What Is an Elementary School Teacher?

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Elementary school teachers play a crucial role in preparing children for future success. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 1.5 million teachers held jobs in public and private elementary schools across the U.S. as of 2020. The BLS projects a 4% growth in elementary school teaching jobs between 2019-2029.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over 1.5 million teachers held jobs in public and private elementary schools across the U.S. as of 2020.

Elementary teachers typically need a bachelor’s degree or higher. Public school teachers also need state licensure or certification. These education professionals interact daily with students, families, administrators, and support staff. Usual job duties include preparing lesson plans, delivering classroom instruction, and performing assessments.

This page details the path to becoming an elementary school teacher. We also delve into the profession’s history and explore necessary education and skills.

History of Elementary School Teachers

The earliest records of teachers in the United States date back to the colonial era. Especially in rural areas, school was typically open for only a handful of months in the year, usually the months that did not see a harvest. Early elementary school teachers were often community members who held other seasonal jobs.

The 20th century introduced the elementary school model and teacher seen today.

By the 1820s, the American schooling system began to change. Educators established Common Schools, marking the inception of modern public schooling. The 1840s brought a majority transition from male teachers to female teachers. The 20th century introduced the elementary school model and teacher seen today.

Similar Specializations and Career Paths

Prospective elementary school teachers may want to compare related career paths. Similar careers include educational development, counseling, and school psychology. Many school administrators began their careers as teachers. Administrative roles in K-12 education paid a median annual salary of $98,490 as of 2020, according to the BLS.

Many schools need counselors and instructional coordinators. School counselors may find work directly after completing their master’s program. These jobs emphasize different skills and strengths than elementary school teachers. Examine the table below to explore educational career paths outside of the classroom.

Career Description Required Education Required Experience Median Annual Salary
School Administrator Elementary school administration includes principals and assistant principals. These professionals monitor daily school operations. Master’s degree in education administration or leadership Five or more years of teaching experience $98,490 per year
School Counselor School counselors help students develop necessary social, academic, and career skills. Master’s degree in counseling or a related field Supervised experience and state licensure $58,120 per year
Instructional Coordinator Instructional coordinators create and assess learning material, and establish teaching standards. Master’s degree in teaching or curriculum and instruction Five or more years of related work experience, state licensure sometimes required $66,970 per year
School Psychologist School psychologists assess learners’ cognitive, emotional, and social well-being. They provide interventions and support for students, families, and schools. Master’s or doctoral degree with coursework in education and psychology Supervised experience after or during graduate study, state licensure $82,180 per year
Source: BLS
Explore Different Careers in the Field of Education

What Does an Elementary School Teacher Do?

Elementary school teachers instruct students from kindergarten through fifth grade in academic basics. They help learners develop social skills alongside reading, math, and writing proficiencies. Some elementary teachers specialize in subjects like music, languages, and art. Elementary school teachers communicate with parents and school administrators to help students stay on track.

First- and second-grade teachers often focus on hands-on activities. Third, fourth, and fifth grade teachers may introduce new subjects and more complicated ideas. Teachers at any grade level may face unruly students, so strong classroom management skills remain essential.

Key Soft Skills

  • Communication: Teachers need excellent communication skills to provide effective instruction. They must also clearly articulate expectations for assignments and classroom behavior.
  • Teamwork: Teachers need to work together with students, communities, and colleagues. Elementary instructors also teach their students teamwork skills by modeling and encouraging collaboration.
  • Social and Emotional Intelligence: Students in elementary school learn how to express their feelings in a healthy way. Teachers work with students to develop their social and emotional intelligence.
  • Problem-solving: Elementary school teachers rely on good problem-solving skills. Problems in the classroom inevitably arise and teachers must adjust.

Key Hard Skills

  • Presentations: Presentations add a visual element to classroom lectures. Creating compelling presentations can help keep students engaged in class.
  • Attention to Detail: While grading homework, teachers must pay close attention to detail. A detail-oriented outlook also helps teachers prevent mistakes in their presentations and assignments.
  • Management: Strong management skills help elementary school teachers keep an orderly and healthy classroom. Elementary education courses typically cover classroom management strategies.
  • Writing: Proper grammar, sentence structure, and word choice represent important skills for elementary school teachers. Teaching careers entail frequent writing, including emails to colleagues and student reports.

A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school teachers spend the majority of their day instructing students. This looks like performing assessments, teaching new material, and working through assignments. Teachers may escort students to music, P.E., or art classes. While students learn other subjects or play at recess, most teachers grade assignments or prep for upcoming lessons.

A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

Salary and Career Outlook for Elementary School Teachers

According to the BLS, elementary school teachers earned a median annual salary of $60,660 as of 2020. The BLS projects 4% job growth for elementary teachers from 2019-2029, on par with the national average for all occupations.

As more teachers retire, many school districts will need new teachers. Demand may vary by region. The BLS notes that urban and rural school districts may offer more opportunities than suburban areas. According to Projections Central, states with the most projected job openings for elementary teachers from 2018-2028 include California, Texas, and New York.

Additional credentials can help elementary school teachers qualify for other kinds of teaching. Potential specializations include early childhood education, special education, and teacher supervision. After several years in the classroom, some teachers pivot their careers toward administration. Principals, vice principals, and superintendents often hold teaching backgrounds.

Elementary School Teacher

Annual Median Salary


$60,660


Source: BLS

Learn More About Salary and Job Forecast for Elementary School Teachers

How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Requirements for teaching licensure or certification vary by state. Elementary teachers usually need at least a bachelor’s degree. Teachers in some states must also earn a master’s degree.

Many aspiring elementary school teachers take elementary education courses as part of a bachelor’s in education program. They can also double major in their desired subject area or earn a dual degree. Most states offer alternative educational paths for students with a non-education bachelor’s.

Full-time learners can usually complete teacher education requirements in 4-6 years. After earning their degree, teacher candidates must pass teaching tests and apply for state licensure. Read through the articles below to learn more.

Resources for Elementary School Teachers

Professional Organizations for Elementary School Teachers


Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the job description of an elementary school teacher?

    An elementary school teacher’s responsibilities include helping their students develop early social and learning skills that continue to grow throughout their education.

  • Is it hard to be an elementary school teacher?

    Most elementary school teachers face challenges with unruly students or managing curriculum standards. However, they also have the opportunity to make a tremendous impact on students’ lives.

  • Should I become an elementary school teacher?

    Each individual has their own reasons for why to become a teacher. Prospective elementary school teachers should enjoy interacting with students. Good communication and problem-solving skills also boost teachers toward success.

  • What makes a good elementary school teacher?

    Good elementary school teachers typically display enthusiasm, kindness, and fairness toward their students. Teachers need a strong understanding of child development and learning theory.


Featured Image: Digital Vision. / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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