Teacher assistants (sometimes called teacher aides or instructional aides) provide instruction and other types of support to teachers in the classroom. This frees up teachers to spend more time planning lessons, teaching and differentiating instruction for their students. Teacher assistants also can be trained to work with students who have special needs by helping them with daily tasks and accommodating their needs so that they can succeed. Teacher assistant jobs are available in preschools, public K-12 schools and private schools. This can be a rewarding job and is sometimes a stepping stone to a teaching career.
Day in the Life of a Teacher Assistant
The daily responsibilities of a teacher assistant fall into two general categories: student instruction support and administrative support. Key duties may include:
Student instruction support:
- Supervise students in the cafeteria, schoolyard or on field trips
- Assist students using computer technology or educational software
- Present the teacher's lesson plan, under supervision
- Help students access library and internet research resources
- Tutor students outside of class
- Perform classroom demonstrations
- Oversee groups completing in-class projects
- Record grades and prepare instructional materials
- Grade tests and papers
- Set up audio-visual equipment
- Keep health and attendance records
- Stock supplies and maintain classroom equipment
There are some specializations and variations in this career as well. For example:
Teaching assistants may specialize in a particular age group, in ESL support or in special education. Special education teaching assistants attend to the physical needs of students with disabilities and offer individualized attention to students with learning disabilities. They help students with developmental delays or conditions through one-on-one exercises and training games.
The school and classroom setting may also vary. In a Title I school, for instance, a large portion of students come from low-income families. The challenges faced by teachers and TAs in an inner-city school are usually quite different than those in a rural school. Some private schools have fewer students per class than do public schools. These and other factors may impact everything from a school's disciplinary problems to the quality of classroom materials available.
Important Characteristics for Teacher Assistants
Ideally, a teacher assistant enjoys working with children and has a patient and supportive demeanor. Other desirable qualities are basic administrative skills and good communication skills (written and spoken). In schools and classrooms with non-native speakers of English, it is helpful for a TA to be bilingual.
Teacher assistant education requirements, as well as training and certification, include the following:
- Complete your high school education. A high school diploma or GED not only provides an important foundation for an education career, but also serves as the minimum qualification for some teaching assistant jobs and all post-secondary teacher training programs.
- Volunteer. Prepare for your career in education by taking part-time or volunteer jobs in childcare, after-school activities and tutoring.
- Train for a teaching assistant job. Education requirements vary by state and school district. On-the-job training is sufficient for some jobs. But most jobs require at least a college-level certificate or associate degree. Common degree fields for teaching assistants include child development, early childhood education, education or applied teacher training.
- On-the-job training. Whether or not you start your first job with a degree, most schools require teaching assistants to complete some on-the-job training. These on-site training programs allow assistants to learn school rules and operation.
- Teacher assistant certification is generally not required to become a TA. However, some states require individuals to pass a state test before working with special-needs students. TAs also can work on the WorkKeys Professional Certificate for Teacher Assistants, offered by ACT, Inc., to make them eligible to work in Title I schools and to demonstrate their competency in reading, writing and math.
To increase your job prospects, build skills in high-demand areas such as ESL, special education, writing and basic computer and library research. You can build your expertise in these areas by taking a class from a local community college or online school.
Teacher assistants who plan to become credentialed teachers will need to earn a bachelor's degree and licensure through their state board of education.
- Teacher Assistants, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/teacher-assistants.htm
- Summary Report - Teacher Assistants, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-9041.00