What Grade Should I Teach?

You may have some experience with children or teens as a sibling, cousin, babysitter, or working recreation jobs. The responsibilities you will have as a teacher will be different than your previous encounters with youth. You will be managing groups of children and moving them through activities and routines so they will master content all the while supporting their developmental needs.

Quite often, education majors will discover they prefer working with a different age group than they first thought. It takes years to become a certified teacher so your selection of the grade range that is the best fit for you will be important. There are pros and cons to working with all ages. The rewards of being a teacher at specific grade levels are deep and personal. Here are some things to consider as you explore the grade levels that will be the best match for you.

Should I teach kindergarten?

If you like the idea of teaching basic skills while wiping runny noses and socializing with about 20 five-year-olds while teaching them how to be cooperative, you just might have what it takes to teach kindergarteners.

Kindergarten teachers have to love the age group and appreciate how quickly they learn. The kindergarten of today is not about playtime and naps. These children are in school and working all day. There is no such thing as a slow day.

Independent work for this age group means you have several tables of children working on activities at the same time. The kindergarten teacher has to be able to handle constant interruptions but still keep on top of learning routines. The skillful kindergarten teacher must be proficient at calling together everyone’s attention, organizing the classroom, selecting supplies, garnering parent involvement and teaching habits to clean up.

A kindergarten teacher working in a public school K-12 context has the same education and must complete the same teaching credentials as colleagues at the elementary school level.

Make sure to check out our in-depth article on how to become a kindergarten teacher for additional recommendations.

Should I teach elementary school?

The grade levels typically associated with the elementary level include grades 1 through 5. You might be thinking, “Which one of these grades should I teach?”

First, consider that there is a world of difference between teaching children in the lower grades of 1 - 3 and teaching in the upper grades of 4 - 5. Children in the lower grades are developing basic skills and they still need help with managing independent tasks. There is a rigorous curriculum shift with the upper elementary grades. The children are becoming more self-aware, independent, and social.

Regardless of grade level, there are large differences among the children in their intellectual, social, emotional, physical and academic development that you must be willing to accept and work with as their teacher. You must be organized, resourceful, flexible, creative and good at communication.

Your responsibilities will include planning lessons, locating enrichment resources, assessing students on progress and learning, identifying learning gaps and planning interventions, setting up classroom management plans, working with colleagues, grading, meeting with parents, and setting professional goals.

To become an elementary teacher, you will need to obtain your bachelor’s degree and fulfill certification requirements that typically involves state level testing and about three years of supervised classroom experience with satisfactory evaluations.

Read our in-depth article on how to become an elementary school teacher for further insights.

Should I teach middle school?

Many teachers are surprised to learn they actually like working with youth at the middle school grade levels. They report that the students are still impressionable enough to have a positive impact with them.

You must constantly be aware of the students’ challenges at this stage of development. The opinions of peers are very important to them, their bodies are changing, they are overly excitable, they are mortified by public praise, they gossip too much and they will ask you endless personal questions. But they are also developing some amazing cognitive powers and talents that you can cultivate.

Be prepared to spend your days planning lessons, preparing students for state assessments, choosing instructional materials, grading, checking homework, designing tests, helping students as individuals or in groups, adapting materials for the range of learners in front of you and serving on school committees. You will need to be flexible and willing to engage students who will come to you with a wide range of cultural differences, skills and emotional needs.

You will need to fulfill the teaching certification requirements of your state that will likely include a bachelor’s degree, basic skills and content area testing, about three years of supervision and satisfactory evaluations.

Should I teach high school?

If you really love your content, ie, science or social studies, and you enjoy working with adolescents, then high school may be your preference.

Adolescents are developing higher order reasoning abilities but also have large differences in their academic skills and motivation. Students respond best to teachers who make the subject interesting, have a sense of humor and are genuinely interested in what they have to say.

You will need to be highly organized for the various courses you will teach. Your daily activities will include lesson planning, managing homeroom classes, assessing students’ abilities, grading, working with individual students for challenge or remediation, communicating with parents, administering standardized tests, and implementing classroom rules. You may also be involved in coaching with students or school committees.

A high school teacher must complete a bachelor’s degree with demonstrated expertise in at least one content area plus complete teacher preparation coursework. The teacher must then pass state certification requirements that typically involve three years of supervision and satisfactory ratings in addition to the passing of state examinations in basic skills and content proficiency.

Read our extended article on how to become a high school teacher for additional guidance.

Regardless of the grade level you decide to teach, it all begins with a passion for working with children and youth.

Teacher preparation programs generally recommend taking the time to explore your options.

Go visit classrooms at various grade levels. Reflect on your passions. Do a job search for the availability of teaching careers in your area. Know yourself. Are you more inclined to be a nurturer of younger ages or do you want to have a mentoring relationship with your students? Also consider your own energy levels and where you will find your fulfillment.

With open eyes and heart to the challenges you are taking on, you are sure to find the match with the grade you were meant to teach.

Works Cited

10 Things Every Kindergarten Teacher Should Know. August 1, 2014. Kaplan. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.kaplanco.com/blog/post/2014/08/01/10-Things-Every-Kindergarten-Teacher-Should-Know.aspx.

20 Things to Know Before Your First Year of Teaching HIgh School. August 4, 2015. Teaching Sam & Scout. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from http://www.samandscout.com/20-things-to-know-before-your-first-year-teaching-high-school/.

CTI Career Search. What It’s Really Like to Be an Elementary School Teacher. Teaching Community: Where Teachers Meet and Learn. Monster.com. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from http://teaching.monster.com/careers/articles/9638-what-its-really-like-to-be-an-elementary-school-teacher.

Elementary Teacher Education Overview and Career Guide. CityTownInfo.com. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.citytowninfo.com/employment/elementary-school-teachers.

Gonzalez, Jennifer. 8 Things I Know for Sure About (Most) Middle School Kids. October 1, 2014. Cult of Pedagogy. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/middle-school-kids/.

High School Teachers: Schools and Careers. CityTownInfo.com. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.citytowninfo.com/employment/high-school-teachers.

Inside High School Teacher Careers: Things You Need to Know But Nobody Tells You. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/middle-school-kids/.

[email protected] 10 Truths About Teaching Kinder. The Truth About Teaching Kindergarten. March 9, 2015. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.simplykinder.com/the-truth-about-teaching-kindergarten/.

Kids Talk About: What Makes a Great Teacher? Kids Health from Nemours. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from http://kidshealth.org/en/kids/great-teacher.html.

Meador, Derrick. Pros and Cons of Teaching. May 13, 2017. ThoughtCo. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.thoughtco.com/pros-and-cons-of-teaching-3194702.

Middle School Teacher Education Overview and Career Guide. CityTownInfo.com. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://www.citytowninfo.com/employment/middle-school-teachers.

What subject and grade level should you teach? School of Education. American University. Retrieved March 17, 2018 from https://soeonline.american.edu/blog/what-subject-and-grade-level-should-you-teach.

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.