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How to Become
An Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school teachers play an important role in the lives of children. They teach how to spell, write, and solve math problems, but they also impact a child's social and emotional development.

"When we are hiring teachers, we are looking for people who have the highest level of character and ethics, because they serve as such an important model to the children in their classroom," Robyn Conrad Hansen, president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, said. "They have a tremendous impact on their students' lives."

What Does an Elementary School Teacher Do?

  1. Work with students early in their education. Typically from the first to the sixth grades, although in some states seventh and eighth grades are also considered elementary school levels.
  2. 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. Meanwhile, a small but growing number of teachers instruct multi-level classrooms, with students at several different learning levels.
  3. Prepare course objectives in accordance with the curriculum guidelines of the state and/or the school. Teachers are continuously required to prepare, administer, and correct tests, and then record the test results.
  4. Teach social and motor skills to their young students. They are responsible for imparting rules of conduct for 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.

There were nearly 2 million middle and elementary school teachers employed in the U.S. in 2014, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 6 percent growth rate for all secondary teaching jobs from 2014-2024. The BlS also reported that elementary school teachers and middle school teachers made an average of $57,080 in May of 2014.

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Steps for How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

  1. Learn what the job is like.

    Elementary school teachers should enjoy spending time with children, so find out if you do by working with young people in a volunteer or part-time capacity. Contact an elementary school near you and find out about volunteering opportunities where you can work in a classroom. Another option would be to volunteer to work with children at your church, parks and recreation center, or through a 4-H group. "Sometimes people enter the field of teaching and it's not a right fit for them. They don't feel passionate about the work or about the children, and, as principals, we sometimes need to coach them out of the profession," Hansen said. "It's best to find out early whether this is a job you're going to love."

  2. Earn a bachelor's degree. 

    All states require elementary school teachers to have at least a bachelor's degree, with a certain number of education credits. Many future teachers get a degree in elementary education, and some states also require that you major in a content area, such as math or science.

  3. Complete professional development school.

    This would be necessary for those who have a bachelor's degree, but not the necessary number of education credits. These programs typically take a year, and allow college graduates to gain elementary school classroom experience while combining education theory with practice.

  4. Become a student-teacher.

    Most students do their student-teacher internship prior to graduating. During this time, you work directly as a classroom teacher under the direct guidance of professional teachers, developing and refining your teaching and classroom-management skills. All states require that elementary school teachers have this experience. "This is a vital piece of the training," Hansen said. "Teachers face a lot of challenges in today's diverse classrooms, and it helps to get exposure to it early so you can develop the skills to meet those challenges."

  5. Acquire a state-issued certification or license.

    Requirements vary, but all states require public-school teachers to be licensed or certified. Private-school teachers generally don't need to be licensed, although they typically need to have a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Some states, in addition to requiring student teaching, may also require that students have a minimum grade-point average and pass general and subject-matter certification tests.

  6. Earn a master's degree or specialty subject area.

    Some states require that their teachers earn a master's degree after they have been certified. But even if your state doesn't require it, earning a master's degree can often bring an increase in salary. Also, acquiring a teaching specialty, such as in bilingual education, can give elementary school teachers an edge in the job market and command a higher salary.

  7. Complete continuing education. 

    Teachers often have to continue taking classes each year to keep their license. Many teachers go on to earn professional certifications in specialty areas beyond what's required for their teaching license, and this also leads to additional professional opportunities and benefits.

  8. Join a professional association.

    Professional groups like the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association can help teachers stay abreast of changes and trends in teaching.

  9. Learn to adjust.

    Teachers, Hansen said, are facing larger and more diverse classrooms that require teachers to be able to work with individual students as well as the whole class. This often requires patience, she said, and the flexibility to adjust lesson plans. The best teachers know how to alter their teaching methods according to the learning preferences of the students and the classroom.

How Can a Person Become a GREAT Elementary School Teacher?

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An interview with President of the National Association of Elementary School Principals
Dr. Robyn Conrad Hansen

Elementary school teachers have a very important job. 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 school teacher who knows what to expect in the job can get off to a great start. For insight into the field of elementary school education, in addition to tips for helping teachers excel in their job, we spoke with Dr. Robyn Conrad Hansen, a principal and president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals.

Q. What are the greatest rewards of being an elementary school teacher?

When you love teaching, you're never working a day in your life. Your job is your passion, it's your calling, and every day is filled with purpose. There are few jobs that are as rewarding as helping young people learn and grow, and you get to do that every day.

Q. What characteristics are principals looking for when hiring elementary school teachers?

Well, you have to adore children, so that's the first thing. You have to be patient and creative, and you have to have a lifelong love of learning because not only are teachers helping others learn but they are learning themselves. In addition to all that, we are looking for people who will not only care about having a great classroom but who will also contribute to the community that is your school.

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"There are always opportunities for those who want to be elementary school teachers, and in some places there are huge shortages, especially for special education teachers."

Q. What are some the greatest challenges facing elementary school teachers today?

Students are coming into the classroom with a variety of skills and preparation. Some might be reading already while others are not. Some will have a solid attention span while others will have a much shorter one. And our classrooms keep getting larger. So elementary school teachers face a lot of challenges to meet the diverse needs of their students.

Q. What is the job market like?

It's amazingly steady. There are always opportunities for those who want to be elementary school teachers, and in some places there are huge shortages, especially for special education teachers. Part of the problem is that the salaries are not always attractive for young adults choosing a career path, and many people are hearing things like that the education system is broken. The education system is not broken -- our schools are doing fantastic things, every day.

Resources for Elementary School Teachers

  • American Federation of Teachers, http://www.aft.org/
  • National Education Association, http://www.nea.org/
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, http://www.nbpts.org/
  • International Children's Digital Library, http://en.childrenslibrary.org/
  • Social Studies for Kids, http://www.socialstudiesforkids.com/
  • FunBrain, http://www.funbrain.com/

Sources:

1.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-1
2.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor," Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, May 2013," Elementary School Teachers, September 10, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm
3.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, July 26, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-4
4.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," What Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers Do, July 26, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm#tab-2
Interview spotlight
Dr. Robyn Conrad Hansen
National Association of Elementary School Principals

"When you love teaching, you're never working a day in your life. Your job is your passion, it's your calling, and every day is filled with purpose. There are few jobs that are as rewarding as helping young people learn and grow, and you get to do that every day."

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