Individuals whose role it is to assist teachers in the classroom go by many titles, including teaching assistant, teacher assistant, teacher’s assistant, teaching assistant, teacher aide or teaching aide, to name just a few. Regardless of the title, their duties are virtually identical. Their primary tasks are to assist teachers in the classroom and to give greater attention to students than a single teacher can provide.
Educational requirements for teacher assistants vary from state to state and from district to district. Requirements usually range from a minimum of a high school diploma to certification or an associate’s degree. Teaching assistants with instructional responsibilities usually require more training than those who do not perform teaching tasks. Stricter Federal requirements apply for teacher assistants in schools in which the majority of students come from low-income homes; these requirements usually include two years of college or an associate degree. Some schools also require previous experience working with children.
A number of two-year degree programs and community colleges offer associate degrees and online certificate programs that prepare graduates to work as teaching assistants. The majority of teacher assistants, however, receive the bulk of their training on the job.
The basic responsibilities of a teaching assistant or teacher aide include such tasks as providing additional help to students; assisting teachers in the presentation of subject matter, under the direction and guidance of the teacher; and assisting the teacher in maintaining classroom discipline. Additional tasks the teacher’s aide might be asked to perform include supervising students in the cafeteria, schoolyard, or on field trips; observing and tracking students’ attendance and performance; supervising students working on special projects; and organizing classroom study materials. They might be called upon to operate audiovisual equipment, help the teacher prepare and distribute instructional materials, and, depending on grade level and sophistication on the school’s technology, assist students with computer and software use. Teaching aides may work with groups of children or tutor a single student. Some teaching assistants specialize in students with disabilities or special needs and help them in additional ways such as feeding, grooming, or locomotion.
To excel in this job, the teacher assistant should enjoy working with children from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, and should be able to handle classroom situations with fairness and patience. Teacher aides must also show initiative and willingness to follow a teacher’s directions, and should possess excellent communication skills.
An increased focus on the quality of education is expected to place a high demand for teacher assistants and teacher aides well into the next decade. Additionally, an increasing number of after-school and summer programs are expected to create new opportunities for teacher assistants. Job opportunities for teaching aides are expected to be best for individuals possessing at least two years of formal education after high school or a two-year associate degree. Teaching assistants who hold a certificate in a foreign language are expected to be in particular demand in an increasingly multicultural school system.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual salary of teaching assistants in 2004 was $19,410, with a range running from under $13,010 to a high of more than $29,220. This median wage is expected to increase in the coming years, however, as focus increases on improving the educational qualifications and working experience of teaching assistants.