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What Does an Elementary School Teacher Do?

Elementary education offers a unique opportunity to nurture young learners. Early childhood educators use their expertise and caring personalities to prepare children for secondary school. If you’re considering working in education, learning more about the role of an elementary school teacher may help you decide if you want to pursue teaching at this level.

In this article, we discuss the daily job responsibilities of an elementary school teacher, share details about the training and education necessary for this position and explain how to start working in this field.

What does an elementary school teacher do?

An elementary school teacher is an educator who teaches young children academic skills and supports their overall growth and development. Teaching at the elementary level involves building relationships with students and families, creating a warm and inviting classroom environment and supporting a positive school culture by attending school events and serving on staff committees. Additional responsibilities include:

  • Creating lesson plans aligned to state and/or national learning standards

  • Delivering rigorous and engaging instruction across multiple subject areas

  • Differentiating instruction to meet diverse student learning needs

  • Assessing students’ progress using formative and summative assessments

  • Supporting students’ social and emotional development through cooperative activities and teamwork

  • Maintaining accurate student records including daily attendance and grades

  • Communicating or meeting with parents or guardians to discuss student progress

 

Elementary school teacher requirements

Depending on where you want to work, the various requirements for elementary school teachers include:

 

Education

A bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement for working as an elementary school teacher, regardless of the school where you work. While a major in education is most common for teachers, it’s not mandatory. Although some states or private institutions may offer alternative options, the two most common pathways to becoming an elementary school teacher are:

 

Bachelor’s degree in education

Prospective teachers can earn either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree in education, depending on the institution and coursework required. It takes approximately four years to earn this degree when attending full time. Education majors can also specialize in early childhood education, elementary education, secondary education and special education. An elementary concentration includes courses on child development, academic content and pedagogy.

Related: FAQ: What Degree Does an Elementary School Teacher Need?

 

Alternative certification program

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in a non-education field can enroll in an alternative certification program to become a teacher. While there are both national and regional programs, each state sets its own criteria for completion. It takes approximately one year to complete these programs, with a variety of evening and online options available. Participants are required to pass the same certification exams as aspiring teachers who earn a bachelor’s degree in education.

 

Training

Aspiring elementary school teachers can participate in a variety of formal and informal training opportunities. All bachelor of education programs and the vast majority of alternative certification programs require formal training in a school setting before certification. Commonly known as student teaching, this training provides experiential learning under the supervision of a certified teacher. A student-teacher starts by observing and shadowing the supervising teacher and gradually assumes more responsibility and independence. By the end of this formal training, the aspiring teacher acquires experience teaching the class independently. A student teaching assignment typically lasts either one semester or one full year.

Many aspiring teachers pursue informal training besides a required program component. Informal training can include anything from volunteering in a classroom to working in after-school programs or tutoring individual students. These experiences provide practice and help refine the relational and pedagogical skills required of teachers.

 

Certifications

Regardless of the formal education pathway, all public school teachers are required to pass a state certification exam. Many charter and private schools also require applicants to pass the certification exam. These exams vary between states, but they assess basic concepts in reading and math, academic content knowledge and pedagogy. Individuals seeking additional certification in special education take additional exams. Upon passing the exam and completing any related requirements, prospective educators earn a state teaching license. Typically valid for five years, elementary teachers maintain and renew their certification through continuing education or professional development credits.

 

Key skills for elementary school teachers

Becoming an effective elementary school teacher requires a broad skill set to address the academic, social and emotional needs of young children. The most important skills for an elementary school teacher include:

 

Flexibility

Whether it’s changing a lesson plan to accommodate student learning or restructuring an activity due to supplies, elementary school teachers often adjust their plans to accommodate unexpected circumstances. Maintaining flexibility in response to individual student needs or challenges based on the physical layout and resources of a school is an essential trait for success in this role.

 

Communication

To deliver academic content to young children, elementary school teachers translate advanced concepts into child-friendly language. They also use a variety of teaching modalities to accommodate diverse learning styles using strong communication skills. The need for effective parent and staff communication makes these abilities critical.

 

Planning

A significant portion of a teacher’s work can occur before or after the delivery of core instruction. Successful elementary school teachers begin lesson planning with the desired learning outcome in mind and refine their plans in response to student performance on homework, quizzes, tests and classroom activities. Effectively planning lessons that result in student success is critical for an elementary school teacher.

 

Organization

Between lesson plan materials, homework, tests and projects, teachers store a variety of items in their classroom at one time. Implementing organizational systems for storage, filing and displaying key documents is essential to a teacher’s success and the aesthetics of the classroom environment. Teachers also organize student data in digital files to track progress toward learning goals.

 

Interpersonal skills

Teaching elementary-aged students offers a relational profession that requires warmth, empathy and positive regard for children. The ability to create a nurturing classroom environment supports students’ academic achievement and broader social and emotional development. As students develop, they often require guidance on how to use their knowledge and innate talents, giving elementary teachers the opportunity to act as mentors for young learners.

 

Elementary school teacher work environment

Elementary school teachers typically work in Pre-K to fifth-grade school buildings in public, charter or private settings. Normal work hours include six to seven hours in front of students and an average of one to three hours of preparation, grading and staff meetings before or after students go home. Typically, teachers work the same nine to 10 months that students go to school, with the option to teach summer school or use the summer to plan for the upcoming year.

Teachers spend long hours on their feet instructing and interacting with students and usually only sit at their desks during break periods. They may also attend events after school hours, extending their workday to accommodate school activities and encourage the school community.

How to become an elementary school teacher

Here are four important steps to consider as you pursue a career in elementary education:

 

1. Gain relevant experience

Spend time in a school or related setting with children to build your skills and to confirm that teaching is the right path for you. This could include volunteering at a school or community recreation center, becoming a mentor or shadowing a teacher for a few days. Earning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field also prepares you to work with elementary school students.

 

2. Secure your certifications

Research the certification requirements in your state and prepare accordingly. Whether it’s a bachelor’s degree in education or an alternative certification program, consider factors such as cost, credit requirements, location and concentration areas to determine which is the best option for you. Study for certification tests through online programs or with fellow students in your degree program.

 

3. Create a strong resume

Write a resume that highlights the interpersonal and technical skills that make you a highly qualified candidate. List all certifications and relevant work experience, especially your student teaching. Adding supplemental training you’ve attended or teaching methods you’re trained in as part of your resume can distinguish you from other candidates.

 

4. Apply early

Even though school starts in August or early September, school administrators usually hire personnel in the spring so they can focus on planning or taking a vacation during the summer. Begin searching and applying for jobs as early as February or March for the upcoming year. You can also check for vacant positions throughout the school year or take a job as a long-term substitute to gain experience and form relationships within the school district.

 

 

Elementary School Teacher
Elementary School Teacher

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