Elementary School Teacher Career Guide

Elementary school teachers teach children in kindergarten through the fifth or sixth grades (K-5 or K-6, depending on the state or district) although some states or school districts extend to seventh and eighth grades. This guide provides information on what elementary school teachers do, how to become one, useful skills, and their salary and job outlook.

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How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

The traditional path to elementary school teaching is to get a four-year undergraduate degree in elementary education. Elementary education degrees are offered through on-campus programs as well as through online distance learning, though to qualify graduates for licensure, online degrees must typically include an in-person student internship component in a classroom. In most states, state certification is required to work as an elementary school teacher in public schools, though it is not a requirement to teach in all private schools. The primary way to become an elementary school teacher is:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education that includes a teacher preparation program.
  2. Complete an official internship in an elementary school classroom.
  3. Take your state’s licensing exams for elementary teachers.
  4. Apply for a license through your state board of education.
  5. Once you have received your license, begin applying for open positions.

Elementary education programs include coursework in child psychology, special needs, English as a second language (ESL), educational psychology, child development, curriculum development, and teaching methods. Most elementary education programs also include student teaching and practicum experiences. For career changers with degrees outside of education, alternative pathways exist with master’s and other state-certified teacher programs.

Education Schools and Certification by State

Each state has its own process for becoming a teacher. Below, you will find schools in your state that offer teacher preparation programs, as well as information on traditional and alternative certification pathways specific to your state.

Elementary School Teacher Job Description

An elementary teaching career can be rewarding, as elementary educators help foster the social and intellectual development of their students. Since most K-5/6 teachers provide instruction in all subjects, they typically lead a single class of children through the school day. However, some elementary schools follow the subject specialization model in which teachers teach the same subject to at least two different classes of children. 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 other communication. Elementary school teachers must also participate in continuing professional education to keep skills current and discuss new ideas to utilize in classroom learning.

Common Tasks

Teaching degrees in early childhood development and other behavioral sciences can be especially helpful for teaching at the elementary level. Once they have completed the appropriate degree and attained licensure to teach elementary education, elementary teachers commonly:

  • Create lesson plans and teaching guides that cover all subjects taught. These plans are typically activity-based, such as puzzles, story-telling, games, or role-play.
  • Prepare students for advancement by ensuring state-mandated standards for a given grade level have been met or exceeded.
  • Evaluate students’ progress using assessments like homework, assessments, class discussions, and observations.
  • Maintain records of student performance and attendance.
  • Manage classroom behavior and establish a productive, respectful learning environment while trying to account for different learning styles.
  • Conduct parent-teacher meetings to discuss student progress.
  • Participate in professional development through workshops and conferences. Note ongoing learning is typically required by state or district requirements.
  • Become proficient with school and district administrative systems, processes, reporting systems, and classroom technology tools.
  • Depending on the age of the students taught, some elementary teachers also provide basic child care such as monitoring nap times and helping with hygiene.

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 education program, which is helpful when applying to full-time positions following graduation.

Elementary School Teacher Salary & Job Outlook

The median salary for elementary school teachers was $61,690 per year as of 2022.1 Salaries vary greatly according to the number of years of teaching experience, the highest degree earned, and the location/district of the school.

Median Annual Wage1Lowest 10%1Highest 10%1Public Schools1Private Schools1

As of 2022, about 1.4 million teachers work at the elementary level.1 Growth of 1% is expected for the profession through 2032, amounting to around 100,000 job openings each year.1 The number of jobs available in a given region will 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.

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

Additional Resources

Elementary Teacher Career Interviews

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What are the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) teacher requirements?

Answer: The ESSA is a federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2015. While NCLB had minimum requirements requiring public school teachers to be highly qualified, defined as having an appropriate bachelor’s or master’s degree and state certification, ESSA leaves it up to each state and district to decide teacher requirements.

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. Some districts award the “highly qualified” designation based on in-class teacher observations and performance reviews.

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. In addition, prospective teachers must generally complete a teacher preparation program at a university to become certified as a teacher according to state requirements.

Question: What is the average elementary school teacher salary?

Answer: According to the BLS, elementary school teachers (not including those in special education) earned an average salary of $61,690 per year as of 2022.1 The salary for elementary school teachers depends on factors like the number of years they have been teaching, the type of school, the degree they hold, and the geographic location of the school.

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm [5 BB]
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm