Teacher Assistants

Significant Points

  • Almost half of all teacher assistants work part time.
  • Educational requirements range from a high school diploma to some college training.
  • Employment is expected to grow faster than average due to the need to assist and monitor students, to provide teachers with clerical assistance, and to help teachers meet the education needs of a growing special education population.

Nature of the Work [About this section]  Index

Teacher assistants, also called teacher aides or instructional aides, provide instructional and clerical support for classroom teachers, allowing teachers more time for lesson planning and teaching. Teacher assistants tutor and assist children in learning class material using the teacher’s lesson plans, providing students with individualized attention. Teacher assistants also supervise students in the cafeteria, schoolyard, school discipline center, or on field trips. They record grades, set up equipment, and help prepare materials for instruction.

Large school districts hire some teacher assistants to perform exclusively non-instructional or clerical tasks, such as monitoring nonacademic settings. Playground and lunchroom attendants are examples of such assistants. Most teacher assistants, however, perform a combination of instructional and clerical duties. They generally instruct children, under the direction and guidance of teachers. They work with students individually or in small groups—listening while students read, reviewing or reinforcing class work, or helping them find information for reports. At the secondary school level, teacher assistants often specialize in a certain subject, such as math or science. Teacher assistants often take charge of special projects and prepare equipment or exhibits, such as for a science demonstration. Some assistants work in computer laboratories, helping students using computers and educational software programs.

In addition to instructing, assisting, and supervising students, teacher assistants grade tests and papers, check homework, keep health and attendance records, type, file, and duplicate materials. They also stock supplies, operate audiovisual equipment, and keep classroom equipment in order.

Many teacher assistants work extensively with special education students. Schools are becoming more inclusive, integrating special education students into general education classrooms. As a result, teacher assistants in general education and special education classrooms increasingly assist students with disabilities. Teacher assistants attend to a disabled student’s physical needs, including feeding, teaching good grooming habits, or assisting students riding the school bus. They also provide personal attention to students with other special needs, such as those whose families live in poverty, or students who speak English as a second language, or who need remedial education. Teacher assistants help assess a student’s progress by observing performance and recording relevant data.

Working Conditions [About this section]  Index

Almost half of all teacher assistants work part time. Most assistants who provide educational instruction work the traditional 9- to 10-month school year, usually in a classroom setting. Teacher assistants work outdoors supervising recess when weather allows, and spend much of their time standing, walking, or kneeling.

Seeing students develop and gain appreciation of the joy of learning can be very rewarding. However, working closely with students can be both physically and emotionally tiring. Teacher assistants who work with special education students often perform more strenuous tasks, including lifting, as they help students with their daily routine. Those who perform clerical work may tire of administrative duties, such as copying materials or typing.

Employment [About this section]  Index

Teacher assistants held about 1.2 million jobs in 1998. About 86 percent worked in public and private education, mostly in the elementary grades. A significant number assisted special education teachers in working with disabled children. Most of the others worked in child day care centers and religious organizations.

Training, Other Qualifications, & Advancement [About this section]  Index

Educational requirements for teacher assistants range from a high school diploma to some college training. Teacher assistants with instructional responsibilities usually require more training than those who do not perform teaching tasks. Increasingly, employers prefer teacher assistants who have some college training. Some teacher assistants are aspiring teachers who are working towards their degree while gaining experience. Many schools require previous experience in working with children. Schools often require a valid driver’s license and perform a background check on applicants.

A number of 2-year and community colleges offer associate degree programs that prepare graduates to work as teacher assistants. However, most teacher assistants receive on-the-job training. Those who tutor and review lessons with students must have a thorough understanding of class materials and instructional methods, and should be familiar with the organization and operation of a school. Teacher assistants also must know how to operate audiovisual equipment, keep records, and prepare instructional materials, as well as have adequate computer skills.

Teacher assistants should enjoy working with children from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, and be able to handle classroom situations with fairness and patience. Teacher assistants also must demonstrate initiative and a willingness to follow a teacher’s directions. They must have good writing skills and be able to communicate effectively with students and teachers. Teacher assistants who speak a second language, especially Spanish, are in great demand to communicate with growing numbers of students and parents whose primary language is not English.

About half of all States have established guidelines or minimum educational standards for the hiring and training of teacher assistants, and an increasing number of States are in the process of implementing them. Although requirements vary by State, most require an individual to have at least a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (G.E.D.), or some college training. In States that have not established guidelines or minimum educational standards, local school districts determine hiring requirements.

Advancement for teacher assistants, usually in the form of higher earnings or increased responsibility, comes primarily with experience or additional education. Some school districts provide time away from the job or tuition reimbursement so that teacher assistants can earn their bachelor’s degrees and pursue licensed teaching positions. In return for tuition reimbursement, assistants are often required to teach a certain length of time for the school district.

Job Outlook [About this section]  Index

Employment of teacher assistants is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2008. Student enrollments are expected to rise, spurring demand for teacher assistants to assist and monitor students and provide teachers with clerical assistance. Teacher assistants will also be required to help teachers meet the educational needs of a growing special education population, particularly as these students are increasingly assimilated into general education classrooms. Education reform and the rising number of students who speak English as a second language will continue to contribute to the demand for teacher assistants. In addition to jobs stemming from employment growth, numerous job openings will arise as workers transfer to other occupations, leave the labor force to assume family responsibilities, return to school, or leave for other reasons—characteristic of occupations that require limited formal education and offer relatively low pay.

The number and size of special education programs are growing in response to increasing enrollments of students with disabilities. Federal legislation mandates appropriate education for all children, and emphasizes placing disabled children into regular school settings, when possible. Children with special needs require much personal attention, and special education teachers, as well as general education teachers with special education students, rely heavily on teacher assistants. At the secondary school level, teacher assistants work with special education students as job coaches, and help students make the transition from school to work.

School reforms that call for more individual instruction should further enhance employment opportunities for teacher assistants. Schools are hiring more teacher assistants to provide students with the personal instruction and remedial education they need.

Teacher assistant employment is sensitive to changes in State and local expenditures for education. Pressures on education budgets are greater in some States and localities than in others. A number of teacher assistant positions, such as those in Head Start classrooms, are financed through Federal Government programs, which are affected by budget constraints.

Earnings [About this section]  Index

Median hourly earnings of teacher assistants in 1998 were $7.61. The middle 50 percent earned between $6.08 and $9.51. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $5.61 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $11.27. Median hourly earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of teacher assistants in 1997 were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools $7.30
Colleges and universities 7.10
Individual and family services 7.10
Child day care services 6.50
Local government, except education and hospitals 6.00

About 3 out of 10 teacher aides belonged to unions in 1998—mainly the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—which bargain with school systems over wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of employment.

Related Occupations [About this section]  Index

Teacher assistants who instruct children have duties similar to those of preschool, elementary, and secondary school teachers and school librarians. However, teacher assistants do not have the same level of responsibility or training. The support activities of teacher assistants and their educational backgrounds are similar to those of child-care workers, family day care providers, library technicians, and library assistants.

Sources of Additional Information [About this section]  Index

Disclaimer: Links to other Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

For information on teacher assistants, including training and certification, contact:

  • American Federation of Teachers, Paraprofessional and School Related Personnel Division, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001. Internet: http://www.aft.org/psrp

For information on a career as a teacher assistant, contact:

School superintendents and State departments of education can provide details about employment requirements.

An industry employing teacher assistants that appears in the 2000-01 Career Guide to Industries: Educational services

O*NET Codes: 31521 & 53905 About the O*NET codes

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