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Teachers are some of the most respected professionals in society. They shape and mold the minds of the future, preparing children to enter society generation after generation. The impact a teacher has on a child can be cherished and remembered for the rest of their lives.

One of the first steps of the extraordinary education journey for children is in elementary school. These grades are more than just finger painting and learning how to shoot a basketball properly. Elementary school is where we learn to read and write and fundamental principles we carry with us throughout the rest of our education.

With such an essential role in society and children’s future, it’s no surprise that many people want to become elementary school teachers. But what are the steps to doing so? Is the job for everybody? What can help you get started? Read below to learn more about how to become an elementary school teacher.

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What is an Elementary School Teacher?

An elementary school teacher is an education professional who is licensed and trained in the areas of childhood education. They work at elementary schools, which typically includes grades K-6 and children 5-11 years old. Elementary school teachers must have a diverse skill set to teach a wide array of topics while also handling young children and understanding their needs.

Steps to Become a Elementary School Teacher:

  • Step 1: Learn if the Job is Right for You

  • Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education

  • Step 3: Intern at an Elementary School

  • Step 4: Take the State Licensing Exam

  • Step 5: Find a Job


Step 1: Learn if the Job is Right for You

You need to like two things if you want to be an excellent elementary school teacher: children and learning. The best teachers are those who combine their passion for both. If you want to learn whether or not you’re good with children, it’s always nice to try some entry-level positions that involve kids, like being a camp counselor or babysitting.

You can tell you’re excelling at these types of jobs if the kids don’t just like you but also listen to you, behave when you ask them, and learn from your interactions.

As far as learning, this job probably isn’t suited for someone who didn’t enjoy their early education. Many topics taught in elementary school aren’t as engaging and can be repetitive, so teachers need to appreciate the process of learning in general. Elementary school teachers need to show a passion for their subject matter that keeps the children engaged, entertained, and full of thought.

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Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education

Currently, more than 1,000 universities and colleges in the U.S. offer elementary education programs. Universities provide the program as either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science. It takes about 120 hours to complete an early childhood bachelor’s degree.

You also have the option of pursuing a master’s degree in early education. A master’s is a requirement for elementary school teachers in some states. It will also make you a more attractive candidate for most positions and let you earn a higher salary.

Elementary school teachers typical course load will involve a mixture of child psychology and professional development classes coupled with general education. There will also be courses related to specific study subjects in an elementary school, such as art and social studies.

Some of the standard courses you’ll see on an elementary education college student’s schedule are Art in the Elementary School Classroom, Assessment of Learning, Foundations of Literacy Development, and Child Development and Early Childhood.

According to NCTQ’s Teacher Prep Review, the top five colleges for elementary education bachelor’s degrees are Arizona State, Bethel University, CUNY Hunter College, and Dallas Baptist University.

Step 3: Intern at an Elementary School

Most states require elementary school teachers to have hands-on experience before they can be licensed. This student teaching program can range anywhere from a position held for a few months to a program measured in credit hours. It depends on the state but always needs to be backed by credible, accredited institutions, whether it be a state or private university.

Step 4: Take the State Licensing Exam

Requirements for taking an elementary education state licensing exam vary drastically from state to state. You can get a detailed map of each state’s requirements by checking out their Board of Education website.

Generally speaking, almost all states require a high school diploma to be eligible for the test along with at least a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Some kind of internship or hands-on experience is usually required, and then you’ll probably have to take a state exam to verify your skills.

Once you have passed the exam and met all the other requirements above, you can request your teaching license. This license can vary in duration, but most states offer a preliminary license, which teachers can then renew as a permanent one after a set period.

Step 5: Find a Job

Once you complete all these tasks, it will be time to search for a job. Consider looking into states where elementary teachers are in high demand. Massachusetts has both a high number of elementary school teacher jobs and an above-average salary. States with many positions and a high wage (like New York and New Jersey) will inevitably require more educated teachers, so having a master’s degree is usually expected. However, you should also consider that the degree you earned in your home state may not be applicable to teach in a neighboring state unless the states have a reciprocity agreement. You should always check the requirements of the state in which you plan to teach before you are finished with your degree.

What Does an Elementary School Teacher Do?

