Teacher Assistant Duties: What You Can Expect on the Way to Leading an ECE Classroom

photo of an early childhood teacher assistant playing with preschoolers

Not many people start their careers at the top of the food chain. Most people get their start in lower-level roles and work their way up—and that’s no different in the early childhood education (ECE) field. While you might have your heart set on leading your own classroom or even running an entire center, you’ll likely need to spend some time as a teacher’s assistant to build your qualifications.

While lead teachers and center directors may need to clear a higher bar when it comes to education and experience qualifications, spending time as an assistant will help strengthen your resume and give you a much better idea of whether or not this is the career for you long term.

So what can you expect from a job as an early childhood teacher assistant? Let’s take a closer look at the role and how it could fit into your long-term early childhood education career plans.

What is an early childhood education classroom teacher assistant and what do they do?

An ECE teacher assistant is a kind of paraprofessional—a trained aide who assists a professional teacher. If you have ever worked closely with young children, you know that one adult in a room with twenty-five kids is not a recipe for success. Accomplished ECE teachers have years of training in child development and education on how to help young minds grow into strong and curious adolescents, but it’s not always possible, or even the best option, for young children to only have one adult caring for and supervising them in the classroom.

Children at this stage of development are growing—physically, mentally, emotionally and socially—about a mile a minute. They require lots of engagement with other children, their surroundings and adults in order to reach developmental markers. Working with these creative, engaged and energetic little people can be one of the most magical and meaningful ways to spend your time, but it will also require every ounce of your patience, problem-solving skills and, yes, even physical endurance.

Thus the invention of the ECE classroom teacher assistant role. While a lead ECE teacher can provide structured activities based on their extensive body of knowledge and experience, the teacher assistant can provide boots on the ground help for students who need a little extra guidance, make observations for the lead teacher to keep track of student progress and ensure the classroom (especially those far back corners) is a safe, fun and educational space.

Where do ECE classroom teacher assistants work?

The classroom, obviously! But especially in ECE environments, these can take a variety of shapes. Some ECE classroom teacher assistants work in elementary or preschool classrooms. Some work in day care or other childcare facilities. Some work in classrooms using different educational models such as Waldorf or Montessori, and some may work in religious schools. You can read about some of the most common types of classrooms you might work in as an ECE classroom teacher assistant in, “The Ultimate Guide to 13 Different Types of Schools Across America.” 

What skills do you need to be an ECE classroom teacher assistant?

Not sure if you’d be up to the task? It can help to take a look at what employers are seeking from applicants in their job postings. We analyzed over 68,000 teacher assistant job postings so you can get a better feel for the skills employers prefer to see in teacher assistant applicants. Here’s what we found:1

  • Teaching
  • Special education
  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
  • Child development
  • Early childhood education
  • Lesson planning
  • Toileting
  • Customer service
  • Scheduling
  • Record keeping

As you can see, the skills needed to be a teacher assistant are probably about in line with what you’d expect—they lend a hand with a lot of the same duties a lead teacher takes on in an ECE classroom, so any experience with the above is a big plus.

Above all, the most important part of an ECE classroom teacher assistant’s job is a desire to be working with young children and a passion for learning. Having an enthusiasm for working with young children—through all the laughter and tears and exhaustion—is essential for anyone considering becoming an ECE classroom teacher assistant.

What are the requirements for becoming a teacher assistant?

There are different educational requirements for teacher assistants that range from a high school diploma or GED to an Associate’s or a Bachelor’s. To work in a Title 1 school (federally-funded schools typically working with under-resourced students) a teacher assistant must have at least an Associate’s degree.

Beyond education, you’ll also likely need to pass a background check and have a clear record. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, as parents are entrusting you with the safety of their children and a criminal record is an obvious red flag.

What can teacher assistants do to advance in the ECE field?

While many teacher assistants enjoy their work and are perfectly content to stay put, many others may have their eyes on advancement. Potential career advancement options include moving into a lead teacher role, becoming a center director or even becoming an owner-operator of a childcare service.

No matter their ultimate goal, ECE teacher assistants are in an excellent position for building a strong resume. Experience in an ECE environment is a big factor for more advanced roles. Adding to a resume with a formal education that dives deep into child development principles, curriculum design and other essential skills for ECE leaders can be a winning combination. At Rasmussen College, there are education options ranging from Certificate to Bachelor’s degree that can be a fit for nearly any stage of an ECE career. If you’d like to learn more about how a college education could benefit an early childhood education career, our article, “What Can I Do With an Early Childhood Education Degree?” can help lay it out.

1Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 68,026 teacher assistant job postings, Aug. 01, 2019 – Jul. 31, 2020).
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, [accessed October, 2020] www.bls.gov/ooh/. Information represents national, averaged data for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries. Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Rasmussen College ECE programs programs do not prepare students for licensed teaching positions in any public school setting. These program have not been approved by any state professional licensing body, and these program are not intended to lead to any state issued professional license. For further information on professional licensing requirements, please contact the appropriate board or agency in your state of residence.

About the author

Anjali Stenquist

Anjali Stenquist is a content writer for Collegis Education who writes student focused articles on behalf of Rasmussen University. She is passionate about helping students of all backgrounds navigate higher education.

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