How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Great teachers empathize with kids, respect them, and believe that each one has something special that can be built upon. Ann Lieberman

Elementary school teachers have the power to mold young minds and help children find pathways to reach their potential while building confidence. Elementary school teachers are knowledgeable about a variety of subjects including language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, and the arts. In order to prepare their young students, these determined educators create lessons across subjects to teach foundational knowledge and skills.

Qualities of an Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school teachers are usually patient, creative, resourceful, and good communicators. These teachers must plan lessons that engage students while adapting lessons to the various needs and learning styles of students. Importantly, elementary school teachers must maintain patience when students struggle with new and challenging material. It is imperative that elementary school teachers have great communication skills as they will be required to collaborate with teachers assistants, paraprofessionals, parents, administrators, and colleagues on a regular basis.

Job Growth

A career as an elementary school teacher comes with many benefits, including solid growth potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), elementary school teachers are supposed to observe about 12 percent career growth nationwide between 2012 and 2022.

What are the Requirements for Teaching Elementary School?

Degree Requirements

All certified Elementary school teachers in the United States must have at least a Bachelor's Degree and hold a state-issued license or certificate specific to teaching elementary students. However, each state has their own specific licensing requirements.

Licensure can be attained through the completion of a teacher education program that is accredited by CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation).

Many elementary school teachers earn degrees in Elementary Education, Education, or Child Development.

Teacher Education Program

Teacher education programs often focus on pedagogy, teaching methods, and actual classroom experience as a student teacher. Teacher Education Programs generally focus their classes around the philosophy of education, teaching methodology, psychology of learning, and the use of technology in the classroom. Pre-service teachers learn how to present curriculum to young students as well as learn how to work with young students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Although prospective teachers can enroll in a teacher education program after they have completed a Bachelor's Degree, there are schools that train you to become a teacher as an undergraduate as well. In addition, most states offer alternative routes to becoming (such as internship programs). Some states may require teachers to earn a Master's Degree after getting their teaching certification.

Blended Teacher Certification Programs

Many colleges and universities offer "joint" or "blended" degree programs which allow aspiring teachers to earn their Bachelor's Degree and Teaching Certification simultaneously. However, prospective teachers can enroll in a teacher education program after they have completed a Bachelor's Degree as well. Most states also offer alternative paths to becoming an elementary school teacher, such as internship programs.

Tests to Pass for Teaching Elementary School

Prospective elementary school teachers are also required to take and pass all elementary education content area assessments in order to obtain certification at the elementary school level. These standardized tests vary from state to state. Licensing and competency exams should be taken in the state where you wish to teach.

Find Information About Becoming a Teacher In Your State

Each state has different requirements for becoming a certified teacher. To find out specific requirements, click on your state.

Elementary School Teacher by Degree Level

The tables and charts below break down the education level obtained as averaged across the U.S.

Degree LevelPercent (%)
Less Than High School Diploma0.2%
High School Diploma0.3%
Some College2.9%
Associate Degree1.9%
Bachelors Degree44.3%
Masters Degree46.5%
Doctorate Degree3.9%

Data taken from BLS Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation, 2010-11 (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_111.htm)

Who Will My Students Be?

Elementary school students are comprised of vastly different age groups. Students at this level range from the early age of five to the brink of adolescence at 11 or 12 years of age. Elementary school includes a broad range of grade levels, depending on the region. In some areas, it goes from kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. In other areas it includes kindergarten through eighth grade.

What Does an Elementary School Teacher Do?

Elementary school teachers usually have a self-contained classroom, meaning they teach their students several different subjects throughout the day in one classroom. Educators at this level are often required to be very engaging and hands-on in the delivery of content. These teachers are required to adapt and modify lessons in order to meet individuals needs of all their students.

Elementary School Curriculum

The curriculum is typically planned around the fundamental subjects of language arts, mathematics, science, social studies, music, and the arts. Although the organization and pedagogy can vary from school to school, curriculum usually focuses on building the foundation for a well-rounded education. Normally, the curriculum of public elementary schools are determined by individual school districts. Each school district selects curriculum guides and textbooks which reflect the state's objective learning standards and benchmarks for a given grade.

