How to become an elementary school teacher
Elementary school teachers have the opportunity to shape minds, build confidence and help children find a path to achieve their potential. A career as an elementary school teacher could put you at the front lines in the pursuit and delivery of a quality education to every child in America. It's also a career with solid growth potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, elementary school teachers should see about 12 percent career growth nationwide for the decade between 2012 and 2022, which is slightly faster than the average for all U.S. occupations.
What are the education and training requirements?
The path to becoming a teacher involves many steps, both in terms of education and practical training. Some of these include:
- Completing a bachelor's degree in elementary education or earning a bachelor's degree in the subject you wish to teach
- Earning a teaching certificate through an accredited certification program
- Student teaching under the supervision of a master teacher who is credentialed and working in a school
- Pass licensing and competency exams in the state where you wish to teach
- Take continuing education courses to keep your credential up to date and stay informed of new teaching developments and techniques
Current elementary school educators who want to transfer their license and credential to another state in order to work may be able to apply for reciprocation. This can help them skip many of these steps if they have already completed them. For more information, you can visit Teach.org (the U.S. Department of Education's support website for teachers) or contact your state education department.
How much do elementary teachers make?
While this number can vary state-by-state and also depending on the years of experience, the national mean annual wage for elementary teachers in 2013 was $56,320, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics The five states with the highest mean annual wage in 2013 were:
- Rhode Island: $73,040
- New York: $72,840
- Alaska: $70,190
- California: $69,320
- Connecticut: $68,580
Wages can vary even more by metro area than by state, and these numbers are arguably the most meaningful to aspiring teachers who want to know about earning potential in their area. The BLS reports that these metro areas had the highest annual mean wages in 2013:
- Nassau-Suffolk, N.Y.: $96,860
- Kingston, N.Y.: $81,400
- Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, Calif.: $76,840
- Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, N.Y.: $76,040
- New Bedford, Mass.: $75,380
- Muskegon-Norton Shores, Mich.: $75,320
- New York-White Plains-Wayne, N.Y.-N.J.: $73,380
- Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, Calif.: $72,680
- Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, Wis.: $72,680
- El Centro, Calif.: $72,680
Teacher student loan forgiveness options
For some aspiring teachers, one of the perks of a career in this field is the possibility of getting their student loans reduced or forgiven. According to the Department of Education, graduates who teach full-time for five consecutive academic years in low-income districts can be eligible for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness, if they meet certain qualifications.
The forgiveness option only applies to certain types of loans, and the rules about which districts qualify are strict. But it can be a worthwhile pursuit for teachers who want to give back to underserved communities and need some help dealing with the financial cost of getting their teaching degree.
To find out more about education and licensing requirements, experience and what other professional paths teachers can pursue (and to see an extended list of sources), please check out the visual below.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education,
Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,