How To Become An Elementary School Teacher
Teaching elementary school appeals to those who love young children and want to make a positive difference in their lives. It also requires lots of patience, stamina, and nerves of steel. Those considering a career as an elementary school teacher should know that while very rewarding, this occupation is not simply fun and games. To succeed as a teacher in the primary levels requires a special individual who understands the nature of the job and who also is familiar with the requirements to prepare for the job properly. This article attempts to provide a sufficient overview for those who are interested in getting started on the path towards this very interesting profession.
What does an elementary school teacher do?
Elementary school teachers are responsible for assisting children with educational and emotional development in the beginning of their academic years. Most elementary school teachers instruct one class of children in several subjects. In some cases, two or more teachers team up to cover a class. There are some elementary school teachers who teach one special subject (usually music, art, reading, science, arithmetic, or physical education) to a number of different classes at different times. A small but growing number of teachers instruct multilevel classrooms, with students at several different learning levels.
Elementary school teachers exist at both the public and private school level. They are responsible for doing many things. In addition to academic skills, they need to also teach social and motor skills to their young students. They need to prepare course objectives and outlines in accordance with the curriculum guidelines or requirements of the state and/or the school. Their instruction will include various combinations of lectures, demonstrations, and audiovisual teaching aids. They are continuously required to prepare, administer, and correct tests; and then record the test results. They assign lessons, correct papers, and hear oral presentations. Elementary school teachers are responsible for imparting rules of conduct to their class and for maintaining order in the classroom and on the playground. They will often counsel pupils when problems arise and will discuss academic and behavioral issues with parents. At various times of the year, they are also asked to coordinate class field trips. A typical daily schedule for an elementary school teacher might consist of the following:
- 7:15 - Arrive; get coffee
- 7:30 - Participate in an early meeting (possibly with school administrators, faculty, and/or parents)
- 8:00 - Last-minute preparations
- 8:10 - Pledge of Allegiance
- 8:15 - Take attendance; review notes from home; make announcements; pass out materials
- 8:25 - English lesson
- 9:00 - Library, computers, art or physical education (depending on day of the week)
- 9:25 - Social Studies lesson
- 10:10 - Recess break
- 10:30 - Math lesson
- 11:15 - Spelling/Spelling Game
- 11:40 - Lunch duty
- 12:30 - Story time, work on homework, or silent reading
- 1:15 - Reading lesson
- 1:40 - Science lesson
- 2:20 - Game
- 2:50 - Dismissal to car line
- 3:00 - After-school care
- 4:00 - Parent conferences; grade papers; input grades online; prepare for next day's activities
- By 6:00 - Go home, possibly bringing any unfinished work
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median annual wage for elementary school teachers in 2006 was $47,330. However, salary in most cases is closely related to number of years of tenure. The starting salary for an elementary school teacher is in the $30,000 range but this figure increases to well over $50,000 for a person with 20 years or more of experience. Another factor which raises the average pay for elementary school teachers is continuing education. Salaries tend to be much higher for teachers with a Master of Arts degree in Education. When considering yearly salaries, it should be kept in mind that elementary school teachers enjoy long holiday breaks and summers off and consequently work an average of over 600 hours (or about 30%) less per year for their full-time job than the average worker in the United States.
What steps should one follow to become an elementary school teacher?
- Start working with young children at an early age as possible. This can be done by volunteering at a local elementary school or with nearby youth groups. A good way to get started is to contact the local United Way, school district, or parks and recreation department.
- Achieve the necessary educational credentials. At a minimum this should include completion of a bachelor's degree. It does not necessarily have to be a degree in education, although most states require a specified number of education credits be earned over the course of study in order to teach in a public school. Some states also require teachers to earn a master's degree within a certain amount of time after starting to teach. A major in elementary education would be great if attending a college or university that offers it. An increasingly popular option nowadays is to enroll in a professional development school after earning a bachelor's degree. Typically a one-year program, the professional development schools combine theory with practice and allow post-graduates to experience teaching firsthand before entering the workforce.
- Become a student-teacher. This is most often done as an internship before graduation, where university students studying to become elementary school teachers will work in elementary schools under the direct supervision of professional teachers. They are observed and monitored while developing and refining their first set of teaching skills.
- Obtain teaching certification. Most states require elementary school teachers to receive certification in order to teach in public schools in that state. Licensure is not required for teachers in most private schools. In most states, licensure is granted by the State Board of Education to individuals who have passed all educational requirements and who complete a test based on competency in basic reading, writing and teaching skills. Requirements vary by state, but almost always include a bachelor's degree and completion of an approved teacher training program with a prescribed number of subject and education credits, as well as supervised practice teaching. Most states require applicants for a teacher's license to be tested in some manner for competency in basic skills, such as reading and writing, and in teaching. Private schools are generally exempt from meeting state licensing standards, although they generally prefer candidates who have a bachelor's degree in childhood education for elementary school teachers. They seek candidates among recent college graduates as well as from those who have established careers in other fields. Private schools associated with religious institutions also desire candidates who share the values that are important to the institution.
How can a person become a GREAT elementary school teacher?
- Consider acquiring a specialty (e.g., reading or bilingual education). This will provide a teacher with an edge in the job market. Research the specialties that are most in demand in the particular locality of interest.
- Be flexible. Continually modify materials and schedules to fit the needs of your students. Have a daily plan, but be flexible enough to make adjustments when necessary. A rigid schedule may not be adaptable to a widely diverse class. Be prepared to add variety to teaching style and lesson plans as needed.
- Balance individual instruction with whole-class instruction. There can be a fine line between helping a child individually at the expense of the rest of the elementary school class. Extra help and encouragement is fine, but it is important to avoid taking too much time away from group instruction.
- Consider joining a professional association. This will keep a teacher up-to-date with the latest advances and trends in the profession. Two popular associations are the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
- Obtain advanced credentials. A quality elementary teacher continues to "raise the bar". A master's degree, even if not a requirement, is always a good idea. Another good idea is to obtain professional certification beyond that required for a license. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a voluntary national certification. Teachers may become certified in a variety of specialized areas based on the age of the students and/or the subject taught. All states recognize national certification and many school districts provide special benefits to teachers who earn certification.
Elementary school teachers have a very important job. They are charged with molding young students at an age when the students are most impressionable. They need to create a class environment favorable to learning and personal growth while at the same time motivating their students and establishing effective rapport with them. In addition, they need to be knowledgeable about not just one, but a wide variety of subjects they teach. A future elementary teacher who knows what to expect in the job and knows the proper approaches to follow to prepare for the job can get off to a great start and can look forward to an exciting career.
Resources for Elementary School Teachers