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You could call a teacher assistant “school instructor No. 2,” but that label would shortchange the pivotal role these professionals play in providing much-needed attention and instruction to students. Teachers can’t do it all. As they scribble math formulas and compound sentences onto chalkboards, they might need an aide to float from desk to desk and answer students’ lingering questions. Teacher assistants also provide what Ruth Cole Burcaw, former executive director for the North Carolina Association of Teacher Assistants, calls the “warm fuzzies.” “Teachers are focused on lesson planning, test scores, paperwork and administrative stuff, and the teacher assistants sometimes feel like they have the luxury to love those little kids,” she says. “They make sure those kids have somebody at school who cares about what happens to them.” Teacher assistants might work at child care centers, but many are employed by public and private schools. Unlike child care workers, teacher assistants in private and public school settings don’t usually attend to young children’s basic needs, like bathing and feeding.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1.2 million teacher assistants in 2012, and 4 in 10 worked part time. These workers should see their profession grow about 9 percent between 2012 and 2022. Job growth should coincide with increases in student, child care and preschool enrollment.
Teacher assistants made an average salary of $25,310 in 2012, according to the BLS. The highest earners raked in more than $36,680, while the lowest earners brought home less than $17,180. Colleges, universities and professional schools compensate teacher assistants the best, and the highest earners in the field work in Fairbanks, Alaska, State College, Pa., and Anchorage, Alaska.
Educational requirements vary by district, but most employers require teacher assistants to have a high school diploma, and some require at least two years of college or an associate degree. If you’re interested in working with children with special needs, most states require you to pass a skills-based test.
Additional training is available on the job in public or private schools or child care centers, or through unions or professional associations. Once placed in a job, assistants must review lesson plans with their supervising teacher and learn the best ways to relay the curriculum to students. There are no formal certifications required for teacher assistants.
Volunteering can help you break into the field, Burcaw says. “You can help your child’s teacher, and you can go from maybe doing some one-on-one tutoring with a kid to applying for an opening at the school for a reading tutor,” she says. “Maybe you’ve got an associate’s or some college, you meet the basic requirements and the next thing you know, you’re working as the reading teacher and getting paid.” Since teacher assistants interact with a diverse mix of teachers, students, parents and administrators each day, patience and people skills are crucial qualities. “They have to be able to relate to a variety of folks, so communication skills, I think, are especially important,” Burcaw adds.
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Last updated by Evan Taylor.