How to Become an Elementary Teacher

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Below is a directory (broken down by state) of all of the Elementary Education programs we could find, from over 1,700 accredited colleges and universities across the US.

Imagine guiding a group of active, curious children through a science experiment, math lesson, writing assignment, grammar lesson, and social studies exam - all in one day. That's an ordinary workday for elementary school teachers who must have a broad knowledge base in all the core subject areas.

If you have a desire to help shape and develop the young minds of school-aged children, a specialty degree in elementary education may be the start of an excellent career for you. As an elementary school educator, you will assist children from kindergarten to sixth grade with the developmental foundation of their critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities and instill a lifelong love for learning. Your career in teaching may bring you the self-satisfaction and rewards of influencing the future leaders of a generation.

According to a study by Harvard University, and reported by the N.Y. Times Magazine in 2012, children who had high quality elementary school teachers were more likely to make better decisions in their social lives, engage in the pursuit of academic excellence and acquired higher paying jobs than children who experienced lower quality teachers. This study has suggested that elementary teachers have a powerful influence on the lives of children.

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Find Elementary Education Programs by Degree Level

Elementary Teacher Job Description

Elementary teachers oversee the cognitive, social and emotional development of students in grades one through six. They are responsible for developing and delivering lesson plans, evaluating student achievement, maintaining classroom discipline and communicating student progress to parents and administrators.

Elementary teachers typically oversee a single classroom and teach all the core subjects - math, language arts, science, reading, and social studies - each day. They may also design bulletin boards and other classroom materials, supervise recess or free time, coordinate field trips, and attend staff meetings and in-service workshops. Most elementary teachers work a traditional 10 month schedule with a two month summer break. Some schools now operate on a year-round schedule with shorter breaks interspersed throughout the year.

Elementary Education Requirements

All 50 states require that public school elementary teachers get licensed and hold a bachelor's degree. Licensing requires a bachelor's degree from an approved teacher education program, a student teaching internship and a passing score on a competency test. States also offer alternative licensing for those (such as career-changers) who hold a bachelor's degree but have not taken the required education courses.

The learning isn't over once you've received your license. Regular professional development is required to maintain an active teaching license.

Requirements can vary for private schools. Not all require licensing for example. Even so, a bachelor's degree is usually expected.

Elementary School Teacher Education Requirements

As an aspiring educator, you will be expected to take highly specialized courses in educational research, learning theories and child development sciences to become a well-prepared elementary school teacher. Your curriculum may include the following courses:

  • Introduction to Elementary Education - This course explores the historical, philosophical and current trends of teaching in today's classrooms. The history of education in America helps to identify the evolution of teaching today, clarifies the path that has led to recent legislation and defines the reasoning for requirements of teaching credentials. The class may discuss their personal philosophy towards teaching and what motivates each individual to dedicate a career to education.

    Introductions also include the scientific process of learning in children. Human development and psychology explore the methods of teaching that provide best practices for impacting young minds and facilitating learning. The use of children's literature, rich media and learning computer technologies for the classroom are also touched upon in this course of study.

  • Developmental Psychology of Young Learners - Fundamental and the major theories of the social, cognitive and moral development of children are explored in this course. Children are affected by the environment, their emotional response to the world around them and their perception of language. An understanding of how the young brain processes information and incorporates learning is a highly effective skill for teachers.

    As a student, you will learn the process of what affects children's moral reasoning, empathic nature and social temperament. Children who have difficulty processing information may become disruptive or socially withdrawn. Strategies to address children with social and learning impairment are identified and discussed.

  • Literacy Assessment and Instruction - The ability to read is a fundamental foundation for children's success or failure as lifelong learners. Through learning theories, a theoretical framework and educational research, you can learn how to assess the best literature for children in the classroom. Reading also inspires, teaches and may help children develop social awareness and empathy. Children are highly impacted by books and illustrations.

