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What is it like to be a teacher?

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers teach children to read, write, speak, do math, and much more. They use games, music, art, films, computers, and other tools to teach children basic skills. When children learn, they feel good and will do well in school later on. When they grow up and go to work and become parents, they will do a good job because of what they learned when they were young.

Most kindergarten and elementary school teachers teach several subjects to one class of children. In some schools, two or more teachers work as a team. They teach a group of students at least one subject. In other schools, a teacher may teach one special subject to a number of classes. Usually they teach music, art, reading, science, math, or gym. Some teach classes of students from different grades.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers may write with chalk on a chalkboard or with markers on a dry-erase board. They also may use videos, slides, overhead projectors, or computers. All these things help children learn in different ways. With computers, children can talk with students in other countries. Computers also help students solve math problems. Sometimes they help children learn to speak English better. Many teachers use computers to record the children's grades. Teachers have to keep learning to make sure that they know how to use computers and other machines in their classes.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers work with all different kinds of children. Some are black and some are white. Some were born in the United States and some were not. Some have parents or grandparents from Europe, some from Asia, and some from Africa. With so many different kinds of children, teachers have to learn about them all. After they do learn, they make sure that all of the children can learn the way they like to. Some schools even teach teachers how to learn about different kinds of children!

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers teach lessons and give tests. They listen to the children recite their lessons and make sure that no one misbehaves. They grade the children on their work and on how well they think the children ought to do. When the children are not doing as well as they should be, the teachers give them help.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers plan their lessons before they teach them. They also make tests and grade papers. They write the children's report cards. And they meet with parents to try to help their children do better in school. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers sometimes go to meetings and workshops.

Teachers like it when they see children learn. Sometimes, though, they have to deal with children who misbehave. In big cities, teachers may have a lot of work to do. They may have large classes and many children who come from poor families. Some teachers leave because they are not paid very well.

Many kindergarten and elementary school teachers work more than 40 hours a week. Most work from September through June. Then they go on vacation during the summer. Sometimes they teach in summer school. Or they may take another job or travel. Many go to college and continue their education.

Most States have tenure laws. This means that teachers cannot be fired without a good reason. Teachers may get tenure after a certain number of years, usually 3. Tenure does not guarantee that a teacher will always have a job, but it does provide some security.

How do you get ready to be a teacher?

All kindergarten and elementary school teachers must have a license to teach. Some are licensed to teach nursery school through grade 3. Others are licensed to teach grades 1 through 6 or 8. Some may have a license to teach a special subject, such as reading or music.

You must have a college degree to be a kindergarten and elementary school teacher. You must also take special training in college. And you must take certain courses in education and be a student teacher, under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

To get a license to teach kindergarten or elementary school, you must pass tests in reading, writing, and teaching. In most States, to renew your license, you must continue to go to college. Some States require you to get a master's degree. Some States require computer training. Teachers who are licensed in one State often can easily get a license in another State. A new offering is a kind of national license.

Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must be able to talk to children. The children must trust them and like them. The teachers must be able to make the children want to learn. And the teachers must understand what the children need to learn. The teachers must teach each child differently. They also should be organized, dependable, patient, and creative.

How much do teachers get paid?

The middle half of all kindergarten school teachers earned between $32,840 and $51,670 a year in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $27,110. The highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $63,930 a year.

The middle half of all elementary school teachers earned between $33,450 and $53,120 a year in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $27,680 and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $65,590 a year.

Some teachers earn extra money during the summer.

How many jobs are there?

There were 168,000 kindergarten teachers and 1.5 million elementary school teachers in 2002. They taught in every State in the United States.

What about the future?

Job opportunities for kindergarten and elementary school teachers over the next 10 years will vary, depending on the locality. Some school districts are having trouble finding enough qualified teachers. Today, many school systems are looking for teachers who speak a foreign language and who can teach English as a second language.

BLS expects that the number of jobs for kindergarten and elementary school teachers will increase about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012. In addition, many teachers are expected to retire, creating many additional job openings.

Are there other jobs like this?

  • Coaches
  • Counselors
  • Education administrators
  • Employment interviewers
  • Human resources, training, and labor relations managers and specialists (employee development specialists)
  • Librarians
  • Public relations specialists
  • Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing
  • Social workers
  • Teachers—postsecondary
  • Teachers—special education
Where can you find more information?

More information about teachers—preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and secondary can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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