Elementary school teachers play a significant role in young children's academic, emotional, and social development. If your career goal involves teaching in a K-6 classroom or working as an education administrator, your professional journey starts by earning an online elementary education degree.
An online bachelor's degree in elementary education prepares you to receive a teaching license or certificate in your home state. Also, earning your degree from a top online elementary education program grants you tremendous flexibility and financial stability: you can continue working full time while earning your degree. Continue reading to learn more about how an online program can jumpstart your next career.
Overview of Elementary Education Bachelor's Degrees
Elementary education refers to K-6 classrooms in public and private elementary schools. Elementary education online degrees prepare graduates for these careers in two significant ways. First, these accredited programs confer specialized knowledge and skills (e.g., pedagogy and classroom management). Second, they prepare students for teacher licensure or certification. Teachers must possess an active license or certificate to work in public schools.
States' teacher licensure requirements for early elementary education degree online programs typically include student teaching. During student teaching, teachers in training work in schools under the guidance of a licensed teacher. Student teaching assignments last one semester, and students often split their time between two grade levels. Universities work with online students to find appropriate placements in their home communities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for elementary teachers should grow 7% from 2016-2026. The BLS also projects that the demand for elementary, middle, and high school principals should increase 8% in the same period. These strong growth projections indicate that those who begin elementary education degrees in the near future should benefit from a robust job market when they graduate.
When researching online programs, only consider those that prepare you for licensure in your home state or where you plan to teach after graduation.
The application process for online colleges for elementary education resembles that of on-campus programs. First, you will submit official transcripts from your high school and any college you attended in the past. Request transcripts as early as possible, planning to play a small fee for each. Schools' credit transfer policies vary, so carefully consider programs that can offer you the most transfer credit.
Recommendation letters play another important role in the application process. Ask 2-3 former teachers or professors -- people who can speak to your academic performance and potential -- to write you letters at least two weeks before any application deadlines.
Essays and personal statements give you the chance to personalize your application and stand out from the crowd. If a program lets you write an open-ended personal statement, use it as an opportunity to speak to your strengths, discussing periods when you learned from your mistakes or overcame adversity.
Finally, set aside $40-$60 for each school's application fee. If these fees represent a financial burden, inquire with schools to determine if you qualify for a tuition waiver. Schools often cap the number of waivers they grant each year, so the sooner you ask, the greater chance you have of receiving one. Fortunately, some online elementary education programs do not require application fees.
What Will I Learn?
Although undergraduate elementary education programs vary, you can expect to earn 120 credits over four years. General education requirements take up nearly 50% of your education, followed by major requirements and, finally, electives. Many college students use electives to pursue a second major or explore their first major more in depth.
The best elementary teacher degree online programs include coursework in childhood development, curriculum development, classroom management, and special education. Licensure programs also involve a student teaching component in the final year. For one semester, you teach at one or more schools. During student teaching, do not plan to work full time.
Continue reading to learn more about six courses common to online elementary education degrees. Please keep in mind that although two programs may list the same name for a course, the courses may involve significantly different curricula and requirements. Contact programs directly to learn more about their courses.
This course covers vital knowledge and skills elementary educators need to work with special needs students in the general education classroom. Course topics include inclusion best practices and using technology to promote inclusion. Students in this course typically complete field experiences to observe how seasoned teachers practice inclusion techniques.
Classroom teachers and administrators at all levels must know how to create assessments and analyze the results. This course covers formative and summative investments, assessment design, and technological influences on assessment. Not only do students learn how to assess fundamentals, but they also master how to create assessments that reflect their future students' learning accurately.
This course prepares students to work with children from different cultural, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Students study how changes in the U.S.'s demographic makeup affect classrooms across the country. Students also analyze how classroom diversity can result in positive or negative consequences. One crucial skill this course conveys involves how to defuse the tension or conflict that can occur in diverse classrooms.
Language Arts Instruction
Elementary education degree online programs require that students complete content-specific courses so that they understand how to instruct students in different subjects. Language arts instruction courses stress measuring students' reading strengths and weaknesses, differentiating instruction, and promoting academic language in the classroom. Students typically take this course alongside an elementary reading methods course.
Before starting student teaching, students complete multiple preclinical experiences, also known as practicums or field experiences. Students visit different schools to observe teachers and collect data. In research papers, students synthesize their field data with the knowledge they learned in previous courses.
In programs that use a cohort learning model, a cohort seminar involves student teachers coming together 1-2 times per week to share their experiences, reflect on what they learned, and provide each other valuable resources. Not only does this course help student teachers succeed, it also prepares them to collaborate with their future peers after graduation.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Elementary Education?
An online elementary education degree prepares you for much more than classroom teaching. You can use your education and experience to move into education administrative positions or into new careers altogether. Continue reading to learn more about the core skills you hone during your affordable program and the careers where you can put them to use.
