Teacher assistants support teachers in providing instruction to their students within the classroom setting. Building on the teacher's lesson plans, they tutor children and help them learn class material. They complement the teacher's role by helping to provide more individual attention to students. Teacher assistants supervise students in the cafeteria, schoolyard, hallway, and on field trips. While some teacher assistants are responsible for only non-instructional tasks, such as monitoring playground or lunchrooms, the majority have both instructional and clerical duties. In secondary schools, teacher assistants often specialize in a certain subject, such as math or science.
Teacher assistants also grade tests and papers, check homework, keep health and attendance records, do typing and filing, and duplicate materials. They also may stock supplies, operate audiovisual equipment, and keep classroom equipment in order. Many work extensively with special education students, increasingly in classroom that integrate special education students with general education students. They help disabled students with physical needs, including feeding, grooming, or riding the school bus.. They may work with students from disadvantaged families, those who speak English as a second language, or those who need remedial education.
Teacher assistants need to have self-initiative and be able to follow a teacher's directions. They should be interested in working with students from many different cultural backgrounds. They need to have the ability to handle classroom situations with patience and fairness. They must have good speaking and writing skills. Teachers who speak a second language besides English are in great demand.
In 2002, teacher assistants earned a median annual salary of $18,660. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $12,900, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $29,050. Part-time teacher assistants usually do not receive benefits, but full-time employees typically receive health coverage and other benefits.
Training and Education
Requirements for teacher assistants range from a high school diploma to some college training, depending on the State. Many employers today prefer to hire applicants who have some college training. Those positions that include a component of classroom instruction usually require more education and training than those that do not have instructional components. Many schools also require a valid driver's license, previous experience working in schools, and the completion of a background check.
2-year and community colleges offer associate degree programs that train students to become teacher assistants. Most teacher assistants receive on-the-job training after they are hired. Those that instruct students need to have a comprehensive understanding of not only the class materials, but also of instructional methods. They also need to know how to operate audiovisual equipment, keep records, and prepare instructional materials, as well as have adequate computer skills. With experience and education, teacher assistants can earn higher salaries and increased responsibilities.
In 2002, teacher assistants held about 1.3 million jobs. Almost 75% work for State and local government education institutions, mostly in preschools and elementary schools. The rest worked in private schools, daycare centers, and religious organizations.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of teacher assistants is expected to grow faster than the average. Overall school enrollment will increase slowly. However, enrollment of special education students and students for whom English is not their first language is expected to grow rapidly. Legislation that requires these students to receive an education that is "equal" to the general student population will create high demand for teacher assistants. Opportunities will be best for those with at least 2 years of formal education after high school.
For more information on how to pursue this profession, please see our Education Degree directory.