How to Become a Fifth Grade Teacher


In many public schools across the U.S., fifth grade marks the end of elementary school. This means that some fifth grade teachers have the distinction of working with students who are nearing a mastery of the elementary school curriculum. Fifth graders work towards tackling more advanced levels of reading, writing and mathematics. The need to hire qualified fifth grade teachers is projected to remain steady across the nation, as elementary school populations and overall enrollment continue to increase. As a result, the job field offers plenty of opportunities for new graduates and experienced educators to find employment.

How can I become a fifth grade teacher? 

Fifth grade teachers must complete at least a bachelor’s degree in Education, or a bachelor’s degree in another subject (followed by a bachelor’s degree in education). They must also become certified to teach where they live. States expect prospective fifth grade teachers to satisfy specific requirements before they can accept a position at a public elementary in the U.S., which generally includes completing the following steps:Teacher In Classroom

  1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree: Although they are considered elementary school specialists, typically completing all the same core courses in English education, mathematics education, and child psychology and development as other teachers, prospective fifth grade teachers may also study to hold a specialization in a subject or another type of specialization (such as special education or enrichment education).
  1. Finish a Teacher Preparation Program: One of the necessary requirements for completing a degree program to become a fifth grade teacher is to undergo an accredited teacher preparation program. Generally lasting one to two semesters, the experience involves student teaching within a real classroom environment. Prospective teachers are taken under the wing of experienced educators who not only provide mentorship and guidance, but also send their observations and evaluations to college professors at the end of the student teaching experience.

Elementary school teachers often complete a certain number of teaching placements as part of their training, and may observe different grade levels to gain a better understanding of the developmental progression of school-aged children.

  1. Pass State-Issued Exams: In order to obtain employment as a fifth grade teacher, states require the passing of examinations which test the teaching aptitude, understanding and knowledge of students on the K-6 level. Many states rely on the Praxis series of tests to assess prospective teachers. The Praxis® Core Academic Skills for Educators measures an applicant’s academic skills in reading, writing and math. The Praxis® Subject Assessments (previously known as the Praxis II test) is taken by fifth grade teachers looking to demonstrate their abilities regarding more specific subcategories of education, such as counseling or special education.
  1. Get a Teaching License: Fifth grade teachers preparing to enter the public school system workforce must become licensed in their state of residence to qualify for a position at an elementary school. The licensing process is different for every state, but typically involves a criminal background check and submitting the proper paperwork, such as college transcripts. There are also license fees to pay, which vary by state. Depending on the learning institution, those with an interest to teach at a private school may not need state licensure in order to gain employment.
  1. Earn Optional Certification or Pursue an Advanced Degree: To qualify for positions that require a higher level of responsibility, as well as more lucrative job prospects, some fifth grade teachers pursue an advanced degree. Additional credentials are attractive to potential employers who are often looking to hire staff with unique training, experience and skills. For this reason, teachers may also opt to become certified in a specialty, such as Special Education or teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
  1. Professional Development Training & Continuing Education Credits: As set by states, elementary school teachers are expected to complete a minimum number of professional development hours in order to maintain a valid teaching license. For example, the state of Washington requires their elementary school teachers to complete 150 approved clock hours of continuing education study in order to maintain the validity of their teaching certificate. Educators may also complete equivalent academic credit (15 quarter hours or 10 semester hours) instead of continuing education study. Certification renewal takes place every five years.

What can I expect as a 5th grade teacher?

Fifth grade teachers serve as educational guides to students, as they build their academic skills in preparation to attend middle school. School subjects introduce more complex topics, such as fraction multiplication, geometry, probability, formal writing, and the use of figurative language. Fifth grade teachers often use workbooks, games, activities, worksheets, and class projects to supplement the curriculum.

When working with 9- to 11-year-olds, fifth grade teachers often have more freedom to develop their curriculum. For example, they may be able to guide students through the steps of working on a semester-long project, or have them concentrate on more complex group projects.

Fifth grade marks the end of elementary school in some districts, which leads some fifth grade teachers helping students further develop their organizational skills. By sixth-grade, students will no longer be able to store all of their books and pencils in a desk, and will instead, travel from class to class, and most likely work with a different teacher for each subject.

In the fifth grade, teachers generally work towards enhancing the following skills:

  • Reading Skills: By fifth grade, students should be able to read chapter books at an advanced level; some will be able to read adult level books. Teachers continue to introduce and promote reading a variety of subjects. Students are also taught how to analyze characters, identify plots and acknowledge the setting of a piece.
  • Writing Skills: Assignments often include writing extended reports and short essays. Fifth graders are often encouraged to pen poetry and short stories as a way to explore personal expression. Using the rules of grammar, punctuation and spelling, students are asked to take an active role in editing their own writing.
  • Math Skills: Fifth graders advance their multiplication and division skills, as they engage in more conceptually challenging mathematical problems (such as multiplying fractions, basic algebra and geometry). Math problems include dividing whole numbers, with and without remainders. Students solve problems regarding money, time and measurement, as well as make connections between decimals, fractions, and percentages.

Socially, the typical fifth grader is seeking to increase their independence, and may become more private. The boundaries set by parents and teacher involvement in their lives play an important role in fostering their healthy development, as well as encourage positive decision-making.

Social issues become more prevalent in the lives of fifth graders. Fifth grade is a time when students often begin to experience the effects of puberty. This means that beyond preparing students to leave the safety of elementary school, fifth grade teachers are frequently charged with managing the increasingly complex classroom dynamics that arise as students move from childhood to early adolescence.

While some students are dealing with changes brought on by puberty, others face peer pressure and bullying on a daily basis. By the fifth grade, a growing awareness to the opposite sex also emerges. As a result, both girls and boys start paying more attention to their appearance, and find different ways to cope with their changing bodies.

The traditional work schedule for fifth grade teachers lasts for 10 months, with a two-month break in the summer. In addition to teaching students during school hours, elementary school educators are also expected to be available for activities and events outside of the general school day, such as open houses, parent-teacher conferences, evening assemblies, and tutoring sessions.

Teachers who work an extended schedule may have opted to teach a summer school program, or have been hired by a school district that follows a year-round schedule. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a fifth grade teacher may work 8 weeks in a row with a one-week break before beginning a new school session. Whereas the typical teacher enjoys one week of midwinter break, year-round teachers are generally given five weeks.

In the end, fifth grade teachers embrace a career deemed by U.S. News & World Report as the third-best job in the social services field.

What is the typical salary and benefits of a fifth grade teacher? 

In 2014, the median annual salary for an elementary school teacher was reported as $56,830, yet many new graduates will see notably wide gaps in earning potential due to a variety of factors, such as geographic location, seniority, and type of school placement (like public versus private school employment). Depending on location and school district, some fifth grade teachers make as little as $36,000 per year, while others are paid more than $84,000 on a yearly basis. For example, an experienced elementary school teacher in New York State (which pays the highest salaries to their educators) can expect to make more than twice the salary of a teacher in Texas.

Elementary school teachers typically receive health and dental benefits, and depending on their place of employment, are also offered vision benefits, and 401(k) contributions. State and government legislation can also influence teacher compensation. For example, as one of the highest-paying states for teachers (when the state’s cost of living is taken into consideration), teachers unions in Wisconsin have limited power, and legislation prohibits them from most collective bargaining activities. Since 2011, school districts in Wisconsin use a teacher handbook system, instead of union contracts, as a way to oversee the benefits and policies of educators.

Other forms of compensation may include signing bonuses, supplemental pay for serving as a school advisor, and receiving reduced or free tuition for their children when working at a private school. As with other public service employees, full-time fifth grade teachers (who meet all applicable conditions), are also eligible for student loan forgiveness programs, especially when employed in a school district demonstrating the greatest need for educators. For instance, teachers in the state of Colorado qualify to receive differential pay and loan forgiveness when teaching in high needs schools.

What is the career outlook for becoming a fifth grade teacher?

Jobs for elementary school teachers are expected to grow at 12 percent between 2012 and 2022. If this projection holds true, an additional 150,000 elementary school teaching positions are expected to open up, with a proportion seeking to employ fifth grade teachers. New graduates face a promising job market, especially when residing in states located in the South and West – where student enrollment is projected to soar. Other factors that play a role include an increased number of educators reaching the age of retirement, and more classrooms embracing learning environments that offer a lower student-teacher ratio.

Fifth grade teachers who have earned special credentials, undergone supplementary training, or possess a background in an in-demand teaching field also have a better chance of landing the more lucrative and sought-after positions within a school district. Employment prospects for fifth grade teachers typically increase when a job candidate has one or more of the following:

  • An advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in education (M.Ed.), which can qualify teachers for an advanced administrative positions.
  • Specialized training or a background in Special Education, counseling, or any state-specific, in-demand area of education. For example, positions geared towards educating students with special needs represent some of the fastest-growing opportunities for teachers across the U.S.
  • Bi-lingual skills, and the ability to teach English-as-a-Second-Language students.
  • A willingness to teach at an urban or rural school – learning institutions that generally demonstrate the greatest need to hire educators may also offer incentives.

In conclusion, fifth grade teachers are hired to teach students who are not only advancing their proficiency in math, reading, and writing, but who are also growing increasingly independent and more aware of social issues. A fifth grade teacher who completes an accredited degree program and undergoes student-teaching experiences has been equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to handle both the education of and developmental changes related to students aged 9-11 years old.

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