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 teacher is only the 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 Drexel University's School of Education can help.
WHAT IS AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER?
Elementary school teachers set the foundation of a child’s learning and educational development. An elementary school teacher typically teaches grades kindergarten to 5th grade, although it may be up to 4th grade or 6th grade depending on the school or state. At the elementary school level, children are introduced to subjects like writing, reading, and mathematics. Students typically have specialty subjects like music, physical education, and art that they may attend once a week. It is at the elementary school level where students also develop social skills and learn school norms i.e. raising their hand to speak, lining up to exit or enter the classroom, etc.
WHAT DOES AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER DO?
Elementary school teacher responsibilities include:
- Creating a welcoming learning environment for all students
- Creating lesson plans that meet the curriculum and learning standards set by the school district, as well as state and federal departments of education
- Review and grade student work and provide constructive feedback
- Giving assessments to evaluate how students grasped the concepts presented in the lessons
- Setting up a classroom and stocking it with necessary supplies
- Administering standardized testing when required
- Communicating with parents on how their child is doing in their class
- Setting classroom guidelines and managing the classroom
WHAT SKILLS SHOULD AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER HAVE?
There are many skills an elementary teacher can use to achieve their goals in the classroom. Skills include:
- Communication skills
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 University's 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 Global and International Education or the MS in Creativity and Innovation 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.
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.
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.
HOW TO BECOME AN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHER IN FOUR STEPS
Earn a bachelor’s degree
The first step towards becoming a certified elementary school teacher is to earn a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher learning. A bachelor’s degree program in elementary education typically provides students with the classes and curriculum required by the college or university’s state department of education for educator preparation. In Pennsylvania, students may choose a bachelor’s degree program that will enable them to earn prek-4 teacher certification. If a student earned a bachelor’s degree in a non-education subject, they could enroll in a post-bachelor’s teacher certification program and complete the specific courses required by the state.
Earn a teaching license
Once a student has completed the courses required by their state’s department of education for teacher certification, they can apply for a teaching license. In Pennsylvania, a student must pass a praxis examination for the subject area they wish to teach. The exam is a time-limited evaluation that tests the student’s knowledge of the concepts they plan to teach. A student can take the praxis exam again if they do not pass in their first attempt. Once a student has passed the exam, they will be granted a teaching license. Additionally, if a student has not passed the exam, they can apply for an emergency teaching license with the approval of their school, school district, and state department of education. An emergency certification typically lasts one year and gives the student additional time to pass the praxis exam.
Apply for teaching jobs
Once a student has earned their teaching license, they may apply, interview, and accept a teaching job. If a student is interested in teaching in a state outside of where they earned their teaching certification, they may apply to that state’s department of education to have their teaching license transferred. Pennsylvania has reciprocity agreements with most states in the nation.
Begin your teaching career
Once a teacher has accepted a teaching position, they can meet with their principal and fellow teachers to begin their career as a teacher. The new teacher can begin creating their lesson plans, setting up their classrooms, and prepare for a rewarding career as an elementary school teacher.
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.
How Much do Elementary School Teachers Make?
Elementary school teacher salaries vary depending on several factors including years of experience, education experience, and type of school. According to salary.com, as of June 29, 2023, salaries for an elementary school teacher range from $41,541/year to $88,299/year, with an average salary of $63,220/year.
ARE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL TEACHERS IN DEMAND?
Elementary school teachers are needed in school districts across the country. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the typical entry level education for elementary and kindergarten teachers is a bachelor’s degree, and the job outlook is growing as fast as average, increasing 4% between 2021 and 2031.
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 elementary school teacher 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.
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:
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 8 certification programs to help students specialize.
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:
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.
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.