Bachelor's programs in elementary education usually take four years to complete and represent the most common path for aspiring teachers. Individuals with a bachelor's degree in another field may work toward a post-bachelor's certificate or a master's degree that fulfills all teaching requirements, including fieldwork. There are also master's programs in this field that are designed for currently licensed teachers seeking to advance their careers or pursue a new teaching specialization. Individuals who intend to pursue a certificate or master's degree may need to meet a minimum undergraduate GPA requirement. After completing a degree or certificate program, aspiring educators are usually prepared to meet state-mandated licensure requirements.
Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education
A bachelor's degree in elementary education prepares students to teach kindergartners through sixth graders. Some degree programs offer additional training in teaching non-native English speakers. In other programs, students can specialize in teaching children in grades K-3 or in special education. Near the end of their degree work, students spend a semester student teaching in a public or private school.
Students in these programs learn through a combination of classroom studies and practical training in real teaching situations. Since elementary school instructors usually teach all subjects, their coursework trains them to be generalists. As such, degree candidates may take these courses:
- Elementary school math
- Literature for children
- Classroom management
- Physical education and health
Post-Baccalaureate Certification in Elementary Education
Many schools offer post-baccalaureate certification programs that allow individuals who already hold bachelor's degrees in another field to earn the credits needed to take the state teacher's certification exam. However, it is important to note that some schools require students to have completed courses such as human development, physical education and teaching children with special needs before admission to their post-baccalaureate certification program. Before enrolling, students are advised to review their transcripts to determine which courses they can get credit for in the post-baccalaureate program.
Some programs give students the option to apply the credits they earn toward a master's degree. The length of time to complete these programs varies depending on how many credit hours the student takes each semester, and how many previous courses will transfer to the education program. Students take professional core curriculum coursework and participate in a student teaching internship.
Post-baccalaureate certification programs teach aspiring elementary teachers how to teach math, science, reading and social studies. Students learn in the classroom and through internships in real schools. Course offerings may include:
- Language arts for elementary students
- Teaching young students in groups
- Assessment and evaluation
- Early literacy
Master's Degree in Elementary Education
Students in a master's degree program in elementary education can choose a course of study to meet their career objectives. They can focus on research or take courses and complete a project that will develop their instructional skills. In some master's programs, the student can specialize in a particular area such as special education, reading education, talent development or bilingual education. Alternatively, they can enroll in master's degree programs that provide the necessary training for leadership positions in the field elementary education, such as work as school principals or superintendents. Prior to graduation, students may be required to pass a comprehensive test of their knowledge, submit a thesis or complete a project.
Students in this program generally take a few core courses in educational theory, and then choose electives in their field of interest. Examples of course offerings may include:
- Human development
- Curriculum planning
- Teaching of gifted students
- Literacy in early childhood
Popular Career Options
Teaching in a regular elementary school classroom is not the only option for students who have earned certification. Some post-baccalaureate and master's degree programs allow students to specialize or advance to management positions. As a result, they can become certified as:
- Art, music or theater arts teachers
- Bilingual education teachers
- Special education teachers
- Physical education teachers
- School administrators
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected employment of kindergarten and elementary teachers to increase by 3% from 2018 to 2028, which is slower than average for all occupations. The BLS said jobs would be more abundant in rural and urban school districts rather than suburban neighborhoods. According to 2018 BLS data, the median annual salary for elementary teachers was $58,230, while the median salary for kindergarten teachers was $55,470.
Continuing Education Information
Every state requires that public school teachers attain a state license by meeting education and student-teaching requirements and passing an examination. Each state has its own regulations. Teachers usually must complete annual professional development courses to maintain their licenses. Some states require that teachers earn a master's degree after certification.
Teachers who are interested in administrative positions, perhaps as principals or instructional coordinators, can earn Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees. With the help of faculty advisors, students tailor these education programs to meet their career goals. Individuals who wish to become college professors and train others in elementary education will need to earn a doctoral degree.
Bachelor's and master's degree programs can provide the necessary training for individuals who want to pursue careers in elementary education. When they finish, graduates are prepared for various state licensure exams.