Elementary Education: Day in the Life

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Elementary school teachers help students build a strong foundation for learning. They also play a critical role in child development. Elementary school typically consists of first through fifth grades.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), elementary teachers earned a median annual salary of $60,940 in May 2020.

Elementary school teachers instruct lessons in multiple subjects, including reading, writing, math, and social studies. Some elementary teachers specialize in teaching music, art, science, or physical education.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), elementary teachers earned a median annual salary of $60,940 in May 2020. Employment for elementary teachers is projected to grow 4% from 2019-2029.

This page offers in-depth information about the daily experiences of elementary school teachers, including responsibilities and requirements for working in the classroom.

What Is an Elementary School Teacher?

Elementary school teachers educate young children in multiple subjects as they develop new skills for learning. Elementary teachers come from all backgrounds and receive specialized education for teaching in classroom settings.

Elementary school teachers typically teach one group of students, instructing in different subject areas throughout the school day. Elementary teachers guide students as they take lunch, recess, or special subjects in other classrooms.

Compassionate, patient, and resilient people might find that elementary school teaching suits them well.

Elementary teaching positions typically require a bachelor’s degree in education; however, some employers allow teachers to begin teaching while earning their degree. A teaching license is required for public school teaching, while private schools may offer alternative requirements.

Read More About Elementary School Teachers

What an Elementary School Teacher Does

Elementary educators help children gain new skills and knowledge to use in the classroom and in life. Creative thinkers, those who like to help others, and people who enjoy spending time with children may thrive as elementary teachers.

Elementary teachers teach core subjects like reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. Teachers also help students develop emotional and social skills. They develop lesson plans to guide students through daily learning activities. Teachers often create lessons and grade classroom assignments during evening or weekend hours.

In addition to skillful instruction, elementary teachers require keen observation skills, carefully assessing children’s social development. Elementary teachers communicate with parents or guardians regarding their student’s progress throughout the school year.

Most elementary school teachers work a ten-month school year with a two-month break in the summer. Some teachers teach at year-round schools, taking multi-week breaks every few months.

Participating in continuing education and professional development opportunities may further develop teaching abilities and boost confidence. Teacher leadership and coaching opportunities arise for those with high levels of experience. Obtaining a master’s degree in elementary education may introduce new opportunities to lead, teach additional content, or receive a salary increase.

Main Responsibilities of Teaching Elementary Education

  • Create Lesson Plans: Teachers develop daily lesson plans that outline instructional activities for each content area. These plans include step-by-step directions to guide teachers through activities. Lessons typically connect to build a curriculum spanning an entire school year.
  • Teach Core Content: Local and state districts often define content standards for teachers and schools. Elementary teachers instruct students in each subject area, providing students opportunities to engage with new content.
  • Grade Assessments: Elementary teachers create many types of assessments for students. Assessments may include tests, presentations, and observations. Teachers evaluate student learning and comprehension based on graded assignments. Grading assignments may require time outside of regular school hours.
  • Observe Student Behavior: Teachers observe students daily in the classroom. Teachers evaluate student behavior, social skills, and emotional development through methods of observation. Observing students also helps teachers maintain classroom safety.
  • Communicate With Families: A key responsibility for elementary teachers is communicating with parents and guardians throughout the school year. Communications may include phone calls, emails, or in-person meetings. Teachers discuss student progress or concerns related to their learning and classroom behaviors.

Additional Duties Teachers Sometimes Take On

  • Activities Monitor: Schools may ask teachers to share the responsibilities of monitoring students in the hallways or during lunch and recess. These duties vary based on school needs. Some schools provide separate lunch or recess monitors, while others may prefer that students eat lunch in their classrooms or cafeterias.
  • Coaching Teachers: As teachers gain experience and knowledge, many are asked to guide less experienced teachers. Coaching may include supporting and assessing student teachers or new teachers in the classroom.
  • Lead Professional Development: School administrators might ask experienced teachers to lead professional development sessions throughout the school year. Professional development provides groups of teachers an opportunity to learn new skills or gain expertise in specific areas. These sessions include topics on classroom management, supporting students, or curriculum mapping.
  • Organizing Field Trips: Teacher responsibilities may include field trip planning and facilitation. This task varies based on available opportunities and school funding. Organizing field trips include selecting locations, coordinating timing and student needs, and gathering chaperones to support the outing. Field trips can enhance classroom learning.
  • Teach Social and Emotional Skills: Elementary schools require different levels of teacher interaction regarding students’ social and emotional development. Some teachers directly teach social-emotional skills to students through specialized activities, while others guide students indirectly.

