How to Become a Fourth Grade Teacher


Introduction

A fourth grade teacher is tasked with the responsibility to guide students, typically aged eight or nine years old, as they encounter a curriculum generally comprised of increasingly complex math problems and challenging writing assignments. With student populations expected to grow in the U.S., the demand to hire fourth grade teachers is expected to remain steady across the nation. Additionally, as an increasing number of classrooms are seeing student-to-teacher ratios shrink, as well as more teachers reaching the age of retirement, job prospects for the field show promise.

How can I become a fourth grade teacher?

Fourth grade teachers must complete a bachelor’s degree in Education or bachelor’s degree in any other subject followed by a bachelor’s degree in education. They must also be certified to teach in their state or pursuing an alternative pathway to certification, such as Teach for America. Like all teachers, aspiring elementary school teachers must complete teaching placements as part of their teacher training, and those with an interest in teaching children under the age of 10 are advised to complete at least one of these within a fourth grade classroom.Teacher Holding Books While Standing On Campus

The state-specific requirements that a prospective fourth grade teacher must fulfill before accepting a position at a public elementary school in the U.S. includes the following steps:

  1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree: Although prospective fourth grade teachers can enroll in a teacher education program after they have earned a bachelor’s degree, there are schools that train students to become teachers as an undergraduate. The curriculum trains future elementary school teachers to specialize in elementary education, as well as sees them complete coursework related to teaching English, mathematics, science, health education, and elementary school art. Students also learn about child psychology, child development, and pedagogy during their studies.
  1. Complete the Student Teacher Experience: An aspiring fourth grade teacher must also experience a semester of student teaching or an internship that takes place within a real elementary school classroom setting. Under the guidance and observation of a seasoned educator, student-teachers gain valuable experience – including grading papers, lesson preparation, classroom organization, managing a classroom using effective behavior modification techniques, as well as developing communication skills with students, parents and other staff members.
  1. Pass Exams: Fourth grade teachers are required to pass state-issued certification examinations which test a prospective educator’s knowledge and understanding of teaching elementary school-aged children. The Praxis exams serve as a national standard, and submission of the following scores is often a requirement for most states:
  • Praxis® Core Academic Skills for Educators: Focuses on testing an applicant’s ability to teach reading, writing and mathematics on the K-6 level.
  • Praxis® Subject Assessments: Formally known as the Praxis II tests, these exams concentrate on measuring an applicant’s aptitude in more specific subcategories of teaching, such as special needs education.

Some states also administer their own exams that teachers are expected to pass, as seen in the requirements of the California Commission on Teacher Credentials: the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST) and California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).

  1. Apply for Licensure: Fourth grade teachers looking to work within the public school system must apply for licensure in their state of residence. The process of obtaining a teaching license differs for each state, but generally includes the submission of college transcripts, undergoing a criminal background check, and paying license fees. It is a must to fulfill the requirements in order to accept a position at a public elementary or secondary school in the U.S.; however, is not always a requirement when applying for positions at a private school.
  1. Earn Optional Certification or an Advanced Degree: As a way to increase career opportunities and earn a higher salary, some fourth grade teachers opt to pursue an advanced degree in Education. Some educators may earn a degree or become certified in an in-demand field, such as English as a Second Language (ESL) and Special Education. In some cases, teachers in a graduate program may be able to dual major in Special Education and Elementary Education. Other educators opt to become certified in a specific discipline, such as library media or art. Plenty of resources are available to educators, such as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which offers certification to teachers who demonstrate a solid knowledge of a specific core subject, such as math, language art or science.
  1. Professional Development Training & Continuing Education Credits: Fourth grade teachers are expected to stay informed on the latest teaching trends and changes in state-wide curriculums. In order to maintain their teaching license, teachers must pursue continuing education or professional development courses on a routine basis. For instance, teachers working in the state of Texas are expected to fulfill continuing professional education (CPE) requirements in order to renew a standard certificate. Classroom teachers must complete 150 CPE hours, while educators with a professional certificate are expected to complete 200 CPE hours.

What can I expect as a 4th grade teacher?

The curriculum for a fourth grade teacher generally centers on providing students with basic instruction in math, reading, social studies, science, and in some cases, physical education and the arts. Assignments in the fourth grade get more difficult, and students are expected to work more independently. Fourth grade teachers typically assign more homework, and administer a greater number of quizzes and tests. Students must develop study and time management skills, as teachers often assign multiple homework assignments and school tasks at one time.