An elementary school teacher usually has a class of 10-25 students. These are the same students throughout the day and the year. However, as the students move up in grade, they may change teachers throughout the day depending on the subject, having one teacher for math and another for history, etc. In younger grades, the elementary school teacher will be responsible for all subjects. The students will filter in and out of the classroom for extracurricular subjects like art and physical education.

The structure of an elementary school teacher’s day can vary based upon their number of students, the district they work in, how many teachers are available in the school, and whether the school is public or private. Elementary school teachers will also assign homework, give examinations, and track the children’s progress through their specific grade level.

Elementary School Teacher Skills to Acquire

Below you’ll find a list of skills that will help you succeed as a teacher. 

  • Patience:
    The most important thing when dealing with small children is remembering to stay calm and be patient. Being surrounded by energetic little humans, especially twenty of them in a classroom, can feel overwhelming. It’s essential to remain calm so you can educate your students properly and set a good example.
  • Understanding Child Development:
    There’s a reason that all education curriculums contain psychology courses. Understanding how the brain develops is a critical part of being able to shape it properly. As a teacher, you’ll be playing a pivotal role in how your students grow into adults. Foundational knowledge of how to do that properly will assist you in this endeavor.
  • Confidence:
    Your students will be looking to you for guidance and authority. Children can smell an unsure person from a mile away, and any kind of hesitation will be an excuse for the class to act out. When beginning a lesson, start with matter-of-fact statements and invite questions. You’ll find yourself becoming more confident with experience.
  • Motivation and Encouragement:
    Part of your job as a teacher will be to get the best out of your students. A child that isn’t encouraged or properly reinforced can lose morale quickly and become harder to educate as a result. Develop a reward system for your classes and congratulate students when they perform well.
  • Organization:

    Designing an entire year’s curriculum is not easy. You’ll be required to keep track of your students' progress and have all their milestones and goals laid out in a clear and chronological order.

    Not to mention all the drama that comes with a missing stapler. With so many kids in the classroom, it can become a mess quickly. Monitor the locations of essential items and develop an organization system. You can even get the students involved to teach them a valuable lesson.

Alternative Paths

Most states allow people who have majored in specific subjects taught in elementary school to pursue an elementary teaching license. You’re actually eligible to take your teacher certification based on your subject teaching credential alone.

If you have a bachelor's degree in something like English, you can still apply to get your license and take the exam. If you majored in anything related to science, math, or history, you could also have a pretty easy transition into teaching.

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There are also alternative teacher education programs that weren’t created by government or state-approved institutions. Degrees from these programs may or may not be accepted depending on the state where you work.

These programs have mixed reviews. Some states have several different options, and students have said there isn’t much guarantee for quality education. Others say the programs focus too much on teaching theory and leave their teachers underprepared for specific subjects when they enter their field.

Elementary School Teacher Career & Salary

What is the environment of the average elementary school teacher? What kind of future does the career have? You’ll find the answer to all those questions below.

Where Might You Work?


As a teacher, your career decisions are quite open in terms of a working environment. You can choose the system and setting based on your preferences.

Let’s say you want to work on a high level, with students at the top of the country in test scores, you would probably apply for some private schools or earn an endorsement for teaching gifted and talented students. Working in a private school or charter school also pays more than the average public school and can lead to other career opportunities depending on the school’s prestige.

There aren’t nearly as many private school teaching positions as there are public in the U.S. Public-school jobs can vary a lot depending on their location. If you’re teaching within a big city, you can expect overcrowded classrooms and a low budget for equipment. Rural communities will have a similar lack of funding but with smaller class sizes. Suburban areas with higher taxes tend to have better public school positions, some of which can rival private school positions in other states.

Finally, there’s also the option of a special education school. These positions are for teachers who have bachelor’s in special education or another field specific to that particular school’s needs. These schools can be both public and private or even run by charity organizations.

With the COVID-19 Pandemic’s impact, more and more schools have tried out an online teaching platform. While teachers report mixed results with various software using this teaching method, some specialists believe that online teaching is here to stay.

If you're a prospective teacher, you should prepare yourself for a fully online classroom as a real possibility in the near future.

