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Teacher Assistant Career Guide

Teacher helping young student with math

What is a Teaching Assistant?

If you’re considering a career in the classroom, a teaching assistant job is a great place to start. Many people become teacher assistants to gain valuable experience before pursuing a degree program to become a licensed teacher. Others use this role as a way to explore different classroom environments as they narrow down their teaching focus. Either way, it can be a valuable or even necessary step for someone looking to earn a bachelor of arts or master of arts in education. 

A teacher assistant plays a supporting role in the classroom. They work under the lead teacher’s supervision to give students added educational support and instruction, which allows the teacher in charge to focus more time on classroom instruction. While most assistants help with everything from tutoring to creating lesson plans, their day-to-day can look different based on the school and age of the students they teach.

Now that we’ve covered what an assistant for a teacher is, let’s dive deeper into what they do and the skills and education you may need to become one.  

What Does a Teaching Assistant Do?

An assistant to a teacher has two main jobs: supporting the teacher in charge and supporting students in the classroom. As the job title implies, teacher assistants assist the lead teacher to ease their workload and help out with everyday classroom tasks, such as grading homework or taking attendance. If a student needs extra support or instruction, a teacher assistant might be asked to work with that student one-on-one. Teacher assistants might also work with the supervising teacher to discuss the progress of students and provide insight. 

The day-to-day of a teaching assistant might look different depending on the age group of their students, but for the most part, their responsibilities include:  

  • Grading tests and homework

  • Record keeping 

  • Monitoring student behavior 

  • Taking attendance

  • Getting the classroom ready for lessons 

  • Overseeing students during non-classroom times, such as lunch, recess, or field trips

  • Supervising group activities 

  • Working with the lead teacher to monitor class schedules 

  • Documenting student progress and communicating with parents to keep them informed 

  • Teaching small groups who need additional help or guidance

  • Attending training classes, conferences, or faculty meetings 

  • Listening to children read, reading to them, or telling them stories

  • Helping children who need extra support to complete tasks

Saying Goodbye to Students

Teacher Assistant vs. Teacher Aide

You’ve probably heard these terms used interchangeably, but there are key differences between a teacher assistant and teacher aide. 

A teaching assistant is usually trained or certified to give teaching support to students under the supervision of a licensed teacher, while a teacher aide performs non-teaching duties like grading papers, setting up the classroom, or enforcing classroom rules. 

The settings they work in vary, too. Teacher aides are found only in elementary or special education classrooms. Teacher assistants, on the other hand, can work in those settings as well as in middle schools and high schools.

“I had two different schools fighting over me. I'm a highly qualified teacher and I absolutely love it. I'm going to do something worthwhile. I'm going to affect people's lives.” Ken Spruel
B.A. Science (5–9)

What Education Does a Teaching Assistant Need?

Educational requirements for teaching assistants vary from district to district and state to state. Some states might require only a high school diploma, while others might want two years of completed college coursework or an associate degree. And in some cases, districts may require teaching assistants to pass a state or local assessment.  

If you want to prepare yourself for a career as a teaching assistant, there are associate degree and certificate programs designed specifically for teaching assistants, and some are even offered online. These programs can give you classroom experience and help you better understand the role of teachers and teaching assistants in the classroom.

Because most teacher assistants are not required to have a four-year degree, they get a lot of their training on the job. This training typically includes learning the procedures of the school, including everything from equipment to record keeping to classroom preparation.


Career Paths for Teaching Assistants

Becoming a teaching assistant is usually a first step in a career in education. Many people choose to become teaching assistants to ensure they enjoy working in a classroom or to try out the field. If you are a teaching assistant, the next step in your career path will be to earn a bachelor's degree so you can become a licensed teacher and get your own classroom. Once you've been a teaching assistant you'll have a great handle on how running a classroom works, and can move forward in a degree program with confidence, knowing that it's a good career choice for you. And when you choose WGU, you can continue working as a teaching assistant while pursuing your bachelor's degree. This means you will continue to earn money and gain experience while pursuing your educational goals—a win all around. 

Degrees to Further Your Education Career

Elementary Education – B.A.

An online teacher certification program for aspiring elementary...

An online teacher certification program for...

An online teacher certification program for aspiring elementary teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching certification in your state.

  • Time: 60% of grads earned this degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this program often include:

  • Aspiring elementary school teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This elementary education degree program includes courses in the foundations of teacher education, instructional planning and presentation, assessment, and classroom management. Core teacher education courses focus on diversity, disciplinary literacy, elementary education methods, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online teaching degree program helps you to be eligible for teaching certification in any of the 50 states.

Mathematics Education (Secondary) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle school math teachers and high school math teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 71% of grads earned this degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this math teaching degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high and high school math teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for math
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This online math teaching degree program includes courses in the foundations of teaching, general education, mathematics content, math education, instructional planning and presentation, and pedagogy. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This online math teaching degree program helps students become eligible for math teaching certification.

Science Education (Secondary Chemistry) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school chemistry teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 71% of grads earned this online chemistry degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online chemistry degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school chemistry teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for chemistry
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This chemistry teaching degree program includes online classes in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, chemistry, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. Earn a chemistry degree online and be eligible for a teaching certification.

Special Education (Mild to Moderate) – B.A.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring K–12 special education teacher. Leads to your teaching license in states that offer a single teaching license in K–12 special education.

This special education bachelor's degree program will help you prepare for an exciting future helping exceptional students. If your state requires—or if you're interested in—dual licensure in both elementary education and K–12 special education, consider the B.A. Special Education (K–12) program.

  • Time: 62% of grads finish similar online teaching degree programs within 3½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this special education degree program often include:

  • Aspiring special ed teachers who currently lack a teaching license.
  • Substitute teachers.
  • Career-changers.
  • School paraprofessionals.
  • Others who feel the call to teach.

