How to Become a Sixth Grade Teacher


Depending on the school district, sixth grade students are either gearing up for or have just entered the new and complex world of middle school. At this point, sixth graders are considered ‘pre-teens,’ and teachers must be prepared to deal with students who are experiencing various mental, emotional and physical changes that can affect their school performance. Nationwide, there is a need to hire well-educated teachers to fill open positions at both the elementary school and middle school level. Therefore, job opportunities for sixth grade teachers will continue to remain steady and increase through 2022, as student populations across the U.S. rise and seasoned educators reach the age of retirement.

How can I become a sixth grade teacher?

Prospective sixth grade teachers must obtain a bachelor’s degree, as well as become certified to teach in their state of residence. Many sixth grade teachers also study to acquire additional qualifications prior to or following certification (in special education or enrichment). In order to obtain a position within the U.S. public school system, qualified job candidates are required to satisfy state-specific guidelines, which include the following:group of kids with teacher and tablet pc at school

  1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree: A four-year degree with an education-related focus is required to teach at elementary and secondary schools; and in addition to studying the teaching methods of basic math, reading and writing – sixth grade teachers must also be prepared to teach grades seven and eight. Very few teachers wind up teaching solely the sixth grade. Because of this, the majority of their focus is often on coursework that concentrates on a specific subject area rather than the sixth grade level.
  1. Complete a Teacher Preparation Program: One of the last phases for earning a degree in Education and qualifying to take certification exams is to undergo a period of student teaching within a real classroom setting. Teacher preparation programs generally last one to two semesters, and are marked by prospective sixth grade teachers observing, interacting with, and providing lessons to students. During this time, an experienced educator acts as a mentor. Under their guidance, the student teacher learns how to manage a classroom, generate effective lesson plans, and assess classroom behavior. In the end, the mentor submits their observations and evaluation to the student teacher’s school. Some professors also require a recording of their student’s performance in front of a classroom.
  1. Pass Certification Examinations: Before qualifying to accept a position as a sixth grade teacher, a candidate must pass state-issued certification exams, such as the Praxis Series of tests, to demonstrate his or her aptitude as an elementary school educator. The Praxis® Core Academic Skills for Educators exam is used by most states to measure a prospective teacher’s knowledge and skills related to teaching students reading, mathematics and writing on the K-6 level. Sixth grade teachers with a background in a specific subject or subcategory, such as Special Education or World Languages, become certified in their field by taking the Praxis® Subject Assessments (formally the Praxis II tests). There are over 90 different Praxis assessment tests available.
  1. Apply for Licensure: Obtaining employment at a public elementary or secondary school requires sixth grade teachers to apply for licensure in their state of residence – a process that differs according to state guidelines. Generally, prospective educators must submit to a criminal background check, send college transcripts, and pay a state-specific license fee. When applying for a job as a private school teacher, a teaching license is not always a requirement.
  1. Earn an Optional Certification or Pursue an Advanced Degree: Sixth grade teachers are not required to pursue an advanced degree, but the added training can translate into higher-paying jobs and qualifying for a greater number of employment opportunities. Teachers may opt to take classes that enable them to educate students on both the middle school and high school level. Licensed teachers can also improve their job prospects by earning certification in a specific discipline, such as library media.
  1. Professional Development Training & Continuing Education Credits: Elementary and secondary school teachers must renew their teaching certificates according to state-specific guidelines by completing various professional development requirements. For instance, the teaching recertification process for the state of Florida requires their elementary school educators to complete six semester hours of college credit that includes at least one semester hour related to teaching students with disabilities (SWD).

What can I expect as a 6th grade teacher? 

Sixth grade teachers often find themselves in a unique place within the school system. Depending on the school district and individual place of employment, a sixth grade teacher may educate students typically aged ten and twelve years old in an elementary school setting that caters to K-6 grade levels; or teach students at the middle school level alongside 7th /8th graders.

Academically, sixth grade students do not spend their days in a single classroom with a single teacher; they travel from class to class throughout the day – either lugging their books with them or, if provided, retrieving their belongings from lockers between each class. Having multiple teachers and classrooms to keep track of is only one challenge, among many.

