What Is a Special Ed Instructional Assistant?

Research what it takes to become a special education instructional assistant. Learn about education requirements, job duties, job outlook, and salary information to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Teaching Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Special Education Instructional Assistant?

A special education instructional assistant supports teachers in special education classrooms with both administrative and educational tasks. For example, you could help grade homework, keep attendance, maintain classroom materials or manage student files. You may also help adapt lesson plans to meet the special needs of the students, as well as work one-on-one with them to reinforce lessons the teacher gave prior. These professionals also enforce class rules and help monitor students during free times, like recess. Positions are available at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Consider the following table to determine if a career as a special education instructional assistant is right for you.

Degree Required High school diploma up to bachelor's degree*
Education Field of StudyEducation, special education, psychology
Key Skills Active listening, critical thinking, instructing, monitoring**
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% for all teacher assistants*
Median Salary (2015) $24,900 for all teacher assistants*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*Net Online

Special Education Instructional Assistant Job Overview

Special education instructional assistants work with special needs teachers in both educational and administrative tasks. Assistants may, help supervise students outside of the classroom at recess, on field trips and in the lunchroom. Classroom support might include helping students with in-class activities or fielding behavioral issues.

Special education assistants are often tasked with helping students learn essential life skills, such as grooming habits and taking transportation. You might also partner with physical therapists to assist students who have trouble lifting, writing, going to the restroom or eating.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as recently as 2012, a growing number of schools were incorporating education students into traditional classrooms (www.bls.gov). For this reason, you could find yourself monitoring a small number of students in an integrated classroom instead of assisting a teacher in a classroom with only special needs students. In this case, you might work with teachers to develop an individualized learning plan for the students you are supervising.

What Degree Do I Need?

The BLS notes that while some instructional assistants only need a high school diploma and training, special education instructional assistants usually need at least some postsecondary training. Associate's and bachelor's degrees, as well as undergraduate certificates are common educational paths for this profession.

At the associate's and undergraduate certificate level, you can find programs specifically in special education instructional assisting, as well as in general instructional assisting that offer courses in special education. Additionally, certificate programs usually cover profession-specific classes only, while associate's degree programs typically incorporate general education courses.

If you want to pursue a bachelor's degree, you could apply to a program in special education in order to prepare for state teaching certification exams. In all of these programs, you might take classes in areas that include oral communication, educational program development, anatomy, sign language and child health.

What Is the Job Market Like?

The BLS also reports that employment for instructional assistants is expected to increase about six percent between 2014 and 2024, which may be due to increasing school enrollments and general population growth. Additionally, the BLS reports that special education instructional assistants are likely to have better job prospects than assistants working in traditional classrooms. The median annual salary for instructional assistants was $24,900 as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

One related career that only requires a high school diploma is a childcare worker. Childcare workers watch and care for children when their parents and families cannot. Kindergarten, elementary, middle and high school teachers are also all related careers, but require a bachelor's degree. All of these teachers educate children in various subjects to prepare them for the next level of education. However, they specialize in teaching children of different ages. Kindergarten teachers specifically educate kindergarteners, while elementary teachers typically cover children in the 1st through 5th grades. Middle school teachers teach 6th through 8th grade, while high school teachers work with 9th through 12th graders.

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