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Education & learning

What Does a Teaching Assistant Do?

Updated August 2021

What-Does-a-Teaching-Assistant-DoThe classroom is where people go to become the thinkers and inventors of tomorrow. Education is critical since it forms the foundation of their knowledge and can guide them towards their interests and careers when they become adults. However, teachers can need help with their jobs, given the responsibility of it.

That’s where teaching assistants come in. These workers can help a teacher manage their classroom or other parts of the school. Teaching assistant jobs aren’t that well known, so it can be confusing when you try to understand what a teaching assistant does in their day-to-day tasks.

What is a Teaching Assistant?

A teaching assistant (TA), also known as a teacher assistant or teachers’ assistant, is a support worker for a teacher in a classroom. Their job is to help with the teacher’s duties, helping them with all sorts of tasks. The teacher has the ultimate say on what a teaching assistant will do for the classroom. Teaching assistants are there to support the teacher and help school work run smoothly.

This means that a teaching assistant does help the teacher out during the class time. So, if you have the heart of an educator, but not the background or desire to get a dedicated teacher job, this could be a good fit for you.

Teaching Assistant Job Description

One of the exciting parts of a teaching assistant job is that the roles will depend on what the classroom needs. Different teachers have different needs from their assistants, so teaching assistant jobs will change from classroom to classroom.

However, different grade levels will have different expectations from their teachers. By extension, teaching assistants can expect to fill different roles depending on what grade level they assist with. Here are some of the different general tasks for teaching assistants in different grades and positions in the school:

Elementary School Teaching Assistants

Most teaching assistants will see that their job tasks them with working with the students directly. Whether you are helping to guide a smaller group of students through an assignment or working a student through a behavior issue, your tasks will have you being there with the students themselves.

Teaching assistants will act as a point of contact with the parents, as well. Students that are struggling with a topic in class or exhibit repeat behavior problems will need to have their parents or guardians notified. If you, as the teaching assistant, are working the closest with that student, then you will know the most about what that student is doing and how to fix it.

Teaching assistants at this grade level will help with preparing for the school day, as well. Many elementary school activities involve more than just a lecture. So, academic aids like worksheets, hands-on supplies, and such will need to be gathered and readied for the students for that day’s lesson. Many teaching assistants will help their teacher get these ready for the students.

Middle/High School Teaching Assistants

Once you get into the middle and high school grade levels, the need for a teaching assistant in a normal classroom drops down. Teachers at this level will have to prepare fewer extra supplies on average since children of this level can follow a lesson without aids. That’s why many teaching assistants at this grade level will be working for special needs classrooms instead.

Special needs classrooms benefit from having more than the teacher around. A teaching assistant can help break the class up into smaller groups during assignments. They will also work with the students in these smaller groups. That way, the lesson comes across and keeps the students focused as best as they can.

Teaching assistants at this level have less say in the curriculum than at the elementary level. Special needs curriculum tends to be very strict, so the teaching assistant’s role in setting that curriculum is limited. Still, many teaching assistants can act as an advocate for students if one lesson isn’t sinking in and work with the teacher to get that student the extra time and attention they need.

Home Economic Teaching Assistants

Certain subjects demand more than a single teacher might be able to provide for the class size. In the case of home economics, a teaching assistant will be able to help the teacher instill the practical lessons this class is designed to give. This is due to two things: the TA’s expertise and ability to split the class into groups.

Teaching assistants that have a knack for this subject will be welcome in many classrooms. You’ll be able to contribute to the curriculum by sharing recipes or techniques that the students might not get to see otherwise. Ingredients for cooking courses or supplies for sewing segments will usually be managed by the teaching assistant, too.

Also, teaching assistants can help break the class up into smaller groups and spend more time with the students than just the teacher would be able to do. This is important for practical classes like home economics since there are more ways to do certain tasks than in other classes like math. By spending time with the students, you can help refine their techniques or repeat demonstrations to better instill the lesson.

Library Assistants

Believe it or not, some teaching assistants don’t work in the classroom at all. Some schools will assign a teaching assistant to the school’s library or media center to assist with tasks. This type of job works best for those that have a passion for books while still seeking to help kids with their education. Organizing the library and helping out the students are the biggest tasks a library assistant will do for their job.

The library is organized based on whatever sorting system the school elects to use. Library assistants will need to learn that system and follow it so the students can find books they want to read.

Also, a library assistant will help students that need a recommendation for a book or help to find one. Since library assistants know how the library is organized and have an idea of what books they have, they can point students in the right direction. They might have to ask some questions about what the student is interested in or what they are working on. But, they should be able to get their students pointed in the right direction quickly.

What Does a Teaching Assistant Do?

The hardest part of being a teaching assistant will be finding out what you will do for your position. The job description for the role will be posted, so make sure you read that and see if it matches the ways you want to help out students.

If you’ve looked at multiple job postings for a teachers’ assistant and scratched your head wondering what does a teachers’ assistant do, you’re not alone. The role of the TA will depend on what the teacher needs from their assistant. Some teachers will have their assistants help them with administrative tasks like taking attendance or recording grades. Some teachers need help getting materials prepared for their students, and so might have their assistants make copies of worksheets. Others still need help grading assignments.

All of those assume you end up in a classroom. Some teaching assistants will be placed in other roles, such as the library or the office. In these roles, your role will be less about teaching students and more about working with them when they encounter specific problems.

Role Stretch For Teaching Assistants

Role stretch is the concept of having your role or job stretched out to include other things. For example, if multiple people work together to make something, role stretching would be when one person starts having to cover for another person that is lagging on their progress. You’re both working towards a goal, but one person is having to do more, or stretch their role out, for the job’s sake.

