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What is Elementary Education?
Elementary education teachers provide planning, education and structure to a classroom of young students. Teachers spend time evaluating their students, providing direction, and maximizing growth opportunities during nascent developmental years. Elementary school teachers are responsible for monitoring the progress of their students and providing feedback to parents regarding the student's strengths and weaknesses.
Elementary education instructors work in public or private schools to provide students with a comprehensive education through structured classes. Primary or elementary schools in most school districts in a Kindergarten through 5th or 6th grade configuration depending on the district.
As such, junior high school or middle school is typically sixth grade through eight or ninth grade. In most school districts in the United States, elementary education teachers teach all subjects from math and reading to writing and history. Additionally, some districts require primary education teachers to instruct classes such as physical education, music, and art.
How To Become an Elementary Education Teacher?
To become an elementary education teacher, you will need to follow a few discrete steps. Much like other licensed professionals, you must invest in your education and hone your craft before having the opportunity to apply for licensure in your state of residence. Below, you will find a series of steps to help you better navigate the process to becoming an elementary education teacher.
Step 1 – Research Accredited Colleges
The initial step in your journey to starting a career as an elementary school teacher is to dutifully perform research on accredited colleges and universities. Ultimately, schools must fit your professional objectives and personal priorities. Digging deep to find schools and degree programs that fit your teaching aspirations will be key.
To determine what your priorities and goals may be, invest the time to read our eBook “The Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process” today. In addition to the resources found on this page, you can also utilize our proprietary matching portal if you find that method easier to get the desired results to sort colleges and degree programs in education.
Step 2 – Applications
After narrowing down the list of accredited colleges and universities offering great Elementary Education degree programs, you will need to take the time to apply to accredited higher education institutions. On your college application, make sure to illuminate relevant work experience related to teaching, working with children, classroom management, or leadership positions you have earned.
Spending time explaining your uniqueness will help you stand out in a crowded application pool and help propel you forward into your first year of school with real-work experience in your hip pocket.
Step 3 – Attending College
After being admitted to your top colleges, you will have a cadre of things to do. First, you will need to schedule orientation, meet with an advisor, register for classes, by your books, and start class in elementary education. Stay focused, remain curious, and ask questions to help remain engaged during this transition. Most students look back at college and fondly remember the challenging work, great relationships, and life experiences in college.
After completing your required coursework, you will need to spend time student teaching and shadowing an experienced teacher in a real-world classroom setting to meld the academic knowledge with pragmatic life experiences.
Step 4 – Graduation, Examination, Certification, & Employment
With your diploma in hand, you will next tackle all required paperwork of your state department of education. Typical requirements include completing all requisite tests, fingerprinting, background tests, teaching certifications, and licensing. With your student teaching and state requirements behind you, it is time to apply for teaching jobs. You can begin by utilizing your school career center and trusted job boards to find teaching jobs in the private and public system.
Teachers are required to maintain their teaching license at all times through a series of approved courses and continuing education credits. Commit to always learning and mandating the best from yourself. Build relevant skills and be a lifelong learner.
Online Elementary Education Degrees
It is important to know there are a number of degrees and certificates to choose from in elementary education. With so many choices to choose from, how do you know which education degree program is best for you? Create a list of priorities to summarize your academic goals and career objectives. A list of sample questions can be found in our award-winning eBook Complete Guide to the College Admissions Process. Next, we recommend you spend time to read our insider tips and strategies to help you get into your top school choice.
Equipped with information, tools, and knowledge to make a great decision for you, the journey to an elementary education degree will be in sight and within reach. Consider the following on-campus and online elementary education degrees in conjunction with the degree level that suits you best.
Consider the following critical questions when assessing the value of an online elementary education degree:
- What technologies are utilized to facilitate learning & retention?
- How long has the online teaching degree been offered?
- What classes are offered and what skills will you learn?
- What resources will you have access to while enrolled?
- Do you have a list of student services for online students?
- What is the job placement rate for elementary education degree holders?
Online Certificate in Elementary Education
Online certificates in elementary education are almost exclusively offered as master’s degree certificates. These online certificates provide relevant skills and timely knowledge to trained, licensed teachers to help them expand career opportunities and upskill in particular areas of emphasis. It is important to note, graduate certificate programs require students to meet all lower-level course requirements prior to acceptance into a certificate program.
Online Bachelor Degree in Elementary Education
Bachelor’s degrees Elementary Education offered online are 4-year programs that goes deeper and wider than an associate’s degree. Bachelor's in Education will be conferred as wither a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) program in Elementary Education will have the opportunity to learn a variety of core education curriculum plus a variety of liberal arts classes such as history, human biology, speech communication, English composition, physics, and math.
