Teacher's assistants, aides or paraprofessionals provide assistance to the teacher to improve learning in the classroom. They sometimes will help individual students with special needs or disabilities or non-English-speaking students. Ideally, the teacher and the assistant work as a team to help students maximize their learning potential. According to the National Education Association, “paraeducators are being recognized as equal and essential members of professional educational teams. Their contributions are respected and valued.” It is an ideal profession for those who are unable to attain the certification required for teaching but who enjoy working with students.
Teaching assistants are found in many types of educational institutions from preschools to vocational education centers, community colleges and adult education programs. The type of assistance provided by the teacher's assistant includes supervising students inside and outside the classroom, helping students with assignments, maintaining equipment, helping the teacher with the day-to-day management of activities, monitoring student performance, preparing lesson materials, attending meetings and acting as a back-up to the teacher.
Characteristics and Qualities
Important qualities for a teaching assistant are patience and understanding. They should be empathetic toward their students but know when to step back and let the student work problems out for themselves. Being able to engage and communicate with students at an appropriate level is essential, as are creativity and the ability to keep things interesting. The teaching assistant should be an effective communicator with both students and teachers and be able to work with the teacher as a team -- accepting his role as assistant and not leader.
Challenges for the Teaching Assistant
The qualities that make a good teaching assistant are those that will enable her to cope with the challenges of different learning environments. Managing the behavior of children can take skill and on-the-spot management, and assisting those with disabilities or special needs requires calmness and the ability to adapt to a situation. Working with adults requires understanding of cultural differences and the ability to assist only when needed.
Education requirements for a teacher's assistant career range from a high school diploma to an associate's degree, depending on the school district. Job descriptions are varied. According to the America Federation of Teachers, there are 980,000 aides with roles such as institutional aide, special education assistant, preschool or early childhood assistant, bilingual assistant and library assistant. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of teacher assistants to grow by 15 percent from 2010 to 2020, or about as fast as average. Growth is mainly expected in the day care and pre-school setting.
Caroline Banton has more than 14 years of experience in the communications and publishing fields, working in global development and finance. Her articles have covered business, economics and recruitment, among other topics. Banton holds an M.B.A. in marketing management.