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What is an Elementary Education Degree?
Do you love working with young children? Are you passionate about helping them learn and grow?
Becoming an elementary school teacher may be a great career option for you. Read on to find out what the educational requirements are for this vocation.
Elementary school teachers provide young students with the support and guidance needed to excel academically, professionally, and personally. They often lead a class of children through a school day with lesson plans that are both activity-based and formal. The goal is to engage their students by increasing their focus and creativity—so as to make their learning experience both enjoyable and meaningful.
There are many things to take into consideration when dealing with young school children, which is why there are certain educational requirements and regulations for teaching elementary school. Every state in the US requires elementary school teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree—note that there are some states that require teachers to also earn a master’s degree after certification, so it’s best to check your own state’s requirements.
The most popular way to become an elementary school teacher is to get a degree in general education with a specialization in elementary education. Curriculum includes classes in: child psychology, educational psychology, curriculum development, student assessment, human development, and educational best practices. Students also learn how to create lesson plans, manage a classroom, and understand group dynamics.
Aspiring elementary school teachers must also complete a student teaching program, or internship—which usually lasts a semester or two near the end of a bachelor’s program. This gives students experience in managing a classroom, developing lesson plans, correcting homework, and leading parent-teacher conferences—all under the supervision of a mentor elementary teacher.
Anyone interested in becoming an elementary school teacher needs to check the requirements for the state in which they plan to live and work, as educational requirements vary by state as well as by public and private schools.
Associate Degree in Elementary Education - Two Year Duration
An associate degree program in elementary education provides students with a combination of liberal arts and education courses—and gives students an understanding of early childhood development and education theory. An associate degree serves as a solid foundation in education and prepares students for further schooling or for work as a teacher’s assistant, child care business owner, or nanny.
Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education - Four Year Duration
All teachers (elementary, middle and high school) are able to enrol in a bachelor’s degree program in education to become a teacher. Elementary school teachers, however, can opt to take a slightly different tack—they can enrol in an elementary education degree program that focuses on providing instruction in each of the various subjects taught in grades K-6.
A bachelor’s degree program in elementary education is often offered as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS). Students are provided with the basic theories, principles, and strategies of education and are taught how to create a structured classroom environment. The bachelor’s degree program also prepares students for state licensure.
Examples of courses are: classroom management, elementary education methods, child psychology, educational psychology, child development, teaching methods, and evaluation and assessment—along with core content areas such as math, social studies, science, and language arts. Most elementary education programs also include student teaching and practicum experiences (internships).
Some elementary education bachelor degree programs offer additional certification in:
- Early Childhood and Elementary Education
- Special Education
- Elementary Education with a Content Specialization or Minor
In order to work in a public school in the United States, students must obtain licensure. Each state has different requirements for obtaining a teacher’s license—most require a Bachelor’s Degree in Education or Elementary Education, a teaching internship, and the passing of a state-administered exam. Once licensed, teachers may need to be periodically tested or may need to take continuing education courses in order to maintain their license.
Master’s Degree in Elementary Education - Two to Three Year Duration
A Master’s Degree in Elementary Education prepares students for advanced teaching licensure, and qualifies graduates for more job opportunities as well as a higher salary level.
Note: For students that already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject and want to teach elementary students, a Master’s Degree in Elementary Education that leads to teacher certification can be considered.
Doctorate in Elementary Education - Four to Five Year Duration
Students who want to pursue a Doctorate in Elementary Education will take classes such as: instructional leadership, child development in early childhood, theories of learning in education, and advanced studies of literacy development.
Students will be expected to choose a specialty in which they should focus their dissertation research. Those who complete a Doctorate in Elementary Education often move on to work as administrators, policy analysts, curriculum designers, learning resource specialists, and postsecondary teachers.
Degrees Similar to Elementary Education
Individuals who consider majoring in elementary education may also investigate pursuing a degree in special education and working with students with physical or mental disabilities. Like elementary school teachers, special education teachers help students develop basic life skills and must be prepared to adapt their curriculum to do so.
