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Pros and Cons of Teaching in High-Needs Elementary Schools

High-needs schools offer unique challenges and opportunities for elementary school teachers.

Not all schools are created equal. Throughout the United States, there are districts and schools that face obstacles that many other schools are fortunate to avoid. These schools are called high-needs schools, and they pose unique challenges to elementary education.

What Is a High-Needs School?

In general, a high-needs school is any school that faces one or more of the following issues:

Pros and Cons of Teaching in High-Needs Elementary Schools

  • More than 30% of the student population comes from low-income families.
  • It has more teaching vacancies than 75% of schools statewide.
  • A high percentage of teachers are teaching outside of their field or lack teacher certification.

What Are the Challenges of Teaching in a High-Needs Elementary School?

Many high-needs schools are in impoverished and/or remote areas, which can complicate education and require adjustments to your teaching strategy. Some of the most common challenges you could face as a kindergarten teacher or an elementary school teacher in a high-needs school include:

Large Class Sizes

Many high-needs schools face teacher shortages, and this problem is likely to worsen in coming years.* As a result, schools have to increase class sizes. This can make it harder to teach, as larger classes are more difficult to manage and require teaching more students with a wider range of talents and abilities.

Undertrained Colleagues

While all schools want certified teachers, many high-needs schools are so shorthanded that they must settle for those without their teacher certification. This, combined with rapid teacher turnover in many high-needs elementary schools, can put teachers in a situation where many of their colleagues need assistance in everything from lesson planning to discipline.

Lack of Resources

Impoverished areas often have impoverished schools because most schools in American are funded through property taxes. If properties lack value, they produce limited revenue, which makes it difficult if not impossible for poorer districts to provide their students with the kinds of resources enjoyed by students in richer districts. This can make teaching in high-needs schools all the more difficult, as you’ll likely face a shortage of technology, supplies, and educational materials.

Over-Stressed Students

Many children who grow up in poverty experience what is known as toxic stress, a condition that can negatively affect behavior, mental acuteness, and health. Since high-needs schools often have a large number of students living below the poverty line, teachers in these schools must learn how to cope with children whose stress levels can negatively impact their ability and willingness to learn.

What Are the Benefits of Teaching in a High-Needs Elementary School?

High-needs schools need certified teachers. While these schools do present a number of teaching challenges, they can also offer unique benefits. These include:

The Chance to Make a Real Difference

If you’re like most people who want to be an elementary school teacher, you’re driven by a desire to help children become their best selves. At a high-needs school, you’ll teach children who desperately need you. It’s an opportunity to make a real difference in countless lives—an opportunity that’s far less common in schools that face fewer obstacles. Because of this, teaching in a high-needs school can make your teaching career truly rewarding.

Loan Forgiveness

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) wants you to teach in high-needs schools—and it will make it worth your while. Under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, if you teach in an elementary school that serves low-income families, you can qualify for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness on your Federal Subsidized and Unsubsidized Direct loans.§


Teaching in a high-needs school can make you eligible for grant money not available to teachers who aren’t teaching in such schools. For example, the ED’s Teacher Incentive Fund is designed to provide high-needs schools with funds they can use to develop and reward teacher performance. In fiscal year 2016, the ED awarded over $70 million in grant money to high-needs schools.**

How Can You Become an Elementary School Teacher?

If you want to become a teacher who’s prepared to teach in elementary schools, one of the best paths to take is earning a BS in Elementary Education. This teaching degree can help you gain the skills you need to succeed in the classroom and can prepare you for teacher licensure.

If you’re concerned that you don’t have time to earn a bachelor of science degree, you should take a look at online education. Unlike earning an education degree through a campus-based program, earning your degree from an online university can allow you to complete the majority of your classwork from the convenience of your home. On top of that, online bachelor’s programs allow you to complete coursework at whatever time of day works best for you. This means that when you earn a BS in Elementary Education online, you can keep working full time and taking care of your other responsibilities.

Many schools—especially high-needs elementary schools—need good teachers. An online teaching degree can help you fill that need.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a BS in Elementary Education (Teacher Licensure) degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible online learning platform that fits your busy life.

*L. Sutcher, et. al., “A Coming Crisis in Teaching? Teacher Supply, Demand, and Shortages in the U.S.,” Learning Policy Institute, on the internet at

†A. Semuels, “Good School, Rich School; Bad School, Poor School,” The Atlantic, on the internet at

‡Center on the Developing Child, “InBrief: The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development,” Harvard University, on the internet at

§Federal Student Aid, “Wondering Whether You Can Get Your Federal Student Loans Forgiven or Canceled for Your Service as a Teacher?” U.S. Department of Education, on the internet at

**Teacher Incentive Fund, U.S. Department of Education, on the internet at

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,

Walden University is approved by the Minnesota Board of Teaching to offer the Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education that leads to Minnesota licensure in elementary education (K–6). However, before Walden can recommend a candidate for teacher licensure, the candidate must also pass the required exams for Minnesota licensure adopted by the Minnesota Board of Teaching, undergo a Minnesota background check, and complete any other Minnesota Board of Teaching requirements beyond completion of Walden’s state-approved teacher preparation program.

Individuals interested in pursuing teacher licensure in states other than Minnesota may qualify for a comparable license by virtue of completing the Walden Minnesota-approved teacher preparation program; however, individuals must review their state’s teacher licensing regulations to ensure the program meets all requirements, paying particular attention to any requirements specific to out-of-state program completers. Prospective students seeking to be licensed in states other than Minnesota must research their state licensure requirements to determine (1) if they are required to complete a state-approved licensure program, and (2) if there are any other requirements that apply, especially requirements pertaining to programs provided by out-of-state (except Minnesota) or online institutions.

Individuals enrolling internationally must be supervised by a teacher with a valid US state teaching license, in a school that follows a US-based curriculum at the appropriate grade level for the license. Prospective students must check that the program is accepted for teaching credential in the state they intend to apply for licensure.

Walden Enrollment Specialists can provide general information on state licensure; however, it remains the individual’s responsibility to understand and comply with all licensure requirements in the state they wish to teach. Walden makes no representation or guarantee that completion of Walden coursework or programs will permit an individual to obtain state licensure or endorsement.