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What does a Teacher's Assistant do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: Mar 02, 2024

A teacher's assistant (TA), is sometimes called an instructional assistant. These individuals may either be volunteer or paid workers who help to assist teachers in accomplishing daily goals for each class. At minimum, an assistant usually has a high school diploma, but this is not always the case. Some, especially in high school and junior high settings, are volunteers who work to assist a teacher as an elective. They usually receive school credit for these jobs, which can last for a semester or a school year, and they tend to have demonstrated proficiency in the subject being taught, perhaps having taken the class the year prior and from the teacher they’d like to assist.

A volunteer teacher's assistant may also be a parent or a college student. As funding has reduced the number of paid teaching assistant positions — particularly in grammar schools — many parents have stepped in to help the teacher with whatever is needed to run a class. They may work with children in small groups, grade assignments, record grades, make copies or cut out papers for projects. Assistants might also supervise a class for a short period of time if a teacher needs to make a trip to the office. Sometimes teachers will use them to work with the students in most need of attention in the classroom, to give them extra time and attention that might be difficult to provide when a class is large or class abilities exhibit extraordinary range.

The paid TA provides basically the same function as the volunteer parent or student. Unlike volunteers, a school employee must usually submit to background checks and fingerprinting to assure that the person has no background of criminal activity, especially as related to children. This type of teacher's assistant may be called an instructional assistant to differentiate from the many volunteers who help teachers with day-to-day work and to signify that they are school employees. In the class setting, they may hold more responsibility and can supervise a class for longer breaks if a teacher needs to be absent for more than a few minutes.

Some assistants are hired to work with a single student, usually one with significant behavioral issues or disabilities. This often allows these students to function in mainstream class environments in ways that they could not accomplish unassisted. A teacher's assistant may be especially accomplished in the areas of working with children with disabilities and, most often, special day classes may have the highest number of paid assistants to meet needs of students with special requirements.

In college settings, many professors hire or supervise paid or unpaid TAs. Sometimes, these assistants are not only allowed to work with students and grade and record grades, but they may also get to design instructional materials and teach some portions of the class. Some majors require students to work in classes for at least a semester, and other times students merely want the experience of assisting professors and take a job in order to earn college credits. College students may also earn college credits for working as volunteer TAs in elementary or secondary school settings.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon970836 — On Sep 21, 2014

School nurses, health aides and personal care attendants should be the ones changing diapers, pullups, and sanitary napkins once a student has reached middle school, junior high school, and high school. They are the ones trained by other medical personnel. It should never be classroom aides and volunteers who make the lowest salaries and some who just volunteer. Nursing students and nurses do this in hospital settings and nursing homes.

By anon128773 — On Nov 20, 2010

Here is a list of a few duties a teacher's assistant does in the state of Louisiana.

Change diapers and sanitary napkins (pads); tube feed; spoon feed; lift children in and out of wheelchairs, some weighing way over two hundred pounds.

Stays with the students when a teacher is out of the classroom, which is very often; catheterize.

We are also are slapped, pinched, our hair pulled, and at times verbally abused. We are paid less than a bus driver who may work up to an a hour a day.

By Crispety — On Jul 23, 2010

Sunny27- Teacher’s assistants are not used beyond kindergarten in my kid’s school, as those children in elementary school are seen as more independent and less likely to need additional help.

I know that public schools do have teacher’s assistants beyond kindergarten, but they are often called paraprofessionals instead of teacher’s assistants.

By Sunny27 — On Jul 23, 2010

Anon88349- Good for you. You probably would make a great teacher some day.

In my experience teaching assistants often have an associate’s degree and some even have a CDA license which is a credential earn in order to teach preschool children.

Many of these assistants are highly educated and are usually looking for a career in teaching.

One of the teaching assistant in my son’s prekindergarten class was on her way to obtaining her bachelors in elementary education.

Most of the better private schools in the area require at least an associate’s degree, and a CDA is a must for working with children below the kindergarten level.

By anon88349 — On Jun 04, 2010

I had been a teacher's assistant at junior college, when I taught students in many multimedia classes while a professor was teaching the class.

It was often a big class, so I had to help out students who were having difficulty understanding the concepts and technical aspects of it. It was good for me as I gained more verbal communication and other skills needed in the real world.

I had previous experience as an instructional assistant in digital photography workshops for college educators and staff. I had made more acquaintances and received good compliments that I should be teaching in the future.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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