Teacher assistants, also referred to as paraeducators, paraprofessionals, or instructional assistants, work in the classroom under the direction of the lead teacher. Duties often required of teacher assistants include: working with students either in small groups or individually, enforcing the rules to help students behave, tracking attendance, preparing materials or equipment for lessons, and helping supervise students. In general, the lead teacher’s job is to teach new material and the teacher assistant reinforces the lessons afterward. Teacher assistants may also help with grading or planning lessons.
Most teacher assistants work at the K-12 level but others work in preschools and childcare centers. There is a higher demand for teacher assistants at the early childhood level because younger children usually require more care.
Eligibility criteria for teacher assistants varies. Some school districts may only require a high school diploma, but most want teacher assistants to have an associate degree or at least two years of college. Potential teaching assistants may also have to pass a state or local test.
A Day in the Life
- Morning: Teacher assistants may start with cleaning up after the students eat breakfast while the lead teacher prepares lessons for the day. During classroom time, a teacher assistant may deal with inappropriate behavior among the students while a lesson is being taught. She may also observe the lead teacher during the day in order to learn how to teach.
- Mid-Morning: She may do some administrative work during the day, like checking homework and tracking behavior points. And throughout the day, she will be responsible for responding to the needs of the lead teacher, which can vary from day to day.
- Lunch Break: During lunch and recess, she monitors the students and ensures that cots are set up for nap time.
- Afternoon: When class time resumes, she performs in-class duties like monitoring behavior or working with students in small groups.
- After Work: Her work day ends when the students leave. Most preparation and planning are done by the lead teacher, however, the teacher assistant might study the next day’s lesson.
There is no official licensing process for teacher assistants, but some school districts may require passing a skills-based test in order to get hired, especially for jobs working with special needs students. For specific information about getting licensed to work as an early childhood teacher in a specific state, check out our degrees and licensure state pages. https://www.earlychildhoodteacher.org/certification/
Areas of Specialization
Teacher assistants who want to focus on early childhood education can find work in preschools, childcare centers, and elementary schools. Some teacher assistants work exclusively with special education students. They may be required to help students with basic needs, like personal hygiene, in addition to academic and behavioral work.
Previous and Next Steps
Because it is typically an entry-level position, career paths for teacher assistants will vary widely. In order to prepare, volunteer work with young children can bolster marketability. Working as a substitute paraprofessional for a school district is another way to secure a position as a full-time teacher assistant. Substitute teaching is a great way to network with other professionals in a school district, as they are often who districts consider for full time positions. Professional development opportunities can help teacher assistants learn more about classroom management. This kind of training can be helpful when considering the next steps of a teaching assistant’s career. According to a study by the National Education Association, nearly half of teaching assistants want to learn how to become full-time teachers. Working as a teacher assistant can be a stepping stone to a job as a lead teacher in a classroom or an administrative position in a school or childcare center.
For average salary information for early childhood teachers (and several other early childhood education-related positions), go to our Jobs page and select a state. You can find average salary information for teacher assistants on the Bureau of Labor Statistics website.