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Teaching Assistants Are Paying the Price For School Budget Cuts

Teachers work very hard. But, even veteran teachers don’t make very much money. Compared with other professionals with similar amounts of training and experience, teachers earn less. Workers with at least a four-year degree make an average of 50 percent more than full-time teachers.
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However, despite the low rate of teachers’ pay, districts are struggling to make ends meet financially. And, in the U.K., it’s teaching assistants who are bridging the gap — covering the work that needs to be done in the classroom while being paid far below the already sub-par earnings of regular classroom teachers. Will this trend take root in the U.S.? How could it impact students and educators in the years to come?

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Historically, Teachers and Teaching Assistants Had Very Different Jobs

Schools need support staff to run smoothly — or even just to function at all. The work of the regular classroom teacher is aided by other professionals. Teaching assistants might work with students one-to-one, or maybe help to complete tasks around the classroom. They may even grade a few papers or sit in on a parent-teacher conference once in a while. Traditionally, a teaching assistant is a teacher-in-training, or a specialist. They support the work of the regular classroom teacher and therefore function as a support to the students as well.

However, their jobs are different from the jobs of classroom teachers. One primary difference comes down to pay. While even veteran teachers aren’t paid very well, they do earn more than the average teaching assistant’s pay of $11.82 per hour. It’s important to remember that, since this pay is the average rate, many teaching assistants earn far less than that.

Teachers and teaching assistants, by definition, are meant to have very different jobs. This is the reason for the variance in pay. However, due to budget restrictions, that could be changing.

Asked to Do More, for Less Money

Earlier this year, the U.K.’s Association of Teachers and Lecturers surveyed more than 1,000 support staff members about their jobs. Their findings were alarming. First of all, 78 percent of respondents felt that the work they were doing was identical to that of teachers. That’s up 14 percent when compared with the year before.

In a recent survey, 78 percent of U.K. teaching assistants felt their work was identical to that of teachers.Click To Tweet

“Support staff are feeling the pressure to actually teach lessons and to plug the gap in staff shortages when teachers leave and do not get replaced,” Mary Bousted, ATL’s general secretary, told “Support staff are struggling under excessive workloads as much as teachers and this survey shows that, sadly, support staff feel over-utilised and undervalued.”

Not only are these assistant teachers doing the work of classroom teachers, they’re also working overtime. Seventy-three percent of those surveyed said they feel they have to work extra hours but that they don’t receive extra pay.

“I am very much expected to work extra hours,” one primary school teaching assistant told, “and have been led to believe I would lose my job if I didn’t work extra without pay.”

Researchers are yet to conduct a similar study in the U.S. However, teaching assistants are working in similar financially-strained conditions here as well. In Oklahoma, budget cuts have led to fewer teachers for more students and teaching assistants are one of the ways schools might look to fill in those gaps.

Of course, other states have budget problems, too. Cutting valuable programs and increasing the workload of teaching assistants shouldn’t be used as a fix. If this trend continues to evolve and take root here in the U.S., it could have major consequences for students and for educators.

“This cannot help but have negative consequences, often for the most vulnerable,” Russell Hobby, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, told The Guardian. “The UK is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Education must be seen as an investment in this country’s future, and not a burden on the treasury.”

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