What Does a Teacher Assistant Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Maddy Price © The Balance 2019 

Teacher assistants work under the supervision of a lead teacher, providing additional assistance and instruction to students. Teacher assistants typically work one-on-one with students to help them understand and apply principles taught by the classroom teacher. They often circulate around the classroom while students are completing assignments and assist students who are struggling with their work.

Many teacher assistants work closely with special education teachers to assist students with physical, emotional, mental, and learning disabilities. These teaching assistants may be assigned to one or two highly challenged learners and follow them through their day of classes.

Teacher Assistant Duties & Responsibilities

Working as a teacher assistant requires candidates to be able to perform duties that include the following:

  • Provide support and reinforcement for teacher and lessons
  • Give one-on-one or small group instruction and lesson review
  • Help teachers with attendance, grading, and other administrative tasks
  • Set up materials and equipment to help teachers prepare lessons
  • Provide additional supervision for students during class, lunch, recess, between classes and on class outings or field trips

Teacher assistants work under the guidance of a licensed teacher to help perform many classroom tasks, ranging from organizing classroom materials to setting up equipment that teachers will use to carry out lessons. They're also known as teacher aides, instructional aides, education assistants, or paraprofessionals.

Teacher Assistant Salary

A teacher assistant's salary varies based on the area of expertise, level of experience, education, certifications, and other factors.

Education, Training & Certification

Educational requirements for teaching assistants vary from district to district and state to state. Some districts only require a high school diploma.

  • Education: Most school districts require that teaching assistants complete at least two years of college or have an associate’s degree. There are associate’s degree programs and certificate programs designed specifically for teaching assistants. These programs give students classroom experience.
  • State requirements: In some districts, teacher assistants also have to pass a state or local assessment. Teacher assistants working with special-needs students often have to pass a skills-based test as well.
  • Training: Because most teacher assistants are not required to have a four-year degree, they receive much of their training on the job. This training typically includes learning the procedures of the school, including everything from equipment to record keeping to classroom preparation. Much of this training is often conducted by the lead classroom teacher. Some teacher assistants can receive additional training through unions or professional organizations.
  • Special-needs requirement: Teacher assistants that wish to work with special-needs students must, in most states, pass a test that assesses their skill level.

    Teacher Assistant Skills & Competencies

    In addition to the technical skills you will learn in a classroom, there are several characteristics needed for success in this occupation. Some refer to those non-technical skills as soft skills, and they include:

    • Interpersonal skills: Teacher assistants interact with many others besides students, including parents, teachers, and administrators. It's important to be able to handle and maintain good working relationships on an ongoing basis.
    • Communication skills: Teacher assistants must have the ability to communicate student progress and challenges in a constructive way with both teachers and parents.
    • Patience: Teacher assistants must be able to remain patient with each student, regardless of the child's varying abilities and background.
    • Resourcefulness: Teacher assistants need an abundance of resourcefulness and creativity to explain lessons in a manner that is customized to each student's ability to absorb information.

    Job Outlook

    Employment of teacher assistants is expected to grow at a rate of about 8% from 2016 to 2026, about average for all occupations. The use of teacher assistants varies greatly by the school district with more affluent districts more likely to employ assistants.

    Teacher assistant positions are often among the first jobs to be cut during budget crises. Many teacher assistants leave the profession each year due to low wages and need to be replaced. The increased demand for services addressing the needs of special education students also serves to increase the demand for teacher assistants.

    Other education, training, and library occupations are expected to grow slightly faster, at 8% over the next decade. All occupations combined are projected to have 7% growth during the same time period.

    Work Environment

    Teacher assistants work in a variety of environments, although almost 70% work for public schools. The remainder work in private schools, as well as childcare centers and even religious organizations that have educational programs.

    Work Schedule

    Some teacher assistants work part-time, but more than 60% work the full school day. Many teacher assistants have summers off, although some work as teacher assistants in summer school.

    How to Get the Job

    APPLY

    Prepare your resume and cover letter. Start with this teaching assistant sample cover letter. Begin your search for teacher assistant positions using job-search resources like Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Glassdoor.com. You can also visit specialized online job portals, such as EDJOIN.org, or find job opportunities by contacting schools directly, through teacher-related networking events, and through a college career center.


    FIND A TEACHER ASSISTANT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITY

    Look for an opportunity to do volunteer work as a teacher assistant through online sites such as Volunteers of America of Greater Los Angeles. You can also contact other non-profit organizations directly, such as Head Start programs or homeless shelters and volunteer your teacher assistant services.


    FIND AN INTERNSHIP

    Get guidance by working with an experienced teacher. You can find teacher assistant internships through the same online job search sites that list teacher assistant jobs. Also, check with your school's career center for available teaching assistant internships.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in becoming a teaching assistant also consider the following career paths, listed with their median annual salaries:

    • Childcare worker: $22,290
    • High school teacher: $59,170
    • Kindergarten and elementary school teacher: $56,900