How to Become a Teaching Assistant

Three Parts:Meeting the Educational RequirementsFinding WorkWorking as a Teaching Assistant

Teaching assistants—also called teacher's aides and educational assistants—help licensed or certified teachers with their instructional, organizational, and disciplinary responsibilities. While the exact requirements needed to become a teaching assistant may vary by state and local law, you'll likely follow the same career path regardless of where you hope to work.

Part 1
Meeting the Educational Requirements

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    Graduate high school. You'll need a high school diploma or equivalent before you can qualify for any job as a teaching assistant, including those at the entry level.[1]
    • During your high school years, you should aim to obtain a well-rounded education in all areas of study since many teaching assistants help students across multiple subjects. Focused courses on English, communication, or computers may provide you with the communication and technological skills you'll need to excel in the field, however.
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    Review state and local regulations. There are no broad federal guidelines determining the minimum amount of post-secondary education required for teaching assistants. These regulations are usually left to state and local governments.
    • Contact the Board of Education in your state to learn more about state-specific qualifications. For local regulations, contact the educational board within your municipality or county.
    • Note, however, that teaching assistants working in schools with Title 1 programs must either have two years of college, an associate's degree, or state/local certification. Title 1 is a federal program that assists schools heavily involved with students from low-income families.[2]
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    Pursue an associate's degree. While it's possible to obtain work as a teaching assistant without any college education, getting your associate’s degree in a related field will open you to greater opportunities.
    • The exact degree title can vary by school, but typically, it'll be an associate's degree program for teacher associates.[3] You may also run across degrees for specific career fields—for instance, an early childhood associate degree would make you qualified to work in elementary school settings.
    • Before you can complete an associate's degree, you may need to gain fieldwork experience. This can be highly beneficial. In addition to giving you practical experience, completing fieldwork will also give you the chance to connect with potential employers or network contacts.
    • Additionally, some colleges offering this degree may even offer job placement assistance upon graduation from the program.
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    Pass the appropriate skill-based exam. Before you can work with certain student categories, like special needs students, you may need to pass certain skill-based exams to demonstrate your ability.
    • This principle may apply to most or all specialties within a given state or municipality. For instance, you may need to pass a comprehensive language exam when seeking to specialize in bilingual education.
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    Seek advanced levels of certification. In many states, you can continue pursuing more advanced levels of certification while working. These levels will make you eligible for more varied opportunities.
    • For example, in New York City, there are four levels of certification for teaching assistants: Level I, Level II, Level III, and Pre-Professional.[4]
      • Advancing through the levels requires the completion of various workshops and college coursework, and you must also have a minimal year of experience as a licensed New York state teaching assistant before advancing beyond Level I certification.[5]
      • While all levels permit you to work with students under the supervision of a licensed teacher, only the Pre-Professional certificate is designed to assist those looking to become licensed teachers.

Part 2
Finding Work

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    Gain early experience as a student tutor. If you're still in high school or college, consider working as a student tutor. Some skill sets used by tutors overlap with those used by teaching assistants, so this can be a good job to include on your resume.
    • Even if you've already graduated both high school and college, you may still be able to find tutoring opportunities at local schools or learning centers. You may also find work as a private tutor if you can demonstrate adequate skill level with the subject you'd be tutoring.
    • If you have kids of your own, consider volunteering to assist their teachers on a semi-regular basis. You could offer to help during field trips, special classroom activities, or other events to gain related experience.
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    Know where to look for job opportunities. Most teaching assistants are employed by private and public schools, but some also find work in preschools, childcare centers, community centers, and religious centers.
    • It's usually easiest to find work at the elementary school level since students need more focused attention during these formative years, but you can apply for work elsewhere, as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, approximately 76 percent of teaching assistants worked in elementary or secondary schools. Only 9 percent worked for childcare centers, and the remaining percentages were dispersed across other fields.[6]
    • The BLS also expects employment for teaching assistants to grow roughly 9 percent between 2012 and 2022, due primarily to an increase in student enrollment. This is true for public and private schools alike, as well as childcare service providers.[7]
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    Learn about union membership. It isn't absolutely necessary for you to join a labor union, but many teaching assistants choose to do so.
    • Union membership has its pros and cons, but joining a union may make it easier to gain access to various job openings and opportunities for advanced training.
    • Common labor unions for teaching assistants include the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Note that these unions are primarily for teachers, but teaching assistants are often eligible to join. You may also wish to join a smaller union specific to teaching assistants that exists at a state or local level.
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    Consider choosing a specialty. Common specialties include special education, bilingual education, and multicultural education. By choosing a specialty, you gain access to job opportunities many other prospective candidates aren't eligible for.
    • Teaching assistants who work with special education students may work within regular classrooms or separate classes. If you pursue this type of specialty, you should be prepared to adapt learning material to meet your students' needs while also assisting severely disabled students with their basic needs.
    • If you're fluent in a second language, you might be eligible to become a bilingual or multicultural education assistant. Either specialization will require you to communicate with students who do not speak English fluently or whose parents are unable to do so. Your unique skill set will enable you to assist an instructor who would otherwise be unable to effectively communicate in these circumstances.
    • For those with higher education in a particular learning field—e.g., English, mathematics, biology, history—you might qualify to work as a teaching assistant in secondary school settings for related course topics.
    • You can specialize your work based on location. For instance, some teaching assistants may only work with students in shared computer labs, lunchrooms, or playgrounds.
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    Demonstrate the necessary skills. Understand what skill sets prospective employers likely hope to see. Highlight these skill sets on your resume and during your job interviews.
    • In particular, teaching assistants need to have excellent communication skills and interpersonal skills. Since most classrooms that utilize teaching assistants contain many students with varied abilities, prospective candidates should also be patient and resourceful.

Part 3
Working as a Teaching Assistant

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    Know what the job requires. It's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the kind of work you'll be doing on the job before you choose this career path.
    • Teaching assistants provide students with additional instruction both inside and outside the classroom. You may need to review material with small groups or individual students after the teacher concludes a period of active instruction.
    • You'll also need to help the teacher with organizational and disciplinary tasks. You may track attendance, calculate grades, set up classroom equipment, or supervise students during recesses and field trips.[8]
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    Anticipate an accurate wage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for teaching assistants in 2012 was $23,640. This amount may vary depending on experience, employer, and other factors.[9]
    • Note that nearly half of all teaching assistants only work part-time, and most do not work during the summer. It is possible, however, for you to find work with a year-round employer or summer school.
    • Within 2012, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $17,180, but the top 10 percent earned more than $36,680.
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    Learn additional skills on the job. While working as a teaching assistant, you need to remain open to every new on-the-job learning opportunity you run across. Some of these opportunities will be formal, but many more will be informal.
    • Attend workshops created by the state Department of Education, conferences provided by professional teaching unions, and other formal learning opportunities.
    • Interact with other professionals on the job to learn new skills. This can be especially helpful when you interact with experienced professionals or those coming from different backgrounds. Similarly, your students can teach you a lot, as well, since you can learn directly from them about which methods of instruction and/or discipline are more helpful than others.
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    Advance through the system. As you gain experience, you will likely become qualified to work a greater variety of teaching assistant jobs or under better conditions.
    • Many teaching assistants actually start as substitute instructors for larger school systems. As they prove themselves through these temporary positions and network with other teaching professionals, they improve their odds of securing a full-time position within the same or nearby districts once one arises.[10]
    • Furthermore, many teaching assistants also progress into full-time careers as qualified teachers. Additional education and certification will be required, but your professional experience as a teaching assistant should help you secure work more readily within the field.

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Categories: Teaching