Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

Elementary School Teacher Guide

Elementary School Career Guide

Elementary school teachers usually work with children from 5-12 years old. While the subjects they teach are more complex than those in preschool or kindergarten, they still tend to have one class to which they teach a variety of subjects; math, reading, science, etc. Teachers don’t usually specialize into specific subject classes until the middle grades. Depending on the state you’re in, you might have a mixed-ability classroom, or special needs children might be in another class with a specialized teacher. Either way, you will be responsible for the safety and instruction of anywhere from 10 to 22 students per class. It’s up to you to keep all of them engaged and moving through the year’s curriculum.

Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

If you think establishing a career as an elementary school teacher is an easy path, think again. Elementary school teachers have a tremendous amount of responsibility. However, the overwhelming majority of teachers find the career highly rewarding. Elementary school teachers have a unique responsibility in that, they will shape the way their students view learning and school for the remainder of their young lives. These teachers will also impact the way in which students behave in the classroom, the way they interact with other people and the way they treat others outside of the classroom.

You will be challenged as any level of teaching. You have to find ways to teach and engage all your students rather than just some. You will be responsible for creating your own lesson plans but they must follow the curriculum that is mandated by the school district. This might be established by the administrators of your school, a curriculum director, or the school board. You will also be required to work with parents and administrators. Keep in mind that some parents can be highly challenging, and you must find ways to communicate with them in a healthy and respectful manner even if they do not treat you well.

What will you do as an Elementary School Teacher?

It is important to note that not everyone can be a good teacher. You must like kids. If you do not, this is not the right career for you. You should also possess a number of characteristics that will help you to be successful, such as creating caring relationships, advanced listening skills, approachability, friendliness, superior communication skills, passion for teaching, and the ability to prepare and be organized. Patience and creativity are also essential characteristics. All of these characteristics will help you to do your job exceptionally well.

Each day will be different. You have to be prepared to discipline and command respect in the classroom. Elementary teachers may have to teach a number of subjects to all students, including math, science, reading, and English. If you teach older students, you may only teach a few subjects or just one subject to several different classes. Many elementary school teachers will be required to create lesson plans, grade papers, supervise recess, problem solve, make decisions, manage crises, and keep students engaged and excited to learn.

Common Degree Requirements

A few states do not require advanced degrees to become a teacher. However, it has become common practice in most states for educators to hold at least a bachelor’s degree. In the case of an elementary school teacher, this degree will be in elementary education. It is also possible to become an elementary school teacher with an early childhood education degree or a general education degree. In some states, you might be able to become a teacher with an associate’s degree or certifications. However, most states require a significant amount of classroom experience before you can become an elementary school teacher with one of these lower level degrees. This can occur as a teacher’s assistant without a bachelor’s degree or you can complete these hours during your undergraduate degree as part of your program. Keep in mind that if you transfer states, you will have to meet the standards of the new state and possibly take more exams.

If you wish to become a principal or a superintendent, you will require a master’s degree. Some school districts and private schools may require a doctoral degree. If you prefer a more supportive role rather than to be a primary teacher, you might only require an associate’s degree. If you wish to become a professor at a regionally accredited college or university, you will require a doctoral degree. Community colleges and nationally accredited colleges may accept teaching instructors who have a master’s degree. Keep in mind that you can always complete additional degrees and certificates online without taking time off from work. Most reputable institutions have online degree programs that you can complete while keeping a full-time job or taking care of your children.

Exams and Licensing

The exam and licensure requirements will vary greatly from state to state. You may need to take a wide variety of Praxis exams, such as the PPAT Assessment, Principles of Teaching and Learning: Early Childhood, Principles of Teaching and Learning: K-6 or Principles of Teaching and Learning: 5-9. Many states also require that you complete a teacher preparation program. This is often offered as part of a bachelor degree at reputable colleges and universities. Most states require the completion of additional licensures as directed by the state. These licensures evaluate your teacher readiness, knowledge-base and much more. Do not forget that you will have to pass a background check too.

