Elementary School Teachers


Exploring this Job

To explore a career as a teacher, look for leadership opportunities that involve working with children. You might find summer work as a counselor in a summer camp, as an assistant leader of a scout troop, or as an assistant in a public park or community center. Look for opportunities to tutor younger students or coach children's athletic teams. Local community theaters may need directors and assistants for summer children's productions. Day care centers often hire high school students for late afternoon and weekend work. Finally, check out Teach.org, which provides information on how to become a teacher, information on scholarships and other financial aid, an overview of the certification process, and videos of teachers discussing their careers. Aspiring teachers can also participate in its “Talk to a Teacher” service, in which they can sign up for a free video call or traditional phone call session with current educators. 

The Job

Depending on the school, elementary school teachers teach grades one through six or eight. In smaller schools, grades may be combined. There are still a few one-room, one-teacher elementary schools in remote rural areas. However, in most cases, teachers instruct approximately 20 to 30 children of the same grade. They teach a variety of subjects, including language, science, mathematics, and social studies. In the classroom, teachers use various educational methods, such as reading to them, assigning group projects, showing films for discussion, and using computers and the Internet to teach concepts or spotlight a particular topic. Teachers also use educational games to help their pupils remember their lessons. 

In the first and second grades, elementary school teachers cover the basic skills: reading, writing, counting, and telling time. With older students, teachers instruct history, geography, math, English, and handwriting. To capture attention and teach new concepts, they use arts and crafts projects, workbooks, music, and other interactive activities. In the upper grades, teachers assign written and oral reports and involve students in projects and competitions such as spelling bees, science fairs, and math contests. Teachers study new learning methods to incorporate into the classroom.

Some teachers use different—even unorthodox—teaching tools to educate students. For example, a teacher might use role-playing exercises to liven up learning and keep their students interested. If their class is studying ancient Greece, an eighth-grade teacher may ask his or her students to write persuasive essays as either part of Odysseus' legal team or the Cyclops' legal team. The lesson may culminate in a mock trial, Athenian style.

To create unique exercises and activities, teachers need to devote a fair amount of time to preparation outside of the classroom. They prepare daily lesson plans and assignments, grade papers and tests, and keep a record of each student's progress. Other responsibilities include communicating with parents through written reports, e-mail, and scheduled meetings, keeping their classroom orderly, and decorating desks and bulletin boards to keep the learning environment visually stimulating.

Elementary school teachers may also teach music, art, and physical education, but specialized teachers often cover these areas. Art teachers develop art projects, procure supplies, and help students develop drawing, painting, sculpture, mural design, ceramics, and other artistic abilities. Some art teachers also teach students about the history of art and lead field trips to local museums. Music teachers teach music appreciation and history. They direct organized student groups such as choruses, bands, or orchestras, or guide music classes by accompanying them in singing songs or playing instruments. Often, music teachers are responsible for organizing school pageants, musicals, and plays. Physical education teachers help students develop physical skills such as coordination, strength, and stamina and social skills such as self-confidence and good sportsmanship. They often serve as sports coaches and may be responsible for organizing field days and intramural activities.

When working with elementary-aged children, educators need to teach social skills along with general school subjects. They serve as disciplinarians, establishing and enforcing rules of conduct to help students learn right from wrong. To keep the classroom manageable, teachers maintain a system of rewards and punishments to encourage students to behave, stay interested, and participate. In cases of classroom disputes, teachers must also be mediators, teaching their pupils to peacefully work through arguments.

Recent developments in school curricula have led to new teaching arrangements and methods. In some schools, one or more teachers work with students within a small age range instead of with particular grades. Other schools are adopting bilingual education, where students are instructed throughout the day in two languages by either a bilingual teacher or two separate teachers.

Many teachers find it rewarding to observe students develop and hone new skills and adopt an appreciation for learning. In fact, many teachers inspire their own students to later join the teaching profession.