path. Wicks attributes his success to his background as a local police officer and a focus on rigorous training.

In addition to collecting profiles and statistics, the report includes data about AFT's school support staff and their efforts to improve working conditions and service to students. The report finds that although they have tremendous responsibilities for the safety, health and education of students, school support staff often struggle with low pay, hazardous working conditions and haphazard training programs.

Among the statistics the report documents:

Approximately 3.5 million workers, nearly 40 percent of school employees, have support staff jobs in K-12 schools and postsecondary institutions. They include approximately 1.2 million teacher assistants; 1.1 million office and administrative service personnel; 460,000 school bus drivers; 440,000 custodial workers; and 190,000 cooks and cafeteria workers.

Wages range widely - from childcare workers who earn an average of $7.18 an hour to boiler operators at colleges and universities who average nearly three times that amount.

Many work part time. In K-12 schools, 37 percent are part-timers; in postsecondary institutions, 21 percent are part-timers.

Nearly two-thirds of AFT's school support staff members (who are part of the union's Paraprofessional and School-Related Personnel Division) have at least some college education.

The full report is available at