How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school teachers train young students in a range of subjects using creative lessons and activities. Learn how to become an elementary school teacher, which typically involves earning a 4-year degree in elementary education, completing a student teaching experience, and securing state licensure or certification. View article »

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Elementary Teacher Requirements

Students interested in teaching younger children and helping prepare them for middle school may want to consider a career as an elementary school teacher. Here we discuss the process for becoming an elementary school teacher, including all the steps for meeting education and licensure requirements. We also explore elementary teacher degrees and list some of the top schools for elementary education in the U.S.

Degree Required Bachelor's or master's degree
Degree Field Education or Elementary Education
Other Requirements State licensure or certification
Annual Median Salary (2018)* $57,980
Estimated Job Growth (2016-2026)* 7%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school teacher education requirements vary by state, as well as by public and private schools, so students should be sure to check the requirements for the state in which they plan to live and work. For example, the requirements for elementary school teachers in Washington are different that the requirements for New York state teachers. However, elementary school teachers are generally required to meet the following requirements.

Step One: Complete a Teacher Education Program

All elementary school teachers are typically required to earn a bachelor's degree - usually in education. These degrees may be in general education with a specialization in elementary grade levels or degrees specifically in elementary education. Those with a degree in another area could still become an elementary teacher though, by completing a teacher education program.

Step Two: Gain Teaching Experience

Most bachelor's degree programs in elementary education require students to complete a student teaching program. Student teaching programs allow students to gain hands-on learning under the supervision of a mentor teacher as well as gain experience working in a classroom with actual students.

Step Three: Secure Licensure

The exact requirements for licensure (or certification, as its called in some states) will vary with each individual state, but they usually include passing a background check and certification exams. States typically issue these certifications or licenses by grade level, so potential elementary school teachers will usually have to pass an exam in elementary education - such as the NES Elementary Education exam or the Elementary Education Praxis exams - as well as a basic skills test.

Some states may have additional requirements for teachers over time, such as professional development requirements to maintain or renew licensure. There are also some states that require teachers to obtain their master's degree.

Elementary School Teacher Degree Options

Elementary school teaching degrees are often offered as Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in Elementary Education programs. These programs typically take four years to complete and help prepare students for state licensure. Many programs are available on campus, but there are some teaching degree programs offered online, which may be able to be completed faster than traditional programs.

Students in these degree programs will typically take courses in topics like classroom management, evaluation and assessment, and elementary education methods as well as study main content areas, including math, science, language arts, and social studies. Throughout the program students could also have multiple observation experiences in real classroom settings before completing their student teaching practicum. Some programs may also require a final project of some sort, such as a professional portfolio.

Some elementary education degree programs offer options to prepare for an additional certification that may be specific to or include elementary-aged children, including:

  • Art K-12 Education
  • Early Childhood and Elementary Education
  • Special Education
  • Elementary Education with a Content Specialization or Minor

What Are Some of the Best Elementary School Teacher Colleges?

According to a report done by U.S. News and World Report in 2019, some of the best colleges for elementary education programs can be found in states like Michigan, New York, Wisconsin, and Tennessee. This list of schools includes public and private institutions. See a few of the top schools for elementary school teachers below.

  • Michigan State University
  • Vanderbilt University
  • University of Wisconsin - Madison
  • Columbia University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Virginia
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