How to Become a Teaching Assistant


If you are interested in pursuing a teaching career but aren’t sure about investing the time and money to pursue a bachelor’s degree and student teaching, consider becoming a teaching assistant.  You will be able to see firsthand what teachers do in the classroom as well as have the chance to interact closely with students at the grade level of your choosing.

For many assistants, the reward comes from helping a student understand difficult material or knowing that their assistance frees the teacher from routine administrative tasks to spend more time teaching. Teaching assistants are found at all levels of education in elementary, middle, high schools and colleges, with the majority concentrated at the elementary levels.

Typical duties of a teaching assistant:
High School or GED
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that some of the many duties performed by elementary-level teaching assistants include:

  • Help with classroom recordkeeping, including taking attendance and figuring grades
  • Supervise students in the classroom as well as during recess, lunch and on field trips
  • Help the teacher with preparation of daily lesson plans by setting up equipment, such as computers, or other course materials
  • Assist students with reviewing course material either individually or in groups, and may help students develop library-use and research skills
  • Help students learn proper behavior in the classroom by implementing school and classroom rules
  • Help the teacher with grading tests and checking homework

Teaching assistants who help with special education students may work with them either in separate classes, or if mainstreamed, in both regular and separate classes, depending on the severity of a disability. They often fill the role of healthcare assistant by helping disabled students with feeding or hygiene. When working with older special-needs students, such as those graduating from high school, teaching assistants may help them with life skills and finding post-graduation employment.

In many areas, teaching assistants are also called teacher aides, or teacher assistants, however, there may also be a distinct difference in the type of duties as well as requirements for aids compared to assistants. For example, in the state of New York, the state mandates that teacher assistants are considered members of the teaching staff, rather as support positions, and are initially assigned probationary status, as with new teachers.

The work environment of teaching assistants

Most teaching assistants are employed by public and private schools, ranging from elementary through high school. Others may work in childcare centers or preschools, as well as religious or community centers. They may work with a lead teacher as part of a team to provide individual attention to students or supervise playtime or help with the feeding and other caretaking activities of younger children.

Some teaching assistants work in libraries or other locations, such as study halls, within a school. In computer labs, teaching assistants may instruct students in the use of computers or software. They may be found helping supervise students in the lunchroom or outdoors at recess.

According to the BLS, about 37 percent of teaching assistants work part time, with most working a typical 10-month school year, as with the faculty. The median annual pay for most teaching assistants in 2010 was $23,220, with job growth predicted at around 15 percent between 2010 and 2020.

How to become a teaching assistant

A minimum of a high school diploma is usually required for employment as a teaching assistant by most schools districts and private schools. Some states require a two-year degree in early-childhood or other education major, or pass a state or local academic assessment. Many general education or teaching courses can be taken online as well, putting an affordable degree within reach of those who are unable to commute or have trouble finding local schools.

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