Hack College Presents: How To Become An Elementary School Teacher

elementary education

Elementary school teachers have their hands full juggling all the duties of educating the nation’s children. As an elementary educator, you’ll plan lessons in core subjects like reading and math, and assess each student’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses. You’ll develop a class culture and enforce class rules, interface with parents, and coach students to solve problems and develop critical thinking skills.

Part I. The Elementary Education Profession

Every teacher’s career is different, and decisions about your own education and certification will impact your career trajectory. Here are some of the variables to consider:

  • Schedule: A teacher’s schedule will vary by both school and district. Teachers generally work regular school hours, plus additional time at the beginning and end of each weekday. Standard school hours begin between 7 and 9 a.m., and end between 2 and 5 p.m. Most elementary teachers get some type of planning period during the day, generally when students take elective classes like art or music. Teachers generally have the same holidays that students do, although summer vacations are shorter for teachers due to professional development days/weeks prior to and following the regular school year. Many teachers work long hours during the school year, and must perform certain tasks (such as planning lessons and grading papers) at night or on the weekends. Some schools and districts have year-round school with selective breaks, such as nine weeks on and one week off. Some teachers lead summer school courses.
  • Age Groups: There is a big gap in elementary school children. Think about whether you’d rather deal with the hormones of pre-adolescents or bathroom accidents of little ones. Becoming certified in elementary education will allow you to teach any age of elementary students, but the age of students you prefer is key to finding the right job. However, your initial choice is completely adjustable; choosing to teach second grade does not mean you can’t teach fifth grade at a later date.
  • Classroom Lead Teacher vs. Subject Teacher: Some elementary educators will teach all core subjects in one classroom for an entire day, while others will move from class to class teaching one subject. If you’re interested in teaching only science to fifth and sixth graders, you’ll still need to earn a bachelor’s degree in education (or follow an alternative route to certification), and then earn an advanced degree or additional specialization.

To be successful in your career as an elementary educator, you should have good communication skills in order to work with other teachers, administrators, parents, and of course your students. Being creative will keep your students engaged. Patience is of the utmost importance as your students will inevitably struggle with some material, no matter how stellar your instructional skills may be. As the field of education embraces the digital age, your ability to grow and change with new technology will help your teaching career.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median pay for elementary teachers was $51,660 in 2010. The lowest 10% earned less than $35,000, while the top 10% earned more than $80,000. Salaries vary based on teaching charter, public or private, and the number of years in the teacher’s career.

According to the BLS, employment is expected to increase 17% between 2010 and 2020, which is close to the average for all occupations. NCES statistics also point to a high percentage of teachers with more than 20 years of experience who will be retiring soon, job growth is expected due to a decrease in student-teacher ratios, and enrollment in certain regions of the country is expected to increase. If state and local budgets can keep up with the growth, expect teacher hiring to grow as well. If you want to be in high demand, get certified to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) or special education.

Part II. Top U.S. Elementary Education Programs

Traditionally, elementary educators must earn a bachelor’s degree in elementary education and a teaching certification for the state in which they teach. Your bachelor’s degree will include supervised experience in teaching, often referred to as student teaching. Many private schools do not require state licensure or teaching certification, although it would certainly be preferred. Annual professional development is often required to maintain certification.

There are many alternative certification programs available in the United States. Alternative certification programs are for college degree holders who are willing to complete teacher training and earn certification throughout their first year of teaching. Most alternative certification programs, such as Teach For America or teachNOLA, are highly competitive. Some other programs allow a degree holder to complete a master’s degree in education while earning his/her certification.

The following programs are some of the best academic opportunities for aspiring elementary educators nationwide.

The New Teacher Project is behind several alternative certification routes, and active in more than 25 U.S. cities. TNTP’s highly selective programs can help you become a certified elementary teacher within one year’s time.

  • Course Requirements: You must have a college degree with a minimum GPA (varies by site) and meet other basic application requirements.
  • Specialized Course: During the school year, on top of teaching, you’ll be attending classes and workshops to improve on your teaching skills.
  • Cost: Programs vary. TeachNOLA, for example, costs $4,000, while Memphis Teaching Fellows costs $5,000. Oftentimes the summer pre-service training program will pay a stipend once completed.
  • Financial Aid: Most certification programs offer a payment plan during the school year.
  • For the Financially Savvy: Some of your new employers (schools) will pay the certification fee. Either way, it’s much cheaper than going back to school to earn certification. Plus you’ll get to work while earning your certificate.
  • Who Should Enroll? Career changers and college educated individuals with a desire to work in schools across the country.

City University of Seattle offers a blended (classroom and online) alternative route to teacher certification for degree-holding adults to help reduce teacher shortages in Washington.

  • Course Requirements: In addition to program admissions, you must pass the Washington Educator Skills Tests. Check out the WEST-B and WEST-E websites for more info. Apply for CityU’s program online.
  • Specialized Course: If you qualify, there are several alternative certification routes for elementary education. CityU also offers a B.A. in Elementary Education, and several master’s degree options, including a Master in Teaching: Elementary Education.
  • Cost: Tuition for undergrads: $330/credit; Teacher Professional Certification: $250/credit; Graduate Certification: $632/credit.
  • Financial Aid: In addition to federal loan programs, non-degree-holders qualify for need-based grants. Merit-based programs are also available.
  • For the Financially Savvy: The TEACH program offers grants of up to $4,000 per year for future teachers who plan to teach students from low-income families.
  • Who Should Enroll? If you’re a para-educator or experienced professional who wants to teach in a high-need area in the Pacific Northwest, City University’s alternative route program is for you.

Western Governors University offers an online bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (K-8) that leads to teacher licensure.

