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Public Elementary School Teacher: Education and Career Profile

Research what it takes to become a public elementary school teacher. Learn about the average salary, as well as the education and licensure requirements, to find out if this is the career for you.

What is a Public Elementary School Teacher?

Public elementary school teachers are employed by schools that are funded by taxpayer dollars. They teach the basics of reading, math, science, social studies and other subjects. They may teach Kindergarten through 5th grade and will create lesson plans based on their students' grade. Teachers also must give tests and quizzes as a way assessing student progress and hold parent conferences. In addition to managing students in the classroom, elementary school teachers may need to supervise lunch and recess periods. The following chart gives an overview of a career in teaching at the elementary-school level.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Elementary education
Licensure Required in all states; certification voluntary, but common
Key Responsibilities Teaching one or more subjects, grading tests, motivating students, keeping parents informed
Job Growth (2018-28) 3% (for kindergarten and elementary school teachers)*
Average Salary (2018) $62,200 (for elementary school teachers except for special education teachers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Will I Do As a Public Elementary School Teacher?

As a teacher, you'll provide instruction in language arts, mathematics, social studies, science, art or music. You'll develop creative approaches to teach students various skills, such as reading, arithmetic and critical thinking. You may be a generalist who covers all of the major subject areas, or you may be a specialist who teaches only one subject, such as science or music.

You'll be responsible for grading tests and disciplining students, while simultaneously motivating them to succeed. You'll meet with parents and keep them up-to-date with their child's progress. Additionally, you might be required to perform some administrative duties, such as entering grades into computer databases.

What Should I Study?

According to the BLS, at a minimum, you'll need a bachelor's degree in order to teach in a public school. Typically, either a bachelor's degree in elementary education or a degree in a subject that is traditionally taught at the elementary-school level is sufficient.

A master's degree in elementary education could help you meet licensure requirements if you hold a bachelor's degree in a field other than education. Both undergraduate and graduate programs teach you skills in classroom management, curriculum development and child development. You could also gain hands-on experience by completing a teaching practicum.

What Credentials Should I Seek?

All public schools require teachers to be licensed to teach in their state. To earn your teaching credentials, you'll likely have to take a basic skills exam. If you have a bachelor's degree in a non-education field, you should consider alternative licensure programs that allow you to start teaching with a provisional license or become licensed after taking just one or two semesters of education courses.

You can demonstrate your teaching ability to potential school employers by obtaining additional voluntary certification. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers certification for 16 subjects, including a generalist early childhood certification (www.nbpts.org). These voluntary certifications are valid for ten years and are nationally recognized.

What Is the Occupational Outlook For This Career?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average yearly salary for all elementary school teachers except special education teachers, as of May 2018, was $62,200 (www.bls.gov). Most of these teachers worked in elementary and secondary schools, where they made $62,240 per year on average. Of all states, New York and Massachusetts paid the highest salaries, both over $82,600 per year in 2018. Employment growth of 3% is expected for all elementary school teachers between 2018 and 2028.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Individuals interested in the job of a public elementary school teacher may also want to teach at the high school level, where they could specialize in a particular subject. They also could choose to teach in a private school, in which some of the rules and regulations may be different or their may be some sort of religious affiliation. Teaching in a middle school or teaching special education at any grade level are also options. All of these alternatives require a bachelor's degree.