Why teach Elementary School
Someone once asked an Elementary School Teacher, “how do you do it—teach elementary age kids? I’m around them for 15 minutes and they wear me out.” She responded that, although admittedly some days she goes home pretty tired, she’s just as likely to be energized by her students, by their love of learning, their friendliness, and their creativity. As an elementary school teacher, you teach a wide variety of subjects for most of the day to the same students for the entire year. This gives you a unique opportunity to get to know the children.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct young students in basic subjects in order to prepare them for future schooling.
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.
How to Become One
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.
To research schools and programs in Special Education, click here.
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, click here.
Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree after receiving their teaching certification and obtaining a job.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
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, click here.
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.
The median annual wage for kindergarten teachers, except special education was $56,850 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,180.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers generally work during school hours when students are present. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after school. They often spend time in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons.
Many kindergarten and elementary school teachers work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers work during the summer.
Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new school session.
Overall employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than 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.
Despite expected increases in enrollment in public schools, employment growth for kindergarten and elementary school teachers will depend on state and local government budgets. If state and local governments experience budget deficits, they may lay off employees, including teachers. As a result, employment growth of public kindergarten and elementary school teachers may be somewhat reduced.
Some teachers are expected to reach retirement age over the coming decade. Their retirements may increase the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.
Opportunities will vary by region and school setting. There will be better opportunities in urban and rural school districts than in suburban school districts. Flexibility in job location may increase prospects.1
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.
- U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook
- U.S. Department of Labor, Career One Stop
Links and Resources for Kindergarten and Elementary Education and Teaching
American Federation of Teachers--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 students, their families and communities.
National Education Association--The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.
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. NAEYC advances a diverse, dynamic early childhood profession and support all who care for, educate, and work on behalf of young children.