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An Introduction to Elementary Education

If you’re thinking about becoming a teacher, elementary education offers a lot of opportunity.

Do you remember what it was like to be in elementary school? If you had good teachers, those memories are likely tinted by the excitement and wonder of learning and playing. Perhaps you’re considering devoting your career to giving elementary students that same positive experience. But before you go to school to become a licensed teacher, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of elementary education in the U.S. and where it may be headed. Here are some facts to know.


The Basic Definition

The U.S. Department of Education divides its statistics between pre-kindergarten through eighth grade (grouping those as “elementary school”) and ninth grade through 12th grade (grouping those as “secondary school”). However, most school districts consider kindergarten through fifth or sixth grade to be elementary school and most educational literature and teaching strategies define elementary education within that same K–6 range. In other words, while the statistics for elementary education include middle school, those in the profession use a more selective categorization.

The Raw Numbers

According to enrollment reports from the National Center for Educational Statistics:

  • Nearly 90% of all U.S. students are enrolled in public schools.1
  • The U.S. has 35.3 million public school students in preK through eighth grade.1
  • Sixty-one percent of 3- to 5-year-olds were enrolled in public preK or public kindergarten programs.1
  • PreK through 12th grade enrollment increased 3% from fall 2009 to fall 2018.2
  • The state with the largest enrollment increase was the District of Columbia (+27%) and the largest decrease was seen in Michigan and New Hampshire (-9%).2
  • Total public elementary and secondary school enrollment is projected to increase between fall 2020 and fall 2029 to 51.1 million.3
  • U.S. public schools are diverse. White students account for just over 46% of all students. Hispanic students account for 27.6%. Black students account for just under 15%. Asian students account for just over 5.5%. The remaining students are Pacific Islander, Native American, or identify as two or more races.3
  • The percentage of both white and Native American students is expected to decline in coming years, while the percentage of Asian students and students identifying as two or more races is expected to rise. The percentages of Black, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander students are expected to remain about the same.3

The Core Importance

Elementary school is a vital step in preparing children for later learning and life in general. It’s where most children learn to read, where they learn the fundamental concepts of science and mathematics, and where they gain a basic understanding of the world and its history. Without elementary education, all other learning would be difficult, if not impossible. Indeed, studies have shown that learning to read before fourth grade can actually increase a student’s lifelong earning potential.4 In other words, the quality of education a child receives in elementary school can affect their entire life. 

The Teachers

Those who teach in public elementary schools typically hold a teacher certification from their state. Each state has different requirements, but in general, to become a certified teacher you have to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, complete a teacher education program, and pass both a skills test and a background check. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are over 1.5 million kindergarten and elementary school teachers in the U.S., with that number projected to increase by 56,100 (4%) between 2019 and 2029. The median salary for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is $60,660 a year.

The Path to Becoming a Licensed Elementary School Teacher

If you want to teach in an elementary school, the most direct path is to earn a teaching degree. In specific, a BS in Elementary Education can help you gain the teaching skills and knowledge you need to succeed in the classroom and prepare for teacher licensure/certification.

Or, if you already hold a bachelor’s degree in any field and wish to become an elementary school teacher, a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Elementary Education program is a great choice. In this program, students focus on gaining deep knowledge of children’s development, motivation, and learning. Students also concentrate on skills in the areas of instruction, assessment, cultural responsiveness, technology, relationship building, collaboration, and much more.

A bachelor’s or master’s elementary education degree program can prepare you to teach elementary grades from preschool to fifth, with some programs preparing you to teach sixth, seventh, and eighth grades as well. Most students pursuing an undergraduate degree in elementary education also spend a term under observed teaching, improving their teaching experience and preparing to lead their own classrooms.

To become an elementary education teacher, a student can expect to take courses in the following subjects: 

  • Child development
  • Classroom management
  • Literacy instruction and assessment
  • Mathematics instruction and assessment
  • Science instruction and assessment
  • Demonstration teaching/seminar

While earning an education degree used to require living close to a university campus, online learning is making the process more convenient. Rather than having to be close to the college you wish to attend, you can earn a BS in Elementary Education or a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Elementary Education online and complete your courses right from home or anywhere else you have internet access. Plus, in an online bachelor’s program, you can attend class at whatever time of day you want, giving you a lot more control over your daily schedule. 

If elementary education seems like the right choice for your career, a BS in Elementary Education or Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Elementary Education can help you get there. And an online university can help ensure earning that degree is a real possibility. 

Walden University is an accredited institution offering BS in Elementary Education and Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) – Elementary Education degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to