Core curriculum in elementary education will often include courses such as learning theory, portfolio management, principles of education, classroom management, educational philosophy, educational pedagogies, childhood psychology, and student teaching in a live classroom setting under the supervision of a mentor teacher.
Depending on the college you attend, you may have the opportunity to earn a specialized degree or general degree in education. A specialized degree will entail targeted coursework within a designated learning domain. Examples of a specialized degree in elementary education may include:
- Reading & Literacy
- Educational Psychology
- Leadership & Administration
- Educational Counseling
- Curriculum & Instruction
- English as a Second Language
Online Master’s Degree in Education
Online master’s degrees in elementary education is designed to be a 1-2 year program predicated upon completion of all lower-level class requirements. Master’s degree programs in elementary education equip professionals for leadership positions and career enhancement in the education field.
In addition to a capstone course, the master’s degree track offers most students with the ability to select an area of specialty that may include: counseling, early childhood education, educational leadership, teacher leadership, special education, secondary education, reading and language arts, international education, digital literacy, or leadership.
Career tracks for students earning a master's degree in education can vary from district to district. Some may choose to continued teaching in the classroom. Students will benefit from the high level education with enhanced learning opportunities while teachers will receive a bump in pay as a function of experience & degree attainment. Meanwhile, other teachers may leverage a master's degree in education to move into roles such as a department head, director, educational specialist, coach, counselor, or educational specialist.
Online Doctorate Degree in Education
The online doctorate degree tracks in elementary education are 2-4 year programs depending on the number of classes taken at a given time and the course requirements of the college after meeting all lower-level course requirements. Many accredited colleges and universities allow students to elect an area of specialization such as educational leadership, cognition, policy, curriculum & instruction, early childhood education, counseling, or special education. Doctoral program prepare students for advanced research opportunities in the private or public sector along with teaching opportunities in higher education institutions.
Students in a doctorate of education degree program will earn a PhD or EdD degree upon successful completion of the program. During the program, students will focus their research in a practical or clinical setting. After successfully completing and defending their dissertation, students will return to the classroom, the district administrative pool, or an approved professorship program. Common elements you will find in both EdD and PhD programs include:
- Analyzing historical eras and social markers that have advanced pedagogy design and teaching practices
- Mapping schemas of cognition and learning in elementary education
- Understanding national and local educational policy as related to academic constructs
- Thinking critically about academic policies and personnel management
- Researching the process of learning and teaching from social, cultural, emotional, and cognitive perspectives
- Surveying correlative elements in education with salient technology, gender, and cultural factors
Teaching Degree Requirements
An elementary education degree is designed to educate potential teachers the methods, theories, and practices involved in teaching kindergarten through sixth grade. The most common elementary education degree pursued by students is a bachelor's degree given the flexibility and overall value proposition for future teachers. Higher level degrees such as master's degree in education and doctorate degree in education can be obtained to pursue administrative positions.
With additional coursework, elementary education majors can also be qualified to teach special classes such as English as a second language (ESL) or accelerated learning. Most programs will also assist in providing practical experience through internships and other means. Coursework will focus on basic education skills, child development, and instruction curricula.
An overview of common classes you may see in a course catalog for elementary education teachers include the following examples.
- Human Relations & Communications
- Language Arts Instruction
- Curriculum & Instruction
- Technology for Teaching and Learning
- Clinical Teaching and Clinical Practice
- Reading & Literacy Pedagogy
- Teaching Special Populations
- Foundations of Early Childhood Education & Pedagogies
- Best Practices in Teaching
- Primary Education
- Educational Psychology
- Development of Infants, Toddlers, & Children
- Instructional Assessment & Technology
- Pedagogies in Teaching & Learning
- Science and Math Pedagogy
- Teaching Exceptional Children
- Supervised Demonstration Teaching
- Educational Leadership
- School and Society
- Neuroscience & Metacognition
- Learning, Cognition and Assessment
Benefits of an Online Education Degree
Distance learning courses are being added by colleges at a rapid pace. Demand for online courses is generated by students and employers with colleges generating quality, relevant curriculum in a digitized format. Consider the following factors when considering an online elementary education degree.
- Cost Savings– The direct and indirect cost of earning a degree remotely can be substantial. In brief, students may be able to save on expenditures in the following ways: a) distance learning can offer scheduling flexibility by allowing students to work while matriculating; b) you will likely not need to move on campus saving on housing; c) accredited schools allow students to apply for federal financial aid.
- Accreditation – Distance learning and online programs that have earned a regional or national accreditation will be essential to your future. It is important to understand that accreditation is only granted to schools by independent, third-party organizations that have extensively vetted a school’s curriculum, processes, and procedures to ensure quality standards are met by program.