Typical Day of an Elementary School Teacher

The typical day of an elementary school teacher includes various responsibilities throughout the school day. Some tasks vary based on individual school needs, while others are specific for elementary teachers.

Before School

Elementary educators often begin their teaching day before students arrive at school. Setting up the classroom for activities or meetings with parents or guardians may require that teachers arrive in the school building before the school day begins.

Teachers may welcome students into the school building or their classroom, allowing students time to socialize with their peers. Elementary teachers may have a morning meeting to start the school day.

School Hours

Throughout the school day, teachers lead students through various learning activities based on their descriptive lesson plans. Lessons can last 10 to 45 minutes each. Through observation, assessment, and appropriate guidance, teachers support student development in each subject area.

Lunch, recess, and hallway monitoring may take place for some elementary teachers during the school day. Teachers may lead students to other classrooms for art, music, physical education, or other specialized classes.

After School

After-school responsibilities for teachers vary greatly depending on specific school requirements. Many teachers use time after students leave the classroom to clean or prepare the space for the following day.

Teachers also grade assignments, communicate with parents and guardians, and attend professional development sessions. Meetings between teachers and administration may also occur after school. Additionally, teachers might be required to lead after-school activities or host tutoring and homework help sessions.

Professional Spotlight: Stacey Austin, Elementary School Teacher

What previous experience(s) did you have in this (or related) field (professionally, as a volunteer, etc.), if any, and what prompted your journey to become an elementary school teacher?

While in college, I had the opportunity to tutor at a local church. I enjoyed working with those children, and many of the church staff encouraged me to pursue a career in education.

If you specialize in a particular subject or work in a particular sector (private vs. public, for example), what prompted this choice and/or how did it evolve?

I am a product of public school education, and I enjoyed those years. Some people look down on the quality of public education, and I wanted to help prove those people wrong!

For whom do you think this career is a good fit? Why?

Education is ideal for an individual that is creative, caring, perceptive, understanding and accepting of others. The ability to adapt to change and being very open minded are important in this career. Educators are faced with a plethora of personalities and learning styles in their classroom. All the qualities listed above are necessary to meet the needs of their students.

What educational path did you take to become an elementary school teacher? Did you pursue additional education at any point? What was your educational experience like?

Since my undergraduate degree was in criminal justice, I decided to attend the University of Phoenix to receive my master’s in elementary education. I attended the online classes, and I was thankful for the flexibility of the curriculum. However, since I was switching careers, I found the course to be rigorous at times. I was thankful for the support of the professors and counselor.

What certification and licensure tests did you need to pass to become a teacher and/or progress in your career? I needed to take the Virginia Communication and Literacy Assessment (VCLA), Praxis subject assessments, and Reading for Virginia Educators (RVE).

How did you prepare for them?

To prepare for these tests, I ordered study guide books for each test and took practice tests.

What were they like?

The tests were challenging for me because there were many concepts and terms I had only seen in the book. Not having any classroom experience made it difficult for me to visualize some of these concepts.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Before the pandemic, I usually started my day by reviewing my lesson plans and ensuring the material needed for each lesson was easily accessible. Then, I took a few moments to mentally prepare myself. I know my students, and I like to visualize how the lessons would play out based on prior experiences. Next, I greeted my students, and we got our morning routine underway. The day continued to progress, and the students would have lunch before going to art, music, PE, or library. Our day usually ended with science or social science, and then I would have students write in their agendas before they pack-up.

During the pandemic, my day looked different. I had the opportunity to work virtually all year. I continued to start my day by reviewing my lesson plans, but I had to make sure the various websites or online resources were accessible. After reviewing the lessons, I would take a moment to mentally prepare myself again, but this time I would think of back-up plans in case an online resource went down during a lesson. Next my students would log into Google Meet, and we would watch the Morning Show, followed by our Morning Meeting. After that, my students would have a break before reading and math. Our virtual schedule was difficult for some students because they would not be on the computer from 9:45 – 1:30. When students returned to class at 1:30, it was challenging for some to engage in the lessons for the final hour. Our day ended with writing, social science, or science, and then students would sign-off for the day.

What’s your favorite part of being an elementary school teacher?

My favorite part of being an elementary school teacher is watching students beam with pride after successfully demonstrating their understanding of a lesson.

The most challenging part?

One of the most challenging parts of teaching is the need to be flexible. Teachers must be prepared for anything, and we must make changes to a lesson or our schedules at the last minute.

What advice do you have for individuals considering becoming an elementary school teacher?

Always be flexible! You will have experiences that you did not learn about in school, so go with the flow.

What do you wish you’d known before becoming an elementary school teacher?

Your title may say educator, but you will have to wear many hats as a teacher. Some other hats teachers may wear are therapist, nurse, counselor, and many others.

Portrait of Stacey Austin

Stacey Austin

Stacey received her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Radford University. After graduating, she went into the corporate world and had a typical 9-to-5 job, but she wasn’t happy. Her desire to teach and her love of working with children drew her to the University of Phoenix, where she received her master’s in elementary education.

Teachers must be prepared for anything, and we must make changes to a lesson or our schedules at the last minute.

Where Elementary School Teachers Can Find Work

The number of available elementary teaching positions varies for each state. States with some of the highest employment rates for elementary teachers include California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

According to BLS, elementary school teachers held 1.5 million jobs in 2020, with 85% working in public schools. Projected growth rates for teachers suggest that some states may experience higher demand to accommodate an increase in student populations.

Metropolitan areas tend to need more elementary teachers than rural or less populated areas. Some rural areas receive less funding for education and pay lower salaries, yet need more teachers in their education systems.

Earning a degree, certification, or licensure in elementary education can improve your chances of getting a job. Additional education, such as a graduate degree or continuing education classes can also increase your job prospects.

Elementary school teachers’ salaries vary depending on location, private or public school status, level of education, and experience. States with the highest annual mean salaries do not always employ the most teachers.

State Annual Mean Salary Employment Level
California $85,110 156,920
Massachusetts $84,810 29,900
New York $84,380 92,700
Connecticut $79,610 15,000
District of Columbia $78,840 4,150
Illinois $66,140 57,880
Florida $57,520 73,840
Texas $56,760 131,370
Source: BLS
See How Location Affects Salary for Elementary School Teachers

Should You Become an Elementary School Teacher?

A career in elementary education helps capitalize on your desire to help others, particularly young people. Elementary teachers further develop their resourcefulness, patience, and resilience characteristics.

New teachers may experience challenges getting used to the demands of classroom teaching. Some challenges might include maintaining energy throughout the school day, engaging students in new content, or developing lesson plans.

As your teaching career progresses, continuing education classes support the need for ongoing development as an educator. Implementing new learnings may prove difficult as you develop preferred routines, but ongoing training helps you become a more effective and engaging teacher.

As you gain teaching experience, you may welcome new responsibilities such as coaching other teachers or leading professional development sessions. Some of these responsibilities come with higher salaries while others offer valuable experience.

Learn How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

How to Prepare for Life as an Elementary Teacher

Prepare for life as an elementary teacher by making a plan and developing strategies for maintaining balance. Most teaching positions require at least a bachelor’s degree in an education related field. When searching for an elementary education degree program that’s right for you, consider your desired level of education and time available to dedicate to your studies.

In addition to a degree, some states require you to pass an exam to receive a teaching license. Check your state’s teaching requirements to plan accordingly.

Plan your daily and weekly teaching schedules with time for lesson planning, classroom preparation, and grading. These aspects of teaching can take a lot of time. Making a plan will help you balance your days to include rest and rejuvenation.

Maintaining a balance is important. Allow time to relax after teaching each day to limit the potential of being overwhelmed.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is being an elementary teacher stressful?

    Working as an elementary teacher can be stressful for new and experienced teachers alike. Some possible stressors include creating daily lesson plans, grading assignments, and maintaining student interest in learning.

  • What is it like to teach elementary students?

    Teaching elementary students requires a steady flow of energy, patience, and adaptability. This fulfilling career suits those interested in guiding young people through new learnings and teaching foundational skills.

  • What do elementary teachers teach?

    Elementary school teachers teach foundational subject areas such as math, reading, writing, and social studies. Elementary teachers may also teach social and communication skills to their students.

  • How many years does it take to become an elementary school teacher?

    Typically a bachelor’s degree in an education program, completed in about four years, allows you to teach elementary school. Public school teachers must also have a license or certification issued by the state.


Featured Image: Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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