The elementary grades (kindergarten through sixth grade) are an extremely formative time for children. They are past the early childhood stage where their education consisted mostly of playing, and their minds are now developed enough to actually begin learning in an academic sense by studying basic subjects. For many aspiring teachers, this is the most rewarding age level to teach. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 3.5 million K-12 teachers in the United States in 2008, the majority (1.5 million) taught elementary-level students.
The process of becoming an elementary teacher can be demanding because you need a basic grounding in all of the various subjects you will be expected to teach your students. You will need at least a four-year bachelor’s degree in elementary education. These degree programs incorporate the academic subjects, educational psychology courses, and the teacher training you will need to become certified after graduation.
During your four years of study, you can expect to take up to ten courses covering all of the subjects you will be teaching your students, such as reading, writing, math, science, and history. Your course load will also include approximately five classes in educational psychology and classroom supervision, in which you will learn how students comprehend and develop, specific educational methods in teaching, how to develop lesson plans, and how to run a classroom. Some elementary education degree programs also require students to choose a specialty area such as mathematics, language arts, science, or social studies. If your program is one of these, you will also probably take about five to eight courses in your chosen area.
Your junior and senior years will also include classroom observation at various schools in order to get firsthand knowledge of how the educational methods you have studied are put into practice. You will also complete a certain number of hours of supervised student teaching under the guidance of a licensed teacher. This hands-on training is the most important experience of your schooling because you will finally learn personally what is involved in being an elementary teacher.
A student teacher is usually allowed to express a preference when it comes to the school district and school where he or she will begin an internship. Make sure you research the various schools available, and choose one that you feel will match your skills and your area of interest. Set up a meeting with the mentor teacher at your chosen school who will be supervising your training, so he or she can give you preliminary information about the students you will be interacting with. Remember that, even though you will be in charge while you are student teaching, you are also there to learn. So, be sure to maintain a professional, cooperative relationship with your mentor teacher, and ask for productive advice on your performance and any problems you may experience.
After meeting your state’s certification requirements-which usually include all of the previously mentioned prerequisites plus an assessment exam-you will be granted a generalist teaching credential from your state board of education, which confirms that you have been trained to teach a wide variety of subjects to children in grades kindergarten through six. Some state boards also require teachers to earn master’s degrees within five years of beginning their teaching careers.