Academically, fourth grade students are most likely to have a textbook for each subject, as well as accompanying folders for organizing their work. Oftentimes, students find an academic niche, and start to show a preference in the subjects they best excel in. Fourth grade teachers generally follow a curriculum aimed to accomplish some of the following: 

  • Mathematics: By the beginning of fourth grade, most students know at least some of their multiplication tables, and towards the end of the year, are generally expected to have a full mastery of basic multiplication. Deploying any number of strategies—from rote learning and games, to reward-based methods—fourth grade teachers work with students to ensure they know their multiplication tables from 0 to 12 by the end of the year.
  • Literacy Skills: By fourth grade, students’ reading skills should be advanced enough to read one-hundred page chapter books and a wide range of non-fictional texts, from magazine and newspaper articles, to informational websites and encyclopedias.
  • Writing Skills: While some fourth grade students are well-prepared to read and research topics on their own, their organizational skills are still developing. Fourth grade teachers often spend a great deal of time helping students build the skills required to keep track of their papers, organize their ideas in writing, and present their ideas orally in a coherent fashion. A main objective is to have students writing several paragraphs on a specific topic using proper grammar, punctuation, capitalization and spelling. 
  • Science Knowledge: From observing the water cycle to studying complex organisms, fourth graders tackle a multitude of topics with increasing difficulty. Many students complete their first science fair project in the fourth grade, working on tasks centered on making predictions and constructing a hypothesis. 
  • Social Studies Knowledge: Major events in history, the structure of local and state governments, and the interpretation of state laws are just some of the topics a student typically encounters in the fourth grade.

Socially, most children belonging to this age group place increasing value on socializing with their friends, as well as getting involved in activities outside of school. They still have a lot to learn about life, adults, friendships, social dilemmas, minding their manners, and interacting with their peers. For instance, the responses of peers become quite significant in the life of a fourth grader. Students also start to react to cultural and socioeconomic differences in the classroom, as well as develop competitive behavior, both socially and academically. With this age group, fourth grade teachers often increase their use of various behavior modification techniques to maintain a classroom environment that promotes student learning. 

Many fourth grade teachers work a school schedule that traditionally lasts 10 months, followed by a two-month summer break. Even then, a teacher may choose to oversee a summer program during their vacation time. Depending on the school district, year-round teaching is also a possibility, where teachers work 8 weeks in a row with one-week breaks in-between new school sessions. As a result, year-round teachers typically enjoy a longer midwinter break that lasts five weeks.

In addition to teaching students during school hours, many teachers are available for afterschool activities, tutoring, and conferences with parents. Their presence is often requested or required for schoolwide activities and events, such as student functions, open houses, and holiday gatherings.

Overall, fourth grade teachers are part of a profession that U.S. News & World Report identified as being the third-best job in the social services field, as well as the thirty-ninth  ranked career option on their Best 100 Jobs list.

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

As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for an elementary school teacher is $54,120 with the highest paid fourth grade teachers making in excess of $84,000 per year. Seniority, geographic location, and region are all factors that can impact an elementary school teacher’s level of compensation, as seen in the seasoned elementary teacher living in New York State who has the potential to make $50,000 a year more than a new teaching graduate employed in Texas.

A state’s cost of living also plays a role in the overall value of a teacher’s salary, and certain states also go through periods of better job growth than others. For instance, the National Center for Education Statistics pointed out that teaching salaries in Nevada have demonstrated a moderate climb over the past 15 years, increasing by 3.8 percent since the 1999–2000 school year. School teachers in Nevada earn an average salary of about $55,957, which is more like earning $58,594 due to Nevada’s lower cost of living.

Fourth grade teachers are often given health benefits, insurance and 401(k) contributions. Elementary school educators also fall under the category of public sector employee, which means that they are eligible to take advantage of financial incentives, such as qualifying for student loan forgiveness – especially when accepting a position in a low-income area. For instance, California is a state that offers differential pay to teachers who gain employment in a “high needs” school, or who are able to teach a subject area in greatest demand.

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

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected growth rate for elementary school teachers is 12 percent, which translates into an estimated 150,000 new elementary school teaching positions opening up between now and 2022. A fraction of these increased employment opportunities will cater to new and seasoned fourth grade teachers.

The hiring needs of schools and districts vary on a nationwide, statewide and more localized basis. However, teachers certified in educational specialties; able to teach specific subjects; and possessing unique skills are considered more ‘in-demand’ than the elementary school teacher with a general education. For the most part, job prospects tend to increase for fourth grade teachers who possess the following:

  • Specialized training or a background in counseling, or any state-specific, in-demand area of education. For example, the U.S. Department of Education reports that North Dakota is experiencing a statewide shortage for the 2015/2016 school year of educators qualified to teach Art, English as a Second Language, and English Language Arts.
  • An advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in education (M.Ed.), which can position a fourth grade teacher to qualify for an advanced administrative position.
  • Certification in a specific field is beneficial for a teacher’s career, especially when their training involves an in-demand position. For example, since Special Education teachers are in short supply across the United States, fourth grade teachers with certifications are in greatest demand that educators without supplementary training.
  • Bi-lingual skills, and the ability to teach English-as-a-Second-Language students.

Factors contributing to the promising job market for elementary school teaching positions include a high number of projected retirements expected take place over the next decade; increased student enrollment across the nation; and escalating trends that see lower student-to-teacher ratios in the classroom.

In conclusion, fourth grade teachers enter a job field that caters to the educational needs of children typically aged eight or nine years old. Following completion of an accredited degree program, student-teaching experiences and obtaining a license, fourth grade teachers use what they’ve learned to accommodate students who are increasing their knowledge and skills in multiple subjects. Their training also allows them to fluctuate between grades, such as teach fifth and sixth graders. With student enrollment projected to increase, fourth grade teachers will encounter an abundance of job opportunities across the U.S. through 2022.

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