A paraprofessional teaching assistant helps a professional teacher and the students in her class by providing instructional and clerical support so the teacher has more time for direct teaching. Under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, a paraprofessional must have an associate degree or two years of college and must pass a certification test administered by the state in which the person lives.
Teaching assistants are also known as teacher’s aides or instructional aides. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were approximately 1.3 million teaching assistants in the U.S. in 2008. This number is expected to increase by 10 percent by 2018. Teaching assistants work individually with children and with small groups to help them learn. They also provide clerical support to the teacher by making photocopies, distributing, collecting and checking homework, setting up equipment and doing other tasks. As of May, 2008, the national median salary for teaching assistants was $22,200, with a salary range of less than $15,340 to more than $33,980 per year. Full-time teaching assistants generally receive benefits, such as health insurance.
Some teaching assistants do not work in classrooms. Their assignments involve supervising students in the hallways, cafeteria, school grounds or on field trips. Depending on the individual state requirements, these assistants may not need paraprofessional certification. Job requirements include a high school diploma and on-the-job training. However, classroom assistants must take the state’s certification test after completing an associate’s degree or two years of college. Paraprofessionals working with special education and English as a second language students must meet additional requirements. For example, speech-language pathology assistants in California must complete a two-year education and clinical training program and pass a state test administered by California Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology Board.
Special education assistants work with children with physical and mental disabilities or other special needs. Under the direction of a special education teacher, these assistants may help individual students with both learning and personal tasks, such as moving, eating and cleaning. Each child has a unique set of needs, and teaching assistants must be flexible and skilled in identify and addressing these needs under the supervision of the teacher. Special education teaching assistants may also work with toddlers and pre-school children who have developmental delays or other special needs. In addition to the paraprofessional teaching assistant certification requirements, special education assistants also need knowledge or experience in child development, physical disabilities, developmental disorders and learning disabilities.
English As a Second Language
Under NCLB, children for whom English is a second language must receive education that is equal to that of other students, develop and reach age-appropriate English language proficiency and achieve age-appropriate proficiency in core academic subjects. Consequently, teaching assistants who speak a second language, especially Spanish, are in high demand. Paraprofessional teaching assistants working with non-English speaking children not only help them learn English but also help them understand and adapt to the culture of the school and community.