Become an Elementary School Teacher in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an elementary school teacher. Learn about job duties, education requirements, and licensure to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Elementary Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is an Elementary School Teacher?

Elementary school teachers lead instruction for first grade through fourth or fifth grade. Generally, teachers of elementary school are responsible for drafting and implementing lesson plans for all primary subjects. Because elementary teachers work with younger students, they may also spend more time focusing on classroom rules and behavior. Teachers are responsible for maintaining contact with students' parents and relaying information about how each student is doing in class and whether there are any issues. They may also be required to supervise children during lunch time and recess, depending on the school. See the table below for information about education requirements, licensure, and salary for this career.

Education Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Elementary education
Licensure Required Required in all 50 states for public school teachers
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6%*
Median Salary (May 2015) $54,890*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Elementary School Teacher Job Description

Elementary school teachers educate students, usually in grades 1-4 or 1-5, in various subjects within public or private school settings. Day-to-day responsibilities require them to create lesson plans, deliver instructional content, and design assessment measures to evaluate student progress. They're also tasked with creating a supportive learning environment and keeping the lines of communication open between parents, teachers, and administrators. Steps for pursuing a career in elementary school education are outlined below.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

To become an elementary school teacher, you must first complete a bachelor's degree program. Bachelor's degree programs in elementary education often include liberal arts coursework, in fields like English and history, in addition to classes on human growth and development, classroom management, and educational psychology. Additional courses cover instructional methods for teaching elementary physical and social sciences, mathematics, and reading. The curriculum also typically includes supervised fieldwork in the form of a student-teaching internship, which usually occurs during your senior year. Some states may also require teachers to continue their training by earning a master's degree after they have earned state certification/licensure.

Step Two: Get a Teaching License

After completing your bachelor's degree program, you'll need to apply for a state license if you plan on working in a public school; private school teachers are not always required to follow state licensing guidelines. Minimum requirements to earn a state license typically include the completion of a state-approved teacher education program that meets curriculum guidelines and includes a student teaching experience. Many states also require you to pass a written exam demonstrating your content area knowledge and familiarity with elementary school pedagogy. Some states even ask prospective teachers to submit to a background check.

Step Three: Join a Trade Association

While not required, joining a trade organization can provide you with access to networking opportunities, educational programs and other benefits. Examples of national trade associations for elementary school teachers include the Association for Childhood Education International and the National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Step Four: Meet Continuing Education Requirements

Staying updated on current legislation, instructional technologies, and techniques is crucial to your daily activities as an elementary school teacher. Earning continuing education credits is also a requirement for maintaining state licensure. These opportunities may be available through employers as well as trade associations and other organizations.

Step Five: Consider Earning Certification

Voluntary professional certification may be advantageous in securing a teaching job or advancing in the field, since this credentialing process confirms candidates' proficiency in teaching skills and protocols. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards is one such organization that provides certification for elementary school teachers. Successful applicants must be bachelor's degree program graduates with a teaching license and three years of experience.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

With a bachelor's degree in education, you can teach at both the elementary and secondary level, so working as a middle school or high school teacher is also a possibility. However, keep in mind that you may need to change your degree focus while studying in university to reflect the age of students you plan on teaching. At the secondary level, teachers usually focus on teaching one subject, like English or history, rather than all the subjects as elementary teachers often do. You could also pursue a job as an elementary school administrator or principal if you hold a master's degree.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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