A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

What Is an Elementary School Teacher?

Those interested in being a teacher most likely have questions about what the life of a teacher looks like from day to day. Individuals need to consider the daily schedule of a potential profession to determine if it will be a good fit for their temperament, workflow, and long-term goals. This article will provide insight into the life of an elementary school teacher to help prospective teachers decide if being a teacher is right for them.

Elementary school teachers typically work with students in grades K-5 or K-6, depending on the school district. They are responsible for teaching foundational subjects such as reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies; some also teach specialty subjects such as music, art, English as Second Language (ESL), or physical education.

The main difference between elementary and high school teaching is the level of complexity and depth of the subject material. In elementary school, teachers focus on building the basic skills and knowledge necessary for future academic success. In high school, teachers are responsible for instructing more advanced, specialized subjects. Additionally, high school teachers often work with students who are close to adulthood, and their teaching methods and approach must reflect this change in maturity level.

How to Become an Elementary School Teacher

The traditional path to becoming an elementary school teacher include the following:

  • Obtain a bachelor's degree: Most states require aspiring elementary school teachers to obtain a bachelor's degree in education or a related field. This typically takes 4 years to complete.
  • Complete a teacher preparation program: In addition to a bachelor's degree, many states also require completion of a teacher preparation program, which includes coursework in pedagogy, child development, and the specific subject areas that the teacher will be instructing. Most colleges offering majors in education provide a teacher preparation program in conjunction with the other coursework the major requires.
  • Pass certification exams: Most states require that an aspiring teacher pass certification exams, such as the FTCE Exam for Florida teachers, to demonstrate their competency in teaching.
  • Complete a student teaching program: Before becoming a full-fledged teacher, aspiring teachers must complete a student teaching program. This is an opportunity to put into practice the theories learned in the classroom under the supervision of an experienced teacher.
  • Apply for state certification: After completing the necessary education, exams, and student teaching, aspiring teachers must apply for state certification. This involves submitting transcripts, exam scores, and other required documentation to the state's certification agency.

The length of time it takes to become a teacher can vary depending on the individual and the state in which they live. On average, it can take anywhere from 4 to 7 years to become an elementary school teacher, including the time spent obtaining a bachelor's degree, completing a teacher preparation program, and completing a student teaching program.

A Day in the Life of an Elementary School Teacher

The annual work schedule for elementary school teachers usually runs from late August or early September to late May or early June, with a summer break of 2-3 months. During the school year, teachers typically work Monday to Friday, 8-9 hours a day, including planning time, preparation time, and classroom instruction time.

A day in the life of an elementary school teacher typically includes the following activities:

  • Arrival and preparation: This could involve setting up the classroom, preparing materials, and getting organized for the day.
  • Morning routines: This could include greeting students as they arrive, taking attendance, and leading morning meetings or activities.
  • Morning classes: This typically includes teaching a variety of subjects such as reading, writing, math, science, and social studies.
  • Lunch and recess: Teachers typically have a designated lunch period and may also supervise recess.
  • Afternoon classes: This typically includes teaching more subjects, sometimes with a different group of students.
  • Specials classes: Some schools have designated times for subjects such as art, music, PE, or technology.
  • Planning and preparation: This is often done after students have gone home, and may include grading papers, creating lesson plans, and attending meetings.
  • End of day routines: This could include putting away materials, completing end-of-day tasks, and preparing for the next day.

This is a general overview of a day in the life of a teacher; specific schedules could vary greatly depending on the school, grade level, and individual teacher.

Before School

A typical day for an elementary school teacher before school starts might look like this:

6:30 AM: Wake up. Many teachers wake up early to get a head start on the day and to have some quiet time before the busy school day begins. Some teachers find the morning a good time for exercise and a quality breakfast, while others prioritize their sleep.

7:00 AM: Commute. Depending on the teacher's location and mode of transportation, the commute to school can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Many teachers use this time to mentally prepare for the upcoming day.

7:30 AM: Arrive at school. Upon arrival, the teacher might go to their classroom to check email, prepare materials, and make any necessary updates to their lesson plans.

8:00 AM: Morning routines. Teachers may also spend time reviewing and preparing materials for the day's lessons, making necessary adjustments based on student needs, and checking in with colleagues with questions about instruction or how to best support students. This time may involve last-minute photocopying or adjusting to last-minute scheduling changes.

8:15 AM: Student arrival. As students arrive at school, teachers often have a set of morning routines to help prepare themselves and their students for the day. This might include setting up their classroom, taking lunch count and attendance, greeting students as they arrive, and reviewing the day's schedule.

9:00 AM: Class begins. With preparation complete, the teacher is ready to start the day's lessons and engage with their students.

This is just a typical example of an elementary school teacher's day before school starts, and the specifics can differ greatly depending on the teacher's school, schedule, and personal preferences. Despite the variability, the focus during this time is always on preparation and setting the stage for a successful day of teaching and learning.

