Elementary School Teacher Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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An elementary school teacher's median annual salary is $54,120. Is it worth the education and licensure requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an elementary school teacher is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Elementary School Teaching

Elementary school teachers are responsible for the healthy intellectual and social development of children, which can be very rewarding. However, there are others pros - and cons - to consider.

PROS of an Elementary School Teaching Career
Good job prospects (12% growth through 2022)*
Helping students learn
Tenure*
Benefits (two months of vacation)*

CONS of an Elementary School Teaching Career
Heavy workload (40+ hour weeks)*
Isolated work environment*
Student behavior*
Lack of control over curriculum*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Elementary school teachers implement and adapt curriculum to teach children in kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. They are responsible for leading and motivating kids and managing classroom behavior, as well as assessing student progress and communicating with parents and other school administrators. Most elementary teachers have one class, teaching them all academic subjects, although some share teaching responsibilities for a single- or multi-grade class.

Elementary school teachers might also specialize in areas such as art or music, or may work as reading specialists, English language learner (ELL) or bilingual education teachers. Specializing at the elementary level may mean that you would travel between schools in a larger school district or work part time.

Most teachers work a 10-month year with two months off over the summer and time off for holidays and school breaks, while some work at year-round schools with a series of shorter breaks throughout the year. Teachers are often members of unions, such as the American Federation of Teachers, that negotiate benefits for them. After a few years of teaching with positive job reviews, most teachers earn tenure which prevents schools from arbitrarily firing them.

Career Prospects and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that elementary school teachers earned a median salary of $54,120 in May 2014 and projected that employment would grow by 12% between 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). Jobs were expected to be more plentiful in rural and inner-city schools that have problems attracting students. ELL and bilingual elementary school teachers were also projected to remain in high demand due to immigration.

What Are the Requirements?

Training and Licensing

Along with patience, intelligence and creativity, you will also need a teaching license. To become licensed, you would need to earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education. During the course of a degree program, you could take classes in teaching methods, classroom management and educational psychology. You would also complete a student teaching practicum and take the skills exam, both of which are required for licensing.

Some states may have additional requirements, and most schools require a criminal background check prior to hiring. Continuing education will be required to maintain your license, but the good news is that as you accumulate education hours and years of experience, generally your pay will rise as well.

All states have provisional licensing programs that allow people with bachelor's degrees to teach under supervision while they earn certification. This is most commonly done at the secondary level; however, it may be available for elementary school teachers particularly in areas in desperate need of teachers.

Teachers in private schools generally need a bachelor's degree in education or a related subject, but don't need to be licensed. Their pay level might not equal that of public school teachers, but there may be housing allowances or other perks.

What Do Employers Look For?

Job postings for teachers tend to seek people who will work for the academic and social success of their students. Cooperative relationships with students, teachers and parents are also requested. Below is a recent sampling of job postings open during March 2012:

  • A charter school opening in Manhattan serving low-income children sought teachers who would plan instruction to meet long and short-term goals, keep kids on task and prepare and review student assessments. A master's degree in education plus two years of experience was required.
  • An Illinois school requested an elementary-level English language learner teacher/coordinator to work between two schools, instructing students and adapting curriculum as necessary. Requirements included a valid Illinois teaching certificate, with an ELL or bilingual endorsement.
  • An elementary school in Wyoming sought K-6 teachers to teach students academic, social and behavioral skills. They required a bachelor's degree, completion of student teaching and Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board certification. A year or two of experience was preferred.

Standing Out In the Field

Specializations are increasingly helpful to standing out when it comes to hiring. The influx of non-English speaking students, the mainstreaming of students with disabilities and the variations of reading abilities critical to student success all provide opportunities for specialization. Pursuing a bachelor's degree that allows you to focus on topics such as gifted education, special education or ELL, might help diversify you as a candidate.

The ability to speak more than one language would be helpful, and this is often listed as desirable by school districts. Obtaining national certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards could increase your opportunities to negotiate a higher salary.

Alternative Career Paths

Teacher Aide or Assistant

If you don't want the full responsibility of teaching or to meet the education requirements, becoming a teacher's aide or assistant might be a good choice. Aides often work with a high school degree or some college, and may assist classroom teachers by working with students or by helping with preparation, instruction or grading. The BLS predicted that employment for these positions would grow by ten percent between 2008 and 2018. In 2010, the average salary for assistants was $25,000.

School Social Worker

School social workers work to help students and their families deal with social or emotional stress. A bachelor's degree is required for entry-level jobs, but a master's degree is more often required. In 2010, the BLS reported that the average salary for child, family and school social workers was $44,000.

Education Administration

Working in administration, which generally requires a master's or doctoral degree, is a career path that generally follows experience in teaching or counseling. This role focuses on the day-to-day operations of a school, including hiring, curriculum choices, record keeping and budgets. Excellent job opportunities have been projected between 2008 and 2018, and the BLS reported that the average salary for elementary school administrators was $90,000 in 2010.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ed.D. - Early Childhood Education
      • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
      • PhD in Education - Early Childhood Education
      • Ed.D. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - General Education
      • EdD - Learning Analytics in Higher Education
    Master's
      • M.Ed. - Early Childhood Education
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • MEd - General Education
      • MAT - Early Childhood Education
      • MAT - Curriculum and Teaching
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Literacy
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
      • Ph.D in Literacy: Literacy
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Behavioral Health
    Master's
      • M.Ed. in Elementary Education
      • M.A. in Reading with an Emphasis in Elementary Education
      • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
      • M.Ed. in Secondary Education
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • B.S. in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Christian Education
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Graduate Level Instructional Practices
  • Online Programs Available
    5. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Elementary Education
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • Master of Education - Secondary Education
      • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Washington, DC

    Howard University

  • Towson, MD

    Towson University

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • Ed.D. - Early Childhood Education
  • M.Ed. - Early Childhood Education
  • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education?

Saint John's University

  • Ph.D. in Literacy
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
  • M.Ed. in Elementary Education
  • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Graduate Level Instructional Practices

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American InterContinental University

  • Master of Education - Elementary Education
  • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
  • Master of Education - Secondary Education

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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