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How to become an elementary school teacher

Interested in becoming an elementary school teacher? Elementary school teachers have the opportunity to work with children in a classroom on a daily basis. Whether at public schools or private schools, teachers use their education programs to build confidence and help students find a path to achieve their potential. Working as a school teacher can be a rewarding, challenging, and ever-changing career.

Different types of teacher occupations have different job outlooks and salary expectations. Kindergarten teachers and middle school or high school teachers might vary in their job availability in the coming years, but for elementary teachers, job growth is projected to be at 7 percent between 2016 and 2026. That's as fast as the average for all U.S. occupations.

Elementary education and classroom experience can be part of a fulfilling career as a teacher, so keep that in mind as you work on your bachelor's degree. If you've got an idea of the kind of teacher you'd like to be -- one who works in a public school, or in private schools; middle schools or high schools; certain states or cities over others -- or if you are still thinking about it, here's what you should know about becoming a teacher for grade school students. 

Steps to become a teacher

The same as for kindergarten and other types of teaching professions, much education and practical education is needed for elementary teachers. Those who wan to become elementary school teachers should expect to do the following:

  • Complete a high school education, and move on to a bachelor's degree in elementary education.
  • Earn a teaching certificate through an accredited certification program.
  • Complete student teaching under the supervision of a master teacher who is credentialed and working in a school. This is usually a set amount of student teaching hours that can vary.
  • Pass licensing and competency exams in the state where you wish to teach.
  • Educate yourself with continuing education courses to keep your credential up to date and stay informed of new elementary education teaching developments, techniques and trends.

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 to learn more about transitioning between education programs.

How much do elementary school teachers make?

Prospective school teachers may want to know what all those student teaching hours could get you in the long run. While an elementary teacher salary can vary state-by-state and also depending on the years of applicable work experience had, the national average salary for elementary teachers in 2017 was $60,830, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The highest-paying states in 2017 were:

  • New York: $80,540
  • California: $77,990
  • Connecticut: $77,900
  • Alaska: $77,030

Wages can vary even more by region, or metro area, than by state. As with any career, it's often the case that the more education you have, the more you can hope to make.

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, check out the visual for more teaching insight below. Knowing this process brings you one step closer to teaching in a classroom. 

Sources:

Teacher Loan Forgiveness, Federal Student Aid, U.S. Department of Education,
https://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/charts/teacher

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252021.htm

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm

how to become a school teacher
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