Teaching assistant jobs are prone to this because of the nature of their jobs. Education ties together more than just daily lessons for students. Teachers are expected to be more than just good educators. They have to manage interpersonal problems with students and communicate academic and behavioral troubles to parents. They have to manage their classrooms in a way that keeps things moving daily.

As teachers are burdened with more responsibility, teaching assistants are expected to keep up, too. A teacher might not have the time to handle grading assignments or organizing lectures if they have to deal with meetings or talking to parents about their child’s progress. As more stuff is piled onto the teacher, there’s a greater chance that some of those tasks fall to the TA.

This isn’t guaranteed to happen to all teachers and teaching assistants. Many schools can manage workloads for their teachers so that they don’t get overwhelmed. These circumstances will depend on the school district and classroom a teaching assistant works for.

How to Become a Teaching Assistant

The teaching assistant job market is expected to grow to about 4% larger by 2029. While this career isn’t booming with growth, there are still several places you might find work as a TA:

  • Public Schools: These are schools that receive funding from a local or state government and don’t charge tuition to receive students.
  • Private Schools: These schools charge tuition for their students, and can control what they require from teachers, students, and faculty because of that.
  • Charter Schools: Existing between public and private schools, these schools don’t have a tuition cost but do have more flexibility in what they can offer despite getting government funding.

Choosing a school in your area will come down to what sort of students you want to work with and what is available at the time.

Education Requirements

The education level you have to reach to become a teaching assistant isn’t high. On average, a teaching assistant has either a high school diploma or some college credits under their belt. This makes this job very accessible for most people, so make sure to keep your teaching assistant resume handy.

You will need to learn what lesson plans the teacher you partner with will be teaching, and how your teacher wants you to assist in those lessons. Being adaptable and willing to learn the lesson plan with your teacher will go a long way in succeeding as a teaching assistant.

Personality Fits for Teacher Assistant Jobs

Teaching assistants are at their best when they are educators at their core. Even if you don’t have the formal education or training of a teacher, the desire to help and teach students will go a long way in this career. You have to love teaching to do it since it can be a demanding job.

People who are more extroverted and patient will succeed as teaching assistants, as well. Working with younger children or special needs students will require patience as you walk them through the lessons. If they get off track, you have to gently correct the issue.

Are Teaching Assistants Important?

If a school is looking for teaching assistants, that’s a good thing! Teaching assistants can make things easier for teachers in their daily tasks. They also help students to learn the material by breaking the classroom up into smaller numbers. That lets the student get more attention placed on them and their learning.

Not every group of students is going to benefit equally from a teaching assistant, though. Different age groups and types of students will get something different out of a teaching assistant.

Benefits For Younger Children

A 2015 study found that most of a teaching assistant’s time is spent working one-on-one or in small groups with students. Administrative tasks and housekeeping for the classroom were a much smaller portion of their responsibilities compared to helping students.

The benefit of this is that younger children require more attention with their schooling than an older child does. Young kids want to be more active, so they might have issues staying still during a big group lesson they aren’t interested in. Others might feel like they are being ignored and tune out the lesson.

Teaching assistants can bring those children back to the lesson by including them more directly. In a smaller group, it’s easier to tell when a student is starting to drift off or be disinterested. The teaching assistant can then ask that student a question or include them in the lesson and bring their attention back.

Benefits For Special Needs Students

Another study done back in 2010 found that students with special needs or disabilities benefit from having a teaching assistant in their classroom. The reasons for this is threefold:

  • Makes The Student Feel Involved: Since teaching assistants can work with smaller groups, they can make sure that students with special needs feel present in the classroom activities.
  • Ensures Participation From These Students: Teaching assistants can make sure that the lesson plan for the day includes the student. They do this by ensuring they can physically do the lesson or tying it back to their interests.
  • Steers Them Towards Achievement: By working with special needs students, teaching assistants can guide students through the lesson and help them understand the material.

By being present and active in a special needs classroom, a teaching assistant makes sure that those students excel to the best they can be.

Do Teaching Assistants Have Administrative Tasks?

Like most jobs, teaching assistants have an administrative part to their job. We live in a data-based world, so keeping everything tracked and organized is important. This is especially true when you’re handling any grading or behavior reporting for your students!

However, teaching assistants aren’t secretaries for teachers. Teaching assistants are there to help facilitate learning in the classroom and offer assistance to the teacher’s duties after that is settled. So, that means that a teaching assistant shouldn’t be expected to do more administrative or bookkeeping work than a teacher.

Some teaching assistants are relegated to roles that have a larger administrative demand than others. As mentioned earlier, different teachers and schools will handle the job differently.

Administrative Assistants

Some teaching assistants are hired to help with office administration for the school. Different schools approach this role differently. Some schools will have their teaching assistants spend some of their time down in the office, while others will have dedicated administrative assistants that help the office as their job. The description for the assistant job you apply for should tell you where you will spend most of your time.

Most of a school’s administrative assistant’s tasks will involve handling smaller tasks around the office. Answering phone calls and emails from parents is a common task for these assistants. You can also expect to work alongside other administrative staff in the office, such as counselors or vice-principals, in their tasks or projects around the school.

In general, the administrative assistant works with the school’s office to keep daily operations moving forward and organized.

Conclusion

Teaching assistants are individuals that help out a teacher with their job in the classroom. While some teaching assistants will work for the library, office, or another part of the school, most are in the classroom with students. There, they work with students to ensure that lessons go smoothly, no matter what the subject or age group is.

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