How to Become a Teaching Assistant


Teaching assistants work in public and private schools under the supervision of certified teachers. At the college and university levels, they work under the supervision of professors. Teaching assistants typically assist with the supervision of students and with grading, among other assigned duties.

How can I become a teaching assistant?

In public elementary, middle, and high schools, the route to becoming a teaching assistant varies from state to state. In most states, teaching assistants must have completed high school and at least two years of postsecondary education. In some states, teaching assistants must hold some form of certification. As a result, many teaching assistants have completed specialized courses in subjects, such as child development, educational psychology and classroom management.

Back to SchoolAt the postsecondary level, teaching assistants are typically graduate students (usually at the doctoral level). As a result, most teaching assistants in this context have completed a bachelor’s degree and often completed a master’s degree. They usually facilitate small tutorials or seminars, or oversee student work in a laboratory setting.

Teaching assistants at the postsecondary level, who are usually full-time students, are generally employed on a part-time basis. In many cases, teaching assistant work is awarded as part of a funding package for a graduate program. It is meant to offset the cost of graduate studies and to provide emerging scholars with professional experience in a classroom setting.

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What is the career outlook for a teaching assistant?

As the title implies, teaching assistants are in the classroom to assist teachers and professors. They rarely set the curriculum or make executive decisions, but rather assist in the delivery of the curriculum.

At the elementary, middle, and high school levels, teaching assistants often work with smaller groups of students, or one-on-one with students who require additional help. They may also assist teachers in preparing classroom activities, supporting teachers with classroom management, carrying out administrative tasks, and marking assignments. For this reason, working as a teaching assistant can be an excellent way for people interested in pursuing a career in education to gain firsthand experience.

At the college or university level, graduate teaching assistants typically enjoy some degree of autonomy. For example, they may run their own tutorials, seminars or lab classes once or twice a week. However, they are still rarely charged with selecting course materials or with curriculum design.

What is the average salary for a teaching assistant?

In 2013, the reported mean annual salary for a teaching assistant in an elementary, middle, or high school was $25,570, compared to $56,630 annually for a certified teacher. In Connecticut, the highest paid teaching assistants make more than $44,000, annually; in southern Texas, the lowest paid teaching assistants make less than $17,000, annually.

Like teachers, most teaching assistants work from September to June, with a higher percentage of teaching assistants working part-time. Depending on the district, and whether or not teaching assistants are working full- or part-time, they may or may not receive health and retirement benefits, typically enjoyed by teachers.

Graduate teaching assistant salaries and working conditions at the college and university level also vary. Generally, graduate student teaching assistants at private universities are better compensated for teaching assistant work, than their colleagues at state universities who receive the same compensation for less work.

On some campuses, graduate teaching assistants have formed unions to lobby for higher wages and access to health benefits. In 2013, the reported mean annual salary for a graduate teaching assistant was $31,810. Unlike full-time university faculty, they typically do not receive benefits, but in most cases, their employment is considered part their education — in a sense, a paid apprenticeship designed to prepare them for full-time teaching work at the college level.

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