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How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Drexel University School of Education

Working with kids is an opportunity to make a lasting impact on society that many people find personally rewarding. But what does it take to be an elementary school teacher? Elementary school teacher education and requirements for training vary from state-to-state. Learning the various skills necessary to become an elementary school is only a first item on a longer list of training requirements. Fortunately, there are paths students can follow to more easily meet the various elementary school teacher education requirements.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming an elementary school teacher, and going above and beyond the most basic requirements, then take a moment to Request Information about how the Drexel School of Education can help.

What Degree Do You Need to Become an Elementary School Teacher?

Having a bachelor’s degree is virtually a universal requirement for all teachers across the United States. But deciding what to major in to become an elementary school teacher depends on several factors, including the subjects you want to teach. While many different degrees can lead to an elementary school teaching career, the most direct route is a Bachelor's in Elementary Education (BS) Degree.

The requirements to become an elementary school teacher vary depending on the state where you’re seeking certification, but most states require elementary school teachers to have expertise within a specific set of subjects.

That’s why the Drexel School of Education prepares prospective elementary school teachers with a degree that allows them to specialize into specific subject areas, like English, math, and science. This can make fulfilling the requirements for a Pre K-4 teacher certification much simpler.

It may also be necessary or prudent to consider graduate education programs. Completing a Master’s program, like the MS in Sport Coaching Leadership or the MS in Higher Education, can help lay the foundation for career advancement and help teachers to differentiate themselves from other job candidates. Pursuing an MS is also a requirement for licensed teachers to retain their certification in many states.

Reasons to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Not everybody is cut-out to become an elementary school teacher. While the typical elementary school job description might go to great lengths to discuss the importance of lesson plans and classroom discipline, not as much is said about the kind of attitudes, personalities, and motivations that help someone thrive in a teaching position. That said, what are some good reasons to become an elementary school teacher?

  • Lifelong learners make great teachers. Because teaching gives you the opportunity to continue learning, and to help teach students to become lifelong learners themselves.
  • People who appreciate the importance of early education as the foundation for student’s lives can find teaching in an elementary school very fulfilling.
  • Teaching the elementary grades grants you the opportunity to pursue a broad range of interests, and teach many subjects to students.
  • Being able to form special relationships with students is something few other careers can offer. People who enjoy the excitement and energy of working with kids often make excellent teachers.

Required Classes for the Elementary Education Major

Since they’re responsible for instructing more than one subject, becoming an elementary school teacher requires a well-rounded education. For example, the Elementary Education: PK-4 Degree Requirements include a wide selection of courses to help students to prepare for both general education and pedagogical requirements. Some of those courses include:

  • BIO 100 – Applied Cells, Genetics, & Physiology
  • CHEM 111 – General Chemistry I
  • EDUC 210 Early Language Development
  • EDUC 236 Early Literacy I
  • MATH 181 Introduction to Analysis A

The full Drexel course catalog also provides a wide range of electives that allow students to help focus their education.

Elementary School Teacher Certification Requirements

In addition to needing a bachelor’s degree and completing a student teaching program, prospective teachers must pass state certification exams. The specific requirements surrounding certification exams vary from one state to the next, and from one type of teacher to the next. But there are broad similarities.

In Pennsylvania, teaching Pre-K through the 4th grade requires passing the Pennsylvania Educator Certification Tests (PECT). The Praxis Series of subject exams is required to each grades four through eight, and basic skills requirements are generally completed by taking the Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment (PAPA.) 

More detailed information can be found on the Undergraduate Teacher Certification Requirements page.

Graduate Certifications

Public school teachers are required to be certified by the state where they teach. Teacher certifications are granted by the state, and they show that the recipient has been cleared to teach children in a specific area, or otherwise perform special tasks. The School of Education has several programs to help aspiring educators to achieve a variety of valuable post-graduate certifications, including:

  • Reading Specialist Certification
  • Teaching English as a Second Language
  • Certification in Special Education
  • School Principal Certification

Graduate certifications help prepare teachers to take on new roles within the realm of education and can make recipients more competitive job candidates. The School of Education currently offers 14 certification programs to help students specialize.

Graduate Certificates

Along with graduate certifications, it’s possible for students to pursue a variety of graduate certificates that can be incredibly useful for elementary school teachers. While certifications are legal documents granted by the state which permit a person to work in a particular area of education, certificates are an endorsement from the university. For example:

  • Certificate in Education Policy
  • Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Certificate in Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Wellness
  • Certificate in STEM Education
  • Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis

Certificates serve to inform prospective employers that the recipient has a firm understanding within a specific area of study, and is able to put their understanding into practice. This can make certificate holders more competitive job candidates and allows teachers to develop expertise within the teaching niche most relevant to their interests.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Elementary School Teacher?

The time required to become an elementary school teacher depends on your starting point and where you practice. But you’ll need to:

  • Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree. (Approximately 4 years)
  • Complete state requirements for teacher licensing. (Approximately 3 months)
  • Complete a period of supervised teaching. (Up to one year)

If you complete a bachelor’s degree that doesn’t provide teaching experience, an extra year for continuing education may be necessary. Depending on your state, it may be necessary to pursue a master’s degree after becoming licensed. As a result, becoming an elementary school teacher can typically take between five and seven years.

Student Teaching with Drexel School of Education

Obtaining field experience in the classroom is a core requirement for being an elementary school teacher. A prospective educator completes this requirement during a supervised period of teaching. They’re mentored by an experienced educator who oversees a student teacher. That student teacher then gradually takes on an increasing array of classroom responsibilities. Becoming familiar with the Student Teaching Advice and Resources Guide can help you learn more about the intensive nature of the process.

Not all student teaching programs are alike. But student teaching programs usually occur during the senior year of an education degree, and involve an intensive period of field experience that lasts around three or four months. As student teaching is one of the most critical elements of any teacher’s education, the School of Education provides a variety of robust part time and full time placement opportunities for students.