How to Become an Elementary School Teacher
Elementary school teachers guide young people through some of their most formative years, ensuring that their mental, physical, and emotional development occurs in a safe and enriching environment. These educators must be versatile enough to instruct kindergarten through 5th grade students on a wide array of subject matter. Unlike middle school and high school teachers, these professionals do not specialize in specific content areas.
Typical Requirements to Become an Elementary School Teacher
Minimum Education Level
Bachelor s degree. Some states require elementary school teachers to obtain a master s degree.
Recommended Major Field(s)
Preferred majors are in elementary education or in a program with supplemental courses in child development and education. Those who graduate with a bachelor s degree unrelated to education can also pursue licensure through alternative training tracks in every state.
In order to teach at public schools, teachers must obtain a license or certificate from the state they wish to work in. Private schools don t typically require state licensure. Requirements will vary based on location.
Minimum Work Experience
Candidates must have held a supervised position as a student teacher, which is generally earned during an education degree or certification program.
Key Skills and Strengths
- Ingenuity: Kindergarteners and elementary grade students often view the world with a level of imagination and freshness educators shouldn t take for granted. They will need to engage a student s interest with creative assignments and interesting class activities.
- Empathy: Students aged 5-11 will struggle with very different social, domestic, and academic challenges than adults are used to addressing. Teachers will need to understand their students perspectives in order to instruct diverse groups and help them achieve their goals.
- Enjoy Working with Children: This might seem obvious, but the role of an elementary school teacher will be infinitely easier and rewarding for those who enjoy working with children. Prospective educators might not consider this characteristic until it is too late. You should assess your previous interactions with children between the ages of 5-11, such as babysitting, and make sure you ll be able to work with this age group full-time.
- Persistence: Classrooms are known to get unruly, and this age group can be volatile, swinging from quiet interest to temper tantrums to sleepiness within minutes. Educators will need to maintain control of their emotions, exercise patience, and adopt behavior control strategies.
- Communication and Presentation: Teachers will often need to tailor their language to fit their audience, translating texts, lessons, and media into vocabulary that is accessible to children ages 5-11. Additionally, teachers must communicate with parents on a regular basis to praise achievements, address concerns, and collaborate on learning strategies.
Bachelor s Degree in Elementary Education
Bachelor s degrees in elementary education can take 4-5 years to complete, and this degree is sufficient in most states to count toward licensure. Some degree programs encourage upcoming educators to choose a content specialization, such as history, mathematics, or language arts. Most undergraduate programs include supervised student teaching experiences in elementary education.
Undergraduate programs in elementary education often cover teaching fundamentals, classroom techniques, and child developmental psychology. Students who are concentrating on a content area will often need to complete a certain number of subject courses to earn the concentration.
- Classroom management: New teachers will learn strategies on reducing disruptive student behaviors and keeping groups of students on track with their lessons. The techniques practiced in this course will give educators the confidence to lead as a role model.
- Teaching Students from Diverse Backgrounds: You will often encounter students who come from dramatically different social, economic, and cultural backgrounds than the ones you are acclimated to. Overlooking these differences can make it difficult for students to understand lessons and achieve their academic goals. This class covers inclusive pedagogy, emphasizing teaching styles that are accessible to all students.
- Fieldwork: Virtually all bachelor s programs in elementary education dedicate a certain amount of hours to student-teaching experiences. Aspiring teachers will get to work with administration, plan curricula, and lead instruction under the supervision of an experienced professional educator.
Master s Degree in Elementary Education
Some states require teachers to earn a master s degree to gain licensure or certification. Aspiring elementary school teachers might also earn a master s degree from an alternate elementary certification program, if they ve already earned a bachelor s degree in a non-teaching field. These degrees often place a greater emphasis on research and continued student-teaching experiences in elementary classrooms.
Master s students will dive further into elementary level pedagogy, examining the policies, research, social effects, and techniques of this field at greater length. Graduate students might also choose to explore a content area further, and expand their expertise on subject instruction.
- Curricula Planning and Presentation: Elementary school teachers spend hours designing lessons and planning class demonstrations behind the scenes, when class isn t in session. These courses will delve into forming comprehensive teaching plans for the school year, which requires attention to pacing, special projects, and material reiteration.
- Technology in the Classroom: There are a myriad of consumer devices that teachers can use to accomplish their classroom goals. Learning apps and hardware can be used by teachers to craft engaging presentations and manage paperwork. Students can use technology to discover new learning resources, play educational games, and increase their tech literacy.
- Educational Learning and Cognition: Students in kindergarten through fifth grade go through considerable mental and emotional development. Teachers will learn how to identify different stages of development and address common learning challenges these age groups face.
Work Experience Requirements
Before they can qualify for licensure or certification, most states require that candidates earn a certain amount of hours conducting student-teaching in a supervised environment. This is similar to gaining internship experience in other fields, except student-teaching opportunities are often included within education degree programs. The amount of experience required for licensure will vary from state to state, so make sure your degree program will meet state time prerequisites.
There are dozens of state licenses and certifications elementary educators can earn in the United States, depending on their experience in the field and future specializations. Basic licensing requirements will vary depending on your state. However, there are some minimum requirements aspiring elementary school teachers will need to provide:
- Fingerprints for a criminal background check
- A bachelor s degree or higher
- Student-teaching fieldwork experience in elementary school classrooms
Looking for a Teaching Job
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a favorable job outlook for elementary educators before the year 2022. The field is expected to grow by 12%, which is the national average for all occupations. Kindergarten teachers have the best prospects, with the slightly higher growth rate of 13%. Teaching jobs at public schools are often listed on your local department of education website. Private schools frequently post job listings in general career classifieds directly on their own websites. While you search for a job, create a browser bookmarks list so you can re-visit career pages for individual academic institutions that interest you.
Before graduating from your elementary education program, you ll want to make sure you ve exhausted all of the career counseling services. Advisors can help you navigate the terrain as you apply for elementary teaching jobs by assisting with resumes and conducting mock interviews with prospective teachers.