    This class also explores the best practice for teaching methods using literature to educate your students. Selection criteria and learning theories assist the teacher in providing optimal literature for reading in the classroom. You may explore the historical perspectives, cultural representations and recent clinical studies on the impact of current children's literature.

  • Curriculum Design and Education Assessment - The design of successful learning materials and lesson plans is accomplished through the use of learning theories and research guidelines. The incorporation of classroom media and technologies is also assessed by conceptual frameworks and based on selection criteria. As an aspiring educator, you may learn to assess and select the course activities, lesson planning and class curriculum that is defined by best practices to achieve successful learning in your classroom.

    Curriculum construction is presented as a logical and rational sequence of ideas and activities that allow the student to build knowledge upon previous learning experiences. Evaluation and testing of classroom activities and lesson planning is paramount to the continuous improvement process of teaching concepts and information.

  • Teaching Practicum or Educational Project - Toward the end of your specialty degree, you may be expected to perform fieldwork in the area of your expertise. Typically, student teachers are assigned an actual classroom in fieldwork for experience in front of a classroom. As a student, you may provide classroom activities, design lesson plans or conduct a reading assignment.

    An educational project may also be assigned as a teaching practicum that includes the interaction and actual teaching in a classroom. Your project will be defined by your instructor and may also allow or assign you a mentor for help in this area. Teaching experience in the classroom is an exhilarating and challenging experience.

Elementary School Teachers Salary

There are approximately 1.5 million elementary teachers in the U.S. and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow at an average rate. Demand will be highest in less desirable and rural school districts. Because student enrollment is the driving force behind demand for teachers, job prospects will be brighter in some areas of the country than others. Student enrollment is growing quickly in the South and West, remaining stable in the Midwest and declining in the Northeast.

The median annual salary for elementary school teachers in 2016 was $55,490. The lowest 10 percent of teachers earned between $31,000 and $34,000 while the highest 10 percent earned between $75,000 and $80,000. Private school salaries are generally lower than those of public schools.

Elementary teachers can boost their salaries by taking on supplemental contracts for extracurricular activities, getting a second job during summer vacation, earning a master's degree or other advanced certification, acting as a mentor or moving into an administrative position.

Elementary Education Trends

Education initiatives at the federal, state and local level continue to stress the need for highly qualified teachers, so expect licensing requirements to become increasingly rigorous. Some states now require technology training, a minimum grade point average, and/or attainment of a master's degree within a prescribed number of years.

Elementary Education Degrees Online

Are you a generalist or a specialist?

The term "elementary education" broadly refers to the teaching of students in grades K-8. But, within the field, there is opportunity for a wide variety of specialization in areas such as reading, special education, English as a second language and more.

Colleges and universities recognize this and offer a range of online elementary education degrees to suit those who wish to specialize in a subject area or those seeking a general elementary education certificate.

Because classes are typically available at any time, elementary education online programs are particularly suitable for career-changers, school paraprofessionals and unlicensed substitute teachers, all of whom may be working during the day.

Typical classes include elementary teaching practices and core subject area studies in math, reading, science and social studies. High-quality programs also include substantial opportunity for classroom observations and practice teaching. Look for programs that are accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Schools That Offer Online Elementary Education Degrees

Western Governors University in Indiana offers an online Master of Arts in teaching for grades K-8 that combines elementary education licensure preparation with master's degree coursework. The program is a good fit for career changers and school paraprofessionals who already hold a bachelor's degree and would like to become teachers. This program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and includes a student teaching internship.

Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, offers several online elementary education master's degree programs, including specialties in math, reading, special education and school counseling. These degree programs are open to current or aspiring teachers.

Looking for a high-demand teaching specialty? Consider Grand Canyon University's online dual-major degree program in elementary education and special education. Students in this program prepare to work with special needs students in elementary school settings. Participants complete an eight-week practicum in a regular education setting followed by an additional eight weeks in a special education setting.

Useful Resources

If you are ready to earn your degree in education, use our comprehensive listing below to request information about specific elementary teaching programs.