Though the job isn't new, the role of teacher aides, also called paraeducators, continues to evolve as laws like No Child Left Behind (NCLB) are passed and students' needs evolve. Per the National Education Association, paraeducators help teachers and other educators to deliver quality education. Paraeducators are known by many names:
- Classroom assistant
- Education paraprofessional
- Special education assistant
- Teacher aide
- Teacher assistant
Paraeducators may also include tutors, interpreters, job coaches and many more job titles. Though teacher aides of the past may have monitored lunchrooms or photocopied classroom materials for teachers, today's education aides play a very important, valued role in students' learning and achievement.
How to become a teacher aide
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70 to 90 percent of all teacher assistants are hired with no formal training. However, schools that receive Title I funds must satisfy NCLB requirements for paraeducators. Schools affected by this federal legislation, which was renewed in 2001, and any teachers aides who want to be among the most qualified paraeducators must meet NCLB minimum requirements as determined by each school district:
- Two years of post-secondary study
- An associate degree or higher
- A formal knowledge and skills requirement assessment, which may include a paraeducation apprenticeship program
Many types of teacher aide training programs exist. Certificate, career diploma and associate degree programs are available from many community colleges, universities, career colleges and online schools. Some teacher aide certificate and associate online education degree programs allow students to focus on special education. Online degrees in teacher aide studies allow currently employed paraeducators the scheduling flexibility to better balance work and family needs.
Additionally, free training may be available. Through its Project PARA program, the University of Nebraska--Lincoln offers free web-based self-study programs for paraeducators that may satisfy a portion of a state's education requirements these professionals.
Bachelor's and graduate degrees for teacher aides aren't generally available; teacher assistants who wish to pursue advanced education could consider other education degrees, such as a bachelor's degree that results in a teaching license or a graduate degree in education administration.
Paraeducator training and degree programs typically include coursework in the following subjects:
- Child and youth development
- Classroom management
- Education law and ethics
- Emotional support and behavioral management
- Introduction to special education
- Roles and responsibilities of paraeducators
Who are today's teacher assistants?
The National Clearinghouse for Paraeducator Resources says that the U.S. has half a million paraeducators. Of that number, 151,000 are members of the NEA and comprise 46 percent of the organization's membership. According to an NEA study, the following is known about today's teacher aides:
- 12 percent currently attend college
- 71 percent work with special education students
- 38 percent plan to earn an advanced degree within the next four years
- 81 percent work full-time
The Center for Exceptional Children says that paraeducators should enjoy working with children, collaborate well with teachers and be dedicated to helping students. Though the BLS recognizes that most teacher aides work in elementary, middle and secondary classrooms, additional opportunities may be found in religious, child care, community and adult rehabilitation centers.
Teacher aide careers at a glance
- Work environment: Teacher aides typically work in K-12 classrooms
- Duties: 71 percent of paraeducators work with special education students
- Salary: The mean annual salary in 2010 was $24,880, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics