Kindergarten and elementary school teachers instruct young students in basic subjects, such as math and reading, in order to prepare them for middle school.

Duties

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically do the following:

  • Create lesson plans to teach students subjects, such as reading, science, and math
  • Teach students how to interact with others
  • Observe students to evaluate their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Instruct an entire class or smaller groups of students
  • Grade students’ assignments
  • Communicate with parents or guardian about their child’s progress
  • Work with students individually to help them overcome specific learning challenges
  • Prepare students for standardized tests required by the state
  • Develop and enforce classroom rules to teach children proper behavior
  • Supervise children outside of the classroom—for example, during lunchtime or recess

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers help students learn and apply important concepts. Many teachers use a hands-on approach to help students understand abstract concepts, solve problems, and develop critical-thinking skills. For example, they may demonstrate how to do a science experiment and then have the students conduct the experiment themselves. They may have students work together to solve problems.

Elementary school typically goes from first through fifth or sixth grades. However, in some schools, elementary school continues through eighth grade.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically instruct students in several subjects throughout the day. Teachers may escort students to assemblies, recess, or classes taught by other teachers, such as art or music. While students are away from the classroom, teachers plan lessons, grade assignments, or meet with other teachers and staff.

In some schools, teachers may work on subject specialization teams in which they teach one or two specific subjects, typically either English and social studies or math and science. Generally, students spend half their time with one teacher and half their time with the other.

There are kindergarten and elementary school teachers who specialize in subjects such as art, music, or physical education.

Some schools employ English as a second language (ESL) or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) teachers who work exclusively with students learning the English language. These teachers work with students individually or in groups to help them improve their English language skills and to help them with class assignments.

Students with learning disabilities or emotional or behavioral disorders are often taught in traditional classes. Kindergarten and elementary teachers work with special education teachers to adapt lesson plans to these students’ needs and monitor the students’ progress. In some cases, kindergarten and elementary school teachers may co-teach lessons with special education teachers.

Some teachers use technology in their classroom as a teaching aide. They must be comfortable with using and learning new technology. Teachers also may maintain websites to communicate with parents about students’ assignments, upcoming events, and grades. For students in higher grades, teachers may create websites or discussion boards to present information or to expand on a lesson taught in class.

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Work Environment

Elementary school teachers, except special education held about 1.4 million jobs in 2018. The largest employers of elementary school teachers, except special education were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 85%
Elementary and secondary schools; private                    13

Kindergarten teachers, except special education held about 134,500 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of kindergarten teachers, except special education were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local 80%
Elementary and secondary schools; private                     14
Child day care services 3

Most states have tenure laws, which provide job security after a certain number of years of satisfactory teaching.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers may find it rewarding to watch students develop new skills and learn information. However, teaching may be stressful. Some schools have large classes and lack important teaching tools, such as computers and up-to-date textbooks. Some states are developing teacher mentoring programs and teacher development courses to help with the challenges of being a teacher.

Work Schedules

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers generally work during school hours when students are present. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after school. They often spend time in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons.

Many kindergarten and elementary school teachers work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers work during the summer.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row, and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new schooling session.

Education and Training

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers usually must have a bachelor’s degree. In addition, public school teachers must have a state-issued certification or license.

Education

Public kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. Private schools typically have the same requirement. Some states also require public kindergarten and elementary school teachers to major in a content area, such as math or science.

Those with a bachelor’s degree in another subject can still become elementary education teachers. They must complete a teacher education program to obtain certification to teach. Requirements vary by state.

In teacher education programs, future teachers learn how to present information to young students and how to work with young students of varying abilities and backgrounds. Programs typically include a student-teaching program, in which they work with a mentor teacher and get experience teaching students in a classroom setting. For information about teacher preparation programs in your state, visit Teach.org.

Some states require teachers to earn a master’s degree after receiving their teaching certification and obtaining a job.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require teachers in public schools to be licensed or certified in the specific grade level that they will teach. Those who teach in private schools typically do not need a license. Requirements for certification or licensure vary by state but generally involve the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree with a minimum grade point average
  • Completion of a student teaching program
  • Passing a background check
  • Passing a general teaching certification test, as well as a test that demonstrates their knowledge of the subject they will teach.

For information on certification requirements in your state, visit Teach.org.

Teachers are frequently required to complete professional development classes to keep their license or certification. Some states require teachers to complete a master’s degree after receiving their certification and obtaining a job.

All states offer an alternative route to certification or licensure for people who already have a bachelor’s degree but lack the education courses required for certification. Some alternative certification programs allow candidates to begin teaching immediately after graduation, under the supervision of an experienced teacher. These programs cover teaching methods and child development. After they complete the program, candidates are awarded full certification. Other programs require students to take classes in education before they can teach.

Advancement

Experienced teachers may advance to serve as mentors to new teachers or become lead teachers. In these roles, they help less-experienced teachers to improve their teaching skills.

With additional education or certification, teachers may become school counselors, school librarians, or instructional coordinators. Some become assistant principals or principals, both of which generally require additional schooling in education administration or leadership.

Personality and Interests

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers typically have an interest in the Creating and Helping interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Creating or Helping interest which might fit with a career as a kindergarten and elementary school teacher, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Teachers must collaborate with teacher assistants and special education teachers. In addition, they need to discuss students’ needs with parents and administrators.

Creativity. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must plan lessons that engage young students, adapting the lessons to different learning styles.

Patience. Working with students of different abilities and backgrounds can be difficult. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must respond with patience when students struggle with material.

Resourcefulness. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers need to be able to explain difficult concepts in terms that young students can understand. In addition, they must be able to get students engaged in learning and adapt their lessons meet students’ needs.

Pay

The median annual wage for elementary school teachers, except special education was $59,670 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,020, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,900.

The median annual wage for kindergarten teachers, except special education was $56,850 in May 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,420, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,180.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for elementary school teachers, except special education in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $60,870
Elementary and secondary schools; private                         48,100

In May 2019, the median annual wages for kindergarten teachers, except special education in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; local $58,380
Elementary and secondary schools; private                         46,470
Child day care services 34,190

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers generally work during school hours when students are present. They may meet with parents, students, and other teachers before and after school. They often spend time in the evenings and on weekends grading papers and preparing lessons.

Many kindergarten and elementary school teachers work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. They also have a short midwinter break. Some teachers work during the summer.

Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new school session.

Job Outlook

Overall employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers is projected to grow 3 percent from 2018 to 2028, slower than the average for all occupations. Rising student enrollment should increase demand for kindergarten and elementary teachers, but employment growth will vary by region.

The number of students enrolling in public kindergarten and elementary schools is expected to increase over the coming decade, and the number of classes needed to accommodate these students should rise. As a result, more teachers will be needed to teach public kindergarten and elementary school students.

Despite expected increases in enrollment in public schools, employment growth for kindergarten and elementary school teachers will depend on state and local government budgets. If state and local governments experience budget deficits, they may lay off employees, including teachers. As a result, employment growth of public kindergarten and elementary school teachers may be somewhat reduced.

Job Prospects

Some teachers are expected to reach retirement age over the coming decade. Their retirements may increase the need to replace workers who leave the occupation.

Opportunities will vary by region and school setting. There will be better opportunities in urban and rural school districts than in suburban school districts. Flexibility in job location may increase prospects.

For More Information

For more information about teaching and becoming a teacher, visit

American Federation of Teachers

National Education Association

Teach.org

For more information about teacher preparation programs, visit

Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation

 

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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