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What does an Elementary Teacher do?

Elementary teachers play a crucial role in children's development, inspiring them to work harder, helping them to learn valuable fundamental skills and guiding them to make decisions and solve problems. If you want to become an elementary teacher, you'll need sufficient training and certification, along with high levels of creativity, energy and patience.

What is it like being an elementary teacher?

Unlike teachers in higher grades, who tend to focus on subject areas of specialty, elementary teachers are "jacks of all trades," providing instruction to students in a variety of subjects from social studies to science, math, history and spelling. They use creative approaches to address the needs of varying learning styles, so games, computers, artwork, films, puzzles and readings may all be resources you use throughout your career.

In addition to planning and carrying out lessons, you'll need to grade assignments, prepare report cards, perform administrative tasks, meet with parents or administrators, serve on committees and attend numerous meetings and seminars. While the hours of an average elementary school day may seem rather short, a teacher's workday can be quite long when these other tasks, as well as planning lessons, are figured in.

How do you become an elementary teacher?

In the United States, public school elementary teachers must be licensed by a State Licensing Board or licensure advisory committee. The typical route to licensure is a bachelor's degree in a teacher education program, covering such subjects as early childhood education, human development, language arts, psychology and special education. You may also spend time observing elementary school classrooms, and complete a semester of student teaching under the mentorship of a licensed teacher.

Private schools may not have requirements for licensure, and alternative licensure programs may be available for those with bachelor's degrees in other fields.

To maintain licensure, a certain amount of continuing education or even student performance may be required, and some schools place a premium on advanced degrees, increasing pay for, or promoting those who earn master's or doctoral degrees. Elementary teachers with advanced degrees may opt to become education administrators or even principals.

The future of elementary teachers

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), elementary teacher positions are expected to grow by 13 percent (about as fast as average). Enrollments have been increasing more slowly in recent years, and there is a more plentiful supply of elementary teachers than there are in other grade levels or specialties.

Those with specializations in such in-demand fields as bilingual instruction, mathematics and science should fare slightly better, as should teachers willing to work in inner-city or rural, underserved schools.

In general, the New England states tend to pay slightly higher wages than do other areas of the country. As many elementary teachers will tell you, the rewards of this work far surpass those of salary.

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