Elementary School Teachers


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Follow your school's college preparatory program and take advanced courses in English, mathematics, science, history, and government to prepare for an education degree. Art, music, physical education, and extracurricular activities will contribute to a broad base of knowledge necessary to teach a variety of subjects. Composition, journalism, and communications classes are also important for developing your writing and speaking skills. Taking a foreign language, such as Spanish, will help you to work with students who do not speak English as a first language.

Postsecondary Training

All 50 states and the District of Columbia require public elementary education teachers to have a bachelor's degree in either education or in the subject they plan to teach. Prospective teachers must also complete an approved training program. In the United States, there are about 670 accredited teacher education programs, which combine subject and educational classes with work experience in the classroom. Visit https://www.teach.org/become/programs for advice on choosing a program. 

Though programs vary by state, courses cover how to provide instruction in language arts, mathematics, physical science, social science, art, and music. Additionally, prospective teachers must take educational training courses, such as philosophy of education, child psychology, and learning methods. To gain experience in the classroom, student teachers are placed in a school to work with a full-time teacher. During this training period, student teachers observe the ways in which lessons are presented and the classroom is managed, learn how to keep records of attendance and grades, and gain experience in handling the class, both under supervision and alone.

Some states require prospective teachers to have master's degrees in education and specialized technology training to keep them familiar with more modern teaching methods using computers and the Internet.

Other Education or Training

Childhood Education International offers professional development courses to its members. Elementary schools teachers can also seek out continuing education opportunities via professional associations at the state and local levels.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers voluntary national certification in 25 areas representing 16 different disciplines and four developmental levels. Contact the board at http://www.boardcertifiedteachers.org for information on available credentials and eligibility criteria.

Public school teachers must be licensed under regulations established by the state in which they are teaching. If moving, teachers have to comply with any other regulations in their new state to be able to teach, though many states have reciprocity agreements that make it easier for teachers to change locations.

Licensure examinations test prospective teachers for competency in basic subjects such as mathematics, reading, writing, teaching, and other subject matter proficiency. In addition, many states are moving towards a performance-based evaluation for licensing. In this case, after passing the teaching examination, prospective teachers are given provisional licenses. Only after proving themselves capable in the classroom are they eligible for a full license.

Another growing trend spurred by recent teacher shortages is alternative licensure arrangements. For those who have a bachelor's degree but lack formal education courses and training in the classroom, states can issue a provisional license. These workers immediately begin teaching under the supervision of a licensed educator for one to two years and take education classes outside of their working hours. Once they have completed the required course work and gained experience in the classroom, they are granted a full license. This flexible licensing arrangement has helped to bring additional teachers into school systems needing instructors.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

One of the best ways to gain experience in the field is to work as a student teacher, which is often a requirement of your education degree program.

Many consider the desire to teach a calling. This calling is based on a love of children and a dedication to their welfare. If you want to become a teacher, you must respect children as individuals, with personalities, strengths, and weaknesses of their own. You must also be patient, self-disciplined, and have excellent communication and interpersonal skills to manage a large group independently. Teachers make a powerful impression on children, so they need to serve as good role models.