How To Get an Elementary Education Degree

If you want to learn more about how elementary teachers inspire children each day, how to become an elementary school teacher, what curriculum, degree and other requirements you may need and what salary you could earn in this field, read on. Below is a list (broken down by state) of elementary education programs both in-person and online, from over 1,700 accredited colleges and universities across the US. Already know which degree you want? Use the quick search above to find a school near you, or search by the subject you wish to teach in the menu below.

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. You will help lay the foundation for your students' critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities, and hopefully instill a lifelong love for learning for them. Your career in teaching may bring you the self-satisfaction and rewards of influencing the future leaders of a generation. 

With the emphasis placed on standardized testing in the past decade or two, it's not surprising that research has focused predominantly on how teachers affect students' achievement on standardized tests. In reality, there is evidence that a broad range of attitudes and behaviors are equally important as standardized testing to students' long term success. According to a study from the Sage Journals published in 2017, "by providing emotional support and a predictable, consistent, and safe environment, teachers can help students become more self-reliant, motivated to learn, and willing to take risks. Furthermore, by modeling strong organizational and management structures, teachers can help build students' own ability to self-regulate."

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.

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.

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.

How do I Become an Elementary School Teacher?

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.

Featured Online Programs:

Online programs may not be available in all states

Elementary Education Programs Curriculum

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 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, ESL 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 Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

You may not be able to complete your entire degree online with certain programs because you may need to gain hands-on experience in a classroom setting with a practicum or student teaching semester. The supervised training you gain from experienced educators during student-teaching is valuable. However, you can complete your core classes and most of your degree requirements.

The best online programs may even help you prepare for licensure requirements in your state, which could help you teach faster. 

Find Elementary Education Programs by Degree Level

As an elementary school teacher, you can start your career with a bachelor's degree and continue your education with a master's degree for more job opportunities and higher pay. However, if you have a bachelor's degree in a subject other than education, you can still teach with an alternative teacher certification. Learn more about degree options:

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.

Elementary School Teacher Salary

The median annual salary for elementary school teachers in 2017 was $57,160. The lowest 10 percent of teachers earned less than $37,340, while the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,770. 

If you want a higher salary, private school salaries are generally higher than those of public schools. There are also many ways you can boost your salary by getting involved in teaching summer school programs. 

Elementary teachers can also 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 Teacher Job Growth

There are a little over 1.5 million elementary teachers in the United States, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow at an average rate of 7% from 2016-2026.

Demand will be highest for elementary school teachers in less desirable and rural school districts that tend to have low-income residents.

Because student enrollment is the driving force behind demand for teachers, job prospects will be brighter in some areas of the country than others. For instance, student enrollment is growing quickly in the south and west, stable in the Midwest and declining in the Northeast.

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 may require technology training, a minimum grade point average and/or attainment of a master's degree within a prescribed number of years.

Under the Trump administration, however, a few things are expected to change, such as:

Because of these changes, particularly the fact that not all elementary schools are created equal, many elementary schools are taking a more holistic approach to learning. The elementary school a child attends is typically determined by the location of their primary residence. This means that those who live in a low-income area are more likely to attend a low-income school or a private school to have better access to learning opportunities. However, recent trends in education aim to solve this through holistic learning styles. In California, for instance, these school are growing in popularity.

Another trend in education is "blended schools," which also offer social services, such as healthcare, to improve the personal and home lives of students in elementary schools. These schools offer support and education to help children rise above negative situations in life, whether that be personal or academic.

Useful Resources


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