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Elementary and Secondary School Teaching Assistant


Trying to get 35 nine-year-olds to figure out fractions is not very easy. Some of the students are way ahead of the others, while some are still struggling with more simple math concepts. Often, teachers have assistants to help them out in the classroom.

Elementary and secondary school teaching assistants, also called paraprofessionals, teacher assistants or para-educators, help with lessons, outings and other activities. They prepare art supplies and monitor outdoor play. They clean up gym equipment and help grade papers. They also tutor and assist students who are having trouble, as well as work with groups of children who need more advanced challenges. Some teaching assistants may also assist special-needs students with mobility, communication and personal hygiene within regular, non-segregated classroom settings and within special needs or life skills classrooms.

Working with children isn't an easy job. Teaching assistants in high schools have to cope with adolescent angst and reluctance to conform, while those working with elementary school-aged children need to be energetic, patient, and willing to play. Regardless of where they work, elementary and secondary school teaching assistants must be honest, trustworthy, and respectful of children. They must be able to work under the watchful eye of a teacher, as well as trust themselves and their abilities enough to work independently, too.

In today's growing classrooms, teachers are finding it difficult to work one-on-one with each student in their classrooms. But because of the dedicated and hardworking assistants in the classrooms, students are getting the individual attention they deserve. This helps foster self-esteem, trust, and a desire to learn in students, as well as gets them a little closer to solving that tricky fraction problem in their homework.
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  Interests and Skills  
Successful elementary and secondary school teaching assistants are organized, passionate people, who are as both flexible and firm, driven and relaxed. They should have a genuine interest in children, as well as a true respect for them. They should be creative, imaginative, and resourceful, with strong leadership qualities. A good sense of humor, loyalty, and a good set of morals will also come in handy. They should be decisive, and have problem-solving skills, especially under pressure. They have fantastic communication skills, both written and verbal, as well as listening skills. They are open to other cultures and beliefs, and must be good motivators. They are also fit, with enough stamina to keep up with active students.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Work independently with students or in the classroom with the teacher
  • Work with a particular special needs child or a group of children within a class
  • Perform clerical tasks in the school office
  • Help students with lessons
  • Implement lesson plans under the direction and supervision of a teacher
  • Motivate students
  • Read with children or tell stories
  • Demonstrate activities, set up and dismantle displays, play areas and work areas
  • Observe and report student behavior and progress
  • Correct homework and tests, and administer oral tests
  • Facilitate and encourage positive interaction between students
  • Assist special needs students with personal care needs
  • Organize teachers' files on students
  • May supervise children during lunch and recess breaks
  • There are many tasks each day for a teaching assistant. From monitoring lunch time to grading papers, they are there as supports to the teachers and students alike. They work alongside teachers as well as independently with students requiring special attention. They may be on field trips or from classroom to classroom or school to school throughout the community. They may work outside, especially if they work at an elementary school.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Elementary and secondary school teaching assistants can be found at work in public, separate, and private schools, daycare centers, nursery schools, out-of-school care programs, centers for special needs children, and other places that offer educational programs. Their environment can be loud, colorful, and decorated and designed for the needs of younger students, or it can be studious, quiet, and aimed at the needs of older students. They work varied hours, depending on where they are employed. Some work regular eight-hour days, while others work only part-time. They may only be on contract, and will need to find other employment come the summer months. They work alongside a teacher, and possibly another assistant.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Elementary and secondary school teaching assistants can work in a variety of classrooms, from kindergartens to high school drama classes to life skills classes. They can train to work as teachers, or early childhood educators. They can find work as a nanny, in museums, or at recreation centers. They can return to school and train to become counselors, play therapists, or child-advocacy lawyers. Social work, professorships, and researcher positions are all venues open to people interested in the development and learning capabilities of young children.

  Educational Paths  
In order to work as an elementary and secondary school teaching assistant, a high school diploma is required. They also need some experience working with children, as well as, educational training in early childhood education, child and youth care or education. Teaching assistants may need to be certified, as well, depending on the region in which they want to work. Make sure to check with the local school board to learn about requirements.

Start working with children now. Volunteer with a club or organization, like Girl Guides or Scouting. Individuals wanting to work as teaching assistants may want to visit a class room and observe how the aides work, and decide if it's the right career move for them.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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