Think back to those first few years in school when learning was filled with imagination and experiments. As an elementary teacher, one is able to continue enriching children through various educational methods while preparing children for the future. If you enjoy empowering children through knowledge while providing a stimulating and exciting academic environment, becoming an elementary teacher is the perfect fit.
Elementary education, also known as primary education, refers specifically to those grades between kindergarten and sixth grade, although in some states grades seventh and eighth are still included in the primary designation. Teachers in elementary grades are responsible for teaching all subjects that a young student needs to learn. Subjects include: reading, writing, spelling, grammar, mathematics, science, and history social studies. In some cases, elementary educators are also responsible for ancillary subjects such as physical education, art and introduction to computers.
An elementary school teacher will learn the fundamentals of instruction and learning principles for younger minds. All states require their elementary teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, but what the exact degree is depends on the state where you live.
Or, you may live in a state that requires you to complete a teacher education or credential program after you’ve completed a bachelor’s degree in the subject of your choice.
In both cases, a program will often require you to declare early on that you are choosing an emphasis in early education. The coursework and student teaching experiences will be geared toward the unique teaching needs of younger children.
If your interest in elementary grades is specialized – that is, teaching a specific subject that requires additional education, such as music or computer sciences – you may be able to complete an endorsement program if your state offers one. An endorsement program allows you to use your bachelor’s degree in your specialty area as a core education, although additional courses in teaching principles may be required.
If you choose to complete a degree or credential program in early education, it’s important to note that most states do not allow teachers with those licenses to accept regular teacher positions in secondary positions (middle school or high school). Also, research your state’s education requirements. Most states will require that a teacher education program either meet their own guidelines, or are accredited by the National Council of Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE).
2. Take the Required Teaching Exam
In addition to passing the tests throughout a degree’s worth of coursework, almost all states require that teachers pass a standardized competency examination. For elementary school teachers, this generally means a basic skills test. Since elementary school teachers are responsible for a student’s education in multiple subjects, basic skills tests look at a number of educational areas: reading, writing, mathematics and often education principles and practices.
Some states develop their own examinations, and some states use the national Praxis examination to test their teacher candidates. In both cases, the skills tests may have several components, and the state will decide which portions of the tests a license applicant will need to pass.
Some states have also developed examinations in local legislation or ethics codes that a teaching candidate needs to pass before a license will be issued.
3. Get Your Classroom Experience
Nearly all states require a teacher to complete a series of student teaching experiences as part of his or her education. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education requires student teaching and fieldwork for any institution pursing accreditation, so you may find that your school requires a student teaching requirement, even if your state does not.
Student teaching experience is essential to the success of teacher. While you can learn all the subject material you will need to teach in a lecture, no lecture can prepare you for the complexities of a classroom. Many things that may seem easy in theory become quite complicated once there are a couple dozen children added to the mix. Pairing with a mentor teacher to assume progressively more and more responsibility through student teaching experiences allows a candidate to apply what they know systematically while they learn to lead in a busy – and sometimes loud – environment.
Student teaching requirements range from 300 to 500 hours, and are often scheduled later in the coursework so you can learn the basics first. Some programs will require that you pass the state’s mandatory examinations before starting in a classroom.
If your goal is an elementary education license or credential, most of your student teaching experiences will be in younger grades. But many schools ensure that a teaching student have some exposure to all grades as well as students with special needs. Some programs also ensure that a student teacher learn the complexities of ethnically diverse populations.
Skill areas that will be addressed through the student teaching experience include:
Applying education practices in a classroom environment
Progression of classroom responsibility
Data recording and distribution
4. Get the right Teaching License, Credential or Certification
Once you’ve completed your education and passed the tests your state requires, you need to get a teaching license. In some states this may be called a “credential” or “certification,” but all states have a formal oversight process for teachers who wish to teach in a public school setting.
The regulatory agencies have different names in different states, but board or department of education, or department of instruction are common names. In each case, it refers to the agency that ensures that teachers in public schools are fully qualified.
The steps to applying for a teaching license will likely include most of the following steps:
Completing the state’s specific application
Mailing certified copies of your transcripts to the state board
Sending testing scores to the state board
Completing a background check
Registering your fingerprints with the state
Sending letters of recommendation
Paying an application fee
Teaching licenses have an issue period, meaning they expire after a certain number of years. In most states the issue period is 1-3 years. The renewal process generally involves paying a fee, updating personal information, and may involve updating your background check. Many states have a continuing education requirement that needs to be fulfilled before a license can be renewed.
If you have a teaching license in another states, your new state of residence may have a reciprocity agreement with the state that currently holds your license. Reciprocity is when one state honors the license from another, but you’ll need to investigate to determine if your old license allows you to teach in a new state. If not, some states do have fast-track application processes for teachers with existing licenses or credentials.
5. Stay current with Elementary Teacher Education
Since most states require continuing education as a requirement for license renewal, you’ll want to keep a constant eye on courses of interest to you that meet the license renewal requirement.
The continuing education requirement evolved through a need to ensure that teachers stay current with changes in education legislation and teaching practices. As education principles change through advances in research, and as laws enact as a means to improve the effectiveness of public education, the requirements for being an exceptional teacher change over time. Creating a continuing education requirement is a state’s way to ensure that you are keeping up with current trends and laws as they relate to teaching younger children.
Even if you live in a state that doesn’t require continuing education for license renewal, you’ll want to seek education or literature that allows you to stay up-to-date in teaching philosophy as well as legislative changes. You can do this through one of the many organization for teachers. The National Education Association (www.nea.org), The National Association for the Education of Young Children (www.naeyc.org), or the International Reading Association (www.reading.org) are just a few of the organizations that a teacher of younger children can become part of. These organizations foster networking and contact between education professionals, and many publish magazines or newsletters with the latest news and research. You can learn about conferences or workshops that will allow you to stay current with trends that effect primary education and help maintain your interest and commitment in the profession for many rewarding years.