Requirements to Become an Elementary Math Teacher
Elementary school teachers instruct children from kindergarten through either fifth or eighth grade, depending on their state's definition of 'elementary.' These teachers play a key role in child development and introduce children to an array of subjects that includes mathematics, as well as social studies, natural sciences and language arts. Sometimes teaching in teams and sometimes working individually, elementary school teachers manage one classroom throughout the day.
Since an elementary school teacher teaches multiple subjects and therefore doesn't focus on one subject, such as math, there is no specific degree program in elementary mathematics education. However, it's not unusual for universities to offer bachelor's degrees in education with an emphasis on mathematics.
Bachelor of Arts in Education
A Bachelor of Arts in Education (B.A.Ed.) program is designed to prepare educators for work in elementary schools. Education majors attend school for two years, often as liberal arts majors, before applying to a 2-year education program. After demonstrating a sufficient grade point average, aspiring education majors must pass the PRAXIS I exam. Administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), this pre-professional exam measures basic reading, writing and math skills and qualifies students for a teacher education program.
Once admitted to an education program, students often are required to choose an area of emphasis, such as math, language arts, humanities, social sciences or natural sciences. An undergraduate student in a teacher education program with a math emphasis might take courses such as the following:
- Introduction to teaching
- Diversity in the classroom
- Technology in education
- Human growth and development
- Mathematics for teachers
- Number sense and theory
- Discrete mathematics
- Student teaching specialized content
Once all coursework is finished, every state requires that students complete at least one semester of student teaching. Prior to this, the PRAXIS II exam must be taken. Also administered by the ETS, the PRAXIS II is a second-tier professional exam that measures students' readiness to teach in a classroom setting. After passing this test, students are placed with experienced teachers in public school districts; for elementary education majors, two consecutive placements during a semester are common.
Student teachers begin with observation and, by the end of their student teaching experience, will have taken the reins in the classroom. Formalized and detailed lesson plans must be submitted and approved by the supervising teacher, and half of all hours worked must be spent in complete control of the classroom. This includes full-class instruction, discipline, evaluation, work with small groups and individual tutoring as necessary.
State licensure is required to teach in all public schools and is granted by state boards of education. Some reciprocity does exist between states, but the rules vary, so teachers who plan to move should check requirements in the state where they plan to work. Licensure is generally granted for all elementary grades (K-8) or a combination thereof.
Voluntary certification is available through the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). This advanced teaching credential is highly regarded, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many districts financially reward holders of this certification (www.bls.gov). There are two specific certifications that apply to elementary school teachers: the Generalist Early Childhood certificate, for teachers of students aged 3-8, and the Generalist Middle Childhood certificate, for teachers of students aged 7-12.
For elementary education teachers who would like to further their education and specialize in mathematics, a Master of Arts in Elementary Education with a focus in mathematics might be a good choice. Master's programs in education generally are structured for practicing classroom teachers and are designed to prepare them for leadership roles in their schools. A student in such a program could expect to take classes such as the following:
- Teaching numbers and arithmetic
- Geometry in elementary school
- Assessment in mathematics
- Mathematics and gender
- Math and science connections
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Elementary teaching jobs are expected to increase 17% from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This employment growth will likely be caused by increased student enrollment and decreased student-teacher ratios. The BLS reported in May of 2012 that the median annual salary of elementary teachers was $53,400.
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