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Teacher Assistants - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement for teacher assistants—usually in the form of higher earnings or increased responsibility—comes primarily with experience or additional education. Some school districts provide time away from the job or tuition reimbursement so that teacher assistants can earn their bachelor's degrees and pursue licensed teaching positions. In return for tuition reimbursement, assistants are often required to teach for a certain length of time in the school district.

Teacher assistants held about 1.3 million jobs in 2008. Many worked for public and private educational institutions. Child care centers and religious organizations employed most of the rest.

Job Outlook
Many job openings are expected for teacher assistants due to turnover and about as fast as the average employment growth in this large occupation, resulting in favorable job prospects.

Job Growth
Employment of teacher assistants is expected to grow by 10 percent between 2008 and 2018, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. School enrollments are projected to increase slowly over the next decade, but faster growth is expected among special education students and students for whom English is a second language, and those students will increase as a share of the total school-age population. Teacher assistants often are necessary to provide these students with the attention they require.

Legislation that requires both students with disabilities and nonnative English speakers to receive an education equal to that of other students will continue to generate jobs for teacher assistants, who help to accommodate these students' special needs. Children with special needs require more personal attention, and teachers rely heavily on teacher assistants to provide much of that attention. An increasing number of afterschool programs and summer programs also will create new opportunities for teacher assistants.

The greater focus on school quality and accountability that has prevailed in recent years is likely to lead to an increased demand for teacher assistants as well. Growing numbers of teacher assistants may be needed to help teachers prepare students for standardized testing and to provide extra assistance to students who perform poorly on the tests. Job growth of assistants may be moderated, however, if schools are encouraged to hire more teachers for instructional purposes.

Favorable job prospects are expected. Opportunities for teacher assistant jobs should be best for those with at least 2 years of formal postsecondary education, those with experience in helping special education students, and those who can speak a foreign language. Demand is expected to vary by region of the country. Regions in which the population and school enrollments are expected to grow faster, such as many communities in the South and West, should have rapid growth in the demand for teacher assistants.

In addition to job openings stemming from employment growth, numerous openings will arise as assistants leave their jobs and must be replaced. Many assistant jobs require limited formal education and offer relatively low pay, so many workers transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force to assume family responsibilities, return to school, or for other reasons.

Although opportunities will be favorable, there may be a limited number of full-time positions because many school districts prefer to hire these workers part time.

Median annual wages of teacher assistants in May 2008 were $22,200. The middle 50 percent earned between $17,610 and $28,180. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $15,340, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $33,980.

Full-time workers usually receive health coverage and other benefits. Teacher assistants who work part time ordinarily do not receive benefits. In 2008, about 37 percent of teacher assistants belonged to unions or were covered by a union contract—mainly the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—which bargain with school systems over wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of employment.

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