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Nature of the Work
* Half of all teacher aides work part time.
* Educational requirements range from a high school diploma to some college training.
* Strong demand for aides to assist and monitor students, to provide teachers with clerical assistance, and to help teachers meet the education needs of a growing special education population will contribute to much faster than average employment growth.
Teacher aides, also called instructional aides or paraeducators, provide instructional and clerical support for classroom teachers, allowing teachers more time for lesson planning and teaching. Teacher aides tutor and assist children in learning class material using the teacher's lesson plans, providing students with individualized attention. Aides also assist and supervise students in the cafeteria, schoolyard, school discipline center, or on field trips. They record grades, set up equipment, and help prepare materials for instruction.
In large school districts, some teacher aides are hired to perform exclusively non-instructional or clerical tasks, such as monitoring nonacademic settings. Playground and lunchroom attendants are examples of such aides. Most teacher aides, however, perform a combination of instructional and clerical duties. They generally instruct children, under the direction and guidance of teachers. They work with students individually or in small groupslistening while students read, reviewing or reinforcing class work, or helping them find information for reports. At the secondary school level, teacher aides often specialize in a certain subject, such as math or science. Aides often take charge of special projects and prepare equipment or exhibits, such as for a science demonstration. Some aides work in computer laboratories, assisting students using computers and educational software programs.
In addition to instructing, assisting, and supervising students, teacher aides grade tests and papers, check homework, keep health and attendance records, type, file, and duplicate materials. They also may stock supplies, operate audiovisual equipment, and keep classroom equipment in order.
Many teacher aides work extensively with special education students. Schools are becoming more inclusive, integrating special education students into general education classrooms. As a result, teacher aides in general education and special education classrooms increasingly assist students with disabilities. Aides may attend to a student's physical needs, including feeding, teaching good grooming habits, or assisting students riding the school bus. They also may provide personal attention to students with other special needs, such as those whose families live in poverty, or students who speak English as a second language or need remedial education. Aides help assess a student's progress by observing performance and recording relevant data.
Half of all teacher aides work part time. Most aides who provide educational instruction work the traditional 9- to 10-month school year, usually in a classroom setting. Aides also may work outdoors supervising recess when weather allows, and spend much of their time standing, walking, or kneeling.
Seeing students develop and gain appreciation of the joy of learning can be very rewarding. However, working closely with students can be both physically and emotionally tiring. Teacher aides who work with special education students may perform more strenuous tasks, including lifting, as they help students with their daily routine. Those who perform clerical work may feel overwhelmed by tedious administrative duties, such as making copies or typing.
Teacher aides held about 981,000 jobs in 1996. About 9 out of 10 worked in elementary and secondary schools, mostly in the lower grades. A significant number assisted special education teachers in working with children who have disabilities. Most of the others worked in child daycare centers and religious organizations.
Educational requirements for teacher aides range from a high school diploma to some college training. Aides with instructional responsibilities usually require more training than those who don't perform teaching tasks. Increasingly, employers prefer aides who have some college training. Some teacher aides are aspiring teachers who are working towards their degree while gaining experience. Many schools require previous experience in working with children. Schools may also require a valid driver's license, and perform a background check on applicants.
A number of 2-year and community colleges offer associate degree programs that prepare graduates to work as teacher aides. However, most teacher aides receive on-the-job training. Those who tutor and review lessons with students must have a thorough understanding of class materials and instructional methods, and should be familiar with the organization and operation of a school. Aides also must know how to operate audiovisual equipment, keep records, and prepare instructional materials, as well as have adequate computer skills.
Teacher aides should enjoy working with children from a wide range of cultural backgrounds, and be able to handle classroom situations with fairness and patience. Aides also must demonstrate initiative and a willingness to follow a teacher's directions. They must have good oral and writing skills and be able to communicate effectively with students and teachers. Teacher aides who speak a second language, especially Spanish, are in great demand to communicate with growing numbers of students and parents whose primary language is not English.
About half of all States have established guidelines or minimum educational standards for the hiring and training of teacher aides, and an increasing number of States are in the process of implementing them. Although requirements vary by State, most require an individual to have at least a high school diploma or general equivalency degree (G.E.D.), or some college training.
Advancement for teacher aides, 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 aides can earn their bachelor's degrees and pursue licensed teaching positions. In return for tuition reimbursement, aides are often required to commit to teaching a certain length of time for the school district.
Employment of teacher aides is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. Student enrollments at the elementary and secondary level are expected to rise, spurring strong demand for teacher aides to assist and monitor students and provide teachers with clerical assistance. Teacher aides will also be required to help teachers meet the educational needs of a growing special education population, particularly as these students are increasingly assimilated into general education classrooms. Education reform and the rising number of students who speak English as a second language will continue to contribute to the demand for teacher aides. In addition to jobs stemming from employment growth, numerous job openings will arise as workers transfer to other occupations, leave the labor force to assume family responsibilities, return to school, or leave for other reasonscharacteristic of occupations that require limited formal education and offer relatively low pay.
The number of special education programs is growing in response to increasing enrollments of students with disabilities. Federal legislation mandates appropriate education for all children, and emphasizes placing disabled children into regular school settings, when possible. Children with special needs require much personal attention, and special education teachers, as well as general education teachers with special education students, rely heavily on teacher aides. At the secondary school level, teacher aides work with special education students as job coaches, and help students make the transition from school to work.
School reforms which call for more individual instruction should further enhance employment opportunities for teacher aides. Schools are hiring more teacher aides to provide students with the personal instruction and remedial education they need.
Teacher aide employment is sensitive to changes in State and local expenditures for education. Pressures on education budgets are greater in some States and localities than in others. A number of teacher aide positions, such as those in Head Start classrooms, are financed through Federal Government programs, which also may be affected by budget constraints.
According to a survey of salaries in public schools, conducted by the Educational Research Service, aides involved in teaching activities averaged $9.04 an hour in 1995-96; those performing only nonteaching activities averaged $8.52 an hour. Earnings varied by region, work experience, and academic qualifications. About 3 out of 10 teacher aides belonged to unions in 1996mainly the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Associationwhich bargain with school systems over wages, hours, and the terms and conditions of employment.
Teacher aides who instruct children have duties similar to those of preschool, elementary, and secondary school teachers and school librarians. However, teacher aides do not have the same level of responsibility or training. The support activities of teacher aides and their educational backgrounds are similar to those of child-care workers, family daycare providers, library technicians, and library assistants.
For information on teacher aides, including training and unionization, and on a wide range of education-related subjects, contact:
American Federation of Teachers, Organizing Department, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, DC 20001.
For information on a career as a teacher aide, contact:
National Resource Center for Paraprofessionals in Education and Related Services, 25 West 43rd St., Room 620, New York, NY 10036.
School superintendents and State departments of education can provide details about employment requirements.
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