Secondary School Education
Students who wish to teach secondary school generally major in the specific subject they wish to teach, such as math, history, English, social studies, etc. Students typically complete a degree in education, which focuses on effective teaching and curriculum development and methodologies.
School counseling and elementary education degrees both address child development, assessment, and consultation. Counseling at the elementary and secondary school levels includes student and family counseling, specific adolescent counseling, gender identification and cross-cultural counseling; as well as career planning and decision-making.
Education and social work go hand in hand. Both professions involve constant exposure to other people. Both are about helping people learn skills that promote their ability to function in society.
The principal similarity between a degree in elementary education and one in educational psychology is that they are both focused on youth and education. Graduates generally work in schools and for school boards. Individuals who wish to pursue a career in educational psychology must earn at least a master’s and often a doctoral degree.
Skills You’ll Learn
A degree in elementary education provides students with valuable transferrable skills, no matter what path they choose to go in. Some skills are:
Asking critical questions is one of the best ways to teach—as well as to learn. A background in elementary education helps ask what, when, how, who, and why.
Managing a classroom of students is no small feat. In any education degree, students learn to set deadlines, plan for the future, balance priorities, and schedule their time.
Child Psychology and Development
The capacity to understand the stages of the emotional, cognitive, and physical development of children is certainly something that can be used on a daily basis in parenting and other familial roles.
Perhaps one of the most challenging demands of working in elementary education is that it asks teachers to effectively communicate with young children, who are new to learning. This requirement means that students who successfully complete an elementary education degree program learn how to break down subjects into digestible, understandable pieces – an ability that is valued in virtually all professional and social circles.
Building trust is vital in the classroom, especially with new learners. But this is another by-product of earning an elementary education degree that is thoroughly useful and valued in every kind of work, as well as in society at large.
Patience, Flexibility, and a Sense of Humor
Children are full of energy and curiosity. They are unpredictable and unfiltered. Classrooms by their nature are cauldrons of unforeseen circumstances and therefore, demand patience, flexibility, and a sense of humor – qualities that can be used in any sphere of life.
Creativity and Adaptability
Creativity and adaptability must be the hallmarks of elementary educators. Creating lesson plans that incorporate learning games and other approaches that keep children engaged is only part of the elementary education mandate. Graduates in the field discover that not all kids learn in exactly the same way and are prepared to adapt their teaching methods to respond to those differences.
An Appreciation for Diversity
Elementary educators are exposed to children from different backgrounds and home environments. They are called upon to cultivate an understanding of and an appreciation for diversity – in the classroom and beyond.
Assessment and Report Writing
Teaching at any level involves tracking, assessing, and recording student progress and development. These are skills that are transferrable within many professional sectors.
What Can You Do with an Elementary Education Degree?
A degree in elementary education prepares students for success in a wide range of careers—both in the classroom and beyond. Here are just a few options to consider:
Teachers are found in high school, post secondary, preschool, and primary education settings. They can work in the private or public sector, online or overseas, and even offer private tutoring from their own homes.
A managerial position, education administrators work at all levels of the schooling system. They hire and train staff, develop programming, manage budgets, and direct the overall mission of the institution at which they work.
Library science combines knowledge and tools from education, management, information technology, and other fields. Similar to education, this industry is dedicated to preserving and sharing knowledge with others.
Special education teachers work with students’ unique learning needs to help them thrive academically and socially. This profession tends to involve more one-on-one tutoring and support than a "standard" teaching job. But for many, it is equally—if not more—rewarding.
What should students study at school? What materials or tools will help them learn most effectively? Curriculum design is a practice that addresses these questions and more. A key aspect of any teaching job, it’s also a career in and of itself.
Like educators, school counselors help students gain valuable skills, confidence, and self-awareness. Empathetic education graduates can be a natural fit for a counseling role, using their patience and communication abilities to guide young people in their personal development.
The educational tools an instructor uses in the classroom can be equally—sometimes more—important than the instructor themselves. The instructional technology industry strives to build and improve learning tools and resources that allow students to truly excel.
Some elementary education graduates decide to leave the field entirely and enter the business world. They make great managers, using their mentorship abilities to train, supervise, and guide employees towards success.
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