Teacher aides, also called teacher assistants, perform a wide variety of duties to help teachers run a classroom. Teacher aides prepare instructional materials, help students with classroom work, and supervise students in the library, on the playground, and at lunch. They perform administrative duties such as photocopying, keeping attendance records, and grading papers. There are approximately 1.3 million teacher aides employed in the United States.
History of Teacher Aide Career
As formal education became more widely available in the 20th century, teachers’ jobs became more complex. The size of classes increased, and a growing educational bureaucracy demanded that more records be kept of students’ achievements and classroom activities. Advancements in technology, changes in educational theory, and a great increase in the amount and variety of teaching materials available all contributed to the time required to prepare materials and assess student progress, leaving teachers less time for the teaching for which they had been trained.
To remedy this problem, teacher aides began to be employed to take care of the more routine aspects of running an instructional program. Today, many schools and school districts employ teacher aides, to the great benefit of hardworking teachers and students.
The Job of Teacher Aides
Teacher aides work in public, private, and parochial preschools and elementary and secondary schools. Their duties vary depending on the classroom teacher, school, and school district. Some teacher aides specialize in one subject, and some work in a specific type of school setting. These settings include bilingual classrooms, gifted and talented programs, classes for learning disabled students and those with unique physical needs, and multiage classrooms. These aides conduct the same type of classroom work as other teacher aides, but they may provide more individual assistance to students.
Fran Moker works as a teacher aide in a dropout prevention unit of a middle school. Her work involves enrolling students in the unit and explaining the program to parents. She maintains files on the students and attends to other administrative duties. “I work directly with the sixth, seventh, and eighth grade teachers,” Moker says, “making all the copies, setting up conferences, and grading papers. I also cover their classes when necessary for short periods of time to give the teachers a break.” She also works directly with students, tutoring and advising. “I listen to students when they have problems,” she says. “We work with at-risk students, so it’s necessary to be supportive. Many of our students come from broken homes and have parents with serious drug and alcohol problems. Consistent caring is a must.”
No matter what kind of classroom they assist in, teacher aides will likely copy, compile, and hand out class materials, set up and operate audiovisual equipment, arrange field trips, and type or word-process materials. They organize classroom files, including grade reports, attendance, and health records. They may also obtain library materials and order classroom supplies.
Teacher aides may be in charge of keeping order in classrooms, school cafeterias, libraries, hallways, and playgrounds. Often, they wait with preschool and elementary students coming to or leaving school and make sure all students are accounted for. When a class leaves its room for such subjects as art, music, physical education, or computer lab, teacher aides may go with the students to help the teachers of these other subjects.
Another responsibility of teacher aides is correcting and grading homework and tests, usually for objective assignments and tests that require specific answers. They use answer sheets to mark students’ papers and examinations and keep records of students’ scores. In some large schools, an aide may be called a grading clerk and be responsible only for scoring objective tests and computing and recording test scores. Often using an electronic grading machine or computer, the grading clerk totals errors found and computes the percentage of questions answered correctly. The clerk then records this score and averages students’ test scores to determine their grades for the course.
Under the teacher’s supervision, teacher aides may work directly with students in the classroom. They listen to a group of young students read aloud or involve the class in a special project such as a science fair, art project, or drama production. With older students, teacher aides provide review or study sessions prior to exams or give extra help with research projects or homework. Some teacher aides work with individual students in a tutorial setting, helping in areas of special need or concern. They may work with the teacher to prepare lesson plans, bibliographies, charts, or maps. They may help to decorate the classroom, design bulletin boards and displays, and arrange workstations. Teacher aides may also participate in parent-teacher conferences to discuss students’ progress.
Teacher Aide Career Requirements
Courses in English, history, social studies, mathematics, art, drama, physical education, and the sciences will provide you with a broad base of knowledge. This knowledge will enable you to help students learn in these same subjects. Knowledge of a second language can be an asset, especially when working in schools with bilingual student, parent, or staff populations. Courses in child care, home economics, and psychology are also valuable for this career. You should try to gain some experience working with computers; students at many elementary schools and even preschools now do a large amount of computer work, and computer skills are important in performing clerical duties.
Postsecondary requirements for teacher aides depend on the school or school district and the kinds of responsibilities the aides have. In districts where aides perform mostly clerical duties, applicants may need only to have a high school diploma or a general equivalency diploma (GED). Those who work in the classroom may be required to take some college courses and attend in-service training and special teacher conferences and seminars. Some schools and districts may help you pay some of the costs involved in attending these programs. Often community and junior colleges have certificate and associate’s programs that prepare teacher aides for classroom work, offering courses in child development, health and safety, and child guidance.
Newly hired aides participate in orientation sessions and formal training at the school. In these sessions, aides learn about the school’s organization, operation, and philosophy. They learn how to keep school records, operate audiovisual equipment, check books out of the library, and administer first aid.
