Teaching Elementary School

Thinking back to elementary school, you likely remember the excitement and thrill of learning new ideas, concepts, and subjects. You also likely remember a time where you encountered a problem that might have appeared seemingly impossible to solve.

Whether it was a complex math equation, or a particular hard-to-pronounce word, there was one person in the classroom who truly believed you had what it took to succeed – and did everything in his or her power to ensure that success.

Elementary school teachers dedicate themselves to empowering their students with the confidence and skills they need to meet and exceed expectations in the classroom. Seeing their students grow and succeed is rewarding, but it isn’t always easy.

Elementary school teachers must develop a thorough understanding of the different school subjects they teach, discover proven teaching methods, and practice effective communication skills in order to teach their students correctly.

If you’re interested in following this path, discover some of the typical subjects, skills, and requirements needed by elementary school teachers today.

What is it like?

Life as an elementary school teacher is challenging and time-consuming, but very fulfilling. Many teachers report that the long hours spent grading and helping students is all worth it for that moment of clarity a student experiences when they finally understand a new concept.

In order to effectively prepare for a long day of lessons and activities, teachers must arrive at school bright and early – typically an hour before their students arrive.

During preparatory time, teachers set up their classrooms, make last minute lesson plan changes, and check in with administrative officials.

As students begin to file into the classroom, some schools provide a small block of free time in the morning where students are encouraged to write, draw, read, or complete other creative tasks. This is a great time of the day for teachers to interact with students individually, exploring creative possibilities.

After this brief period of free time, teachers jump into lessons. Depending on a school’s schedule, different subjects will be taught at different times. The following are a few of the common subjects elementary school teachers teach, in addition to the elements that make up those subjects.

English Language Arts

Some of the most crucial skills elementary school students develop include reading and writing skills – skills with far-reaching effects that will impact them for the rest of their lives.

Elementary school teachers must develop an understanding of the ways students learn to read and write, and then implement teaching techniques to nurture the growth of these skills.

There are several critical elements to effective reading instruction in middle school. First, teachers must focus on helping students develop phonetic and word analysis skills. By developing their phonetic skills, students begin to increase the accuracy and fluency of their reading, and use a variety of strategies to deconstruct unfamiliar words.

To improve their students’ accuracy and fluency, teachers encourage students to read out loud in class, where students practice new words and phrases. As these words become more familiar, pronunciation and comprehension increases and becomes easier for students.

Another major part of elementary school English class is building a more complex vocabulary. Teachers often use explicit instruction to expand a student’s knowledge of the meanings of words, assigning in-class projects and homework where students match vocabulary words to different definitions.

Some teachers may also require students to include these vocabulary words in writing exercises, further cementing a word’s definition in a student’s mind.

With increased knowledge of vocabulary, teachers also guide their students in reading comprehension. During elementary school, students begin to learn specific comprehension strategies, such as story structure and grammar styles, to increase their understanding of fiction and nonfiction literature.

The National Council of Teachers of English offers resources and support to help teachers convey the importance of proper English use to students. By taking web seminars and examining professional journals, teachers improve their professional skills and discover new ways to teach English.


During elementary school, students begin to expand their understanding of basic mathematical concepts that become the basis for future math successes. Teachers primarily work with elementary-aged students to develop “number sense” in their first few years of school.

Number sense refers to the ability to speak numbers, learning to write them, learning to count them, and learning how they all interact together in math problems. Eventually, this number sense allows students to instantly recall answers. For example, a beginning math student may need to count with fingers to discover the answer to “2+2,” but eventually will automatically recall the answer with repetition.

Teachers also lead their students to discover patterns in the mathematical world. By observing these patterns, teachers prepare students for algebraic reasoning, geometric concepts, and future problem-solving.

Students also explore units of measurement in elementary school math class, such as length and time. These seemingly basic concepts may appear confusing to young students, so teachers must understand teaching techniques that help them clearly convey these subjects to their students.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics provides a number of resources to math teachers of elementary students. Specifically, teachers can explore lesson plans and classroom activities to help spur mathematical understanding in their students.

The organization’s journal, Teaching Children Mathematics, provides teaching strategies and personal accounts from teachers who have successfully taught their students math concepts.


Elementary school students have a natural desire to explore the world around them – a desire satisfied through successful science instruction.

In elementary school science class, students explore the properties of the earth, the organisms that inhabit it, and how changes in the environment affect these organisms.

Earth science consists of a major portion of elementary school science class, allowing students to understand the rocks and minerals that make up the planet. Students also learn about the atmosphere above the Earth, discovering why certain weather patterns occur.

Teachers lead students through lessons exploring biological concepts, such as how all organisms are made up of cells, and how animals change over time, become extinct, and interact with each other in the wild.

According to The National Science Teachers Association, elementary school students learn science best when they are involved in first-hand exploration and investigation. Teachers should use a variety of presentation skills in order to meet the differing needs of their students.

For example, teachers may provide multiple ways for a science assignment to be completed. If students must label parts of an insect, teachers may ask students to either bring in an insect and give an oral presentation, or submit a written report explaining the different traits of the insect.

Regardless of the particular topic, great elementary teachers can have a tremendously enjoyable time helping students explore our natural world through science.

Social Studies

Much like how students explore the properties of the Earth in science class, students gain an understanding of how civilizations and geography have shaped the planet in social studies class.

Elementary school students typically focus heavily on U.S. history, examining how it came to become a world power today. In addition to U.S. history, students explore ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians, and compare them to civilizations today.

