What is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Elementary School Teacher?

Image of elementary school teacher for our FAQ on What is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Elementary School Teacher
An image of an elementary school teacher for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

If you enjoy the fun and challenging nature of working with young children, a career as an elementary school teacher might be right for you. These professionals work in public and private schools. They teach young children one or multiple subject areas. Successful elementary school teachers must be good communicators with plenty of:

  • patience
  • creativity
  • resourcefulness

They must also have earned a college degree. Below, we discuss the best degree path for becoming an elementary school teacher. We also have relevant information regarding pay and job outlook for this occupation.

Education for Aspiring Teachers

What do you study to land a job as an elementary school educator? Education, of course. Public and private school teachers, particularly those working as elementary school teachers, must have a bachelor’s degree.

You will want to pursue a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from an accredited program. Some states require a bachelor’s degree in education or elementary education. Others require teachers to major in a content area, such as history or mathematics.

Curriculum in most elementary education programs covers subjects like:

  • classroom management
  • child psychology and development
  • diversity in learning
  • instructional technology
  • language and literacy
  • teacher education

Elementary school teachers are often responsible for teaching a wide range of subjects. You may need to take coursework in a variety of subject matter studies, such as:

  • elementary mathematics
  • science
  • social studies, and more

In addition to the required coursework in college, you will have opportunities to gain hands-on experience through fieldwork in schools, particularly through a student-teaching assignment. By the time you graduate, you should understand how to teach young students and provide them with information in various subjects. You will also learn how to teach students with diverse backgrounds and differing abilities.

In some states, a major in elementary education alone is not enough. You will also need to take extensive coursework in a content area, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports. Often, this means double-majoring in both elementary education and a subject like:

  • science
  • math
  • history
  • English

You will have to complete the requirements for both your education major and your content area major. Teacher preparation and requirements in your state can be found at Teach.org.

Teaching Licenses and Certifications

No matter what state you intend to work in as an elementary school educator, if you plan to work in a public school, you will need to attain a teaching license. A license is typically not a requirement for elementary school teachers at private schools, but having one won’t hurt your employment prospects. Requirements for licensure or certification vary by state, but they usually involve:

  • earning a bachelor’s degree with a specified minimum GPA
  • completing a student-teaching program while in school
  • passing a background check
  • passing a general teaching test

The general teaching test may also test a specific subject area that you want to teach.

Once you receive a license or certification  and you are working as a teacher, you may be required to complete professional development classes to maintain your license. Some states require teachers to complete a master’s degree in education, or in a relevant discipline, after certification is received and a job is secured. However, this is not true of all states.

For additional information on state requirements for certification, visit Teach.org.

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Advancement Opportunities for Elementary School Teachers

Mentorships are common in education. In fact, experienced teachers often advance to serve as mentors for new teachers. Experienced teachers may also become lead teachers. They oversee a small team of teachers or act as a liaison between administration and teaching staff. While serving as lead teachers or mentors, experienced teachers assist new or less experienced teachers to improve their classroom management and teaching skillsets.

Some teachers opt for additional education, training, and/or certifications that allow them to advance to different roles within the school system. Teachers may become:

  • instructional coordinators
  • librarians
  • school counselors

Some teachers become assistant principals or principals. Both of these roles require additional schooling and certification in administration and leadership. Principal and assistant principal roles also require mentorship.

Important Qualities for Elementary School Teachers

In addition to required coursework, degrees, and licensing, there are important qualities to have for any elementary school teacher. Some of these skills and qualities cannot be taught in the classroom and must be developed through hands-on experience. Below are several important qualities for elementary school teachers to have in order to be successful on the job.

Creativity: As an elementary school teacher, you must be creative and resourceful to keep students engaged in learning. Lessons must be adapted to a student’s needs. In order to do this, creativity is required.

Effective communication skills: Teachers spend much of their day talking with students, parents, and administrators. They must be able to effectively convey instructions and subject content so that students understand the tasks. They must also relay information to parents to effectively work in the best interest of their child. To carry out these tasks, teachers must be expert communicators.

Patience: When students struggle with tasks, teachers must remain patient. Often, elementary school teachers work with students with various backgrounds and abilities. These students may struggle with certain subjects or homework assignments. To better respond to struggling students, teachers must remain calm and patient.

Physical Stamina: Working with young children requires energy and physical stamina. The challenges of working with this age group can be taxing on one’s emotional, mental, and physical health. To keep up with students, teachers should be in good physical shape. Long days can be tiring, so it is important to stay hydrated and eat foods that are nutritious. A healthy lifestyle that includes adequate nutrition, sleep, and exercise will help a teacher get through the day in a more positive way.

An image of an elementary school teacher for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

Elementary School Teacher Earnings

Elementary school teachers earn a median salary of $60,940 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While the lowest 10% of earners make less than $40,030, the highest 10% of earners make over $100,000 per year. Elementary teachers earn higher-than-average wages, according to BLS. The average wage for all occupations is $41,950.