Career Outlook

Teachers’ salaries are relatively low compared to other skilled positions. They make around $60,000 a year before taxes according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). States with well-paid teachers like New York and California offset this average. In 10 states, the average yearly salary comes in at a little more than $35,000.

However, it’s relatively easy for elementary school teachers to find a job. Looking at maps of career distributions throughout the United States, one can conclude that teaching jobs in most parts of the country are abundant. Most teaching positions are in cities. However, there are hundreds of rural and suburban communities throughout the country that need teachers as well. The need for elementary school teachers is also steadily growing.

There aren't many career progression opportunities for teachers (only one person can become the principal). Most people will remain at the same position and sometimes even the same grade level for their entire careers. Salaries do improve over time, though. Usually, teachers sign contracts with an expected annual or biannual salary increase as well as yearly bonuses. Plus, they don’t have to work during the summer.

Advancing From Here

There are a few options for furthering your career after becoming an elementary school teacher. One option is to try and move up the ranks of administration. Becoming an assistant or a vice-principal will improve your salary and put you in a management position. This job is a good choice for someone who has great people and management skills and loves the profession of teaching.

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If you want to be a principal, you will have to further your education.  Principals and vice-principals must have both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in educational leadership or administration.

Another option for elementary school teachers is to specialize in the area of special education. This job will involve teaching an elementary school curriculum to children with learning disabilities. If you want to do your part to help children with learning disabilities receive a decent education, this could be an exciting career move.

The degree for special education and elementary education are separate things. A bachelor’s degree specifically in special education is required to teach it at an elementary school level.

Once you have a lot of experience teaching in elementary school, you might want to pass some of that wisdom on to future generations. You can take your skills to a university and become a professor who teaches elementary education subjects. To become an elementary education professor, you will need a master’s degree in that field or a master’s in whatever specific subject you’d like to teach, whether it’s child psychology, literacy, or something else.


You’re well on your way to being an essential part of many children’s lives. After reading this article you should have enough information about becoming an elementary school teacher to know if it’s the right job for you.

If you decide to make the move into teaching, then following the steps above will put you in a prime position to get a job right away. If you pay close attention to your state’s requirements, it’s easy to become an eligible candidate for any of these positions. We hope this article was helpful and good luck with your job search!


Here are some of the position titles you could fill as an elementary school teacher:

Elementary School Gym Teacher:

  • A teacher who works in an elementary school and focuses on physical education. They will teach sports, stretches, and various exercises to the students.

Elementary School Art Teacher:

  • A teacher who focuses on art and creativity. They will teach the children basic art skills while encouraging their inspiration and expression.

Elementary School Science Teacher:

  • A teacher who will focus on specific science topics with older students. They will typically have different classes of students in rotation throughout the day. They will teach basic physics, biology, and Earth Science topics.

Kindergarten Teacher:

  • Most kindergarten teachers will benefit from knowledge in early childhood development. They need to be patient and be responsible for building fundamental behavior skills to prepare children for the grades to come.

Teacher of Specific Grades:

  • Lots of job listings on sites like Indeed or Linkedin offer jobs for specific grades. This type of title allows a teacher to select an age level that is most suited to their skillset.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the workplace like for elementary school teachers?

Elementary school teachers work in private and public schools. Elementary school teachers work during normal school hours but may need to use nights and weekends to grade and prepare lessons. Elementary school teachers generally have the summer off.

Do elementary school teachers need to pass an exam?

In forty-four states elementary school teachers must pass one or more exam to qualify a teaching certificate. The most common exam is the PRAXIS exam. elementary school teachers may also be required to take state specific exams to gain their license.

What is an elementary school teachers salary?

Elementary school teacher salaries can range from $40,000 to $100,000, but are generally around $60,000 annually.

Which states require elementary school teachers to have master's degrees?

In Connecticut, Ohio, Maryland, and New York elementary school teachers are required to have a master's degree. In all of the other states, a bachelor's degree is sufficient.

What skills do an elementary school teachers need?

Elementary school teachers need to have patience, good communication, and collaboration. Elementary school teachers need to be able to explain complex concepts, engage students in learning, manage classrooms, and work with diverse backgrounds of people.

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