What Is a Teaching Assistant?

Teaching assistants help teachers by completing housekeeping tasks and helping students as needed.

Teaching assistants are referred to in different ways—teacher aides, instructional aides, and paraprofessionals—depending on the area of the country and the school district where they work. Teaching assistants fulfill a key support role in helping students succeed in the classroom environment. Their responsibilities are many and varied.


Teaching assistants help the teacher with standard housekeeping tasks like taking attendance, collecting homework, and recording grades. They also help teachers prepare and set up materials and information for lessons. In addition, teaching assistants:

  • Reinforce lessons and help students as they complete classwork. This might include small group or one-on-one help.
  • Enforce classroom rules as well as rules outside of the classroom. This might include hall and cafeteria monitoring duties.
  • Serve as a sounding board and assist teachers as they create lessons and classroom policies.

Additionally, they also help teachers work through issues with individual students and help meet the needs of mainstreamed special education students by making modifications to lessons as needed. This might include reading tests out loud and providing additional time outside of class for students to finish assessments.

Required Education

Teaching assistants typically are not required to have teaching certification. However, teacher aides must meet higher requirements than in the past to work at Title I schools. These requirements are not necessary for food service workers, personal care assistants, non-instructional computer assistants, and similar positions. The requirements include the following:

  • Paraprofessionals must have earned a secondary school diploma or its recognized equivalent such as a GED.
  • They must also have completed two years of study at a college or university (48 semester hours), or
  • They must hold at least an associate degree, or
  • They must be able to demonstrate through an assessment the knowledge of and ability to assist in instructing, reading, writing, and mathematics.

Characteristics of Teaching Assistant

Successful and effective teaching assistants share many of the same qualities. These include:

  • Flexibility: Teacher aides must work with their assigned teacher in the classroom. This requires a degree of flexibility as they are assisting the teacher in their daily teaching duties.
  • Dependability: Teachers grow to depend on their teacher aides to assist them in the classroom. Their plans might sometimes include the need for additional supervision by the teacher assistant if the class is divided into groups.
  • Ability to communicate: Teaching is all about interactions and communication. The teaching assistant needs to be able to interact with the teacher and students on a daily basis.
  • Love of learning: Teaching assistants need to show through their words and actions that they find value in what is being taught. They should never talk badly about the teacher or the subject to the students in the class.
  • Love of children and teenagers: The teacher's aide will be dealing with children and teenagers each day. Therefore, they need to enjoy being around this population and believe that each can succeed in class.

Sample Salary

The annual median teaching assistant salary was $26,970 for the 1.38 million paraprofessionals working across the nation in 2018, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. However, salaries vary by state. Alaska tops the nation in pay for instructional assistants, with an average annual salary of $39,640, the Department of Labor says. Other top-paying states and regions include:

  • Massachusetts: $35,680
  • California: $35,350
  • District of Columbia: $35,300
  • Washington (state): $35,130

Job growth for the field is predicted to be 4 percent through 2028, according to the Department of Labor.

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Your Citation
Kelly, Melissa. "What Is a Teaching Assistant?" ThoughtCo, Nov. 22, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teaching-assistant-8303. Kelly, Melissa. (2020, November 22). What Is a Teaching Assistant? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teaching-assistant-8303 Kelly, Melissa. "What Is a Teaching Assistant?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-teaching-assistant-8303 (accessed June 8, 2023).