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What You Need to Do to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Updated on March 17, 2013
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Rose is a full-time freelance writer who frequently writes about education, special education, DIY projects, food, Milwaukee, and more.


Whether you are just starting to consider a career in elementary education, are enrolled in an education degree program, or are starting your job search process, you may have some questions about how you become an elementary school teacher. This article is designed to outline all of the aspects of this process and to provide you with lots of tips and resources that will help you along the way. Best of luck!

Job Experience Prior to Obtaining a Degree

There are a number of job opportunities that you can pursue throughout high school and college that will be an asset to a career in education. Not only will they help you determine if this career will be a good fit for you but they will also help you build your resume.

Some of the most popular options include:

  • Babysitting
  • Nanny
  • Park district camps and classes (sports, arts and crafts, etc.)
  • Other camps (i.e. camps through local colleges)
  • Before school/after school programs
  • Other teaching opportunities (i.e. summer school programs)
  • Tutoring

Many colleges and universities offer summer camps and other summer programs for kids on their campuses.  These can be great opportunities for teaching.
Many colleges and universities offer summer camps and other summer programs for kids on their campuses. These can be great opportunities for teaching. | Source

Additional Job Opportunities in College

All of the previously mentioned jobs will still be great options if you're looking for work any time during your college education. You may find that you have more opportunities and/or higher paying jobs once you have completed some education classes. For example, some daycare programs have levels for pay and for teaching responsibilities based on amount of education.

If you are having trouble finding job opportunities, consider the following options:

  • Consult the career center and the education department. Many people who are looking for babysitters, tutors, camp counselors, etc. post listings with the university career center and/or education department. Your education professors may know about additional opportunities, too.
  • Network with family and friends. If you will be moving home for the summer or heading somewhere else with a lot of connections, put the word out that you're looking for work. You never know who may have a good job lead for you.

At Valparaiso University where I got my bachelor's degree, the elementary education major includes a reading endorsement.
At Valparaiso University where I got my bachelor's degree, the elementary education major includes a reading endorsement. | Source

Research and Apply to Education Programs

There are numerous education programs around the country with lots of different options for part-time and full-time classes that serve a wide variety of schedules. Most likely location and/or finances will play an important role in your final decision about an education program.

I strongly urge all education majors to consider a program that has endorsement options (i.e. reading endorsement) and/or dual major options (i.e. elementary education and special education). Elementary education jobs are very competitive. Having an additional major or endorsement will expand your job options.

What if you are already attending a college without any education program?
Many people decide to enter the field of education partway through a different degree program. If this is you, don't despair! Consider one of the following options:

  • Accelerated program. There are accelerated teaching programs for individuals who already have bachelor's degrees and primarily need teaching courses to get education degrees. Typically these programs can be completed in less than two years.
  • Master's degree. If you're interested in finishing your current degree program, you can opt to get a teacher certification through a master's degree in education.
  • Switching schools. You may decide that you want to switch to a different school that does offer a teaching program.
  • Is your current degree a good compliment for education? For those who are already on track to complete a major that complements education, such as social work or psychology, you may decide that your current major will be an asset to the teaching field. Thus it may be beneficial to finish that degree and then pursue an accelerated program or master's degree in education.

Now that you've started an education program, stay on top of everything.

  • Keep track of your course requirements. Do not rely solely on adviser recommendations. Review all required classes periodically.
  • Vary your field experience. No matter how much you love a certain grade or subject level, it is important to work in a variety of settings throughout your program. You never know what you may end up enjoying, nor do you know what job opportunities you will have.
  • Complete all required state tests. Most schools will give you the resources for these tests as well as deadlines for completing them. Stick to their schedule to stay on track with your program.
  • Complete your student teaching. If your program requires a portfolio as part of the student teaching experience, put your best effort into it. This portfolio can be a valuable asset for your job interviews.

10 Rules for Constructing an Effective Resume

You can start applying for jobs any time during your final semester of school.

  • Prepare a resume. If your education department does not have any sort of class or workshop that covers resumes, consult the career center.
  • If you will be moving out of state, research the tests that you'll need to take. Many states do not require the same standardized tests for teachers.
  • No matter where you are job searching, get the license for your program state. Typically schools will let you fill out the paperwork during your last few weeks of school and will then mail it for you right after graduation. I have obtained 3 teaching licenses in addition to the one I got from my education program state. For every application process, having that initial license made the process much easier. Once you have that license, you can start applying for an additional license.
  • Consult the education department for job opportunities and possible schools to submit applications. Even if you are applying for jobs out of state, many departments have connections in a variety of areas around the country.

50 teacher interview questions and answers

Job Application and Interview Tips

  • If needed, purchase appropriate interview clothes. As many school interviews are conducted during hot summer weather in buildings that may or may not be air-conditioned, a full suit is often not necessary. You should still dress professionally.
  • Review interview questions and sample answers. You do not need to memorize answers but instead use these questions to prepare original answers. There are lots of resources out there for specific types of teacher interviews, such as special education.
  • If you don't already have a portfolio, consider putting one together. If you already have one, add or take out components as you feel is needed.
  • Send a short thank you note or e-mail after interviews.

The year after I finished undergrad, I got a job as a teacher aide.  I developed a number of lesson plans and materials that I was able to share in subsequent interviews that led to my first full time teaching job.
The year after I finished undergrad, I got a job as a teacher aide. I developed a number of lesson plans and materials that I was able to share in subsequent interviews that led to my first full time teaching job. | Source

What if you don't get a full time teaching position by September?

The reality is that many fully qualified teachers do not get a teaching job with their first round of interviews. It is really discouraging when it happens to you, but it is most likely not a knock on your teaching abilities. There are a number of job options to consider that can help you get hired for the next school year or even mid-school year.

  • Part-time teaching positions that you can supplement with other income.
  • Subbing
  • Teacher aide
  • Before school/after school programs
  • Tutoring
  • Daycare/preschool programs

Additionally, you may want to consider taking more classes and/or getting a teaching endorsement to make yourself more marketable.


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