Becoming an Elementary School Teacher
Elementary school teachers instruct their first through fifth grade students on basic subjects, such as reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
The basic requirements to become a public elementary school teacher include:
- Earning a degree in elementary education from an accredited university
- Participating in a student teaching program
- Taking and passing all necessary state certification exams
- Applying for licensure
All state-licensed elementary teachers typically need to have at least a four-year bachelor's degree with a focus in elementary education plus state certifications and licensure. Private schools do not typically require state certifications and, instead usually rely on experience, level of education, and/or the content area focus (like foreign language or music).
Most teachers obtain a bachelor's degree with a concentration in elementary education from an accredited college or university. Though the course requirements vary between university programs, an undergraduate degree should take approximately four years to complete.
Some teachers can specialize in specific subjects, such as a foreign language, art, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), special education or English as a second language (ESL). However, most general bachelor's of education programs focus on learning how to present information to elementary aged children with different abilities and backgrounds.
Courses within these programs not only focus on teaching general subjects, but also emphasize:
- Child development and health
- Child psychology
- Learning theory
- Philosophy and history of education
- Technology integration
At the end of the bachelor's program, most programs include a student-teaching practicum where the prospective teacher gets hands-on experience within a working classroom. Prospective teachers work within an active classroom setting alongside the classroom teacher while still under university supervision.
Following the bachelor's of education degree, all hopeful public school teachers must also pursue state-specific teacher certification, as these certifications vary from state-to-state. In general, gaining a state certification or teaching license involves completing an exam such as the PRAXIS or the National Evaluation Series (NES) to measure subject-specific content knowledge and academic skills needed for teaching.
Further, even certified teachers are required to complete professional development courses to maintain their license. Professional development allows teachers to keep up-to-date with the current practices, methods, and competencies of modern teachers. These courses are usually up to the teacher to select and can include almost any subject, including technology, psychology, special education, and nearly any other area of interest for the teacher.
Elementary School Teacher Job Requirements
There are many various job requirements for elementary school teachers. Some of these responsibilities typically include:
- Creating lesson plans and teaching students based on the US Common Core or other state curriculum
- Evaluating students' academic abilities
- Grading assignments, tests, & quizzes
- Communicating with parents and administration regarding students' progress
- Developing students' life skills
- Supervising children
While teachers in grades one through five all fall under the umbrella of elementary school teacher, there may be different duties dependent on the grade level intended to be taught.
First Grade Teachers
First grade teachers teach children typically ages six and seven who are progressing from the freedom of kindergarten to more structured days in first grade. Teachers must instruct children on responsibilities in their family and at school, learning about the local community, answer basic questions about central themes in text, addition and subtraction of simple whole numbers, and basic measurements.
Second Grade Teachers
Second grade teachers focus on children usually ages seven and eight. Teachers are expected to enhance students' basic skills and knowledge, broaden students' understanding of global communities and cultures, introduce intermediate math concepts, and develop a comprehension of time and money.
Third Grade Teachers
Third grade teachers work with students around the ages of eight and nine. Students in third grade learn multiplication, division, and fractions for the first time. Third grade students must also learn how to compare and contrast themes when reading literature and use more complex English grammar.
Fourth Grade Teachers
Fourth grade teachers teach children ages nine and ten and may need increased technology integration into their curriculum. Fourth grade students are expected to use progressive verb tenses, have meaningful and collaborative discussions in organized manners about literature with their peers, learn fraction equivalence, understand multi-digit multiplication, and analyze three-dimensional shapes.
Fifth Grade Teachers
Fifth grade teachers are responsible for educating children ages ten and eleven. Fifth grade is usually a transitional year between elementary and middle school and can sometimes be a time of increased behavioral challenges. Teachers can cope by using strategies focused around classroom management and personal skill building. Teachers are responsible for teaching students about different genres of literature, drawing inferences from texts, writing opinion pieces, researching facts on different topics, adding and subtracting fractions, using decimals, and identifying appropriate sizing and volume units.
Skills Required for Elementary School Teachers
Teaching at an elementary school requires a wide variety of skills and personality traits. While teachers must be well-versed in current teaching trends, they must also be able to motivate young children, address behavioral problems, and communicate with children, parents, and school administration.
A person's personality can influence their abilities within the teaching career. Studies have found that teachers who have the following traits have students with better academic performance, classroom behavior, and interest in their subjects:
- Proactive with discipline
- Flexibility and resourcefulness
Elementary School Teacher Job Outlook
The mean annual salary of elementary teachers in 2017 is $57,160. The BLS expects employment to grow 7% from 2016 to 2026. It's anticipated that more young students will enroll in elementary school during that time, though the growth will likely vary by region depending on population growth, teacher retirement, and state budgets.
What is Being an Elementary School Teacher Like?
Summers off, short work days, and just sharing facts out of a book to a room of children are some of the biggest myths about being an elementary teacher. While teachers do technically have around seven weeks of no school during the summer, most teachers spend this time on professional development, planning for the next year, and organizing.
Additionally, teachers are with students during the school day, but they often need to work before and after school to complete everything necessary for student progress. Some of these duties outside of the classroom include:
- Creating lesson plans
- Grading homework, projects, and tests
- Communicating with parents and administrators
- Providing additional guidance to students who require help
- Writing report cards
Why Become an Elementary School Teacher?
Typically, those who decide to become an elementary school teacher have a passion for children and education. Once teachers begin their career, they face ups and downs like in any other profession. But, in addition to professional hurdles, teachers must deal with the personal struggles and successes of their students.
Teachers don't just educate, they work as psychiatrists, social workers, surrogate parents, coaches, mentors, and more. Every day brings new challenges, but teachers continue their work because they are changing lives, developing young minds, inspiring children, and pushing even the most troubled students toward greatness. The days are long, but many teachers agree the payoff of educating young minds is worthwhile.
All statistics come from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018).