Teacher assistants are exactly what their name implies: they assist teachers. They are employed by both public and private schools to provide instructional and administrative support to classroom teachers. This allows classroom teachers to have time for planning lessons, taking breaks, and working with small groups of children. Teacher assistants also help with field trips, recess, and simply moving students through the school building in groups. They give the classroom teacher the opportunity to offer students more individualized attention.
In addition to helping, instructing, and supervising students in the classroom, teacher assistants often help with tedious administrative work, freeing up the classroom teacher to do the job of teaching the students. Assistants might grade papers, take attendance, file paperwork, make copies, prepare homework, and communicate with the main office about student affairs. They are also very useful for running errands, setting up field trips, and obtaining supplies or equipment for the classroom.
Commonly, teacher assistants give personal attention to special needs students. When a student with special needs is integrated into a traditional classroom setting, assistants are invaluable in assisting the student. They may simply help the student with academics and behavior, or they may provide complete care for a disabled student’s physical needs, such as feeding, cleaning, help in the restroom, and help with transportation.
Many teacher assistants work one-on-one with students who speak a different language. Often, while a student is simultaneously assimilating into a new classroom and learning a new language, an assistant can give him the help he needs to feel comfortable and learn more quickly. Bilingual assistants are always in demand.
Most teacher assistants work full time, in a nine to ten month school year, but about 40% work part time. Although the majority work with elementary and secondary school students, many work in preschools or child care centers. Teacher assistants might also work with infants or toddlers who are disabled or developmentally delayed, and many work with high school graduates and young adults who are disabled or have other special needs and are making the transition out into society. Someone who is interested in this job should enjoy working with children and have a disciplined classroom presence, as well the ability to teach students and follow the directions of the classroom teacher. While educational requirements for the position vary by location, in the United States, the federal government requires assistants to have a minimum of two years of college or to pass an educational evaluation.