Kindergarten and elementary school teachers play a vital role in the development of children. What is learned or not learned in the early years can shape children's views of themselves and the world, and affect later success or failure in school and work.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers introduce children to the basics of mathematics, language, science, and social studies. They try to instill good study habits and an appreciation for learning, as well as observe and evaluate each child's performance and potential. Elementary school teachers may use films, slides, computers, or instructional games to help children learn in creative ways. They also arrange class trips, speakers, and class projects.
Teachers keep track of their students' social development and health. They observe each child's behavior and discuss problems--such as habitual resistance to authority--with the parents. Teachers also report health problems to parents and school health officials.
Most elementary school teachers instruct a group of children in several subjects while providing individual attention as much as possible. In some schools, two or more teachers team teach and are jointly responsible for a group of students or for a particular subject. An increasing number of elementary school teachers specialize and teach one or two subjects to several classes. Some teach subjects such as music, art, or physical education, while others concentrate on the special needs of certain groups--those who have reading problems or those who do not speak English, for example.
Much of a teacher's work occurs outside the classroom. Teachers generally prepare lessons and grade papers at home, attend faculty meetings, and supervise extracurricular activities after school. They also serve on faculty committees such as those to revise curricula or to evaluate the school's objectives and the students' performance. To stay up to date on educational materials and teaching techniques, they may participate in workshops and other inservice activities or take college courses. Many schools employ teacher aides to do clerical work and supervise lunch and playground activities so that teachers can give more individual attention to students.
Teachers spend much of their time standing or walking. Kindergarten teachers may join their students on the floor to finger paint, cut out pictures, or do other crafts.
A teacher may often have to deal with disruptive, disrespectful, and sometimes even violent children. Teachers may also have students of widely different backgrounds and abilities in the same classroom--those who have little knowledge of English and those who are handicapped, for example. This can be physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing.
Most elementary school teachers work a traditional 2-semester, 10-month school year with a 2-month vacation. Teachers on a 10-month schedule may teach in the summer session or take other jobs. Many enroll in college courses or special workshops. Some teachers in year-round schools work 8-week sessions, are off 1 week between sessions, and have a long mid-winter break. This 12-month schedule makes it difficult for teachers to take supplemental jobs.
In most States, the public schools must be in session a minimum number of days. This number varies from 175 to 205 days. In 1990, the average number of instruction days was 184.
Most States as well as the District of Columbia have tenure laws that protect the jobs of teachers who have taught satisfactorily for a certain number of years. A teacher normally must serve a satisfactory probationary period of 3 years before attaining tenure. Tenure is not an automatic guarantee of job security, but it does provide some protection.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers held 1,360,000 jobs in 1990. More than 8 out of 10 worked in public schools. Most were in schools that have students in kindergarten through grade six; however, some teach in middle schools that cover the 3 or 4 years between the lower elementary grades and 4 years of high school. Fourteen percent of elementary school teachers work in private schools. In addition, most of the 275,000 special education teachers--those who work with children who are mentally retarded, emotionally disturbed, learning disabled, mobility impaired, speech and hearing impaired, or very bright or "gifted" children--taught in elementary schools.
Since kindergarten and elementary school teachers work directly with students, their employment is distributed geographically much the same as the population.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
All 50 States and the District of Columbia require public elementary school teachers to be certified by State education authorities. Some States require teachers in private and parochial schools to be certified as well. Generally, certification is granted by the State Board of Education, The State Superintendent of Education, or a Certification Advisory Committee.
Teachers may be certified to teach either the early childhood grades (usually nursery school through the third grade) or the elementary grades (grades one through six or eight). Some teachers obtain certification to teach special education or reading at the elementary school level.
Requirements for certification vary by State, and school systems may have additional hiring requirements. In all States and the District of Columbia, however, public kindergarten and elementary school teachers must have a bachelor's degree from an institution with an approved teacher education program. Teacher training programs include a variety of liberal arts courses as well as student teaching and prescribed professional education courses such as philosophy of education, psychology of learning, and teaching methodology. Many States require teachers to obtain a master's degree within a certain period after beginning work.
Seventeen States require applicants for certification to be tested for competency either in basic skills, subject matter, teaching skills, or a combination of these. Twenty-six States have health requirements. Initial teaching certificates range from 1 year to life, but life certificates are becoming less common. Complete information on requirements for elementary school teaching is available from State departments of education or superintendents of schools.
Information about whether a particular teacher program is approved can be obtained from the institution offering the training or from the State department of education. Many States have reciprocity agreements that allow teachers who are certified in one State to become certified in another.
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers should be creative, dependable, patient, and competent in handling classroom situations. Most important, they should be vitally interested in the educational and emotional development of children.
As teachers gain experience, they may advance to supervisory, administrative, or specialized positions within the school system. Often, however, these positions require additional training and certification and the number of positions is limited. As a result, for most teachers, advancement consists of higher pay rather than additional responsibility or a higher position.
Job prospects for kindergarten and elementary school teachers are expected to improve. Employment is expected to grow about as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2000, reflecting rising enrollments. Additional positions also are expected as a result of lower pupil-teacher ratios. Many job openings will also occur to replace teachers who leave the profession. If the number of new college graduates prepared to teach in elementary school remains at the current level, there may be more openings than qualified applicants.
Enrollment levels and employment of classroom teachers are closely associated. The National center for Education Statistics projects enrollments to increase over the next decade from 27.2 million to almost 32 million, reflecting the rise in the number of births beginning in the mid-1970's.
Enrollment growth will not occur at the same rate in all parts of the country, however. Largely because of migration to the South and West, population growth (and therefore the increase in enrollments) is expected to be greater in those regions.
Whether an elementary school teacher "shortage" develops depends not only on demand for teachers but on supply as well. The basic sources of teacher supply are recent graduates qualified to teach at the elementary school level and former teachers seeking reentry to the occupation. The greater availability of jobs, rising salaries, and heightened public interest in education are encouraging more people to prepare for elementary school teaching and may also attract more people from the teacher reserve pool. The reserve pool is very large because many elementary school teachers are women who left teaching for household responsibilities and also because there had been an oversupply of these teachers for many years.
Employment of teachers is also sensitive to changes in State and local expenditures for education. Pressure from taxpayers to limit taxes and spending is likely to inhibit employment growth, while recent emphasis on improving the quality of education could stimulate it.
Although computers are being used in elementary schools, they are not expected to affect teacher employment, since their major use is for teaching computer concepts, learning enrichment, and remedial drill and practice exercises.
According to the National Education Association, public elementary school teachers averaged $30,600 a year in 1990. Generally, the Mid-Atlantic and far western States paid the highest salaries.
Collective bargaining agreements cover an increasing number of teachers.
Kindergarten and elementary school teaching requires a wide variety of skills and aptitudes, including organizational administrative abilities; a talent for working with children; communication skills; the power to influence, motivate, and train others; creativity; and leadership ability. Workers in other occupations that require some of these aptitudes include childcare attendants; trainers and employee development specialists; employment interviewers; librarians; personnel specialists; public relations specialists; and social workers and counselors.
Sources of Additional Information
Information on certification requirements is available from local school systems and State departments of education.
Information on teachers' unions and education-related issues can be obtained from:
American Federation of Teachers, 555 New Jersey Ave. NW., Washington, D.C. 20001. General information on the teaching professions can be obtained from local or State affiliates of the National Education Association.
A list of colleges and universities accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education can be obtained from:
National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, 1919 Pennsylvania Ave. NW., Suite 202, Washington, D.C. 20006.