Teacher assistants work with a licensed teacher to give students additional attention and instruction.

Duties

Teacher assistants typically do the following:

  • Reinforce lessons by reviewing material with students one-on-one or in small groups
  • Follow school and class rules to teach students proper behavior
  • Help teachers with recordkeeping, such as taking attendance and calculating grades
  • Get equipment or materials ready to help teachers prepare for lessons
  • Supervise students outside of the classroom, such as between classes, during lunch and recess, and on field trips

Teacher assistants also are called teacher aidesinstructional aidesparaprofessionalseducation assistants, and paraeducators.

Teacher assistants work with or under the guidance of a licensed teacher. Reviewing with students individually or in small groups, teacher assistants help reinforce the lessons that teachers introduce.

Teacher assistants may provide feedback to teachers for monitoring student progress. Some teacher assistants meet regularly with teachers to discuss lesson plans and students’ development.

Some teacher assistants work only with special education students.  When special education students attend regular classes, these teacher assistants help them understand the material and adapt the information to their learning style. Teacher assistants may also work with students who have severe disabilities in separate classrooms. They help these students with basic needs, such as eating or personal hygiene. Teacher assistants may help young adults with disabilities to learn skills necessary for finding a job or living independently after graduation.

Some teacher assistants help in specific areas. For example, they may work in a computer laboratory, helping students use programs or software. Others may work as cafeteria attendants, supervising students during lunchtime.

Teacher assistants in childcare centers work with a lead teacher to provide individualized attention that young children need. They help with educational activities, supervise the children at play, and help with feeding and other basic care.

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Work Environment

Teacher assistants held about 1.4 million jobs in 2018. The largest employers of teacher assistants were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 69%
Child day care services 10
Elementary and secondary schools; private                                      8

Teacher assistants may spend some time outside, when students are at recess or getting on and off the bus. They may need to lift the students at certain times.

Injuries and Illnesses

Teacher assistants sometimes get injured on the job. They actively work with students, including lifting and otherwise assisting special education students, which can place them at risk for injuries such as strains.

Work schedules

Some teacher assistants work part time. Some monitor students on school buses before and after school. Although many do not work during the summer, some work in year-round schools or assist teachers in summer school.

Education and Training

Teacher assistants typically need to have completed at least 2 years of college coursework.

Education

Teacher assistants in public schools need at least 2 years of college coursework or an associate’s degree. Those who work in schools with a Title 1 program (a federal program for schools that have a large proportion of students from low-income households) must have at least a 2-year degree, 2 years of college, or pass a state or local assessment.

Associate’s degree programs for teacher assistants prepare participants to develop educational materials, observe students, and understand the role of teaching assistants in working with classroom teachers.

Most states require teacher assistants who work with special-needs students to pass a skills test.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Some jobs may require staff to have certifications in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid.

Advancement

Teacher assistants may become a kindergarten and elementary school teacher, middle school teacher, high school teacher, or special education teacher upon obtaining additional education, training, and a license or certification.

Personality and Interests

Teacher assistants typically have an interest in the Helping and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a teacher assistant, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Teacher assistants should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Teacher assistants need to discuss students’ progress with teachers, so they need to be able to communicate well.

Interpersonal skills. Teacher assistants interact with a variety of people, including teachers, students, parents, and administrators. They need to develop good working relationships with the people they work with.

Patience. Working with students of different abilities and backgrounds can be difficult. Teacher assistants must be patient with students who struggle with material.

Resourcefulness. To reinforce lessons, teacher assistants must explain information to students in a way that meets each student's learning style. 

Pay

The median annual wage for teacher assistants was $27,920 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,940, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $43,040.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for teacher assistants in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $28,520
Elementary and secondary schools; private                                 27,700
Child day care services 24,680

Some teacher assistants work part time. Some monitor students on school buses before and after school. Although many do not work during the summer, some work in year-round schools or assist teachers in summer school.

Job Outlook

Employment of teacher assistants is projected to grow 4 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Rising student enrollment along with state and federal funding for education programs should affect growth.

Teacher assistants are more of a supplementary position, as opposed to teachers, who hold a primary position. Therefore, teacher assistants’ employment opportunities may depend on school districts’ budgets. Schools are more likely to eliminate teacher assistant positions rather than teacher positions when there is a budget shortfall and more likely to hire teacher assistants when there is a budget surplus.

Job Prospects

In addition to job openings due to employment growth, numerous openings will arise as teacher assistants leave the occupation and must be replaced. Because of the education requirements and low pay, many workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.

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FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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