Online elementary education degrees confer many valuable core skills and competencies that help teachers succeed inside and outside the classroom. First, organized teachers take great care in preparing materials and ensuring that their lessons align with the curriculum. Second, teachers with strong time-management skills can use every available moment for instruction. Finally, teachers' strong interpersonal skills allow them to form positive relationships with students, parents, and other faculty members. Teacher preparation programs stress organization, time management, and interpersonal communication so that teachers can master them and pass them down to their pupils.
These core skills play a large role in the classroom and prepare teachers to advance their careers. Principals and vice principals must possess excellent organizational, time-management, and interpersonal skills -- as their jobs require them to mentor teachers and act as their schools' public face. Experienced teachers who do not plan to move into administrative roles can still adapt their careers by becoming an English as a second language (ESL) or special education teacher. Finally, teachers can use these skills in nearly any career if they decide to leave teaching.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Online elementary education degree graduates typically start their careers teaching at public elementary schools. Teachers who leave the profession often work as content creators and advisers in the test preparation and textbook industries. Others who want to continue helping children may go back to school to become social workers or counselors. No matter what, experienced teachers enjoy many options when it comes to furthering their present jobs or changing careers.
The table below reflects the latest annual mean salaries and job descriptions for three careers that recent graduates enter. The ESL and special education teacher positions require that bachelor's students take additional courses to meet their states' teacher licensure or certification requirements. Finally, keep in mind that mean salaries account for teachers of all experience levels. As a new teacher, expect schools to offer you a lower starting salary.
Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher
Annual Median Salary: $56,900
Kindergarten and elementary school teachers work in the general education classroom. They instruct a single class throughout the day to promote students' academic and social development. They often work alongside ESL and special education teachers to ensure that all students can thrive.
Annual Median Salary: $41,345
ESL teachers work individually with students who struggle with English, such as recent immigrants. They often speak languages other than English so they can more readily instruct students. Like special education teachers, ESL teachers keep detailed records to track their students' progress accurately.
Special Education Teacher
Annual Median Salary: $58,980
Special education teachers help students with physical and mental disabilities learn to the best of their abilities. They craft individualized education plans (IEPs): legal documents that mandate modifications to students' educations. Each year, special education teachers host an IEP meeting with parents and faculty to discuss the IEP and make appropriate changes.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Elementary Education?
Due to a nationwide teacher shortage, no state requires you to possess an advanced degree for initial teacher licensure or certification. However, a master's degree can advance your career in significant ways. First, many states and districts grant automatic pay raises to teachers who possess an advanced degree. They may also qualify you for school or district-level administration positions. Most importantly, an advanced degree shows that you have a passion for education and want to make it your lifelong career. Prospective employers respect this level of dedication, which can lead to you teaching at a more desirable school.
Even if you decide not to earn an advanced degree, you can still enjoy multiple opportunities to advance your career. Teachers with bachelor's degrees can pursue National Board Certification. Teachers who possess this valuable certification often earn higher salaries and can more easily find employment in different districts and states than teachers without board certification.
Accreditation for Elementary Education Bachelor's Programs
When researching online elementary education degrees, ignore those that lack regional accreditation. The U.S.'s seven regional accreditation agencies (e.g., New England Association of Schools and Colleges) determine whether colleges meet minimum academic standards. For this reason, many employers reject applicants who earned degrees at schools that do not hold regional accreditation.
As you plan to earn your degree online, your college or university should also hold national accreditation from an agency that evaluates online learning programs. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission awards accreditation to only the top online bachelor's programs.
Finally, to pick the best program, pay close attention to programs that possess subject-specific accreditation. These accreditation agencies employ experts in their field to evaluate programs' curricula. In the U.S., the best elementary education programs receive accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
If your school or program possesses national or subject-specific accreditation from agencies this section does not mention, check with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's list of recognized accrediting organizations.
Elementary Education Professional Organizations
No matter your age or career experience, you can benefit from joining one or more professional organizations while earning your online elementary education degree. Important for aspiring classroom teachers, these organizations' benefits often include professional liability insurance, professional mentoring networks, and professional development opportunities. Also, these organizations attract student members through discounted membership fees. Even so, only join organizations after conducting extensive research, as you will want to select those that can offer you the most support during your time in school.
National Education Association
The NEA applies its 150 years of experience to represent teachers at the local, state, and national levels. A labor union, the NEA uses its dues to advocate for better teacher pay and improved learning environments for students. In addition to liability insurance, teachers in training receive discounts on home and life insurance, banking and retirement services, and savings on everyday expenses.
National Science Teachers Association
The NSTA brings together over 50,000 aspiring, active, and retired science teachers to improve science education. Membership benefits include subscriptions to four journals, invitations to NSTA conferences, and access to an exclusive email list wherein experienced science educators share their wisdom. Like NEA membership, NSTA membership includes many significant discounts on personal and professional insurance.
National Council of Teachers of English
NCTE helps English teachers of all grade levels improve their English instruction through collaboration and research. More than 25,000 members receive valuable exclusive benefits: private webinars, lesson plans, and virtual conferences through which teachers from around the world can share English instruction best practices. NCTE boasts a "green" membership level that grants a membership fee discount to members who receive materials digitally.