Elementary School Teacher Salaries

If you want to increase your chances at better pay and working in a good school district, consider specializing in either STEM or special education as these teachers are often in great demand and good ones in these areas are even more in demand. Also, keep in mind that the more degrees you have the better your pay will be. You can specialize within your degree program, choose a minor, or complete certificates to make yourself more appealing to employers and to increase your pay.

Career & Salary Chart by Occupation

OccupationSalary
Elementary School Assistant Teacher$22,700
Elementary School Teacher$44,400
Elementary School Teacher Special Education$46,000
Elementary School Principal$80,200

Career Outlook

Many states are working hard to bring US education standards back up to the rest of the top education countries in the world, and more and more states are recognizing the importance of early education in pre-kindergarten and elementary school. As a result, state education budgets are increasing, and the growth of these teacher positions is projected to increase up to 7% by 2026. Many states that have traditionally performed poorly in academic standings in the US are working to improve their educational standards to be on par with the rest of the country. And schools are focusing on smaller classroom sizes as a way to improve learning performance and development. These all contribute to an increase in the number of teachers over the next several years.

Most teachers in public schools make modest wages in comparison to other professions. Teachers who wish to increase their salary will be best suited to pursue additional education and work experience. And again, if you work in a specialized field, you are more likely to make more money. Your salary will also be reflective of your work experience, education, job performance, awards in your field, and continued learning accomplishments.

Job Duties of an Elementary School Teacher

  • Create an environment for social, emotional, and behavioral development.

  • Monitor the performance of all students in academics, physical health, and social skills.

  • Material preparation for lessons and activities.

  • Adapt teaching techniques and methodologies to reach each student.

  • Teach in both individual and group settings.

  • Grade and assign classwork, exams, and homework.

  • Meet with other teachers, counselors, parents, and administrators.

  • Report suspected neglect or abuse to authorities.

  • Assign students lacking in development to remedial programs.

  • Integrate games, activities, and imaginative play with educational development.

  • Enforce school policies.

  • Provide a safe and welcoming environment.

  • Continue education if required by your employer or state.

  • Attend conferences, meetings, training, and workshops to improve professional abilities as directed by your employer.

  • Supervise field trips.

  • Remove any dangerous, broken, or outdated equipment, toys, etc.

Where You’ll Work

Most teachers will work in public schools as they employ 85% of all teachers. Private schools represent the majority of the remaining 15%. You are also more likely to obtain a higher salary if you work for a private school. The same is true if you live in a large city rather than a small town. It is possible that your state could provide tenure for school teachers. Some do not. It is important to note that some teachers in some school districts have teachers’ unions that make it more difficult for teachers to be fired.

You might work at a school where students attend all year. These schools often have a few weeks of a break at a time several times a year. Other schools do not require teaching during the summer months. It is possible to teach summer school, coach an extracurricular activity, and tutor to make extra money. If you work as a kindergarten teacher, you may have classes that go for half days or full days. This is all dependent upon your employer type and school district. It is also possible to work as a consultant, work for corporations, work as a private teacher in people’s homes, and more.

Useful Skills and Certifications

  • Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Organization
  • Passion
  • Patience
  • Teacher Preparation Course
  • Specialized Certificate, such as ESL, math and special education.

Videos To Help You Find The Right Career Choices

  • Rancho Cucamonga Career Video -- Preschool Teacher

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sW7IQWhJo8o

  • Occupational Video - Early Childhood Educator

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DJzMTQjsOA

  • Meaningful Inclusion in Early Childhood

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2wJqDw9B68

  • Elementary School Teacher Career Information : Elementary School Teacher Pros & Cons

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2izH5QBpyIc

  • Life as a Kindergarten Teacher

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tBiL04gI4Yw

  • A day in the life of a Special Education teacher

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh1meBo_m1w

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