Sixth graders learn from a handful of teachers, each with their own style of teaching and personalities. To accommodate this period of intellectual growth that sixth graders experience, teachers generally follow a curriculum that includes strengthening the following skills:

  • Language Arts: From biographies to poetry, sixth graders are expected to read a lot, as well as be able to effectively express their thoughts on paper. Class visits to the library to select their choice of books to complete assignments, such as book reports and research projects, become more frequent. Sixth grade teachers will encounter some students who are still struggling to read, and often use their training to identify barriers and make appropriate measures to address the issues.
  • Mathematics: In the past, arithmetic ruled the sixth grade curriculum, but nowadays, teachers encourage their students to problem-solve, measure, and collect data. Classwork includes lessons on geometry, probability, statistics, and percentages. Some classes incorporate math problems that require the assistance of a graphing calculator.
  • Social Studies: Students explore a greater range of cultures, pay more attention to current events, and study the achievements of past leaders. Sixth graders are expected to recall various historic facts and timelines. Some curriculums incorporate information on ancient civilizations.
  • Science: With the introduction of more complex science topics, sixth graders typically learn from hands-on exploration. Depending on the school curriculum, it is not uncommon to see students spend time in a science lab and conduct experiments.

Socially, sixth graders typically experience a profound year of transition. Adolescence brings both emotional and physical changes. Depending on their school, sixth graders are either the oldest students in an environment that also caters to kindergarteners, or the younger age group amongst more mature middle school students.

As a result, a sixth grade teacher requires a phenomenal amount of patience, a great sense of humor, and an infinite amount of compassion for a demographic on the brink of both puberty, and an entirely new world of intellectual and personal discovery.

At many schools, sixth graders may also have the opportunity to try their hand at extracurricular activities and other school subjects that fuel the competitive spirit , as well as teach valuable lessons in social interaction and personal expression, such as art, home economics, band, afterschool clubs, and sports teams. Sixth grade teachers may serve as tutors, mentors and advisors for such school-related activities.

The typical work schedule of a sixth grade teacher consists of a 10-month stretch of time, followed by two months off in the summertime. Those who work year-round either incorporate summer teaching into their schedule, or are employed by a school district with a year-round schedule often marked by 8 weeks of teaching in a row accompanied by a one-week break in between school sessions. Another difference is also seen in the length of midwinter break – the average teacher has one week, whereas year-round teachers have five weeks off.

In addition to educating students during school hours, sixth grade teachers are also expected to participate in activities and events that take place outside of the regular school day, such as tutoring sessions, parent-teacher conferences, and open houses. 

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

In 2014, the median annual salary for a sixth grade teacher in an elementary school setting was $54,120, while sixth grade teachers at a middle school earned a median salary of $54,940, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Various factors play a significant role in determining the annual pay for an educator, such as geographic location. For example, the highest paid elementary school educators are based in New York State, earning a mean annual wage of $74,830. However, the actual value of a New York educator’s salary is greatly impacted by the elevated cost of living throughout the state, especially in New York City.

Becoming certified in a specialty, undergoing supplemental training, and possessing a background related to an in-demand field of teaching are some of the ways that sixth grade teachers can qualify for a greater number of job opportunities that pay higher salaries. Additionally, sixth grade teachers willing and qualified to teach in a high-needs school or in communities experiencing a shortage of a specific subject may earn differential pay support.

Another advantage to becoming a middle school teacher is that as public service workers, most full-time educators who meet specific conditions (such as teaching in an underserved school district or providing ten years of service to the profession), are eligible for student loan debt forgiveness. Other benefits for sixth grade teachers include medical, dental, and retirement contributions, which vary according to employer. Furthermore, those who work in a private school may receive reduced or free tuition for their children as a form of compensation. 

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

Job growth for teaching occupations are not only affected by region, but also by factors such as statewide student enrollment, the number of teachers reaching the age of retirement, and increasingly lower student-teacher ratios being implemented in more classrooms. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), new elementary school and middle school teachers will enter a field with a projected 12% job growth rate, from now until 2022.

The region in which a teacher is employed in plays a significant role regarding the number of available job openings they will encounter. For instance, student enrollment is expected to grow the fastest in states located in the South and West, which means job prospects will be more plentiful in these regions than in any other geographic locations, like the Northeast, which the BLS anticipates will experience a decline in school enrollment.

Additionally, sixth grade teachers who possess one or more of the following qualifications are generally viewed as a more attractive candidate by employers, and therefore, qualify for a greater number of job opportunities:

  • An advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in education (M.Ed.), allows a teacher to apply for an advanced administrative position
  • Specialized training or a background in counseling, Special Education, or any state-specific, in-demand area of education, like foreign languages
  • Bi-lingual abilities, such as being able to teach English-as-a-Second-Language students
  • A degree in a STEM subject: science, technology, engineering or math

The above qualities generally fetch a higher salary, bonus pay, and additional incentives. 

In conclusion, sixth grade marks a significant year where children undergo an onslaught of change fueled by puberty, socialization, and increased demands in the classroom. Sixth grade teachers play an important role in preparing their students to thrive in new environments and excel in their middle and high school studies. The education and training that educators receive also allows a teacher to explore other grade and subject levels, and depending on the school district, can find work on both the elementary and/or middle school level.

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