Career Spotlight: Elementary and Middle School Teachers
Median Annual Wage (2018): $57,980/year (elementary school teachers) and $58,600/year (middle school teachers)
Entry-level education: Bachelor’s degree and state-issued certification or license
Work experience: none
Job growth: 3.0 percent
Teaching young children the tenants of reading, writing, math, social sciences, the arts and physical education requires more than patience and a gentle tone. It means working with children who come from varying backgrounds and demonstrate varying abilities. Not everyone will grow up to be a superhero or ballerina, so educators have to balance imagination and facts to deliver an educational experience that provides both inspiration and discipline.
As children set out on their educational journey, they depend on their elementary school educators to provide the building blocks for study. As they work their way up, their middle school teachers help bridge the gap between the early years and high school.
Elementary school teachers work with students in kindergarten through fifth grade who are typically ages five through 11. Middle school teachers help students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade who are typically 11 through 14 years old.
Elementary and middle school teachers are responsible for creating lesson plans, facilitating instruction, grading work, ensuring children are prepared for state-required testing and more. Some teachers may specialize in subject area while others teach across all disciplines.
Elementary and middle school teachers work about 10 months of the year, taking time off during summer unless they’ve elected to teach summer school. The median annual wage for elementary school teachers is $58,230, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $95,270. Kindergarten teachers make a median annual wage of $55,470, with the highest earners making $86,310. Middle school teachers earn a median annual wage of $58,600 with the highest earners bringing in $93,180.
For educators, wages continue to be a controversial topic, with the majority in the profession, as well as those supporting the field, advocating for pay increases. The PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools has conducted random sample surveys of U.S. adults since 1969. This year’s survey of 565 public school teachers revealed that the majority of educators report they are underpaid and that their schools are underfunded. Six in 10 parents agree that their schools are underfunded.
Certifications, Licensing, and Career Growth
Teachers must earn a license or certification, and each state has its own requirements, which may include professional development classes or alternative licensing. Like other specialized professions, such as financial services and medical providers, certifications and licensing typically aren’t transferrable between states.
Elementary and middle school educators may also build on their credentials by obtaining additional certifications that allow them to hold other positions within a school or district, such as counselors, principals, or librarians. There are also national board certifications available for career advancement.
Job Outlook: Moderate
Elementary and middle school teachers will continue to be in demand, but projected job growth in both disciplines is slow at 3 percent through 2028, which is below the national average of 5 percent for overall occupational growth. Employment projections call for an increase of 53,100 new kindergarten and elementary teachers and 21,400 new positions for middle school teachers by 2028 across the nation.
However, public school enrollment, as well as local and state budgets, continue to mold the demand—and will influence long-term employment opportunities for the profession.