Teaching Careers Updated November 5, 2019

How to Become an Elementary School Teacher – Salary, Job Description, and Educational Requirements

By Eric Gill October 4, 2012

Elementary school teachers have one of the most important jobs in the country. Not only are they tasked with providing a well-rounded general education, elementary teachers play a vital role in setting a solid foundation for students’ future academic success.

If you’re patient, adaptable, and passionate about instilling a love of learning in children, a career as an elementary school teacher may be the perfect fit for you.

At-a-glance: elementary school teachers

Elementary school teacher job description

An elementary school teacher’s job is to educate students utilizing childhood development concepts, theories, and practices. Teachers in elementary school are responsible for identifying students’ academic strengths and weaknesses at an early age. These insights help elementary teachers plan general and targeted curriculum to prepare students for success in middle school and beyond.

Typical duties of an elementary teacher:

  • Prepare and grade coursework and assignments
  • Manage classrooms and implement school procedures
  • Work with school leaders and administrators to initiate policies
  • Stay current with state and local standards
  • Select reading, writing, math, and other curriculum-development materials, including textbooks, in accordance with local and state guidelines
  • Prepare students for standardized tests, working within the parameters of state and local requirements, and provide diagnostic feedback
  • Meet one-on-one with students to improve performance and address behavioral issues
  • Communicate with parents and guardians including facilitating conferences
  • Model social behaviors such as hanging up coats, talking with others, sharing, and cleaning up after themselves
  • Introduce STEAM-related topics
  • Educate an ever-growing, culturally diverse student population
  • Incorporate new models of the inclusive classroom

Who makes a good elementary school teacher?

Someone who is:

  • Passionate about working with young minds
  • Confident talking with young students in small and large groups
  • Comfortable implementing school procedures and managing classrooms with diverse students and different learning abilities
  • Knowledgeable about progress indicators
  • Expert in K-12 curriculum
  • Able to work collaboratively and flexibly with others
  • Patient and resourceful
  • Consistent and present
  • Ready to make learning fun!

Elementary school teachers: in-depth

Elementary teachers should be prepared to teach children ages 5-12 in kindergarten through fifth grades. Some elementary schools may also include grade six, while some private and rural public schools include seventh and eighth grades.

Unlike their counterparts in middle and high school, who usually specialize in one subject, elementary school gives teachers opportunities to cover a variety of curriculum. Regardless of whether they teach kindergarten or fifth grade, elementary school teachers must have outstanding curriculum knowledge. A broad knowledge of general education curriculum and a solid foundation in early childhood development are important for teaching students at these age levels.

Elementary school teachers should be prepared to teach English grammar rules, spelling, and basic sentence structure. They are also expected to teach introductory mathematics. This includes addition and subtraction, division and multiplication tables, weights and measures, and other math concepts. Depending on the school, they might also teach science, social studies, and history, as well as art, music, physical education, and other subjects.

As grade levels increase, particularly for fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, teachers may specialize in certain subjects. Their students will spend part of the day in one class, such as mathematics, and then move on to reading and writing classes for balanced curriculum instruction from two or more teachers.

In addition to teaching students and monitoring activities, elementary school teachers often supervise classroom assistants and parent/teacher helpers. Elementary school teachers may also coach sports teams and choir, supervise recess, and monitor lunchroom breaks. They may also help out with special events and activities, such as student body elections, plays, and talent shows.

Teaching elementary school online

As online tools become more common, the realm of possibilities for elementary school teachers interested in leveraging computers and multimedia technology can only expand.

Today’s computer technology advancements, combined with the increasing demand for elementary school teachers and a host of alternatives to traditional teaching — from charter schools to homeschooling — make online teaching an alternative for elementary education.

The increasing demand for online learning helps contribute to an ever-growing supply of tools. In addition to internet research and social media sites that can connect students and teachers with subject-specific experts, these tools can include real-time audio and face-to-face videoconferencing. Facilitating instruction of grammar, phonics, oral and writing exercises, and mathematics lessons in ways that were cost-prohibitive only a decade ago, online teaching has the potential to change the profession at every level, including primary schools.

Education and certification requirements for elementary teachers

  • Education: Bachelor’s or master’s degree
  • Typical study time: 4-6 years

Elementary teachers are expected to have at least a bachelor’s degree in teaching or a subject-specific area, such as math or English, accompanied by a teaching certificate in accordance with their state’s requirements.

