Elementary Education Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate's or bachelor's degree in elementary education? Find out associate's and bachelor's degree requirements, online options and information on courses in elementary education.
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Studying Elementary Education: Degrees at a Glance

To become an elementary education teacher, most states require you to complete a bachelor's degree in elementary education and pass state licensure exams. An associate's degree will help qualify you to work as a teacher's assistant in most states, but you'll need to meet licensure requirements as well.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job growth for kindergarten and elementary school teachers will be 17% from 2010 to 2020, and it will be about 15% for teacher's assistants. Opportunities should be greater in the West and South due to higher enrollment growth. As of May 2011, elementary teachers earned a median annual salary that was more than twice as high as that for teacher's assistants - about $53,000 compared to $24,000. Both teachers and teacher's assistants may have to deal with difficult students, but they typically don't have to work in the classroom during the summer.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? People who want to work as teacher's assistants or transfer to a 4-year education program Individuals interested in becoming licensed elementary school teachers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Teacher's assistant ($24,000 - some positions only require a high school diploma; licensure may be needed)* - Elementary school teacher ($53,000 - licensure required)*
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time (summer study may be required) 4-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Meet minimum GPA requirement for coursework (usually 2.0) - Student teaching experience
Prerequisites - High school diploma or GED - Same as for the associate's degree - minimum GPA and ACT/SAT score requirements may apply
Online Availability No Yes - limited

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Associate's Degree in Elementary Education

Associate's degree programs in elementary education are typically designed so that you can transfer to a bachelor's degree program after you graduate, and they usually take about 2 years to complete. These programs expose you to the fundamentals of instructional design and classroom management, and you'll also get a broad liberal arts education. In most states, graduates of associate's degree programs meet the education requirements to work as teacher's assistants. You can typically complete these degree programs after about 2 years of full-time study.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Graduating from an associate's degree program may qualify you to work as a teacher's assistant, which will give you exposure to the teaching profession before you commit to a 4-year program
  • Many associate's degree programs are designed so that you can transfer your credits to a 4-year institution
  • You'll qualify for a career that offers a flexible schedule - nearly 40% of teacher's assistants worked part-time as of May 2010*

Cons

  • If you want to be a teacher at an elementary school, an associate's degree won't qualify you
  • Transfer of credits from associate's degree programs to bachelor's degree programs isn't guaranteed
  • Associate's degree programs don't always offer hands-on classroom training, while student teaching is usually required for bachelor's degree programs in elementary education

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2010).

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in an associate's degree program in elementary education will typically address practical methods for classroom management and teaching techniques, as well as strategies for working with a diverse student body. Your classes may include:

  • Diversity in elementary classrooms
  • Classroom management techniques
  • Elementary reading and math strategies
  • Planning instruction

In addition to your teaching classes, you'll take a wide variety of liberal arts courses. These could include electives from areas like the social and natural sciences, humanities, math and English.

Online Degree Options

Online associate's degree programs in elementary education are not available at the present time. However, there are online bachelor's degree programs available in this field, so you may want to consider enrolling in one of those if your plan is to become an elementary school teacher. Before you enroll in an online program, though, you should verify that it meets your state's licensing requirements.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

If you want to be a teacher's assistant, the BLS suggests that you can stand out by getting additional training from professional organizations or teachers' unions. The BLS also reports that there will be especially strong demand for individuals who are qualified to work with special needs students. You might consider taking relevant coursework as part of your associate's degree program and planning ahead so that you can meet any specific licensing requirements your state may have for working with these students.

Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education

To gain the experience and classroom knowledge you need to be hired as an elementary school teacher, a bachelor's degree is required. Such programs combine general education and teaching courses with a substantial student teaching experience to provide future teachers with both theoretical and practical knowledge. Most programs require 120 or more credits, so you should be prepared to take at least 15 credits per semester in order to graduate in 4 years. Some programs offer minors or additional certification in areas like special education or early childhood education, but adding these endorsements may mean it will take you longer to earn your degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • This degree will help you meet the educational qualifications for state licensure and classroom teaching jobs
  • Your degree program will include student teaching, which will give you practical experience in the classroom
  • If you want to eventually earn a master's degree in order to increase your salary or move up to higher-level positions in the future, you'll meet the minimum education requirements to do so

Cons

  • You'll be training for a career that can be stressful due to factors like large class sizes and lack of adequate materials*
  • Although most teachers get summers off, they often work outside of normal school hours when classes are in session*
  • As an elementary school teacher, you may be held to account for your students' standardized test scores*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Courses and Requirements

The following are just a few classes you can expect to take in an elementary education bachelor's degree program:

  • Child psychology
  • Lesson planning
  • Educating diverse students
  • Working with special education students

You'll also take a wide selection of general education courses in areas ranging from the humanities to the natural sciences - in many cases, you can choose from among several electives to fulfill these requirements. In addition to your coursework, you may have the opportunity to create a teaching portfolio of sample lessons plans, materials and activities. You'll also complete a student teaching experience in a real classroom that typically lasts about 1 semester.

Online Degree Options

It is possible to earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education partially online, but your options may be restricted to the programs located near your place of residence. Online bachelor's degree programs in elementary education typically allow you to take most of your courses online, but you'll still need to complete certain requirements, like orientations and seminars, on campus. In addition, some courses may only be offered on campus, and programs may restrict enrollment to in-state students.

Stand Out With This Degree

If you want to become an elementary teacher after you complete your bachelor's degree, there are a few ways that you can stand out. First, the BLS points out that teachers who are qualified to work with special education and English as a Second Language (ESL) students are in demand in many areas. You might consider checking your state's requirements to see how you can get additional endorsements or certification in these areas while you're in school. Also, having a high-quality teaching portfolio is important on the job market. You can begin building this while you're in school and get feedback from professors.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Brenau University

    Program Options

    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies - Early Childhood Education
      • Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies - Early Childhood Education
  • Batavia, OH

    University of Cincinnati

  • Prescott, AZ

    Yavapai College

  • Salisbury, MD

    Wor-Wic Community College

  • Wilson, NC

    Wilson Community College

  • Chambersburg, PA

    Wilson College

  • Wilkesboro, NC

    Wilkes Community College

  • Rock Springs, WY

    Western Wyoming Community College

  • Big Rapids, MI

    Ferris State University

  • Snyder, TX

    Western Texas College

Featured Schools

Brenau University

  • Associate of Arts in Liberal Studies - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Yavapai College

Wor-Wic Community College

Wilson Community College

Wilson College

Wilkes Community College

Western Wyoming Community College