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There’s little doubt that teachers are an impactful part of anyone’s childhood, shaping and encouraging the young minds of the future. If you hope to make this impact, then it’s important to consider two significant educational roles—middle school teachers and elementary school teachers

Both middle school and elementary school educators help young students learn the fundamentals of academia. However, each role differs across daily tasks, teaching approaches, and educational backgrounds. Keep reading to understand the unique qualities behind teaching middle school vs. elementary school.

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Elementary School Teacher Responsibilities: Laying the Groundwork

Elementary school teachers set the foundation of a child’s educational journey. To that end, they’re more than educators—they’re mentors, role models, and cheerleaders for their students.

Typically, elementary school teachers work with students from TK to fifth grade. While every elementary teacher and school has their own distinct style and needs, most elementary school teachers will fulfill these daily responsibilities:1 

  • Create lesson plans to teach multiple subjects (reading, science, social studies, math, etc.)
  • Teach social skills and emotional intelligence at an age-appropriate level
  • Observe students to evaluate abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Grade student assignments
  • Communicate with parents about their child’s progress
  • Prepare students for standardized tests required by the state
  • Develop and enforce classroom rules to teach children proper behavior
  • Supervise children outside of the classroom (lunchtime, recess, etc.)

Another important note? Elementary school teachers often teach multiple subjects to one cohort of students for the entire school year. This allows them to apply a more holistic approach to a young child’s education.

Middle School Teacher Responsibilities: Navigating Transitions

Adolescence is a turbulent, emotional, and dynamic period of life. Thus, middle school teachers  are often navigators of this transformative age, guiding students academically through the significant changes they’ll experience. 

Generally, middle school teachers educate students from sixth to eighth grade. They build off the foundation set in elementary school, taking students to the next academic level by deepening knowledge in basic subjects and expanding into more niche and complex areas.

While elementary school educators teach multiple subjects, most middle school teachers take on a single subject for multiple grades or skill levels. In doing so, middle school teachers take on these daily tasks:2

  • Create lesson plans to teach a subject to multiple classes (often at different levels) 
  • Grade students’ assignments and exams
  • Communicate with parents about their child’s progress
  • Work with students individually to help them overcome learning challenges
  • Observe students to evaluate abilities, strengths, and weaknesses
  • Prepare students for standardized tests required by the state
  • Develop and enforce classroom rules
  • Address interpersonal conflicts within the classroom

Enrolling in a single subject or multiple subject teaching credential program will set you on the path to harnessing your educational career.

Elementary School Teacher Approaches: Stoking Imagination

In elementary school, teachers often encourage imagination and create a supportive classroom environment where students feel safe to explore general education topics and express themselves. A typical elementary school classroom will be: 

  • Creative – Incorporating games, using arts and crafts, and assigning imaginative tasks
  • Playful – Maintaining a positive and upbeat classroom that encourages participation  
  • Holistic – Taking a student’s entire performance and personality into account
  • Inclusive – Ensuring all students are included equally in activities
  • Exemplary – Setting a good example of emotional and interpersonal conduct  

Middle School Teacher Approaches: Engaging Adulthood

On the other hand, middle schoolers often crave independence. To meet this need, middle school teachers typically offer a more constructive and challenging approach to education. Additionally, middle school teachers often serve as role models and mentors during this transitional stage as students face confusing and new life changes.

Alongside teaching more difficult topics, middle school teachers create classrooms that are:

  • Analytical – Engaging students to critically think and form original thoughts
  • Encouraging – Fostering participation and self-expression in all students 
  • Developmental – Modeling more mature and developed conduct for students
  • Challenging – Setting challenges and guiding students through them
  • Collaborative – Asking students to work together on assignments

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Educational Requirements: What Degrees Do Middle and Elementary School Teachers Need?

You'll need a bachelor's degree to become qualified to teach as an elementary or middle school teacher.3 While future elementary school teachers can major in specific subjects, they often choose to major in education or a related field, taking courses in the following topics:4 

  • Teaching methodologies
  • Child development psychology
  • Curriculum development
  • Educational psychology
  • Comparative education
  • Education and public policy

On the other hand, middle school teachers need more specialized education. Most middle school teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in the subject they wish to teach, such as English, mathematics, or biology.5

No matter your bachelor's degree major, almost all teachers must complete a state-approved teacher education program to obtain a license or certification to teach.  The requirements for this vary state by state.

Explore a Career in Education at Alliant International University

If you have dreams of shaping the lives of children, consider a career in elementary or middle school education—and start your journey by entering a classroom yourself.

At Alliant International University, our education degree programs can guide you toward becoming a passionate and committed teacher. With our credential and certificate programs for California or Arizona, you can forge a path toward education with your choice of degree. We have resources on how to become a teacher in Arizona to help you make an informed decision.

Start building your expertise as an educator by learning more about our teacher’s programs today.


Sources:

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics:  Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers”. N.d., Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and…. Accessed July 27, 2023.
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Middle School Teachers”. N.d., Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-te…. Accessed July 27, 2023.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics:  Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers”. N.d., Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and…. Accessed July 27, 2023.
  4. Weil, Ellery. “What Courses Do You Take in a Bachelor's in Education Program?”. April 6, 2023, BestColleges. https://www.bestcolleges.com/education/bachelors/program-classes/. Accessed July 27, 2023.
  5. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Middle School Teachers”. N.d., Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/middle-school-te…. Accessed July 27, 2023.
  6. Bureau of Labor Statistics:  Occupational Outlook Handbook. “Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers”. N.d., Bureau of Labor Statistics. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and…;

     

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