Even though elementary school teachers generally do not specialize (as they do in high school) in one subject, they can have training/education in specialized areas such as ESL, Special Education, education technology, and mathematics. Specialization can often mean higher salaries, bigger opportunities for advancement or playing more meaningful roles (i.e., becoming mentors for other teacher), and better employment prospects.
An elementary school teacher generally teaches students from Kindergarten to 5th or 6th grade. They play an integral part in preparing students for more advanced learning later on, as they manage classrooms (individually or within a “team” paradigm); subjects they delve into include natural sciences, social studies, mathematics, reading, etc.
How Do You Become an Elementary School Math Teacher?
Although each state has unique requirements, becoming an elementary school math teacher begins by getting a 4-year mathematics-concentration college degree. You must then take teacher education courses (unless you get a B.A.Ed., which includes such courses), take special aptitude tests (like the PRAXIS I and II, given by the Educational Testing Service or ETS), and do one year of student teaching under the auspices of an experienced teacher.
Courses you may take in a mathematics-focused teacher program include:
- Technology in education
- Diversity matters
- Human development/growth
- Mathematics for teachers
- Number theory/sense
- Discrete mathematics
- Assessment in mathematics
- Math/science connections
- Active-learning techniques
- Group-work dynamics & hands-on activities
- Child psychology/development
- Foundations of education
After completing all the requirements, teachers are licensed/certified to work in public schools; such licensure/certification, however, is not generally necessary for private schools. You may improve chances for employment/salary by also pursuing national certification, such as is offered by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. Professional development classes may be necessary after getting employment.
Elementary Math Teacher Job/Career Prospects
In spite of a bad economy and plans for cutbacks in school spending, the prospect for elementary school teachers is relatively good. In fact, mainly because of incentives for early retirement for older teachers and plans to cut student-to-teacher ratios, an increase in teaching jobs is expected to the tune of 17% or 281,500 positions, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Teachers who pursue graduate degrees are expected to have even better job prospects, as well as higher salaries. Speaking of salaries, the average annual remuneration for elementary school teachers is roughly $51,380 as of 2010.
Specific Steps If Pursuing an Elementary School Teacher Career
A practical set of steps may include:
- First determine if you have the right type of aptitude for the job. Do you have great patience, people skills, an insatiable thirst for knowledge (which you can impart to children), a desire to help children develop, etc?
- See how it feels to work with children. Even volunteering at a local school may give you a feel for what the job requires/involves.
- Put together a solid-education plan. It starts by getting a 4-year degree, preferably in an area that thrills/fulfills you. Make sure your degree includes teaching education courses; if not, pursue a master’s that includes teacher certification (a.k.a., MAT or masters in teaching).
- Complete a student-teacher residency or internship.
- Complete all other certification/licensing requirements specific to your state.
- Look for openings at local schools.
Elementary school mathematics teachers are valuable resources. This is especially true for school systems with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs. In fact, there has been a shortage of science/mathematics-qualified teachers in the past and in some parts of the country.
You can help address these problems, while at the same time pursue a great, rewarding profession. Get the ball rolling by finding a school with education programs/degrees—it’s that simple!