Certain factors, such as teacher experience and geographic location, impact earnings potential for elementary school educators. For example, BLS reports five top-paying states for elementary school teachers. These states are:

  • California
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • the District of Columbia

In California, elementary school teachers earn an annual mean wage of $85,110. Massachusetts, according to BLS, pays annual mean wages of $84,810 to elementary school teachers. Another top-paying state, New York, offers $84,380 in average wages for this occupation. In Connecticut, elementary school teachers earn annual mean wages of $79,610, and they earn $78,840 in the District of Columbia.

In addition to high-paying states, certain cities and metropolitan areas prove to be high-paying regions for elementary school teachers. The highest-paying metro area is Merced, California. In this area, elementary school teachers earn annual mean wages of $99,360.

The second-highest-paying metro area for elementary school teachers is Kingston, New York. In the Kingston metro area, elementary school teachers earn a median annual wage of $93,780. Other top-paying metro areas for this occupation include:

  • Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ontario, California
  • Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Anaheim, California
  • San Jose, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara, California

In all of these top-paying metro areas, the annual mean wage is over $90,000.

But high wages are not only available in metro areas and big cities. Elementary school teachers can also earn a fair wage in non-metropolitan areas. According to BLS, Massachusetts non-metro areas offer annual mean wages of $82,340 for elementary school teachers. This number is still over 20k higher than the average for this occupation. Other top-paying non-metropolitan areas for elementary school teachers that offer higher-than-average wages include:

  • the North Coast region of California ($77,540)
  • Connecticut non-metro areas ($74,500)
  • Alaska non-metro areas ($70,580)
  • Western Washington ($70,470)
An image of an elementary school teacher for our FAQ on What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

Job Outlook for Elementary School Teachers

Average employment growth is expected for elementary school teachers over the next decade. The growth rate of seven percent is on par with the average for all occupations, as reported by the BLS. It also reports that approximately 124,300 job openings for elementary and kindergarten teachers are expected each year over the next 10 years. Most of the job openings will result from the need to replace teachers who exit the workforce through retirement or transfer to different occupations.

Over the next decade, the United States will see rising student enrollment in public and private schools. The rising numbers should increase the demand for elementary school teachers, but overall employment growth may vary by geographic location. In some areas, classes will see an overflow of students. To accommodate the rise in student numbers, the number of classes will need to be expanded. As a result, more educators will be needed in elementary school classrooms. But, since employment growth for teachers is impacted by state and local budgets, growth will be determined by what resources are available. In some areas, growth will continue to occur, but in other areas, such as rural spaces and small towns, growth may be limited.

Work Schedules of Elementary School Teachers

According to the BLS, the largest employer of elementary school teachers is public elementary and secondary schools. About 85 percent of all elementary school teachers work in public elementary and secondary schools. About 12 percent work in private schools. For kindergarten teachers, approximately 81 percent work in public elementary and secondary schools while 14 percent work in private schools. Two percent of kindergarten teachers work in child day care services.

The work schedules for elementary school teachers and kindergarten teachers in public and private schools are about the same. Generally, these teachers work during regular school hours when students are in the classroom. There are times, however, when teachers are expected to meet with parents, other teachers, administration, and students outside of the regular school schedules. Teachers may be expected to conduct parent-teacher conferences in the evenings when parents are available. In the evenings and on weekends, teachers usually spend time grading assignments and papers or preparing for the next week’s lessons.

Most elementary school teachers work a traditional 10-month school year with a two-month break during the summer. However, some work during the summer, preparing lessons and carrying out administrative tasks. Most teachers in public schools have a short winter break during the holidays when school is not in session.

In school districts with year-round schedules, elementary school teachers generally work nine weeks in a row followed by a break for two to three weeks before the next session of school begins. During break time, teachers may be expected to prepare for upcoming lessons.

The typical daily schedule of an elementary school teachers consists of arriving on school grounds at about 7:00 or 7:15 in the morning. For 15 to 30 minutes, teachers review their lesson plans for the day and finish any last-minute preparations. Attendance and morning rituals, such as the Pledge of Allegiance and lunch counts, are completed.

The first lesson usually begins at about 8:20 or 8:30 in the morning. Lessons continue throughout the morning until snack time around 10:20 am. Math facts, drills, spelling games and review, or other lessons may be taught until lunchtime. Teachers may have lunch or recess duty during a particular week, or they may spend the time reviewing for afternoon lessons.

Reading, science, and other subjects may be taught in the afternoons followed by a quick end-of-the-day game or activity. When school lets out, teachers escort children to the carpool area, help load students on buses, and tidy up the classroom in preparation for the following school day. Any unfinished work is often brought home with the teacher for completion.

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This concludes our article on what is the best degree path for becoming an elementary school teacher.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris