Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct young students in basic subjects in order to prepare them for future schooling.
What they do
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically do the following:
- Create lesson plans to teach students subjects, such as reading, science, and math
- Teach students how to interact with others
- Observe students to evaluate their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
- Instruct an entire class or smaller groups of students
- Grade students’ assignments
- Communicate with parents or guardian about their child’s progress
- Work with students individually to help them overcome specific learning challenges
- Prepare students for standardized tests required by the state
- Develop and enforce classroom rules to teach children proper behavior
- Supervise children outside of the classroom—for example, during lunchtime or recess
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers help students learn and apply important concepts. Many teachers use a hands-on approach to help students understand abstract concepts, solve problems, and develop critical-thinking skills. For example, they may demonstrate how to do a science experiment and then have the students conduct the experiment themselves. They may have students work together to solve problems.
Elementary school typically goes from first through fifth or sixth grades. However, in some schools, elementary school continues through eighth grade.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically instruct students in several subjects throughout the day. Teachers may escort students to assemblies, recess, or classes taught by other teachers, such as art or music. While students are away from the classroom, teachers plan lessons, grade assignments, or meet with other teachers and staff.
In some schools, teachers may work on subject specialization teams in which they teach one or two specific subjects, typically either English and social studies or math and science. Generally, students spend half their time with one teacher and half their time with the other.
There are kindergarten and elementary school teachers who specialize in subjects such as art, music, or physical education.
Some schools employ English as a second language (ESL) or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teachers who work exclusively with students learning the English language. These teachers work with students individually or in groups to help them improve their English language skills and to help them with class assignments.
Students with learning disabilities or emotional or behavioral disorders are often taught in traditional classes. Kindergarten and elementary teachers work with special education teachers to adapt lesson plans to these students’ needs and monitor the students’ progress. In some cases, kindergarten and elementary school teachers may co-teach lessons with special education teachers.
Some teachers use technology in their classroom as a teaching aide. They must be comfortable with using and learning new technology. Teachers also may maintain websites to communicate with parents about students’ assignments, upcoming events, and grades. For students in higher grades, teachers may create websites or discussion boards to present information or to expand on a lesson taught in class.
Most states have tenure laws, which provide job security after a certain number of years of satisfactory teaching.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers may find it rewarding to watch students develop new skills and learn information. However, teaching may be stressful. Some schools have large classes and lack important teaching tools, such as computers and up-to-date textbooks. Some states are developing teacher mentoring programs and teacher development courses to help with the challenges of being a teacher.
How to become a Kindergarten and/or Elementary School Teacher
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers usually must have a bachelor’s degree. In addition, public school teachers must have a state-issued certification or license.
Public kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Private schools typically have the same requirement. Some states also require public kindergarten and elementary school teachers to major in a content area, such as math or science.
Those with a bachelor’s degree in another subject can still become elementary education teachers. They must complete a teacher education program to obtain certification to teach. Requirements vary by state.
In teacher education programs, future teachers learn how to present information to young students and how to work with young students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Programs typically include a student-teaching program, in which they work with a mentor teacher and get experience teaching students in a classroom setting. For information about teacher preparation programs in your state, visit Teach.org.
Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree after receiving their teaching certification and obtaining a job.
All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed or certified in the specific grade level that they will teach. Those who teach in private schools typically do not need a license. Requirements for certification or licensure vary by state but generally involve the following:
- A bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade point average
- Completion of a student teaching program
- Passing a background check
- Passing a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates their knowledge of the subject they will teach.
For information on certification requirements in your state, visit Teach.org.
Teachers are frequently required to complete professional development classes to keep their license or certification. Some states require teachers to complete a master’s degree after receiving their certification and obtaining a job.
All states offer an alternative route to certification or licensure for people who already have a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses required for certification. Some alternative certification programs allow candidates to begin teaching immediately after graduation, under the supervision of an experienced teacher. These programs cover teaching methods and child development. After they complete the program, candidates are awarded full certification. Other programs require students to take classes in education before they can teach.
The median annual wage for elementary school teachers, except special education was $59,670 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,900.
Overall employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is projected to grow 4 percent from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Rising student enrollment should increase demand for kindergarten and elementary teachers, but employment growth will vary by region.
The number of students enrolling in public kindergarten and elementary schools is expected to increase over the coming decade, and the number of classes needed to accommodate these students should rise. As a result, more teachers will be needed to teach public kindergarten and elementary school students.
Similar Job Titles
Bilingual Kindergarten Teacher, Classroom Teacher, Educator, Instructor, Kinder Teacher, Kindergarten Classroom Teacher, Kindergarten Teacher, Teacher, Title One Kindergarten Teacher, Transitional Kindergarten Teacher, Elementary School Band Director
Preschool Teacher, Middle School Teacher, Secondary School Teacher, Teacher Assistant
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American Business Women's Association - The mission of the American Business Women’s Association is to bring together business women of diverse occupations and to provide opportunities for them to help themselves and others grow personally and professionally through leadership, education, networking support and national recognition.
- American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO - The American Federation of Teachers is a union of professionals that champions fairness; democracy; economic opportunity; and high-quality public education, healthcare and public services for our students, their families and our communities. They are committed to advancing these principles through community engagement, organizing, collective bargaining and political activism, and especially through the work members do.
- National Association for the Education of Young Children - NAEYC promotes high-quality early learning for all children, birth through age 8, by connecting practice, policy, and research. This organization advances a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children.
- National Education Association - NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States. They seek to bring the expertise, drive, and dedication of 3 million educators and allies to advancing justice and excellence in public education.
- National Parent Teacher Association - PTA's mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children.
Magazines and Publications
Our Children Magazine (PTA)
The first day of school. For children, it can be scary and exciting… opening them to new worlds. For elementary school teachers, it’s the start of a new year of inspiring students, and making a lasting impression on their future. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers teach foundation subjects— math, reading, science and social studies. They also teach appropriate interaction, setting and enforcing rules for behavior in the classroom, lunchroom, and recess. When students experience barriers to learning, teachers devise methods to help, and meet with parents to share student progress and challenges. Elementary teachers work in both public and private schools. Class sizes— and the availability of textbooks… technology… and other materials— can vary greatly. Teachers are often accountable for student performance on standardized tests, which can be challenging. Teachers work full time and often put in extra hours to prepare lessons and grade school work. Many primary school teachers work a ten-month school year with a two-month summer break, although some also teach summer school. Teachers need a bachelor’s degree in elementary education; public school jobs require state certification. Some states require a college major in a subject such as math, language arts, or science. No mistake, it’s not an easy job— but teaching is more than an occupation, it’s a commitment.