How to Become a Teaching Assistant
Drexel University School of Education
Teaching assistants are in-demand educational professionals in K-12 public and private schools, as well as in daycare settings. Also referred to as paraprofessionals, paraeducators, teacher aides, or simply TAs, teaching assistants provide important classroom support that allows the lead teacher to focus on the main task of teaching. Becoming a teaching assistant requires that individuals obtain specific levels of education and certification. The role of teaching assistant can also serve as a foundation for individuals looking to transition into the teaching profession.
What Does a Teaching Assistant Do?
Teaching assistants work under the guidance and direction of a fully licensed lead teacher, and their daily responsibilities may vary depending on the grade level of the classroom, years of experience, and the needs of the school. Generally, teaching assistants offer both administrative and instructional support that helps the lead teacher run an efficient classroom and frees up time to for the teacher to provide specialized instruction to specific students. Administrative tasks include preparing classroom materials, taking attendance, grading assignments, and monitoring examinations. Teaching assistants also supervise students in the cafeteria, on the playground, and during school activities, and manage challenging behaviors.
In terms of direct student instructional support, teaching assistants are expected to understand classroom curriculum and be able help students stay engaged in daily lessons and on track with assignments. They often work with individual students or groups to students to review classwork and reinforce the concepts delivered by the lead teacher. Teaching assistants must be able to answer questions about class material, serve as tutors, and monitor students’ progress over time. Depending on level of experience, they may also be tasked with creating classroom assignments. For students with special education needs, teaching assistants help adapt class materials to alternate styles of learning and help students integrate into regular classroom settings. For students with severe educational disabilities, teaching assistants may also assist with basic self-care activities.
What Degree is Needed to Become a Teaching Assistant?
Educational requirements vary from state to state, and aspiring teaching assistants should consult the standards set by their state’s board of education. Generally, teaching assistants must hold an associate degree in early childhood education, assistant teaching, or a related field that prepares them for managing a classroom, developing teaching materials, and working with a lead teacher. While teaching assistants do not need a teaching certificate, most states require an assistant teaching certificate, Child Development Associate (CDA) certification, or other specialized license. Most states require a skills test for teaching assistants who work with students with special needs. A federal mandate also requires that teaching assistants who work in Title I schools, where a large percentage of students are from low-income households, must hold at least a two-year associate degree and certification.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Teaching Assistant?
Aspiring teaching assistants should expect to devote at least two years to completing college coursework or earning an associate degree. Volunteer and internship experience, along with some certifications, may be completed at the same time. Additional time may be needed to complete CDA certification, or other specialized early childhood education certification.
6 Steps to Becoming a Teaching Assistant: Qualifications and Requirements
While requirements for becoming a teaching assistant vary from state to state, there are six common steps for obtaining the education, practical experience, and certifications needed for the profession.
Obtain a High School Diploma or GED
Most K-12 schools require that teaching assistants hold at least a high school diploma and be able to demonstrate basic math and literacy skills. If individuals do not have a high school diploma, they must pass the General Educational Development test, or GED. In some states, a high school diploma is enough to apply for entry-level teaching assistant positions.
Pursue an Associate Degree in Education
In most cases, teaching assistants must also hold an associate degree or demonstrate current enrollment in an associate or bachelor’s degree program. Even in states where associate degrees are not required, employers may require this level of education or consider it a highly preferred credential for job candidates. An associate degree in early childhood education, special education, child development, or other specialized field within teaching aligns most closely with the skills that will be required of teaching assistants.
Gain Experience Through an Internship
Having real-world classroom experience can help aspiring teaching assistants stand out in a competitive job market. Many associate degree programs include internships that help students gain real-world classroom experience, and some K-12 schools also offer volunteer or internship opportunities. This sort of professional experience builds on what is learned through academic coursework and can better prepare teaching assistants for a job after graduation.
Complete All State Requirements
Each state has different requirements for teaching assistants, so it’s important for individuals to consult with their state’s board of education and local school districts to learn more about the most up-to-date requirements, including education level, license examinations, and additional certifications. In addition to state requirements, individual schools and private employers may require or prefer other credentials, such as CPR and pediatric first aid certification or CDA certification. In Pennsylvania, to become a certified teaching assistant, individuals must hold a two-year degree in child development, early childhood, or elementary education, or have completed at least two years of college with a minimum of 24 semester hours in one of these three fields. Another option in Pennsylvania is to complete a state-approved examination, such as the Pennsylvania Special Education Paraeducator Credential of Competency or Praxis ParaPro, but individuals should be aware that each county within Pennsylvania may require a different minimum exam score.
Once individuals have completed their state’s requirements for certification, the teaching assistant license allows for employment in that region. Some states require periodic renewal of a teaching assistant license. Other certifications that may be required for employment, such as CPR certification of CDA certification, must also be renewed every two to three years. Individuals working as teaching assistants should keep track of the certifications necessary for employment and maintain a schedule for completing renewal requirements.
Apply for Jobs
Online platforms, such as indeed.com or zippia.com, or a school district’s website, are the best tools for identifying job opportunities. Online job boards devoted to the field of education include edjoin.org and teachers-teachers.com. Common search terms include “teaching assistant,” “instructional assistant,” “paraeducator,” and “paraprofessional.” About 80% of teaching assistant positions are in public school settings.
How Much Do Teaching Assistants Make?
The median salary for teaching assistants is $29,613 annually. Salaries will vary based on location, years of experience, student grade level, and whether the school is public or private or a daycare facility. Some teaching assistant positions are full-time, while others are part-time with an hourly wage rather than an annual salary. The average hourly wage for a teaching assistant is $12-17 and can vary based on factors such as location and years of experience.
Teaching Assistant Job Outlook
Employment opportunities for teaching assistants are expected to grow by 5% between 2021 and 2031, a rate of growth that is about average for all jobs. The role of teaching assistant has become more valued in recent years, especially as students have returned to the classroom after long periods of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic and may be experiencing social and academic deficits. This, coupled with expected rates of retirement, indicates that there may be a greater need for teaching assistants in the coming years.
Can a Teaching Assistant Become a Teacher?
A career as a teaching assistant can rewarding on its own, but many individuals use their teaching assistant experience as a bridge to become a fully licensed lead teacher. Transitioning to teaching often requires earning a bachelor’s degree in education and completion of teacher certification program. Individuals should consult with their state’s board of education to determine the specific requirements for lead teacher certification. Drexel offers degrees and certification programs at all levels – undergraduate, graduate and doctoral – for teaching assistants looking to level up their career.
Pursue a Career in Teaching with Drexel School of Education
Drexel’s School of Education offers a number of options for individuals interested in pursuing a career in teaching. Drexel’s bachelor’s degree programs in education prepare students for becoming fully licensed teachers in K-12 educational settings. For those who already hold a bachelor’s degree, but not in education, Drexel offers a certification program that provides the necessary coursework for a teaching license in Pennsylvania, as well as a master’s degree in teaching, learning and curriculum that provides deeper instruction in the field. Drexel’s graduate and doctoral programs offer a range of coursework in specialized areas of education and that prepare students for leadership roles with the field.
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