What is a Teacher Assistant?

Teacher assistants work under a teacher’s supervision to give students additional attention and instruction. They work in public and private schools, childcare centers, and for religious organizations. About 37%work part time. Most do not work during the summer.

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What does a Teacher Assistant do?

Teacher assistants typically do the following:

  • Reinforce lessons presented by teachers by reviewing material with students one-on-one or in small groups
  • Enforce school and class rules to help teach students proper behavior
  • Help teachers with recordkeeping, such as tracking attendance and calculating grades
  • Help teachers prepare for lessons by getting materials ready or setting up equipment, such as computers
  • Supervise students in class, between classes, during lunch and recess, and on field trips.

Teacher assistants are also called teacher aides, instructional aides, paraprofessionals, and paraeducators. Generally, teachers introduce new material to students, and teacher assistants help reinforce the lessons by working with individual students or small groups of students. For example, they may help students learn research skills by helping them find information for reports.

Teacher assistants sometimes help teachers by grading tests and checking homework. Teachers may seek feedback from assistants to monitor students’ progress. Some teachers and teacher assistants meet regularly to discuss lesson plans and student development. Some teacher assistants work only with special education students. These students often are mainstreamed (attend regular classes), and teacher assistants help them understand the material and adapt the information to their learning style. With students who have more severe disabilities, assistants may work with them both in regular classes and in separate classes. Teacher assistants may help these students with basic needs, such as feeding or personal hygiene. With young adults, they may help students with disabilities learn skills necessary for them to find a job after graduation.

Some teacher assistants work in specific locations in the school. For example, some work in computer laboratories, teaching students how to use computers and helping them use software. Others work as recess or lunchroom attendants, supervising students during these times of the day.

Although most teacher assistants work in elementary, middle, and high schools, others work in preschools and other childcare centers. Often, one or two assistants work with a lead teacher to give the individual attention that young children need. They help with educational activities. They also supervise the children at play and help with feeding and other basic care.

What does it take to be a Teacher Assistant?

Some districts require applicants to have a high school diploma; others require at least two years of college or an associate’s degree. Associate’s degree or diploma programs for teacher assistants prepare the participants to develop educational materials, observe students, and understand the role of teachers in the classroom.

Schools may provide training for teacher assistants to acquaint them with the school district and school policies. Unions or professional associations may offer additional training. Teacher assistants must familiarize themselves with the material their students are covering in class. Doing so may require reviewing the topics with teachers to ensure that the assistants understand and can properly explain the information to students.

What is the workplace of a Teacher Assistant like?

Teacher assistants work in both private and public elementary, middle, and high schools. They also work in preschools, childcare centers, community centers, and for religious organizations. 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 them. About 37% of teacher assistants work part time. Some ride the bus with students before and after school. Many do not work during the summer, but some work in year-round schools or assist teachers in summer school.

How much does a Teacher Assistant earn?

The median annual wage of teacher assistants was $23,220 in May 2010. (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% earned less than $16,510, and the top 10% earned more than $36,130.

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