Elementary School Teacher Career Guide

Elementary school teachers are early education providers who primarily teach children in kindergarten through the fifth grade, though pre-K and sixth grade classes may be included in the elementary curriculum in some school districts. An elementary school educator must be able to communicate well with younger students as well as possess the ability to be flexible and creative with lesson plans. This guide provides further information on what elementary school teachers do, how to become an elementary school teacher, and elementary school teacher salary and outlook.

Elementary School Teacher Job Description

An elementary teacher helps young children develop social skills and positive learning habits in an enthusiastic, stimulating and positive classroom environment. This can be a rewarding career, in which educators help foster the social and intellectual development of their students. While K-6 teachers provide instruction in all subjects, most elementary school teachers lead a single class of children through the school day. Many elementary school lesson plans are game or activity based, though teachers will supplement learning with formal lessons to prepare children for later education. In addition to planning instruction and supporting activities teachers in elementary schools interact frequently with students’ parents and guardians with progress reports, teacher meetings, and phone calls. Elementary school teachers also participate in continuing professional education on a regular basis to keep skills current and discuss new ideas to utilize in classroom learning.

Elementary School Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Elementary school teachers will generally possess a bachelor’s degree or higher level degree as well as certifications and licensing specific to the individual licensing requirements of each state. Teaching degrees in early childhood development and other behavioral sciences can be especially helpful for teaching at the elementary level. Teachers are expected to continue their education following graduation and to clearly demonstrate a commitment to learn, prepare and present the most current information in any given area of study. Because of teacher shortages and difficulty placing teachers in urban or rural positions some states offer alternative licensing methods which allow prospective teachers to begin their career while still attending school. These alternative types of certifications are usually temporary and may only be renewed a limited number of times.

Elementary educators are expected to prepare a lesson plan or teaching guide that employs consistent, proven standards that best help students comprehend and develop basic, elementary level skills. Lesson plans include age appropriate activities that are designed to stimulate young minds and aid the learning process. Teaching methods and materials must be specifically arranged to prepare students for advancement by ensuring fundamental goals have been met or exceeded according to set standards. Depending on the age of the students taught, K-6 teachers also provide some basic child care such as monitoring nap times and helping with hygiene.

How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

K-6 teacher requirements depend on the state or region in which the prospective teacher is seeking certification, but generally a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in education is needed from an approved teacher preparation program. If you already have a bachelor’s degree without teaching certification, a master’s degree program that leads to an initial teacher certification may be an alternate pathway. Elementary education programs include coursework in child psychology, education psychology, child development, curriculum development and teaching methods. Most elementary education programs also include student teaching and practicum experiences during the junior and senior years of study.

In most states certification is required to work as an elementary school teacher in public schools, though state licensure is not a requirement to teach in all private schools. Criteria for certification varies from state to state, but in general, three things are required: a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, supervised practice teaching experience, and a passing grade in a state teaching exam. Students can decide on an elementary education program that is most convenient – either online distance learning or on-site programs in accredited colleges.

Elementary School Teacher Salary & Job Outlook

The average annual salary for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is $53,090.1 Employment of elementary teachers is expected to grow 12% from 2012-2022.1 The number of jobs available in a given region vary based on school sizes and budgetary concerns. Educators who teach math, science or bilingual studies or who hold multiple endorsements may find more job opportunities. The largest projected growth in elementary school teacher jobs is expected in the Southern and Western states.1 Declining student-teacher ratios are expected to be a factor in demand for elementary educators, especially as projections indicate upward trends in student enrollments at the elementary level.1

Other job opportunities for certified educators include kindergarten teacher, middle school teacher, child special education teacher, supervising teacher, and preschool teacher. Early childhood jobs such as childcare workers in daycare centers, non-profit organizations and community child care programs are also available to graduates of elementary education programs.

Helpful Skills and Experience

As elementary school teachers are expected to teach foundational skills in a wide variety of subjects, a liberal arts background supplemented by study in science and math is a helpful starting point for beginning educators. Characteristics such as patience and flexibility are integral for prospective teachers looking to work with young learners. Most elementary educators gain experience in classroom management during their baccalaureate program, which is helpful when applying to full-time positions following graduation.

Additional Resources

The National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators and the National Association for the Education of Young Children are two of the largest member organizations devoted to furthering early childhood education through peer networking, educational change, and professional development. Elementary school teachers may also find development and engagement opportunities in state-level associations.

Elementary Education Teaching Degrees and Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

Question: What are the NCLB teacher requirements?

Answer: The No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act is a federal law which requires that teachers be highly qualified. This means a teacher must have a bachelor’s degree and full state certification. It also means that a teacher must have passed tests to demonstrate competency in the subject matter being taught.

Question: What other skills or knowledge can position a prospective educator as highly qualified?

Answer: In many states, there is currently a high demand for educators who have endorsements in math and science. Many areas also have shortages of bilingual teachers, as well as shortages of teachers who are willing to work in urban or rural school districts. Specialized preparation in these in-demand areas can help prospective teachers achieve highly qualified status and become competitive in the job market.

Question: What degree do I need to teach elementary school?

Answer: To teach elementary school, you need a bachelor’s degree in a subject that is teachable in school or in a related area of study such as early childhood education. Prospective teachers must take courses that provide a broad education in all of the subjects taught in the primary grades, such as math, English, reading, science, and social studies. Prospective teachers must generally complete a teacher preparation program at a university to become certified as a teacher according to state’s requirements.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm