Teacher assistants held about 1.2 million jobs in 2012. They work in both private and public elementary, middle, and high schools. They also work in preschools, childcare centers, community centers, and for religious organizations.
In 2012, about 76 percent of teacher assistants were employed by elementary and secondary schools and 9 percent were employed by child day care services.
Teacher assistants may spend some time outside, when students are at recess or getting on and off the bus. Those who work with special education students may need to lift the students at certain times.
About 4 in 10 teacher assistants worked part time in 2012. Some ride the bus with students before and after school. Although many do not work during the summer, some work in year-round schools or help teachers in summer school.
Educational requirements, which vary by school district and position, range from a high school diploma to an associate’s degree.
Although some districts require applicants to have a high school diploma, most require at least 2 years of college or an associate’s degree. Teacher assistants in schools that have Title 1 programs (a federal program for schools with 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 the participants to develop educational materials, observe students, and understand the role of teachers and teaching assistants in the classroom.
Most states require instructional aides who work with special needs students to pass a skills-based test.
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.
The median annual wage for teacher assistants was $23,640 in May 2012. 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 $17,180, and the top 10 percent earned more than $36,680.
About 4 in 10 teacher assistants worked part time in 2012. Some ride the bus with students before and after school. Although many do not work during the summer, some work in year-round schools or assist teachers in summer school.
Compared with workers in all occupations, teacher assistants had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.
Employment of teacher assistants is projected to grow 9 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Growth is expected to result from increases in student enrollment, continued demand for special education services, and increases in childcare and preschool enrollment.
Student enrollment in public and private elementary and secondary schools is expected to increase from 2012 to 2022. Because teacher assistants work directly with students, the increase in the number of students will spur demand for teacher assistants. In addition, there will be continued demand for special education services and, in turn, demand for teacher assistants who work with these students.
Furthermore, enrollment is expected to increase in childcare services and preschool programs, both of which employ teacher assistants. Increases in enrollment will increase demand for teacher assistants in these settings.
In addition to job openings from employment growth, numerous openings will arise as assistants leave the job and must be replaced. Because this occupation requires limited formal education and has low pay, many workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force to take care of family responsibilities, to return to school, or for other reasons.
Job opportunities for teacher assistants vary significantly by geography. Opportunities are likely to be better in the South and West, which are expected to have rapid increases in enrollment, and in urban schools, which often have difficulty recruiting and keeping teacher assistants.