Elementary School Teacher Jobs & Job Description

Focused on foundational learning, elementary school English teachers are often tasked with introducing students to a number of language strands including speaking, reading, listening and writing. Once mastered, older elementary students are taught the rudiments of literary analysis. Teachers will:

  • Identify reasons for listening - i.e. to gain information, to interact socially, to follow direction
  • Demonstrate how to listen effectively
  • Evaluate student's listening strategies, model more sophisticated strategies as students skills progress
  • Teach students to check for understanding by retelling a story or text
  • Teach students to ask meaningful questions about the story
  • Help students discern explicit and implicit information from the story and non-verbal markers - i.e. vocal intonation and facial expression of the reader
  • Identify whether a text is fact or fiction
  • Teach students how to communicate information in a clear manner
  • Teach students to identify text and literary features
  • Teach children to read with both fluency and comprehension
  • Teach children to interpret media texts and discern messages within
  • Lead students to explain why different audiences might respond differently to a text
  • Help students produce a variety of texts and media texts
  • Assist students in demonstrating an understanding of complex oral texts
  • Help students learn to develop and explain their interpretation of a text's function and ideas by finding evidence in the text
  • Teach students how to analyze oral and written texts to evaluate how effectively they communicate ideas
  • Explain to students the value of a literary point of view
  • Help students identify a wide variety of presentation strategies
  • Teach students how to tailor their speaking behavior to the purpose and audience
  • Teach students how and when to use appropriate words, phrases and terminology
  • Help students create and best use a variety of appropriate visual aids
  • Teach students how to draft and revise their writing
  • Teach students the mechanics of editing, proofreading and publishing strategies
  • Elevate students' knowledge of language conventions in order to correct errors
  • Work with students to identify the topic, purpose, and audience of a text
  • Help students generate ideas about a potential topic, and then select the most viable idea for production
  • Help students learn to identify and order themes, main ideas, and supporting details and group them effectively and cohesively
  • Help students choose vivid and figurative language to add reader interest
  • Help students incorporate sentence variety in type and structure
  • Help students strategize to spell unfamiliar words

Secondary school English teachers are responsible for refining students' developing literary analysis and expression and directing them toward a study and appreciation of literature, writing, and media. With that goal in mind, secondary English teachers:

  • Help students identify the purpose of different oral texts
  • Help students develop several different active listening strategies for both in and out of the classroom
  • Assist students in learning and using several different comprehension strategies for use before, during, and after hearing an oral text
  • Help students identify important information and supporting points in a text
  • Help students make connections between texts and the broader world
  • Help students identify perspectives and biases in texts
  • Help students refine their oral speaking skills, using language suitable for the intended purpose and audience
  • Help students use appropriate words, phrases and terminology as well as style during an oral presentation
  • Help students refine non-verbal cues throughout the text
  • Help students understand connections between text and personal knowledge and insights
  • Educate students about different characteristics of text formats and how they can communicate ideas
  • Teach students to evaluate texts using evidence from within the text coupled with their own reasoning
  • Help students identify different text features and how they communicate the author's meaning
  • Evaluate students' understanding of most words in different reading contexts
  • Teach students to decode texts in order to assign meaning to unfamiliar words
  • Use strategies to help students expand their vocabulary
  • Lead students to describe the contributions of poets and authors
  • Lead students to explore a variety of creative and technical careers with English as a focus
  • Demonstrate creativity and economy, while focusing on the writing process; seek additional sources of funding and materials where appropriate
  • Be an active listener
  • Endorse the mission and vision of the school district and school
  • Be respectful of the dynamic of a student's school in their home community
  • Set academic goals for students to achieve
  • Undergo planned and ad hoc professional development
  • Communicate proactively and professionally with students and parents about grading, progress, and other issues
  • Support the school's culture and practices through extracurricular and co-curricular activities provide direction where applicable and empower students to become leaders
  • Praise students in a professional manner for their academic development and achievements
  • Collaborate with students and their parents to achieve best outcomes
  • Conduct all work activities in a professional manner

Where Can Certified Elementary School Teachers Teach?

Elementary school teachers often teach in public elementary schools, private schools, or charter schools.

Public Elementary Schools

Public schools are free of charge as they are supported by federal and state funds. These schools are governed by the United States Department of Education, the state's board of education, and locally by the school district. The school district controls the curriculum, the allocation of funds, and the hiring of teachers for each school that resides in the district. Public schools are required by law to admit any student that resides in their district. As a result, public elementary school teachers generally interact with students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Public schools must use state mandated standardized tests to measure student learning. These tests can have a major impact on school assessment and funding. Often times, the test results determine a student's class placement. Prospective public school teachers are often required to apply directly to the district prior to seeking employment at a specific school.

