The role of an elementary school teacher is multifaceted. It involves a range of responsibilities, all focused on the education and well-being of young students. 

As an elementary school teacher, your typical day may include morning meetings, instructional time, lesson plans, parent meetings, assessments, lunch, and recess.

An elementary teaching career path suits individuals passionate about education and who enjoy working with young children. Those willing to put in the time and effort to create an engaging learning environment for their students make great teachers.

how long to become elementary school teacher

In this article, we will explore the different paths to becoming an elementary school teacher and provide an overview of the time it takes to achieve this career goal.

What Is an Elementary School Teacher?

An elementary school teacher is responsible for instructing and educating young children at the primary school level, from kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade. 

Elementary teachers help children develop important academic and social skills. For example, reading, writing, math, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

These teachers must have a deep understanding of child development and the learning process to cater to their students’ diverse needs and learning styles. 

Elementary teachers play a vital role in shaping the lives of children. They serve as role models and offer guidance and support to parents, helping to set children up for future success.

The primary responsibilities of an elementary school teacher include:

  • Managing classroom behavior
  • Communicating regularly with parents 
  • Providing a nurturing environment for students.
  • Planning and delivering engaging and effective lessons
  • Monitoring and assessing student progress using tests, quizzes, and assignments, 
  • Collaborating with colleagues and support staff to ensure students receive the support they need to succeed.

Reasons to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Lifelong learners make great teachers because they’re open-minded and willing to consider new ideas and perspectives. This makes it easier for them to see things from their students’ points of view and be willing to adapt their teaching style accordingly.

If you’re a lifelong learner, there are many reasons why you may choose to become an elementary school teacher. 

For instance, if you appreciate the importance of early education as the foundation for students’ lives, you can find teaching in an elementary school very fulfilling.

Other reasons include:

  • Variety in daily activities: Elementary school teaching gives you the opportunity to explore many interests and teach many subjects.
  • Lifelong positive relationships: You’ll get to form special relationships with students which is something few other careers can offer
  • Job stability: The demand for elementary school teachers is expected to remain steady, so becoming one provides a stable career path.

Requirements for Elementary School Teachers

Elementary school teachers are required to meet different requirements depending on their state and district. However, having a bachelor’s degree is a common requirement for this role.

If you do not have a bachelor’s degree, you must find a degree program that leads to teacher licensure. For example, an Elementary Education Degree or Special Education Degree.

Once you’ve obtained the education requirement, you’ll also need a teaching license to teach in a K–6 classroom. Teacher certification or licensure requirements vary by state.

They mostly involve completing a state certification exam and completing a period of supervised teaching experience.

Most elementary teacher education programs also prepare you for elementary school teacher licensure.

How Long to Become an Elementary School Teacher

As mentioned, the requirements for elementary teacher certification vary widely from state to state. Therefore, the time it takes to become an elementary school teacher depends on your state

The requirements may include different education and testing requirements, as well as different levels of teaching experience.

Bachelor’s Degree

If your state’s requirement to become an elementary school teacher involves getting a bachelor’s degree, it may take 4–5 years to get a teaching license.

The table below shows the breakdown of the time required to complete each step.

Step Approximated Period
Complete a bachelor’s degree Up to 4 years
Complete state-based exams for licensing 3 months
Complete supervised teaching Up to one year


If you complete a bachelor’s degree program that does not provide teaching experience, an extra year for continued education may be necessary.

Master’s Degree

As mentioned, a bachelor’s degree is the common requirement to become a teacher in most states. However, some states require you to obtain a master’s degree within a stipulated time to keep your teaching license.

For example, in New York, teachers must complete a master’s degree within five years of earning initial certification.

Becoming an elementary teacher through the master’s degree route can take you up to seven years.

While a master’s degree may not be required for teaching in most states, it’s still a valuable asset for advancing your teaching career. Obtaining a master’s degree can help you earn more in some cases. 

For example, many school districts offer higher pay to teachers with advanced degrees, such as a master’s degree. 

In other cases, elementary school teachers may also receive a higher salary for earning a master’s degree in a specific field, such as special education, where there is a high demand for qualified teachers.

Doctoral Degree

One of the benefits of becoming a teacher is the endless career growth opportunities available. As you continue to advance in your teaching career, you may wish to become a college professor or even an administrator.

You’ll need to obtain a Doctoral Degree in Education to achieve this. A doctorate in education typically takes an additional seven to eight years to obtain.

How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

There are two pathways to becoming an elementary school teacher namely:

  • Traditional
  • Alternative

Let’s discuss each pathway in detail.

Traditional Pathway to Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

To become an elementary school teacher using the traditional method, you have to follow these steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree: You need to have at least a bachelor’s degree. While you can major in any subject, we recommend majoring in education or a related field like child development or psychology.
  2. Obtain classroom experience: After earning a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to gain real classroom experience. This involves supervised teaching by a mentor teacher
  3. Apply for a teaching license: You must apply for teaching certification through your state’s Department of Education. Requirements vary by state but generally include submitting transcripts, exam scores, and a completed application.

Alternative Pathway to Becoming an Elementary School Teacher

The alternative route to becoming an elementary education teacher is a pathway for individuals who already hold a bachelor’s degree but did not complete a traditional teacher preparation program.

The pathway is designed to provide a way for people with experience in other fields to become teachers without returning to college to complete a full teacher education program.

The specific requirements and process for the alternative route to teaching vary by state. You’ll need to meet your state’s requirements for alternative teacher certification. 

In general, it involves the following steps:

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree: You must have a bachelor’s degree in a field that is relevant to the subject you want to teach, such as English or math, or music.
  2. Complete a teacher preparation program: This involves online coursework, in-person training, and supervised teaching experience.
  3. Obtain a teaching license: After completing the alternative certification program and passing the required exams, you can apply for a teaching license. This will allow you to teach legally in your state.

