How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Lori McDonald
Lori McDonald
Elementary school teacher; Ed.D. in School Leadership/Administration
A female teacher helps a group of happy, young students complete their lesson.

As an elementary school teacher, I have the opportunity to influence children and impact society. Being in elementary education is not an easy path; those that feel a strong desire to teach should pursue such a path.

Some say teaching is more of a calling than a choice. In my case, that is undoubtedly true. It can be difficult and overwhelming at times. However, it is an extremely rewarding career path when you meet the requirements and challenges to having elementary school teacher jobs.

What Does an Elementary School Teacher Do?

First and foremost, elementary school teachers are responsible for teaching students in any elementary grade the fundamental subjects. However, this is a far too simplified explanation of what elementary school teachers are required to do. The primary role is to teach, which includes designing and planning lessons and delivering instruction.

Secondarily, teachers are required to provide for the safety of students while in school, tend to the social-emotional needs of students, and conduct initial assessments and potential diagnoses for a plethora of physical, mental, and learning problems. Elementary school teachers end up serving in many more roles than the official job description may say. At times, you may feel more like a nurse, social worker, counselor, and more.

Elementary School Teacher Requirements: Skills

Besides the content knowledge and instructional knowledge and skill that is necessary to be a teacher, many other skills are required:

Communication

Teachers must be master communicators as it requires both spoken and written communication. You must know how to effectively communicate with your students and their families. You will need to communicate and collaborate with co-workers as well. You may be called upon to lead professional development opportunities, which will require another unique set of communication skills.

Patience

If a person is short-tempered or easily upset, teaching is probably not the career path for them.  Teaching can be trying in many ways. Students with significant behavior problems can cause a lot of stress and frustration. Patience is an absolute requirement for proactive elementary school classroom management or, in fact, any grade level.

Management/Leadership

Teachers are leaders. As a teacher, you lead your students into discovery and, hopefully, into becoming lifelong learners. You’re helping them develop a love for learning through your example.

There are also so many organizational skills necessary for teaching. Information such as student grades and attendance, intervention logs, financial records, assessment data, and IEP accommodations must be kept up-to-date and organized. This requires some advanced organizational and management skills. Without those skills, the tasks would be far too overwhelming.

Willingness

Teachers must be willing to learn from other educators and collaborate with others. Collaboration is a critically important component in teaching. In fact, teachers that consistently collaborate typically show much higher achievement.

You must also be willing to listen to students, parents, and administrators. As you listen, you should also be willing to change things that need to be changed and to try new methods and approaches when needed.

Love

It may sound like a cliche, but in my opinion, love is a requirement for becoming a teacher. You must know your “why”, and if your “why” isn’t about doing the very best you can for your students every single day, then your passion for teaching probably isn’t what it needs to be. If you genuinely love and care for your students, you will give 100% of yourself to them and for them every day.

Elementary School Teacher Requirements: Education

Elementary school teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in teaching or a content-specific degree with a teaching certificate.

There will also be internship or student teaching requirements to serve in a school under a supervising teacher. Of course, there are several graduate degree programs in education if you choose to pursue an advanced degree, which is often a requirement for teachers at many schools. These programs focus on further exploring and improving instructional methodologies, examining best practices, exploring technology tools helpful in instruction and student learning, and more.

Why Should You Consider an Elementary Teaching Position?

Salary and Benefits

While teaching is not a profession you go into because you want to make a lot of money, there are still positives regarding pay and benefits. Salaries are improving including elementary school teacher salary; most districts provide consistent raises or step increases for years of experience. Benefits are also usually good including complete health insurance packages.

Job Stability

With a nationwide teacher shortage gradually becoming more of a problem, there will many opportunities for teaching jobs across the country. Also, where there are children, there are schools. Where there are schools, there must be teachers. Teachers are needed everywhere!

Variety

When working with little ones especially, you never know what each day will hold. Every year is different with a new group of students. It is tough to find yourself in a rut with new faces every year.

Influence

The most rewarding and sobering fact about teaching is that you influence and impact the next generation of leaders. It is a heavy responsibility, but the reward when you see your influence having a positive impact is amazing!

Challenge

If you like a challenge, teaching will provide that for you. Part of the challenge is helping your students achieve to the level they should. Another challenge is to help students work through emotional and social issues.

Opportunity For Advancement

In education, there are many opportunities for advancement. Teachers can move on to become grade-level lead teachers, school-wide learning leaders, instructional coaches, and many other administrative positions.

It’s an Adventure!

One of my professors in college would tell us hilarious stories of things kindergarten students had done or said to her over the years.  She would say, “people should have to pay to teach kindergarten because they are so entertaining.” One thing is certain: there is never a dull moment!

How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Fortunately, there are many opportunities to have educational experiences in community college and at the high school level. This means individuals can decide at a younger age if they might be interested in a career in education.

Another good option is to start by becoming a substitute teacher to get a taste of what the classroom is like. It is important to remember, if you do decide to substitute, that being a substitute is harder in many ways because you don’t know the students and they don’t know you. Disciplinary issues become more manageable when you have a relationship with students.

Beyond that, entering an undergraduate program in education would be a necessary first step.  Although, if you already have a degree in another field, there are add-on degrees and certifications in some states that can lead to a career in teaching. Check out the requirements in your area and determine if an elementary teaching career may be right for you.

Interested in impacting a school as an elementary school teacher? Check out our available early childhood education programs and enroll today!

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