How to Become an Elementary School Teacher
Elementary school teachers work with young children who are just beginning school, in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. As a teacher at an elementary school, you are responsible for helping students learn fundamental skills, like reading and counting, that will help them throughout the rest of their academic career.
If you're interested in becoming an elementary school teacher, you will need to complete years of academic preparation and the applicable certification tests. The requirements to become an elementary school teacher vary, so it is important to check with your state's guidelines in order to know exactly what requirements are necessary.
The general steps to take to become an elementary school teacher include:
- Receive your bachelor's degree in elementary education
- Complete any student teaching required by your state
- Take and pass your state's licensure exams
- Apply for your teacher license
- Apply for a job!
Elementary School Teacher Requirements
As noted above, to become an elementary school teacher, you will need to complete an elementary teacher training program, typically part of a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Once this is complete, you will take the applicable content assessments including mathematics, language arts, or Spanish. Depending on the state in which you want to work, you may take Praxis exams or state-specific exams, like the FTCE series in Florida. Then, you will complete the initial application for your teaching license, submit your background check, and finish any other state requirements.
Every state will have slightly different teacher education requirements, but student teaching experience is necessary prior to graduation in order to ensure that all future teachers are prepared to enter the classroom. Student teaching will allow you to get hands-on experience working with the age group you hope to teach.
Elementary Education Major
The elementary education major often consists of a degree program that incorporates a teacher preparation program and is available as an associate's or bachelor's in elementary education. Bachelor's programs tend to take more time to complete, but they give you the full educational requirements to be a teacher, while associate's programs do not.
In addition to general education courses, your degree program in elementary education will typically cover teacher-oriented topics like:
- Foundations in Teaching
- Child and Adolescent Literature
- Instructional Approaches
- Teaching the Exceptional Child
Associates Degree in Elementary Education
You can complete a two-year associate's program in elementary education to help you prepare for your teaching career. Associate's programs typically consist of 60 credit hours which typically takes about two years. If you choose to pursue an associate's, you should note this does not give you the requirements necessary to immediately become a teacher, although in some states you may be allowed to act as a teacher's assistant.
Many teachers move on to a bachelor's program after completing their associates and use their associate's credits toward their bachelor's degree in teaching.
Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education
Bachelor's programs are typically about 120 credit hours, including a student teaching internship. These internships will allow you to gain experience in the classroom and can be an opportunity to find out whether you enjoy teaching elementary-aged students. From start to finish, you can expect your bachelor's degree to take you about four years.
Bachelor's in elementary education programs may vary slightly in coursework, but most will include general education courses and teacher-focused courses like:
- Science for Elementary School Teachers
- Teaching Reading and Writing
- Educational Psychology
Masters in Elementary Education
A master's in elementary education can usually be completed in about two years, with the requirement of around 30 credit hours, including standard courses on pedagogy, instruction, and a research component. It should be noted that you can pursue this master's in elementary education regardless of your bachelor's degree specialization.
A master's enables you to not only teach in an elementary school, but also to work in more positions in school administrations and districts. Courses you might take include:
- Foundational Perspectives on Education
- Principles of Psychology
- Classroom Management, Engagement, and Motivation
- Instructional Planning
A Master's in Elementary Education can increase earning potential for teachers. Many states require that teachers continue their education after a few years of working, and master's programs are often the next step.
Online Elementary Education Degree
Getting your elementary education degree online allows you to have a more flexible schedule than if you were to get your degree in a traditional on-campus setting. Online programs will cover the same topics as on-campus programs, including classroom management and child psychology. Keep in mind though that there may be in-person components, too, especially when it comes to student teaching, so be sure to comprehend the entirety of the program's requirements before you commit to an online degree.
Online Bachelor's Degree Elementary Education
Online bachelor's degrees will cover the same information as in-person bachelor's degrees, including teaching science, language arts, and other subjects. The pace in which students complete their online bachelor's degree can vary, but as with on-campus bachelor's programs, online programs are 120 credit hours. This means you'd be able to complete an online bachelor's in 4 years, if you keep up a full-time course load.
Online Masters in Elementary Education
Online master's degrees are often designed for working professionals, allowing more flexibility than traditional master's programs. Like in-person master's programs, online programs will include a research component dependent on your area of interest, such as special education. Depending on the program and the pace you complete your courses, it may take anywhere from 1-2 years to complete the standard 30 credit hours. Many of the same courses will be offered in an online program as in a traditional program.
Can I Teach Elementary School with a Secondary Education Degree?
Although elementary school teachers are usually required to hold a degree in elementary education, it is possible to teach elementary school with a bachelor's degree in secondary education. There are some cases where you may be certified/ qualified to teach at both the elementary and secondary school levels. For example, if you decide to pursue a bachelor's in secondary education with a concentration in French, you could be prepared to teach French at the kindergarten through 12th grade levels.