Note: The alternative route to becoming a teacher may be more challenging than the traditional route. However, it can be a good option for people passionate about teaching and working with young children. 

does it take long to become elementary school teacher

Reasons why someone might take the alternative route to become a teacher include:

  • Current career untenable: The alternative route to becoming a teacher can be an attractive option for individuals who are looking for a career change.
  • High demand: There is a high demand for elementary education teachers. The alternative route to becoming a teacher allows passionate individuals to share their knowledge with students.
  • Desire for meaningful contributions: For individuals who want to make an impact in the lives of future leaders, becoming a teacher can be a fulfilling and rewarding career.

Required Elementary Education Classes 

Elementary school teachers are responsible for instructing more than one subject. Prospective elementary teachers should take the following classes. 

These classes give them a strong foundation in important subjects, such as language development, literacy instruction, mathematics, and science. 

  • Applied Cells, Genetics, & Physiology: This class is a biology course that covers the structure and function of cells, genetic inheritance and variation, and human physiology. While it may not seem immediately relevant to elementary education, understanding basic biological concepts is helpful when teaching topics like health and nutrition, life cycles, and ecology.
  • General Chemistry I: This class is a chemistry course that covers the basic principles of chemistry, including atomic structure, chemical reactions, and the periodic table. Having a foundational understanding of chemistry is useful in teaching elementary school students topics like matter, chemical reactions, and environmental science.
  • Early Language Development: This class focuses on language development in young children. Understanding how language develops helps teachers identify and address language difficulties in their students.
  • Early Literacy I: This class focuses on developing reading and writing skills in young children, including phonics and vocabulary development. It helps teachers better support their students’ literacy skills, identify and address reading difficulties, and design effective instruction.
  • Introduction to Analysis A: This class is a mathematics course that covers the principles of mathematical analysis. Having a strong foundation in mathematics helps in teaching topics like geometry and measurement.

Certification Options for Elementary School Teachers

Certifications are legal documents granted by the state which permit a person to work in a particular area of education. 

These certification options are ideal for aspiring elementary school teachers:

  • Certificate in Education Policy: This certificate is designed for those interested in education policy, research, and analysis. Students of the program learn about the legal, political, and social contexts of education policy, as well as strategies for analyzing and influencing policy decisions.
  • Certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders: This program is designed for educators who want to specialize in working with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Students in this program learn about the characteristics of ASD, evidence-based interventions, and strategies for creating inclusive learning environments.
  • Certificate in Social, Emotional, and Behavioral Wellness: This certificate program is for those interested in promoting children and youth’s social, emotional, and behavioral well-being. Students in this program learn about the factors that influence social, emotional, and behavioral development.
  • Certificate in STEM Education: This program is designed for educators interested in promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Here, students learn about effective STEM teaching practices, curriculum development, and strategies for engaging students in STEM learning.
  • Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis: This certificate program is for individuals interested in becoming Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) or working in fields related to behavior analysis. Students are taught about the principles of behavior analysis, assessment and intervention strategies, and ethical and professional standards.

Exams for Elementary School Teachers

In most states, the Praxis Series of subject exams are required in order to teach grades four through eight. You should however, check with your state’s Department of Education on whether the Praxis exams are a must.

The Praxis Series is a set of exams developed by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). They are used to assess the knowledge and skills of prospective educators.

The Praxis Series includes exams in various subject areas and grade levels and is used by many states as a requirement for teacher certification.

The Praxis Elementary Education Multiple Subjects exams cover four subject areas namely, reading and language arts, mathematics, social studies, and science.

In Pennsylvania, aspiring elementary school teachers must take the Pre-service Academic Performance Assessment (PAPA).

The PAPA is an exam that is required for teacher certification in the state of Pennsylvania. It. assesses the academic skills and knowledge of individuals who want to become teachers in Pennsylvania.

The PAPA is more narrowly focused on academic skills and is used exclusively in Pennsylvania, while the Praxis exams are broader in scope and are used for teacher certification in multiple states.

Salary Expectations for Elementary School Teachers

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median wage for education, training, and library occupations, which includes teachers, is $57,220 per year. The range typically falls between $51,398 and $75,655.

BLS data suggests that the lowest 10% earned less than $43,950, and the highest 105 earned more than  $99,420.

High school and middle school teachers’ median wages are $61,820 and $61,320, respectively. This shows that elementary teachers’ salary expectations are in close range with their peers.

Job Outlook for Elementary School Teachers

The overall employment of elementary school teachers is projected to grow by 4% between 2021 to 2031.

There are over 120,300 expected openings for kindergarten and elementary school teachers every year during the period. 

Work Environment for Elementary School Teachers

Many teachers work nine or 10 months out of the year, then have a two or three-month break during the summer months.

Elementary school teachers can either work in a public or private school. The table below shows the difference between working in a private vs public school.

Private School Public School
Flexibility in designing their own curriculum Follow a state-mandated curriculum
Flexibility in teacher qualifications and credentials Teachers must meet specific educational and professional requirements
More close-knit community and a greater emphasis on specific values or traditions Diverse community with a focus on meeting state standards 

Become an Elementary School Teacher

Becoming an elementary school teacher is a rewarding career choice with many opportunities for professional and personal growth.

The path to becoming a certified elementary school teacher varies depending on your individual circumstances and state. The steps involved, include obtaining a bachelor’s degree, completing a teacher preparation program, and passing state certification exams. 

It’s important to research the specific requirements in your state and to consider your options as you prepare to embark on the certification process.

The rewards of working as an elementary school teacher, such as making a positive impact on young lives and enjoying a fulfilling and dynamic work environment, make the journey well worth the effort.