Most future elementary teachers enroll in a teacher education program in college. These programs prepare teachers in classroom management and curriculum development and include a semester-long teaching practicum. Graduating with a bachelor’s degree like Concordia University-Portland’s BS in Early Childhood Education, these individuals can begin teaching immediately.

The growing demand for inclusive classrooms, in which children with physical, cognitive, and learning disabilities learn alongside nondisabled students, has placed special education training at the top of the list for many school leaders seeking to fill elementary school teaching positions. They may have dual degrees in teaching and a specific subject or discipline, such as science, Spanish, early childhood development, or special education

Not all programs are created equal, and elementary school teachers seeking advanced degrees should be selective when considering master’s programs. For example, elementary teachers researching a master’s program may consider a degree in:

  • English to speakers of other languages (ESOL)
  • Early childhood education
  • Inclusive classrooms and special education
  • Teaching methods and curriculum

Concordia University-Portland offers outstanding online degree programs such as MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Early Childhood Education, MEd in Educational Leadership, MEd in Educational Technology and Learning Design, MEd in Adolescent Literacy, MEd in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics), and more: MEd program overview.

Certification requirements for elementary school teachers

A state-issued teaching certificate or license is generally required to become an elementary teacher. Some private schools, certain parochial, or faith-based schools have their own requirements for elementary faculty.

Certification and licensing requirements for elementary teachers vary from state to state. Nearly all states require teachers to take professional development courses as a condition of certification.

Teaching License Reciprocity by State: Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page for regulations in your state.

Alternative certification is becoming increasingly popular. An estimated 20% of teachers enter the profession through nontraditional means. Because of fluctuating teacher shortages, states are offering alternative ways for people who already have bachelor’s degrees to become certified and begin teaching.

Elementary school teacher salary and employment projections

Salary ranges for elementary school teachers varies by state and school district. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the median salary for elementary teachers is $57,980. The lowest 10% earn less than $37,780, and the highest 10% earn more than $95,270. According to CareerExplorer.com, salaries for elementary school teachers across the United States range from about $37,780 to $89,749.

As posted on ZipRecruiter,com, the average pay for beginning elementary teachers by state varies from $29,144 to $41,179.

Here is a snapshot of elementary school teacher salaries:

  • CareerExplorer.com: $58,230
  • Glassdoor.com: $47,263
  • Salary.com: $58,270
  • Payscale.com: $45,257

On a national level, the BLS estimates a 3% growth rate for all elementary teachers through 2028. Employment growth will vary by region as hiring within the education system depends upon state and local governments. Elementary teachers will still be needed to replace those who retire or leave the profession for other reasons.

Advantages and disadvantages

Pros:

  • Sharing your passion for educating young minds
  • Making a difference
  • No two days are the same
  • Devoting time and skills to early childhood development
  • Instilling knowledge and launching tomorrow’s learners on an education path
  • Collaborating with other educational professionals
  • Job security

Cons:

  • Challenges associated with a range of learning abilities
  • Implementing school and classroom procedures that are sometimes bureaucratic and difficult to consistently enforce
  • Teaching students at a young age how to concentrate and behave
  • Relatively lower salary than other careers
  • Long hours during the school year
  • State and local standards
  • Little adult contact throughout the day
  • School funding

Professional development for elementary school teachers

Elementary teachers seeking professional development can benefit from leveraging various technologies for educational purposes. Teachers can use a multitude of software programs to help plan, distribute, and enhance lessons.

Today’s technology, which includes videos and podcasts, is attractive for elementary teachers not only for expanding their own use of computers but also to assist students in broadening their knowledge of specific subjects. For example, elementary school teachers can use computers to enhance reading and writing lessons by encouraging students to incorporate graphics, photos, and videos into their assignments.

Professional associations for elementary school instructors are excellent resources. These associations offer correspondence courses, one-day seminars, symposiums, and other opportunities that help teachers advance their knowledge of elementary school curriculum. Many associations also offer courses to help elementary teachers leverage computers as learning tools in their classrooms.

Whether it’s an online webinar or an annual three-day conference for primary school teachers, continuing education improves teaching skills and broadens knowledge of educational best practices. Webinars and professional conferences are terrific platforms to enhance one’s understanding of primary education while meeting fellow teachers.

Professional associations for elementary school teachers

Best of the Web

The internet is ideal for elementary school teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning and presentations. Here are some favorites:

Favorite elementary teacher websites

Favorite elementary teacher Twitter and Instagram accounts to follow

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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