During School

An elementary teacher's schedule during the school day might look like this:

9:00 AM - 11:30 AM: Morning lessons. The day typically begins with a period of focused instruction, during which the teacher might teach various subjects such as mathematics, reading, or science.

11:30 AM - 12:30 PM: Lunch and recess. After a morning of focused instruction, students usually have a break for lunch. During lunchtime, students eat a meal and have a break from instruction, while teachers often use this time for planning and preparation. During recess, students can run around, play games, and interact with their peers. Depending on the school, teachers may have recess duty every day, some days, or not at all.

12:30 - 2:00 PM: Afternoon lessons. After lunch, the day continues with more lessons, focusing on subjects such as reading, mathematics, and science. Sometimes teachers will teach a different group of students in the afternoon, depending on the school's scheduling structure.

2:00 PM - 2:30 PM: Specials classes. Some schools have designated times for subjects such as art, music, PE, library, or technology. These activities usually follow a school-wide schedule. During this time, teachers may plan for upcoming instruction, attend meetings, or review student work.

2:30 PM - 3:30 PM: Afternoon wrap-up.The day concludes with a period of review and reflection, during which the teacher can review what was covered during the day and assess student understanding.

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM: Dismissal. At the end of the day, students are dismissed, and the teacher can clean up their classroom, prepare materials for the next day, and check in with colleagues or administrators.

This is just one example of a teacher's life during the school day, and the specifics may change on the teacher's school, schedule, and personal preferences. For further insight into the specifics of teacher life, it may be helpful to talk with local teachers about their daily schedules. No matter what, the focus during the school day is always on providing engaging, effective instruction to support student learning and growth.

After School

A typical afternoon and night for an elementary school teacher when the school day ends might look like this:

3:30 PM - 4:00 PM: Dismissal and clean-up. After students are dismissed, the teacher typically cleans up their classroom, packs up materials, and gets ready to head home. Some schools may periodically schedule after-school meetings, but this depends on the school's preferred schedule.

4:00 PM - 5:30 PM: Commute. The teacher's commute home can take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending on their location and mode of transportation. Most teachers find their commute to be a great time to reflect on the events of the school day so they can transition out of work mode upon arriving home.

5:30 PM - 6:00 PM: Dinner and relaxation. After a long day of teaching and commuting, many teachers take some time to relax, eat dinner, and recharge for the evening.

6:00 PM - 8:00 PM: Evening work. Although the students' day ends when the bell rings, many teachers still find that they have work to do in the evenings. This can include grading papers, preparing lessons, and responding to emails from students and parents.

8:00 PM - 9:30 PM: Personal time. After completing their evening work, teachers usually have some personal time to spend with family, pursue hobbies, or simply relax and unwind.

9:30 PM: Bedtime. After a long and demanding day, many teachers aim to get to bed early in preparation for the next day's challenges and opportunities.

This is just one example of a teacher's day after the school day ends, which can vary depending on the teacher. No matter the specifics, the focus during this time is on completing the tasks and responsibilities necessary for teachers to support their students and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Elementary Teacher Job Duties

The work of an elementary school teacher is much more complex than it may seem at first glance, and there are many tasks that teachers have to complete both in and out of the classroom to support student learning and growth. Some of these tasks include:

  • Lesson planning: Teachers spend a significant amount of time each week planning lessons that are engaging, effective, and aligned with learning standards. This requires research, creativity, and collaboration with colleagues.
  • Grading and assessment: Teachers regularly assess student learning and provide feedback to help students improve. This requires grading papers, analyzing test results, and recording student progress in a gradebook or other system.
  • Communication: Teachers communicate regularly with students, parents, and colleagues to keep everyone informed about what's happening in the classroom and to address any concerns or issues that arise. This can involve email, phone calls, or in-person meetings.
  • Professional development: Teachers engage in ongoing professional development to improve their skills and knowledge, and to keep them up-to-date with best practices in education. This can involve attending workshops, conferences, or online courses.
  • Classroom management: Teachers are responsible for creating a positive, supportive, and safe learning environment in the classroom. This requires establishing rules, routines, and procedures, and managing behavior effectively.
  • Record-keeping: Teachers are responsible for keeping accurate and up-to-date records of student attendance, grades, and other information. This requires using technology, such as a student information system or gradebook, to track and report on student progress.

This is just a sample of the many tasks that an elementary school teacher must complete to support student learning and growth. It's clear that teachers have a lot of work to do both in and out of the classroom, and that the role requires a wide range of skills, including organization, communication, and leadership.

Is Being a Teacher Challenging?