This online degree program includes coursework and assessments tailor-made for future teachers who are committed to working with students who have mild to moderate learning exceptionalities. It offers deep engagement in serving special education students and leads to your K–12 special education license in states that do not require dual elementary-ed and special-ed licensure. It also includes a preclinical experience with face-to-face observation hours and a Demonstration Teaching component hosted by an experienced teacher and directed by a clinical supervisor.

Compare B.A. Special Education (K–12)

Special Education and Elementary Education (Dual Licensure) – B.A.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring K–12 special education teachers. Leads to dual licensure—elementary education teaching license and special education teaching license.

(Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.) If your state offers a single K–12 special education teaching license and you are interested in focusing on teaching students with mild to moderate exceptionalities, consider the B.A. Special Education (Mild to Moderate) online teaching degree. 

  • Time: 62% of grads earned this degree within 3½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this online teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring special ed teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This special education teaching online degree program prepares you to teach students with mild-to-moderate disabilities, with courses in the foundations of teaching, instructional planning and presentation, assessment, and classroom management. Core elementary and special education courses focus on diversity, disciplinary literacy, elementary education methods, and special education topics such as law, assessment, and behavioral management. This program requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. Compare B.A. Special Education (Mild to Moderate)

 

Science Education (Middle Grades) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle school science teachers. Leads to teaching license in all states that have a middle-grades general science teaching license.

Specific grade levels you are qualified to teach will vary depending on teaching certification in your state.

  • Time: 69% of grads earned this science teaching degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online science teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or middle school science teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for science
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This science teaching degree program includes coursework in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, science, mathematics, pedagogy, science education, field experience, and a teacher performance assessment. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching.

Science Education (Secondary Physics) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school physics teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching license options in your state.

  • Time: 67% of grads earned this online physics degree within 36 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school physics teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for physics
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This physics teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, physics, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. Graduates of this online teaching degree program will be eligible for teaching certification.

Mathematics Education (Middle Grades) – B.S.

An online teacher certification program for aspiring middle...

An online teacher certification program for...

An online teacher certification program for aspiring middle school math teachers. Leads to teaching license in states that have a middle-grades math teaching license.

Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching licensure in your state.

  • Time: 61% of grads earned this degree within 30 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term.

Candidates for this science teaching degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high math teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for math
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This science teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, science, mathematics, pedagogy, science education, field experience, and a teacher performance assessment. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This science teaching degree prepares you to be eligible for a teaching license in any of the 50 states.

Science Education (Secondary Biological Science) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school biology teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on licensure in your state.

  • Time: 76% of grads earned this online biology degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this online teaching degree often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school biology teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for biology
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This biology teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, biology, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching.

Science Education (Secondary Earth Science) – B.S.

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for...

An online teaching degree and teacher...

An online teaching degree and teacher certification program for aspiring middle or high school earth science teachers.

Leads to teacher licensure. Specific grade levels will vary depending on teaching license options in your state.

  • Time: 69% of grads earned this middle school teaching and high school teaching degree within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,520 per 6-month term, plus a one-time fee of $350 to cover the cost of an at-home science lab.

Candidates for this science teaching degree program often include:

  • Aspiring junior high or high school geoscience teachers who currently lack a teaching license
  • Substitute teachers
  • Career-changers with a passion for earth science
  • School paraprofessionals
  • Others who feel the call to teach

This geosciences teaching degree program includes online courses in the following areas: general education, foundations of teaching, general science, mathematics, earth sciences, pedagogy, and science education. It requires in-classroom observation and a term of full-time demonstration teaching. This high school teaching degree program prepares you for teaching licensure in any of the 50 states.


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Should I Become a Licensed Teacher?

If you're currently a teaching assistant or considering becoming one, the next step in your career could be to become a licensed educator. You can run your own classroom, make more money, and impact students in a new way with the help of a degree and a teaching license. And you can earn your degree while continuing to work full-time as a teaching assistant. This allows you to continue to make money, learn from real-world experiences, and apply what you are learning, all while pursuing a degree that will benefit your life.

Edited Book Stack

What Skills Does A Teaching Assistant Need?

Because they support a range of classroom activities, teacher assistants need to have a wide variety of hard and soft skills, including: 

  • An ability to build good working relationships with both students and adults
  • Good organizational skills
  • Flexibility and creativity
  • Good literacy and numeracy skills
  • Ability to manage groups of pupils and deal with challenging behavior
  • A knowledge of first aid
  • Willingness to follow directions 
  • A teamwork mentality 

In some jobs, it could be useful if you have IT skills or are fluent in other languages.

If you’re considering a career in education, becoming a teacher assistant will help you gain hands-on, real world experience that you can get only by working in the classroom. Or, it might help you discover what specialization you want to pursue and what age group you want to work with.

 

How Much Do Teacher Assistants Make?

$27,920

How much you’re paid as a teaching assistant can vary based on the school’s budget, as well as your specific qualifications and experience. However, the average salary for teaching assistants is $27,920, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics .

 

What is the Job Outlook for Teacher Assistants?

4%

Because student enrollment is rising, the need for teaching assistants is, too. In fact, employment of teacher assistants is projected to grow 4% over the next ten years, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Where Do Teacher Assistants Work?

Schools

About 70% of teacher assistants can be found in public schools, while the remainder work in private schools, childcare centers, or for religious organizations that have educational programs. 

Keep in mind, the educational requirements for teaching assistants might vary based on the environment you’re working in. For example, if you’re assisting in a classroom for students with special needs, that school might require additional training or skills-based testing.

Interested in a Career in Education?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for a meaningful career in education.

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