Many schools prefer to hire teacher aides who have some experience working with children; some schools prefer to hire workers who live within the school district. Schools may also require that you pass written exams and health physicals. You must be able to work effectively with both children and adults and should have good verbal and written communication skills.
You must enjoy working with children and be able to handle their demands, problems, and questions with patience and fairness. You must be willing and able to follow instructions, but also should be able to take the initiative in projects. Flexibility, creativity, and a cheerful outlook are definite assets for anyone working with children. You should find out the specific job requirements from the school, school district, or state department of education in the area where you would like to work. Requirements vary from school to school and state to state. It is important to remember that an aide who is qualified to work in one state, or even one school, may not be qualified to work in another.
Exploring Teacher Aide Career
You can gain experience working with children by volunteering to help with religious education classes at your place of worship. You may volunteer to help with scouting troops or work as a counselor at a summer camp. You may have the opportunity to volunteer to help coach a children’s athletic team or work with children in afterschool programs at community centers. Babysitting is a common way to gain experience in working with children and to learn about the different stages of child development.
Approximately 1.3 million workers are employed as teacher assistants in the United States. About 40 percent of teacher assistants work part time. With the national shortage of teachers, aides can find work in just about any preschool, elementary, or secondary school in the country. Teacher aides also assist in special education programs and in group-home settings. Aides work in both public and private schools.
You can apply directly to schools and school districts for teacher aide positions. Many school districts and state departments of education maintain job listings, bulletin boards, and hotlines that list available job openings. Teacher aide jobs are often advertised in the classified section of the newspaper. Once you are hired as a teacher aide, you will spend the first months in special training and will receive a beginning wage. After six months or so, you’ll have regular responsibilities and possibly a wage increase.
Teacher aides usually advance only in terms of increases in salary or responsibility, which come with experience. Aides in some districts may receive time off to take college courses. Some teacher aides choose to pursue bachelor’s degrees and fulfill the licensing requirements of the state or school to become teachers. “I will probably always remain in the education field,” Fran Moker says, “maybe someday returning to school to get a degree in education.”
Some aides, who find that they enjoy the administrative side of the job, may move into school or district office staff positions. Others choose to get more training and then work as resource teachers, tutors, guidance counselors, or reading, mathematics, or speech specialists. Some teacher aides go into school library work or become media specialists. While it is true that most of these jobs require additional training, the job of teacher aide is a good place to begin.
Teacher aides are usually paid on an hourly basis and usually only during the nine or 10 months of the school calendar. Salaries vary depending on the school or district, region of the country, and the duties the aides perform. Median annual earnings of teacher assistants in 2005 were $21,100, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Salaries ranged from less than $13,380 to more than $30,530.
Benefits such as health insurance and vacation or sick leave may also depend on the school or district as well as the number of hours a teacher aide works. Many schools employ teacher aides only part-time and do not offer such benefits. Other teacher aides may receive the same health and pension benefits as the teachers in their school and be covered under collective bargaining agreements.
Teacher aides work in a well-lit, comfortable, wheelchair-accessible environment, although some older school buildings may be in disrepair with unpredictable heating or cooling systems. Most of their work will be indoors, but teacher aides will spend some time outside before and after school, and during recess and lunch hours, to watch over the students. They are often on their feet, monitoring the halls and lunch areas and running errands for teachers. Although this work is not physically strenuous, working closely with children can be stressful and tiring.
Teacher aides find it rewarding to help students learn and develop. The pay, however, is not as rewarding. “As with all those in the entire education field,” Fran Moker says, “we are grossly underpaid. But that’s the only negative. I truly enjoy my job.” Because of her commitment to her work, Fran is allowed certain benefits, such as time off when needed.
Teacher Aide Career Outlook
Growth in this field is expected to be about as fast as the average through 2014 because of an expected increase in the school enrollments, but especially the student population that requires assistance of teacher aides, including special education students and students for whom English is not their first language. Areas with rapid population growth, including communities in the South and West will have additional demand for teacher aides. As the number of students in schools increases, new schools and classrooms will be added, and more teachers and teacher aides will be hired. A shortage of teachers will cause administrators to hire more aides to help with larger classrooms. Because of increased responsibilities for aides, state departments of education will likely establish standards of training. The National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services is designing national standards for paraeducator training.
The No Child Left Behind Act may also increase demand for teacher aides, due to a greater focus on educational quality and accountability. Teachers will need aides to help students prepare for standardized testing and assist those students who perform poorly on standardized tests.
The field of special education (working with students with specific learning, emotional, or physical concerns or disabilities) is expected to grow rapidly, and more aides will be needed in these areas. The 1997 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires a more specialized training for aides working with students with disabilities. Teacher aides who want to work with young children in day care or extended day programs will have a relatively easy time finding work because more children are attending these programs while their parents are at work.