What Does a Teaching Assistant Do?
Keeping a class of students engaged is no easy task, which is why many teachers rely on the help of teaching assistants or TAs.
Assistants are also known as teacher assistants, teacher aides, instructional aides or paraprofessionals (at the elementary school level). No matter what title they go by, they help classes run smoothly by reinforcing the lead teacher’s lesson plans and performing any necessary classroom tasks.
A teaching assistant’s goal is to reinforce student learning and to free up the teacher to spend as much time as possible instructing students.
Teacher assistants may also provide additional assistance to students who need extra help in completing classwork.
They work at public, private or charter schools and childcare centers.
No matter what kind of classroom they work in, teaching assistants can make an impact.
If you love working with kids and want to learn more, keep reading to learn about training requirements and what it’s like to do this job.
- Provide support for lead teacher
- Give one-on-one or small group instruction
- Help teacher with taking attendance, grading tests and other tasks
- Help prepare lesson plans, including gathering materials and setting up the classroom
- Help supervise students during class, lunch, recess, between classes and on outings
- Read to students or listen to them read
- Meet with lead teacher to discuss students’ progress
How To Become a Teacher Assistant: FAQs
What steps do I take to get this job?
First, you’ll need to earn a high school diploma or equivalent.
Next, you’ll get teacher training. For most public school district jobs, you’ll need an associate degree or at least two years of college.
However, qualifications vary by state and even by school district. For some jobs, you may only need a high school diploma. For others, you’ll need to complete a certificate program. (TIP: Learn the requirements in the state and school district where you want to work before you chart your training pathway.)
Associate degree and certificate programs for teaching assistants will cover child development theory, how to create educational materials, observation skills, how to reinforce learning strategies and the many ways an assistant can support the lead teacher. These programs also provide hands-on, classroom experience.
Depending on how the program is structured, your training may also include an internship.
Once your training is complete, you may also need to pass an assessment or skills test to get your license or certification. The rules vary by state.
For example, to work at a Title 1 school, you’ll need to earn certification. Title I schools get funding from the federal government to help low-income students get the support they need to succeed.
Once you start working as a teaching assistant, you’ll find opportunities to advance and learn new skills. Continuing education can lead to additional opportunities.
For example, you could become a preschool teacher by completing additional training. You could also become a lead teacher by earning a bachelor’s degree. Your associate degree credits will count toward the four-year degree in most places.
Some districts will also reimburse the cost of additional training as part of an agreement to continue working in the district.
What other qualifications do I need?
Be prepared to undergo a criminal background check, which most states require.
Learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and first aid will be beneficial, and some states will require these certifications.
How long does it take to become a teacher assistant?
A certificate program can last from one to two years. An associate degree takes two years, and a bachelor’s degree takes four.
Continuing education is ongoing.
Teacher aide vs. teacher assistant: What’s the difference?
Both of these roles support the lead teacher. Teaching assistants are certified and contribute to student learning. Teacher aides typically are not certified and focus on clerical duties.
Aides typically work at preschools, elementary schools or with special needs children. Assistants work at all levels, including middle school and high school.
However, school district rules and student needs shape job descriptions and job titles.
What’s the job outlook for teaching assistants?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be about 153,700 openings for teaching assistants each year from 2021 to 2031. (That's 5% growth.)
This job is dependent on school budgets, which can be inconsistent.
What hours do teaching assistants work?
Most work full-time, and some assistants work part-time.
Many assistants don’t work during the summer, but some help teachers during summer school and others work at year-round schools.
What skills and qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?
Successful teaching assistants tend to share specific traits. They are:
- Flexible in their ability to work with children with different learning styles
- Excellent communicators
- Able to work with teachers, students and parents because they possess strong interpersonal skills