Teacher assistants work under a teacher’s supervision to give students additional attention and instruction.

Duties

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
  • Help supervise students in class, between classes, during lunch and recess, and on field trips

Teacher assistants also are called teacher aides, instructional aides, paraprofessionals, education assistants 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, after the teacher presents a lesson, a teacher assistant may help a small group of students as they try to master the material.

Teachers may seek feedback from assistants to monitor students’ progress. Some teachers and teacher assistants meet regularly to discuss lesson plans and student development. Teacher assistants sometimes help teachers by grading tests and checking homework.

Some teacher assistants work only with special education students. These students often 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 in separate classes. Teacher assistants help these students with basic needs, such as eating or personal hygiene. With young adults, they may help students with disabilities learn skills necessary for them to find a job or live independently 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 childcare centers. Often, one or two assistants work with a lead teacher to provide 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.

Work Environment

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.

Work Schedules

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.

Education and Training

Educational requirements, which vary by school district and position, range from a high school diploma to an associate’s degree.

Education

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.

Important 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 $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.                                   

Union Membership

Compared with workers in all occupations, teacher assistants had a higher percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2012.

Job Outlook

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.

Job Prospects

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.

For More Information
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.