Educational requirements range from a high school diploma
to some college training.
Workers with experience in helping special education students,
or who can speak a foreign language, will be especially in demand.
Nature of the Work
Teacher assistants 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, and hallways,
or on field trips. They record grades, set up equipment, and help
prepare materials for instruction. Teacher assistants also are
called teacher aides or instructional aides. Some assistants refer
to themselves as paraeducators or paraprofessionals.
Some teacher assistants perform exclusively noninstructional
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 provide instructional reinforcement
to 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 lessons, 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, do typing and filing, 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. As schools become more inclusive, integrating special
education students into general education classrooms, teacher
assistants in both 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
schoolbus. They also provide personal attention to students with
other special needs, such as those who speak English as a second
language, or those who need remedial education. Teacher assistants
help assess a student’s progress by observing performance and
recording relevant data.
While the majority of teacher assistants work in primary and
secondary educational settings, others work in preschools and
other child care centers. Often one or two assistants will work
with a lead teacher in order to better provide the individual
attention that young children require. In addition to assisting
in educational instruction, they also supervise the children at
play and assist in feeding and other basic care activities.
Teacher assistants also work with infants and toddlers who have
developmental delays or other disabilities. Under the guidance
of a teacher or therapist, teacher assistants perform exercises
or play games to help the child develop physically and behaviorally.
Some teacher assistants work with young adults to help them obtain
a job or to apply for community services for the disabled.
Approximately 4 in 10 teacher assistants work part time. However,
even among full-time workers, about 16 percent work less than
40 hours per week. Most assistants who provide educational instruction
work the traditional 9- to 10-month school year. Teacher assistants
work in a variety of settings—including preschools, child care
centers, and religious and community centers, where they work
with young adults—but most work in classrooms in elementary, middle,
and secondary schools. They also work outdoors supervising recess
when weather allows, and they 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.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Educational requirements for teacher assistants vary by State
or school district and range from a high school diploma to some
college training, although employers increasingly prefer applicants
with some college training. Teacher assistants with instructional
responsibilities usually require more training than do those who
do not perform teaching tasks. Federal regulations require teacher
assistants with instructional responsibilities in Title I schools—those
with a large proportion of students from low-income households—to
meet one of three requirements: hold a 2-year or higher degree,
have a minimum of 2 years of college, or pass a rigorous State
or local assessment. Many schools also require previous experience
in working with children and a valid driver’s license. Some schools
may require the applicant to pass a background check.
A number of 2-year and community colleges offer associate degree
or certificate 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 for communicating with growing numbers of students and
parents whose primary language is not English.
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
Teacher assistants held almost 1.3 million jobs in 2004. Nearly
3 in 4 worked for State and local government education institutions,
mostly at the preschool and elementary school level. Private schools,
child care centers, and religious organizations employed most
of the rest.
Employment of teacher assistants is expected to grow about as
fast as the average for all occupations through 2014. In addition
to job openings stemming from employment growth, numerous openings
will arise as assistants leave their jobs and must be replaced.
Many assistant jobs require limited formal education and offer
relatively low pay so each year many transfer to other occupations
or leave the labor force to assume family responsibilities, to
return to school, or for other reasons.
School enrollments are projected to increase only slowly over
the next decade, but special education students and students for
whom English is not their first language—the student populations
for which teacher assistants are most needed—are expected to grow
faster and increase as a share of the total school-age population.
Legislation that requires students with disabilities and non-native
English speakers to receive an education “equal” to that of other
students, will continue to generate jobs for teacher assistants
to accommodate these students’ special needs. 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.
The greater focus on quality and accountability that has been
placed on education in recent years also is likely to lead to
an increased demand for teacher assistants. Growing numbers of
teacher assistants may be needed to help teachers prepare students
for standardized testing and to provide extra assistance to students
who perform poorly on standardized tests. This growth may be moderated,
however, as schools are encouraged to allocate resources to hiring
more full teachers for instructional purposes. An increasing number
of after-school programs and summer programs also will create
new opportunities for teacher assistants.
Opportunities for teacher assistant jobs are expected to be best
for persons with at least 2 years of formal education after high
school. Persons who can speak a foreign language should be in
particular demand in school systems with large numbers of students
whose families do not speak English at home. Demand is expected
to vary by region of the country. Areas in which the population
and school enrollments are expected to grow faster, such as many
communities in the South and West, should have rapid growth in
the demand for teacher assistants.
Median annual earnings of teacher assistants in May 2004 were
$19,410. The middle 50 percent earned between $15,410 and $24,320.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $13,010, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $29,220.
Full-time workers usually receive health coverage and other benefits.
Teacher assistants who work part time ordinarily do not receive
In 2004, about 3 out of 10 teacher assistants belonged to unions—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.
Teacher assistants who instruct children have duties similar
to those of preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary
school teachers, as well as special education teachers. 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 childcare
workers, library technicians, and library assistants. Teacher
assistants who work with children with disabilities perform many
of the same functions as occupational therapy assistants and aides.
See the careers database for
more information on these careers.
Sources of Additional Information
For information on teacher assistants, including training and
American Federation of Teachers, Paraprofessional and School
Related Personnel Division, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington,
National Education Association, Educational Support Personnel
Division, 1201 16th Street, NW., Washington, DC 20036.
For information on a career as a teacher assistant, contact:
National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals, 6526 Old Main
Hill, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84322. Internet: http://www.nrcpara.org/
Human resource departments of school systems, school administrators,
and State departments of education also can provide details about
employment opportunities and required qualifications for teacher
Source: Bureau of Labor
Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition,