Elementary school teachers play a crucial role in society. After all, children between the ages of five and 13 will spend a majority of their time outside of the home with elementary school teachers. And while students will experience a variety of teachers during their elementary school years, one teacher can have an incredible impact on a child’s life.

For some of us, our teacher’s lessons were so profound that we felt inspired to become elementary teachers ourselves. But becoming an elementary school teacher is no ordinary task. Despite the small stature of the students, the road to teacher-hood can entail some large obstacles. Read on to learn how to become an elementary teacher, from earning a certification to understanding the many responsibilities teachers must shoulder.

Do you dream of being an elementary school teacher? Here’s what to consider

The career path of an elementary school teacher is a rewarding one, and it’s easy to be excited by the difference you can make. However, it’s important to take a step back and look at the process you’ll need to go through to become a teacher. There are many requirements you must meet before you’re decorating your classroom and welcoming a bunch of wide-eyed, nervous kids on the first day of school.

If you’re considering becoming an elementary school teacher, you’ve probably wondered about the general “feel” of the job. There is more to running an elementary school classroom than teaching ‘2 + 2’ and then jumping to storytime. Teachers wear many hats, and have many job responsibilities and expectations.

This article will outline an elementary school teacher’s general work day and hours. It will also describe extracurricular activities you might be involved with as an elementary school teacher, the best ways to deal with parents, and what you might do during summer vacations.

After discussing what it’s like to be an elementary school teacher, we will answer another popular question: how long does it take to become an elementary school teacher? Before you have a classroom of your own, a majority of your time will be spent getting your education and credentials up to speed. This timing may differ based on the educational route you are pursuing. Learn the differences between various options for teacher training.

Elementary school teachers are expected to have a certain amount of time to offer both in and outside the school building. In addition, there are certain credentials, test scores, and other professional criteria teachers must meet. Finally, teachers must master soft skills including patience, creativity, and a willingness to continue learning. After outlining the timeline for teacher preparation, we’ll look step-by-step at these requirements.

Last but not least, we will tackle one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to teaching: how much money does an elementary school teacher make?

While there are many steps to becoming an elementary school teacher, it is a journey worth taking. Whether it’s coming up with creative art projects, or instilling passion for reading in young minds, the task before you is a special one. What seems simple, and at times silly, can actually be life changing for a student. But first, you have to take the leap. So let’s dive into how to become an elementary school teacher!

(Note: our guidelines are from a general point of view in terms of requirements, responsibilities, and specifics. The lifestyle and requirements placed on teachers can vary depending on school and state. It’s always a good idea to double check information for the state in which you want to teach.)

A day in the life of an elementary school teacher

So what’s it truly like to be an elementary school teacher? This question should be fundamental to your pursuit of a teaching career. Developing a realistic idea of what you’re getting into can spare a lot of growing pains down the road.

While being an elementary school teacher isn’t for everyone, those who do the job (and relish it) know that unexpected twists and challenges only add to the excitement. After all, a day can range from monotonously grading papers, to reading books and building dioramas, to successfully shepherding 30 excited children down a hallway with little to no injuries!

In general, the responsibilities of an elementary school teacher can boil down to three domains: pre-class, class, and post-class.

Pre-class responsibilities include everything you’ll need to do to pull off a successful lesson. This can include tasks completed well in advance, such as getting your classroom decorated, primed, and organized for students before the first day of school. Pre-class can also include time spent getting yourself equipped to be a stellar teacher. Many teachers spend their summers taking special seminars or training programs for this reason, mastering another skillset to pass off to their students, or developing their pedagogy to improve their instruction. During the school year, creative and ambitious teachers also engage their classrooms with various activities, games, and crafts; these all require pre-class planning and set up.

After pre-class responsibilities, you must think about what actually goes on in a classroom full of students. While class time is often considered the most important area of focus for a teacher, it does not make up the majority of a teacher’s working hours. This is important to note when considering a teaching career. In fact, it’s estimated that elementary school teachers only spend some 19 hours of their workweek on actual instruction.

That said, these 19 hours a week are where the teacher’s pre-class work pays off, and where teachers really get to interact with their students. Engaging with and managing a classroom full of students is one of the key roles of an elementary school teacher. On average, elementary school class sizes range from 20-30 students depending on the state. This number of students can be quite a handful for some teachers, so it is important to be aware of teacher-student ratios before taking on a class of your own.

School structure and subject allotment can vary, but elementary school teachers are generally responsible for teaching several subjects to the same group of students. So you could very well be teaching reading in the morning, then transitioning to history, then teaching mathematics in the afternoon. Some schools departmentalize based on grade, however, which means teachers have rotating classes and instruct each class on only one subject.

Once the students file out of the classroom for the day, a teacher’s post-class work begins. This can still happen within the confines of a school building, but many teachers take the work home as well. In fact, over 35% of a teacher’s workload occurs outside the classroom. This can entail many different tasks. The most obvious would be grading papers and homework from previous class sessions, but teachers have a lot of administrative tasks to tend to as well. Such obligations include attending meetings with other teachers and school administrators, filing documents, and coaching extracurricular activities like sports clubs, academic competitions, and extra study sessions.

Of course, after all this there still remains one giant responsibility to which teachers must attend: dealing with parents. Parent interaction is a key responsibility for teachers, and can occasionally lead to some frustration. However, if handled well, effective communication and positive interactions with parents can be hugely beneficial to students. (Check This Out: How to Help Your Child Organize Her Homework)

The traditional route

The traditional route to becoming a teacher involves getting your Bachelor’s Degree in Education at an accredited university. This means your Bachelor’s degree and teacher training are all wrapped up in a nice package. You’ll do normal course work, then branch out on specific courses geared towards education. Next, you’ll do your teaching internship and classroom time, and finally, you graduate.

Upon graduation, you’ll be ready to sit for your required exam and gain certification. The nuts and bolts of these exams differ by state. For instance, the Texas Examination of Educator Standards has different requirements than the Michigan Test for Teacher Certification. You should make sure to familiarize yourself with your state’s specific exam requirements.

Because the traditional route is part of a degree program, you can expect this option to take approximately 4 years to complete in full.

The non-traditional route

The non-traditional route to becoming an elementary school teacher is generally shorter than the traditional route, particularly if you already have a bachelor’s degree.

If you don’t already have bachelor’s degree, you’ll generally have to enroll in an approved preparation program in your state.

If you do have a bachelor’s degree, but your degree is not in education, you’ll want to pursue an alternative certification program. Some of these can even include an accelerated path with on-site training, and sometimes even a paid internship. These programs will get you up to speed and ready to sit for your certification exam, often within only one year.

What you’ll need

Depending on your academic background, becoming a teacher can take anywhere from from 1-4 years. Whether you choose the traditional or non-traditional route, there are some additional steps you will be required to take on your path to the classroom. We can divide these requirements into two categories: hard requirements and soft requirements. When we say hard and soft, we don’t mean difficult and easy. Hard requirements represent tangible demands, and soft requirements represent intangible expectations for pre-service teachers.

Hard requirement: degrees and licenses

A hard requirement of becoming an elementary school teacher is that you’ll need both a degree and a teaching license. The exact type of degree isn’t a make-or-break factor in whether or not you can become an elementary school teacher, but you’ll at least need a bachelor’s degree. Earning your bachelor’s degree in education definitely simplifies the process, because it primes you to sit for an exam to obtain the proper teaching license or certification for your state. These certification can range from Professional Certifications for specific states, to temporary certifications, to out-of-state certifications.

In addition to requiring a degree, most certifications expect you to have logged a certain number of hours interning or student teaching in a classroom. Some schools also require various practical certifications, such as CPR training.

Soft requirement: flexibility and positivity

There are many soft requirements for becoming an elementary school teacher, but one that cannot be overstated is flexibility. An elementary school teacher works with a broad range of age groups and subjects, and being willing and able to teach in as many different scenarios as possible primes you for an effective and successful career as a teacher. After all, elementary schools are full of children — meaning you never know what might happen next. A little bit of flexibility and positivity can go a long way!

Becoming an elementary school teacher: step-by-step

While the exact process for becoming an elementary school teacher can vary a bit by state, it generally entails the following steps:

Step 1: Get a bachelor’s degree. The first thing you’ll want to do is get your bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. If you know that you want to become an elementary school teacher, opt for a degree in education. Even if you do not major in education, you will be able to pursue your teaching certification once a bachelor’s degree is in hand.

Step 2: Complete your student teaching. If you pursue a degree in education, this component will likely be wrapped up in your degree program. If not, you’ll tackle student teaching via your alternative certification route. In general, expect to spend at least 10 weeks student teaching and learning the ins and outs of managing a classroom.

Step 3: Study and sit for your certification exam. After you complete your degree in education — or your alternative certification program — you’ll be ready to sit for your state’s certification exam. Study hard, ace the test, and you’ll be good to go!

Step 4: Start applying for jobs! After passing your certification exam, the last item on your list is to start searching for and applying to elementary school teaching jobs. Don’t be shy about attending hiring fairs, asking for referrals, and drawing on what you’ve learned through student teaching. Take the opportunity to show that you’re a great fit for any school!

Continuing to learn and grow is also a key component to being an elementary school teacher. So even after you’ve acquired a position, attending conferences and pursuing further certifications is a great idea.

Elementary school teacher salary

Should you become an elementary school teacher, the employment outlook is pretty good. For starters, there were over a million and a half available elementary school teacher jobs available in 2016, and so far the estimates are that the field will continue to grow. The payoff isn’t half bad either, as elementary school teachers average around $55,490 per year. Teacher assistants, by contrast, average $26,260.

Good luck

As an elementary school teacher, you will have the opportunity to play a big role in the lives of children. The numerous requirements may seem overwhelming, but just focus on one step at a time. Before you know it, you will have classroom of your own!

Works cited

Texas Educator Alternative Certification Program. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Educators/Preparation_and_Continuing_Education/Becoming_a_Certified_Texas_Educator_Through_an_Alternative_Certification_Program/

Do Teachers Really Work 180 Days Per Year? (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from http://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/tech048.shtml

Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_007.asp

Summary. (2018, January 30). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm

What hours do teachers really work? (2014, April 19). Retrieved April 11, 2018, from http://www.bbc.com/news/education-27087942

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.