Being a teacher is a demanding and challenging job, and it requires a wide range of skills and personal qualities to be successful. Some of the most common challenges that teachers face include:

  • Classroom management: Managing a classroom of students can be a significant challenge, especially in diverse and fast-paced environments. Teachers need to be able to maintain order and discipline, while also fostering a positive and supportive learning environment.
  • Wide range of students: Elementary school teachers work with students with a variety of backgrounds, abilities, interests, cultures, and personalities. This requires teachers to be culturally responsive, flexible, and sensitive to individual student needs. No matter the number of students in a class, this personalized knowledge of each student can be a challenging task.
  • Time management: With so many tasks to complete and a limited amount of time, effective time management is essential for teachers. They need to be able to prioritize tasks, manage their workload, and balance their time effectively to meet the needs of their students.
  • Student behavior: Teachers may encounter challenging student behavior, including apathy, disruptive behavior, or resistance to learning. Teachers need to be able to handle these situations constructively and professionally to support student success.

Despite these challenges, teaching can be a highly rewarding profession for the right person. Some of the traits that are commonly associated with effective teachers include:

  • Patience: Teachers need to be patient, understanding, and compassionate, especially when working with students who may be struggling.
  • Passion for teaching: A passion for teaching is essential for success in the classroom. Teachers who are enthusiastic, energetic, and committed to their students are often the most effective.
  • Creativity: Teachers must be creative and innovative, developing new and engaging ways to teach and inspire students.
  • Flexibility: Teachers need to be flexible and adaptable, able to respond to changing circumstances and shifting student needs.
  • Emotional intelligence: Teachers need to be empathetic and have strong emotional intelligence, able to understand and respond to the needs of their students.

Being a teacher can be a challenging but rewarding career for those who possess the right traits and skills. By effectively managing the challenges and leveraging their strengths, teachers can make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of their students.

Job Outlook for a Typical Teacher

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for elementary school teachers is positive. The BLS projects that employment of elementary school teachers will grow 4% from 2021 to 2031, which is about average compared to other occupations. This growth is expected due to an increasing enrollment in elementary schools and a growing need for qualified teachers.

The median annual salary for elementary school teachers in the United States is $67,080, according to the BLS. However, salaries can differ depending on several factors, including experience, education level, and geographic location. Entry-level teachers can expect to earn around $45,000 to $50,000 per year, while experienced teachers can earn upwards of $70,000 or more.

It's worth noting that salaries can also change depending on the state or district where a teacher works. For example, states like New York, California, and Massachusetts offer higher salaries than others. Teachers who work in urban areas or high-need schools may also earn higher salaries. Additionally, teachers with advanced degrees or certification may earn higher salaries than those with only bachelor's degrees.

In summary, the job outlook for elementary school teachers is positive, and the average salary is competitive compared to other professions. By acquiring the necessary education and certifications, and leveraging their skills and experience, teachers can advance their careers and earn a competitive salary in this fulfilling and rewarding profession.

Teacher Student Loan Forgiveness

There are several programs available to teachers that offer student loan forgiveness as an incentive for working in underserved communities or high-need areas. The specific parameters of these programs can vary, but they typically involve teachers agreeing to a set amount of time in a specific teaching setting.

Here are some of the most well-known programs:

  • Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program: This federal program provides up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness for teachers who work in low-income schools or educational service agencies. To be eligible, teachers must have been teaching full-time for five consecutive years.
  • State Teacher Loan Repayment Programs: Many states offer loan repayment programs for teachers who agree to work in high-need schools or under-served areas. These programs can provide significant loan forgiveness, and the terms and conditions can vary from state to state.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program: The PSLF program is available to all public service employees, including teachers. To be eligible, teachers must have been working in public service for at least 10 years, and have made 120 qualifying payments on their student loans.
  • Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers: The Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers program provides loan forgiveness for teachers who work in low-income schools or educational service agencies. Eligible teachers can have up to 100% of their loan forgiven over five years.

Remember that the eligibility criteria, terms and conditions, and amount of loan forgiveness can vary depending on the program and the teacher's circumstances. Therefore, teachers should carefully review each program's requirements and conditions to determine which is best suited to their needs. By taking advantage of these programs, teachers can get the financial support they need to manage their student loan debt and continue to pursue the profession they love.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the typical work schedule for a teacher?

    A day in the life of an elementary school teacher typically includes arrival and preparation, morning routines and classes, lunch and recess, afternoon classes, specials classes, planning and preparation, and end of day routines.

  • Do teachers work 8 hours a day?

    When school is in session, teachers work a minimum of 8 hours a day, with many teachers completing work after the school day is done.

  • How stressful is being a teacher?

    While teachers face various challenging situations throughout the school year, teaching can be a highly rewarding profession for the right person.

  • Is being a teacher worth it?

    Teaching can be a challenging but rewarding career for those who possess the right traits and skills. Many teachers enjoy the fact that they can make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of their students.