- Flexibility – Students enrolled in an online degree program can join class when convenient and not be constrained by the traditional trappings of the physical requirements of an on-site class. Thus, online flexibility can be a big win for those intent on growing professionally and upskilling.
- Access – The ability to hop online at any time does not restrict students to being in a specific location at a given time. With fewer restrictions, students have a broader range of degree options to choose from depending on passion, intent, and career trajectory.
- Speed – Online degree programs in elementary education can be self-paced, thereby allowing students to spend time learning when they see fit on their way towards degree completion. With many schools starting online classes every few weeks, distance learning students are no longer bound by traditional school year schedules.
- Curriculum – The quality of online degrees is on par with classroom-based degree programs. With a published syllabus and quality curricular design, students are provided key milestones and check-points to ensure comprehension and engagement. Online programs in elementary education will also have a traditional capstone course, cumulative exam, thesis, final project, and student teaching requirements.
Top Ranked Elementary Education Degree Programs
The NCTQ has ranked the following schools by the program's overall quality in elementary education in the United States of over 2,500 programs. The list of schools earning high marks in the 98th percentile or higher include the following schools:
- Dallas Baptist University – 99th percentile
- University of Alaska-Fairbanks – 99th percentile
- Louisiana Tech University – 99th percentile
- Texas A&M University – 99th percentile
- Taylor University – 99th percentile
- University of Arkansas – 99th percentile
- CUNY – Hunter College – 99th percentile
- University of Houston – 99th percentile
- Arizona State University – 99th percentile
- Purdue University – 99th percentile
- University of Mississippi – 99th percentile
- University of Nebraska-Lincoln – 99th percentile
- University of Wyoming – 98th percentile
- Bethel University – 98th percentile
- Louisiana State University A&M – 98th percentile
- Marshall University – 98th percentile
- University of Iowa – 98th percentile
- University of Maryland-College Park – 98th percentile
- Colorado Christian University – 98th percentile
- Winthrop University – 98th percentile
- University of Dayton – 98th percentile
Employment Opportunities and Teaching Careers
Individuals pursuing a career in elementary education at public institutions require licensure. Special forms of licensure may obtained by graduates to immediately begin teaching, though eventually will have to earn standard licensure to continue.
National certification is also available and demonstrates a higher level of competency in instruction than a license and can allow for the transfer of a license from one state to another. Elementary education requires individuals to work well with children, be patient, have excellent communication skills, and be organized in order to properly execute planned curriculum.
Teachers who take on the additional coursework to qualify for specialty instruction tend to have a higher rate of pay than teachers who do not. Classes requiring such specialty instruction, including ESL classes, accelerated learning classes, and courses for learning disabled children, are on the rise and as such the demand for qualified teachers is similarly increasing. Teacher's who specialize in working with disabled children may require more extensive study than others, as well as the ability to create a study plan for individual students.
Top Skills of an Elementary Teacher
Skills required to become a successful elementary education teacher will vary by individual depending on the job requirements, district, school structure, responsibilities and area of specialization. According to a broad-based survey performed by the U.S. Department of Labor, the following skills typify an elementary teacher.
- Planning & Prioritization
- Learning Strategies
- Active Listening
- Deductive Reasoning
- Critical Thinking
- Time Management
- Social Perceptiveness
- Systems Analysis
- Communication & Persuasion
Teachers, especially elementary school teachers, are typically under more scrutiny than other professions due to their daily interaction with children. The importance of quality instruction during elementary school years is pivotal to each student's development. Thus the need for an abundance of patience, care, and understanding required to work with children.
Elementary Teacher Salary & job Outlook
The average salary for an elementary teacher is $56,900 per year. The top 10% of teachers across the nation average $92,770 annually while the bottom 25% average $45,330 per year. The average starting salary for an elementary school teacher with a bachelor's degree is approximately around fifty-thousand dollars according to the latest survey performed by Payscale.
Job growth for elementary school teachers is expected to increase 7% over the next decade. Jobs will help to alleviate student to teacher ratios and associated increases in student enrollment. Growth will vary by region due to population distribution with urban centers and larger cities typically having higher employment opportunities.
Additional Resources for Elementary Teachers
- American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
- National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)
- National Assn. for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
- Association for Experiential Education (AEE)
- National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM)
- National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE)
- Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance (AAHPERD)
- ENC Online Resources for Math and Science Education
- National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE)
- Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC)
- National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)
- Organization of American Historians (OAH)
Those interested in elementary education may also want to look into social work, early childhood education, or educational administration. For more information about a career in teaching and degrees you can earn in education, check out The Single Most Comprehensive Guide to a Teaching Career post on our blog.