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What does a Teaching Assistant do?

By Elle Jay
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A teaching assistant helps teachers and students. Teaching assistant jobs can be found at all educational levels, from preschool to the upper echelon of colleges and universities. Instructional and academic duties are a large part of many such positions, but a teaching assistant job description can vary depending on the specific job. Administrative duties, such as keeping records and filing, may also fall under the realm of the teaching assistant.

Preschool teaching assistants often help with supervision of the students and may play a small role in instruction since there is less teaching time at this level. Lesson plans for preschoolers involve a lot of hands-on work, so the assistant may be asked to prepare the classroom for special projects or clean up after work is finished. Assisting a preschool teacher may also involve taking care of the students, since they are younger and require continuous supervision.

The older students in elementary and high school need less supervision, although teaching assistant jobs in some schools still involve monitoring hallways, classrooms, athletic fields, libraries, and study halls. Teaching assistants may also be asked to attend field trips in s supervisory capacity. Assistants at higher educational levels might assist with teaching, but they will usually follow the lesson plan or curriculum specified by the teacher. College students majoring in education frequently work as teaching assistants in lower grades as part of a degree program.

College- or university-level teaching aides are often called TAs, and they can assist professors and teachers in a variety of ways. Sometimes a TA will teach a class or be responsible for a study group that is part of the class. TAs frequently grade tests and assignments and may work one-on-one with students as tutors or on special projects. Many science classes require labs, where the TA can supervise experiments and run the lab.

It is estimated that approximately half of all teaching aide positions are part time. This type of job is attractive to parents, because they can work while their children are in school and have time off during the summer when the kids are home. Many teaching assistants are college students studying for a degree in education. Many master’s degree candidates work as a TA in their major, teaching first-year students in entry-level college courses.

Although some college is usually desired, a high school diploma may be the minimum requirement for a teaching assistant position. An associate’s degree may be a prerequisite for some jobs. Most positions in education will require applicants to undergo a background check before being hired. While it is not necessary, fluency in a foreign language may be helpful for someone interested in a teaching assistant position.

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Discussion Comments
By bythewell — On Oct 04, 2014

@Iluviaporos - That's one reason I would get a very clear description of what they expect you to do before you start as an assistant. Different schools will define them in different ways. You might be working with children who have been identified as needing specific help and expected to develop your own mini-curriculum. Or you might just be chopping up worksheets for a single teacher who needs an extra pair of hands.

If you are just looking for a job, then it doesn't matter so much. But if you really want to help educate kids then you need to make sure that the position is going to be everything you want it to be.

By lluviaporos — On Oct 04, 2014

@umbra21 - It's probably got a lot to do with personality as well. If you don't mind not being in control then you're going to be happier as an assistant than someone who would prefer to be in charge. As an assistant you can never pick and choose which children you work with or what you're going to be teaching them.

As teaching jobs go, it's very much up to other people what you get to do in a current day and you aren't always going to agree with it.

Most people who get into education are there because they think they can make a difference and have some intuition about how to do that. It can be very frustrating to be put in a position where you are subject to the whims of a teacher and kept doing busy-work.

By umbra21 — On Oct 03, 2014

I actually prefer to work as a teaching assistant rather than as a teacher in charge of a classroom. It just seems like you get to interact with the kids and help them without needing to take on the responsibilities and headaches of being in charge.

I mean, you take a pay cut, that's for sure, but the amount that teachers have to work compared with what they are paid just doesn't seem worth it to me.

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