Teachers can define their career path by focusing on areas of specialization in elementary education that align with their interests. In the early years, the classroom teacher is expected to be a generalist. Elementary education is geared toward introducing fundamental concepts to young students. Teachers are expected to create a learning environment that focuses on helping children learn basic concepts in reading, communications and number skills while supporting motor skills development. The typical classroom setup in elementary schools assigns a lead teacher for every class of 15 to 25 students. The teacher is in charge of the same group of students throughout the school day unlike the rotating schedule used in middle and high schools.
Elementary school teachers can obtain additional credentials to hone their skills and add to their expertise even if the standard curriculum focuses on competence in the fundamentals of reading, writing, number skills and other subject areas. Some schools that follow a themed curriculum may require that teachers obtain advanced training in certain courses. For instance, specializations for a performing arts-focused elementary school may involve incorporating music, drama and dance in teaching the core curriculum for math, reading and science.
STEM or science, technology, engineering and math, schools may favor teachers who have strong math and science skills with certifications in these subjects. STEAM schools incorporate art courses along with the STEM courses. In some schools that advocate for team teaching, one teacher may provide the expertise in math and science and a second teacher handles reading, art and other courses. Students remain in the same classroom while the teachers rotate to different classes.
Specializations by Function
Reading specialists play an important role in elementary education. Developing reading skills in elementary school is considered one of the key milestones of a child’s developmental progress. Some children enter school with reading skills that are above their grade level while others need guidance to improve their decoding skills. Other students may have some physical or mental limitations that require one-on-one guidance to help them become functional readers. The reading specialist is often expected to handle more than one class of different grade levels. Other areas of specialization in elementary education include art therapist, speech therapist, foreign language specialist and ESL or English as a second language teacher.
Children with disabilities are being included in regular classrooms where they can interact with their peers. However, it takes a teacher with special education training to manage the needs of these children. Special education teachers are in high demand as the number of special needs children rises.
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Outlook for Elementary Education Teachers
The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 7 percent employment growth rate for elementary school teachers. It must be emphasized that the demand for teachers across all areas of specialization in elementary education will vary from one region to the next.
Watch for urban and suburban locations that are undergoing a population shift from older residents to younger families. In these areas, schools are opening at a fast pace to accommodate the needs of the growing community. Job growth for teachers may surpass the anticipated growth rate by a wide margin. These school districts will provide many opportunities for all areas of specialization in elementary education regardless of experience.