ESL / ELL / TESOL

Your Guide to Becoming a Bilingual Education Assistant

Your Guide to Becoming a Bilingual Education Assistant
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Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella September 3, 2019

Do you have a knack for languages and a desire to help students overcome their language barriers? A job as a bilingual education assistant is a great way to start your career in teaching.

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If you completed high school, you most likely spent some time learning to speak a foreign language—if “learning” means memorizing a few curse words and how to ask where the bathroom is. Or, maybe you decided to go with Latin, because it amused you that the word for six is “sex” and because you knew you’d never actually have to speak the language. Because it’s dead.

But let’s say you have actually mastered a second language and are truly bilingual. Maybe you grew up in a bilingual household and are trying to figure out how to put this skill to use in a situation that doesn’t involve getting yelled at by your mom.

If this sounds like you, becoming a bilingual education assistant might be in your future.

In this article, we’ll cover:

  • The pros and cons of becoming a bilingual education assistant
  • The kinds of bilingual education assistant careers
  • The educational commitment to become a bilingual education assistant
  • Licensure and accreditation for becoming a bilingual education assistant
  • Resources for becoming a bilingual education assistant
  • The typical advancement path for bilingual education assistants
  • Further accreditation or education for bilingual education assistants

Pros and cons of becoming a bilingual education assistant

Pros

  • You will make a major difference in kids’ lives. Assistants are needed in bilingual education programs from pre-K through high school. Students in these programs need help adjusting to their surroundings, which involves learning a foreign language as quickly as possible.
  • You can also sharpen your own bilingual skills. The best way to learn is by teaching (or maybe that’s just a thing pedantic teachers say when to feel better about their work). Either way, you will get regular practice conversing in multiple languages and being truly being bilingual.

Cons

  • The pay is not great. The average bilingual teacher’s assistant earns between $20,000 and $30,000 annually.
  • The work is challenging. Anybody who has ever attempted to teach a small child to play Monopoly knows it’s not so easy to explain real estate and property taxes to someone with literally no understanding of these concepts. You might find yourself short a top hat. Now swap Monopoly for a foreign language. You’ll be responsible for helping to teach and expose someone to a whole new language, which is much more challenging than learning about property values and bankruptcy. The job requires a great degree of patience.

If the child lives in a household where only his native language is spoken, you could represent one of his first chances to practice speaking English. You may be their introduction to American language and culture. That’s a lot of responsibility for somebody in a relatively low-paying job. When you succeed, however, you truly will make a difference in someone’s life. The results can be inspiring.


Kinds of bilingual education assistant careers

Most bilingual education assistants in the United States help non-native speakers learn English, but there are other kinds of bilingual education assistant opportunities.

New York City is introducing more multi-language programs for preschool students; these require assistants. There are also schools that have specialized dual language programs where students are taught in two languages. Bilingual schools are growing and have become popular choices for people of all backgrounds.

Opportunities also exist at the collegiate level. If you love foreign language and are willing to deal with snarky college students, you might do well here. Note: these positions are mostly occupied by graduate students.


Educational commitment to become a bilingual education assistant

Becoming a bilingual education assistant in public schools is certainly not as difficult as becoming a teacher. The primary requirement is knowledge of the language students speak.

In order to become a bilingual education assistant in the Laguna Beach school district, for example, one must possess the “equivalent to the completion of the twelfth grade, with coursework or training in child growth and development, instructional technology, or bilingual/bicultural instructional processes.” The school system also requires two years of work experience, paid or volunteer, with “students experiencing language deficiencies and remedial instruction needs.”

Of course, the more qualified you are, the better your chances of landing the job. Consider getting a Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential in Early Childhood Education (ECE). It is a certification (i.e., not a degree) that takes 120 hours to complete. The CDA is important because most job postings seek assistants for preschool and elementary schools.


Licensure and accreditation for becoming a bilingual education assistant

It is easier to become a teacher’s assistant than it is to become a teacher—obviously—but there are still some requirements. Higher education helps qualify you, but you probably won’t need anything more than an associate’s degree. If you are in college and a go-getter, you can complete a teacher preparation program while you are still an undergradUATE.

Whether you need a license will depend on the state in which you work. State requirements vary, so check on your state’s requirements before starting your job search. Some states will require a passing grade on the ParaPro exam, which is a general aptitude test that many states require for teacher certification.


Resources for becoming a bilingual education assistant

  • The National Association for Bilingual Education offers resources for bilingual teachers, which of course includes bilingual teaching assistants. They even organize a conference in Las Vegas where they have speakers, presentations and–one would assume–have an all-you-can-eat buffet and a trip to Cirque du SoleiL. Vegas baby!
  • ¡Colorín colorado! offers a number of resources for both teachers and English learners. For teachers, sections include “Creating a Welcoming Classroom” and “Language & Vocabulary Instruction.”
  • If you decide bilingual education is your calling, you may need to look into continuing your education. You might qualify for scholarships based on your skills or interests. Teach for America offers a range of incentives to those willing to commit to teaching in high-need schools for two years after graduation.

Typical advancement path for bilingual education assistants

So, you love helping kids learn English, but $30,000 a year isn’t cutting it for you? It might be time to move up in the world. The obvious choice is to become a teacher. There is always a need for bilingual teachers, especially elementary school teachers. You will need a bachelor’s degree to get started; in many states, you will also need a master’s degree by the time you have to renew your license.

You could also become a bilingual education specialist.The job involves working with teachers to develop lessons and advocate for the needs of English language learners. If you think you have learned enough about what makes the best bilingual teachers successful, you might be ready to start developing your own bilingual programs. A certificate program can bolster your prospects of landing this job.

You might also find work as an immersion teacher or corporate instructor. Immersion teachers typically work with students trying to learn the basics of a foreign language quickly. Corporate instructors help professionals prepare to do business in a second language—probably so they don’t sell their company accidentally—or immigrants trying to learn enough English to work.


Further accreditation or education for bilingual education assistants

If you are a bilingual education assistant and you want to continue teaching, it is important to stay on top of your accreditations and certificates. The CDA must be renewed every three years, for example. You can worry about that later, though. First you have to go out there and. Get. That. Certification.


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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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