How to Become an Elementary School Teacher


When most of us recall our first memories of school, it is often during the elementary years. Elementary school teachers are usually charged with the education of students in grades one through five. In some districts, elementary schools also include grade six, and, in the private school system, they may only go up to grade four. Learn how to become an elementary school teacher and launch your career now.

How can I become an elementary school teacher?

While how to become an elementary school teacher varies from state to state, in most cases, the essential requirements are the same. Elementary school teachers require a bachelor’s degree and in the public school system, they also require some form of state certification.  In some states, elementary school teachers must also complete a certain number of education courses, as well as workshops on relevant issues, such as child abuse intervention and school violence.

Following certification, some elementary school teachers pursue a master of arts in education or a related discipline and most continue to advance their knowledge by participating in regular professional development workshops and summer courses. The average time to become an elementary school teacher, following high school, is five to six years, which means it is possible to launch one’s career at a young age.

In contrast to middle school teachers, most elementary school teachers do not have a subject specialization, since they are typically expected to deliver the entire curriculum for their grade level, which includes mathematics, science, social studies and English among other core and supplemental courses.
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What is the career outlook for becoming an elementary teacher?

Children At SchoolIn 2012, there were over 1.5 million elementary school teachers in the United States. With a projected 12% growth rate, over 150,000 additional elementary school teaching positions are expected to open up between now and 2022. This means there are many reasons to explore how to become an elementary school teacher.

During the elementary school years, children develop at a rapid pace.  As a result, elementary school teachers also carry out remarkably different types of work from grade to grade, and it is not unusual to meet teachers who identify so strongly with a single grade (e.g., Grade 1) that they opt to teach the same grade over the course of their entire career.

The fact that many elementary teachers become grade specialists is no surprise. Each grade comes with its own intellectual and social challenges. While a Grade 1 teacher will spend most of his or her time working on basic reading and writing skills (e.g., helping students identify letter names and sounds and use their newfound skills to decode and read unknown words), a Grade 4 or 5 teacher is more likely to be focused on helping students develop their ability to express themselves in writing (e.g., through the mastery of different writing forms from the short story to basic essay). To learn more about how to become an elementary school teacher at a specific level, explore our career pages.

Still, some elementary school teachers prefer to move from grade to grade every few years and enjoy the challenge of working with students at different stages in their childhood development.

Despite the particularities of each grade, there are some responsibilities that hold steady across the grade levels. Elementary school teachers at all levels plan lessons, deliver the curriculum, evaluate students and, as required, prepare students for standardized state tests. They also participate in the life of the school, which can range from helping run school assemblies to coordinating after school programs to directing school plays.

What is the typical compensation and are there benefits?

In 2013, the mean annual salary for an elementary school teacher was $56,320,with the lowest paid workers making approximately $36,000 per year and the highest paid workers making close to $84,000 per year. To learn more about how to become an elementary school teacher in states where elementary teachers receive the highest levels of compensation, read’s report, Where to Earn More Money as a Teacher. Like most teachers, most elementary school teachers work from September to June and do not teach during the summer. Most elementary school teachers also enjoy extended health benefits, as well as employer retirement contributions. With a high number of available openings in the field, most elementary school teachers are also able to find work without relocating.

Like their counterparts in other public service positions, elementary school teachers working full-time, who meet all the other conditions, are eligible for student loan forgiveness. For this reason, even teachers who accumulate large student loans while completing their bachelor’s degree and initial teacher qualifications may find teaching an affordable career option in the long term. Now that you know how to become an elementary school teacher, explore our licensing and school pages to learn more about how and where you can launch your career.

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