  • Course Requirements: You’ll earn 122 credits in your undergrad degree pursuit, including a practice teaching. The program guide details all course requirements.
  • Specialized Course: There are nine domains of study within WGU’s Interdisciplinary Studies program. If you already have a degree, you can opt for their Teacher Prep Program for elementary education (34 credits).
  • Accreditation: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
  • Cost: The tuition rate is $2,890 per six-month term regardless of the number of hours you’re enrolled in. There is a $1,000 demonstration teaching fee.
  • Financial Aid: Traditional federal loans and grants are available as well as some state grants.
  • For the Financially Savvy: Tuition is charged per six-month term and is quite affordable compared to other colleges or universities.
  • Who Should Enroll? Self-regulating students needing lots of flexibility, or degree-holders who need teacher certification.

Indiana University School of Education offers top-ranked undergraduate and graduate programs in Elementary Education.

  • Course Requirements: Elementary education students will choose a subject concentration such as health education on fine arts.
  • Specialized Licenses: IU encourages its undergrads and grads to earn an additional license such as ESL or Reading Level I to enhance your competitiveness in the job market.
  • Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission, North Central Association member.
  • Cost: Undergrad tuition is $205/credit hour for residents, $875/nonresidents. Graduates will pay just $352/credit for residents or $1,026/credit for nonresidents. These costs do not cover room and board.
  • Financial Aid: A large number of scholarships are available, in addition to work study and traditional federal assistance.
  • For the Financially Savvy: Direct admit scholars receive additional financial aid.
  • Who Should Enroll? If you have a bachelor’s degree and want to teach, the Community of Teachers program offers an alternative route that yields a master’s degree, as well as certification in elementary education.

University of Georgia College of Education Early Childhood Education programs are available for all levels: B.S., M.A.T., M.Ed., Ed.S., or Ph.D.

  • Course Requirements: Program details for the B.S. include general course work and passing the GACE to earn certification. Degree requirements are specific.
  • Specialized Degree: The M.A.T. is for those who have a bachelor’s degree but want to be certified in teaching. The M.Ed. is for committed teachers who are already certified and seeking advanced, research-based curriculum
  • Accreditation: Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Cost: The cost for undergraduate residents is $21,250 per year; this includes tuition, fees, books, and room and board. Nonresidents pay $39,460 in annual tuition.
  • Financial Aid: The COE offers generous merit-based financial aid in addition to federal loans and UGA’s general grants and scholarships, as well as work study.
  • For the Financially Savvy: Georgia residents should take advantage of the top-tier study programs to strengthen the resume.
  • Who Should Enroll? Career changers who want to enter the elementary education field can enroll in the M.A.T. program and get certified to teach while earning a master’s.

Teachers College of Columbia University (New York City) is a top-ranked school that will prepare you for a career in several education specialties, even if your bachelor’s degree is in a different field of study.

  • Basic Programs: TC offers many M.A. programs focused on education. The Elementary and Secondary Inclusive Education is just one of many options. A 40-credit M.A. program can be accelerated in 13-16 months or be completed in roughly two years, so students can hold down jobs during course work (prior to student teaching).
  • Specialized Programs: A dual certification program (52 total credits) for teaching students with disabilities includes an additional fall semester that is anchored by a lab based practicum.
  • Accreditation: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
  • Cost: Graduate students pay $1,286 per credit and $398 in fees for each semester enrolled. M.A. programs are at least 40 credits, some up to 52. Transfer credits could apply.
  • Financial Aid: Scholarships are available at TC, in addition to traditional federal loans and grants. TC offers links to many merit-based options. Work study is another option.
  • For the Financially Savvy: The TEACH program offers grants of up to $4,000 per year for future teachers who plan to teach students from low-income families.
  • Who Should Enroll? If you have a liberal arts degree and no background in teaching, you can enroll in a dual M.A. program and get certified to teach at the same time.

Part III. Launching an Elementary Education Career

Where to Start

  • Resumes: Your resume should contain all relevant student teaching and/or work experience. Include your job as a summer camp counselor, or volunteer hours for organizations working with children. List your skills, such as American Sign Language or CPR. Each hiring manager and HR supervisor is looking for a distinct set of job skills.
  • Cover Letters: Show off your personality and highlight anything that is specific to the job for which you’re applying. Expand on the reasons why you are a good fit for any position. Mention the company and position you’re applying for, and end with a call to action.
  • Portfolios: Elementary educators should create and keep a portfolio of activities or photo documentation of relevant work. Demonstrate your applied skills. Even if you haven’t yet been in a paid position, your classes and student teaching should have given you plenty of pieces to put in a portfolio.

5 Excellent Elementary Education Add-Ons

  1. Get connected. Teachers should use the technology available to them for the betterment of their classes. Download applications that will work for your students, and don’t be afraid to incorporate web-based games, activities, and learning modules.
  2. Get your students involved. Benjamin Franklin famously quoted, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” Take student involvement to the highest level you can; check out this hands-on resource for more details.
  3. Get on board. There has been a substantial amount of research done lately about non-cognitive skills impacting student achievement in the classroom. Be sure you’re on board with your own education, constantly rewarding yourself with new knowledge.
  4. Get ESL certification. Expand your skill set and see your career grow. ESL certification is simple to get, and will broaden your teaching scope to include students for whom English is not a native language.
  5. Get online. Create a teacher portfolio to display your skills. This is essential for sharing credentials with principals, fellow teachers, and other professionals. HR expert Susan Healthfield relates, “I think technology is going to transform education. So I see opportunities for educators that are technologically inclined.”

The Rewards of Elementary Education

Teachers can significantly impact their students’ lives both today and in the future. Becoming an elementary educator is a great way to invest in your community knowing that you are impacting the future adults of tomorrow. The relationships and memories you build with the children you teach will last a lifetime.