Private Elementary Schools

Private schools generally charge tuition in order for a child to attend. These schools receive no federal funding and are autonomous of the government. Private schools are funded mostly by tuition and donations. These schools are generally governed by a private school board or organization. A number of private schools are religiously affiliated. Many schools were founded by a church or religious group and as a result, educate students based on specific beliefs. Since private schools are autonomous they are allowed to set their own standards for teachers and students. Although many private school teachers are not required to be licensed by the state, many private schools persist that their teachers hold a valid state certification. In order to sustain high educational standard, more and more private schools hold to government policy regarding teacher qualification. Some private schools require that a teacher be certified by a program elected by the school. In order to understand specific criteria, check with the school in which you wish to teach.

Charter Elementary Schools

Although charter schools are free of tuition, they are independently run and generally more independent than public schools. Charter schools are granted greater flexibility in their operations as a result of being held to greater accountability for performance. Each charter school has a specific "charter" or petition which acts as a contract. The charter details the school's mission, vision, curricular program, students served, performance goals, and methods of assessment. Charter schools are usually smaller, more selective, and may have additional requirements for their teacher.

Elementary School Teacher Organizations & Associations

What is the Salary of an Elementary School Teacher?

Public school elementary teachers on average make between $41,072 (Payscale.com) and $48,516 (Glassdoor.com) when starting their careers. The salary will increase with each new school year and each higher education unit completed. Public elementary School teachers can make on average up to $10,000 more than their private school counterparts. Over the course of their career, an elementary teacher's salary comes close to doubling from its initial amount, and earning a Master's Degree in education can net the teacher in question almost $5,000 more per year.

Learn more about an Elementary School Teacher's salary on our Salary-What to Expect? page.

Salary (2016) and Job Outlook (2012 to 2020) by State

According to the published BLS data from 2016, the national average salary for Elementary School Teachers is $59,020, with an estimated 1,392,660 being employed nationwide. Also, the job outlook growth projection from 2012 to 2020 is expected to increase by 12.3%.

StateProjected Growth (%)Avg Salary
Alabama11.6%$48,970
Alaska9.7%$70,190
Arizona22.7%$42,560
Arkansas15.6%$44,490
California13.4%$69,320
Colorado20.2%$49,720
Connecticut14.8%$68,580
Delaware9.3%$58,010
Florida22.4%$47,410
Georgia32.8%$53,750
Hawaii11.0%$54,380
Idaho13.9%$46,260
Illinois6.6%$56,720
Indiana9.4%$51,150
Iowa12.1%$48,950
Kansas15.8%$45,940
Kentucky14.0%$50,360
Louisiana13.7%$47,440
Maine0.4%$48,480
Maryland12.1%$62,920
Massachusetts11.3%$68,360
Michigan-$62,720
Minnesota2.0%$61,070
Mississippi16.1%$41,490
Missouri10.2%$48,460
Montana8.8%$47,910
Nebraska10.1%$48,240
Nevada11.9%$53,760
New Hampshire10.7%$53,990
New Jersey7.0%$66,600
New Mexico27.6%$51,470
New York8.2%$72,840
North Carolina16.6%$42,870
North Dakota17.5%$46,570
Ohio13.1%$57,970
Oklahoma11.8%$42,340
Oregon12.9%$55,200
Pennsylvania5.3%$60,000
Rhode Island6.4%$73,040
South Carolina14.6%$48,310
South Dakota8.9%$40,400
Tennessee20.8%$47,770
Texas28.3%$50,290
Utah29.4%$51,300
Vermont3.1%$53,220
Virginia18.5%$58,750
Washington18.4%$59,680
Washington, DC-$63,310
West Virginia-$44,710
Wisconsin-$60,110
Wyoming14.4%$57,470

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/) for Elementary School Teachers (SOC Code: 25-2021)

Salary (2016) By Largest Metropolitan Areas

AreaEmployedAvg Salary
Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Beaufort990$48,520
Gainesville990$42,670
Danbury990$81,840
Salisbury990$61,420
Binghamton980$58,590
Elkhart, Goshen980$49,430
St. George970$43,420
Johnstown970$52,980
Redding960$69,440
Yuma960$42,410
Midland950$51,790
Barnstable Town950$74,710
Greenville940$41,650
Bremerton, Silverdale930$62,890
Manchester930$53,200
Eau Claire930$51,030
Wichita Falls930$47,090
Lynchburg930$50,960
Terre Haute900$48,800
Hanford, Corcoran890$74,020

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/) for Elementary School Teachers (SOC Code: 25-2021)