Teachers use these educational experiences to help children comprehend the political world around them. Without a solid understanding of how government, civilizations, history, and geography interact, students will be unprepared to participate in society in the future.

Social studies class fosters critical thinking skills in students, as they ponder the rise and fall of different countries. By third grade, most elementary school students have sufficient critical thinking abilities to explore cause-and-effect concepts, such as the fall of Rome due to over-expansion.

A major portion of social studies involves using reading, research, and writing skills to explain past occurrences. This provides a significant crossover for students who excel in English class, allowing them to explore different writing styles in multiple class periods. Social studies teachers must assist elementary school students in developing research and writing skills through various teaching techniques and classroom assignments.

The National Council for the Social Studies gives teachers tips, advice, and links for lesson ideas and planning for elementary-aged students. By using the website, teachers can stay up to date on new concepts in social studies teaching, and look at ways of incorporating critical-thinking exercises in the classroom.

Additional teaching responsibilities

While the majority of a teacher’s day is spent leading lessons in the various elementary school subjects, teachers must also develop professional relationships with their students outside of class time.

Many times, there are a number of students who don’t seem to follow along in class, or might appear more confused than other students. Teachers must offer to help students individually or in small groups, providing additional instructional time for this struggling group.

Even after the school day is over and teachers go home, the work doesn’t always end. Teachers might need to spend evenings grading homework, tests, or papers. A career in teaching truly requires instructors to love helping their students.

If you’re interested in becoming an elementary school teacher, examine how to earn a job in the field.

Can I Get a Job?

Contrary to some negative reports and predictions, job growth for teachers will remain positive in the future.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of elementary school teachers is predicted to grow by 17% from 2010-20. This is about as fast as the average job growth for all other professions during this time period.

Driving this positive job growth will be declining student-teacher ratios, leading to an increase in teachers being hired to provide the highest quality education to students. According to reports from the B.L.S., a significant number of older teachers will retire between 2010-20, making way for a younger generation to enter the field.

Additionally, the number of students entering elementary schools will increase between 2010 and 2020, meaning the number of classes must increase to meet this need. As more classes are added, schools must hire more teachers to lead these classes.

There are a number of steps teachers might take to increase their chances of getting a job after graduating college. One of the major ways teachers make themselves more attractive to employers is by padding their resumes with memberships to teacher organizations and gaining work experiences before seeking a full-time job.

For example, many teachers obtain jobs by applying for and joining Teach for America. Teach for America is a national organization focused on placing teachers in high-need areas of the country. For more information on the benefits of joining Teach for America, click here.

Some states also offer teaching fellowships to student teachers, training students to teach in specific areas. Different states offer different teaching fellowship programs, but some will even fund a teacher’s education if he or she commits to teaching in-state for a certain amount of time.

Another way to gain experience before obtaining a full-time teacher job is to substitute teach. Substitute teaching allows an individual to gain first-hand experience as a part-time teacher, learning about the various tasks and requirements of teaching as a career. When employers look over a resume and see previous substitute teaching experience, they already know that a potential teacher understands what is required of him or her.

Even with experience and other credentials, some potential teachers find job searching difficult because they neglect networking. Networking allows teachers to meet potential employers and coworkers in a professional setting. Often, the best way to network is by joining a professional teacher association.

A master’s degree in education also helps teachers stand out in a crowded job market. With a master’s degree, a teacher shows that she or he has a significant amount of knowledge to pull from when teaching students.

Teachers should not be afraid of being flexible, or moving to an unexpected location, or teaching in an area he or she didn’t expect. According to the BLS, teachers will experience the fastest rate of job growth in the South and the West. Teachers willing to move and compromise will find the greatest success in their job searches.

What Salary Should I Expect?

As of May 2010, the median annual wage for elementary school teachers was $51,660.

Of course, this salary fluctuates depending on the school district, state, and the educational and professional experience of a teacher. Entry-level elementary school teachers should expect to make between $25,000 and $33,000.

With experience and promotion, elementary school teachers can even make up to $80,000, according to figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Typically, these teachers are leaders in their departments, or take more administrative roles in their schools.

It’s also possible to increase this entry-level salary by earning a master’s degree in education. With a master’s degree, entry-level teachers typically see salary increases of up to 15% compared to those without master’s degrees.

How Do I Become an Elementary School Teacher?

Becoming an elementary school teacher is a significant process, wherein an individual completes a teacher preparation program, earns a teaching degree, and then applies for state teacher certification.

In a teacher preparation program, a student gains the content and pedagogical knowledge necessary to teach children. This might include classes on social studies, English, math, and science, depending on a potential teacher’s focus area.

Teacher preparation also gives individuals plenty of student teaching opportunities, allowing them to apply what they’ve learned in class to a real-life setting. After completion of their preparation program, teachers must apply for state certification.

Elementary school teacher certification requires individuals to pass tests and meet a set of standards to earn the ability to teach in a state. For more information on the certification process, and the different avenues to teacher certification, click here.

Becoming a certified elementary school teacher is one thing – it’s another to be an effective elementary school teacher. Good elementary school teachers have credentials that extend beyond tangible awards or certifications.

A good elementary school teacher must have an excellent attitude and true love of helping children succeed to the best of their abilities. Great elementary school teachers relish challenges, meeting them head on. These individuals aren’t afraid to take risks, make mistakes, and ask for help from administrators or fellow teachers.

With proper teacher preparation, and more importantly, a positive attitude, potential teachers can make a true difference in the lives of their students.

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