Crying students. Tying shoe laces. Tattling. These are some things I think of when someone asks me what it’s like being an elementary teacher.
Are you thinking of maybe teaching in elementary or are just curious what it entails? Below I will go over the pros and cons of teaching in an elementary school setting in the hopes of giving you more insight for what to expect.
Pro #1: Kids Enjoy Coming to School
Being an elementary teacher means many students are young enough to enjoy coming to school. This is a big pro due to making it easier to have them engaged in your lessons.
It’s also more enjoyable teaching someone that wants to be there than it is for students that can’t wait to leave.
Of course, there’s things you can do in your classroom to increase engagement, but I also dislike this being all put on teachers. Kids in this age group just enjoy school more.
Pro #2: Less Attitudes in the Classroom
I do feel this one applies more for the primary grades like K-2 than upper elementary, but most students do not have an attitude at this age.
There will always be exceptions, but not having to deal with attitudes as much leaves time to have fun with your class. It also helps the classroom atmosphere feel positive.
When you do get that rare attitude, it’s easier to deal with than if you had a whole classroom of them!
Pro #3: Being an Elementary Teacher = Less Time Grading
I feel for my middle and high school English teachers, as I’ve seen how much they have to grade and it is hard.
Elementary has far less grading, and some districts have adopted proficiency-based grading which has you assessing how well students perform on a standard rather than letter grades for assignments.
This has allowed me to not have to take any grading home and enjoy my time off. All of my grading can be done during recess or during a block/specials time I have free to prep.
Pro #4: Foundational Skills Taught
Many foundational skills are taught in elementary, and I consider this a pro due to the impact elementary teachers can make on their students’ lives.
I teach 1st grade and phonics and reading is the major focus for our grade. If students can successfully learn to read well in 1st, they have a great outlook for their academic future.
This could be a con to some, as it could build stress on how important teaching these grades can be. It absolutely put pressure on me my first year, as I didn’t want to feel like I ruined my students.
I came to realize that this responsibility gives my job great importance for the future of our society and I turned it to empower me rather than burden me.
Pro #5: Small Team Size
Team sizes can be smaller in elementary compared to middle school, high school, or other jobs. Most teams consist of 2-4 teachers based on grade level.
These small teams make it easier to have your voice heard and make collaborative decisions on meaningful choices for your students.
I am an introvert, so when there’s a large team of people, I typically sit and listen. When I have a small group of people, I actively participate more.
It helps you build a stronger relationship with your team as well, which they can be your saving grace if such a relationship is built.
Here’s a video I created discussing the pros and cons of teaching in an elementary school.
Pro #6: Holidays Are More Fun
After becoming an adult, I’ve noticed that I am not as festive as I used to be around holidays. I no longer decorate outside or inside my house and don’t feel that “spirit”.
Being an elementary teacher has made me get some of that spirit back due to kids loving the holidays. We have lots of activities and events at school and in my classroom.
It’s made my job more enjoyable. It’s also nice being able to share in the fun with my entire class.
Pro #7: Less Students Than Secondary Education
You typically have between 18 to 32 students per class in an elementary school. With those students, you have them the entire year.
This is a pro due to being able to develop better relationships with them as well as watching their growth throughout the entire school year.
In middle and high school, you can have over a hundred students in the quarter and they can switch out each quarter or semester.
It would be nice to make an impact on that many students, I feel I would miss out on the items I mentioned above.
Being an elementary teacher means parent conferences and back to school nights are manageable due to your student size.
Now let’s talk about some cons to teaching in an elementary school.
Con #1: You Teach Every Subject
Having to teach English, math, social studies, science, and more in an elementary school can be stressful. You have a lot more lessons you need to prep for the day.
You also may have shallower knowledge in the subjects compared to a teacher that dedicates all their teaching in one subject.
Middle school and high school teachers can also have multiple sections of the same class, so they can use the same lesson plans for multiple classes.
This added amount of subjects and lessons makes curriculum mapping and planning more important for teachers in elementary.
Con #2: Crying Students
It wouldn’t be elementary if you didn’t have crying going on somewhere in the school. This happens more in K-2 than upper elementary.
Some students will cry for not being able to finish a paper, not being first in line, not getting their way, etc. If you’re someone that doesn’t have patience for crying, consider sticking to the upper grades.
I am more accepting of crying as it’s a great way for students to let out stress, but when it’s over something I deem “petty” like not getting the blue book that the other student got, then it can be rather taxing.
Con #3: More Tattling
In elementary, you’ll get students coming up to you and tattling that someone looked at them. It can become rather ridiculous and is something I address on the first day of school.
For the primary grades, I find storytelling is the best way for students to connect with our classroom rules. I use the book A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue by Julia Cook. I will read the book to my students every time we have a big break from school.
I have to constantly reinforce this, as younger students have a hard time with this.
Con #4: Being an Elementary Teacher Requires Lots of Patience
There will be times when you will want to scream due to the amount of attention that your students require of you.
You may also have students that have behavioral issues. Check out my post about managing challenging student behavior if you’re interested on how to address this.
Some students may have a hard time grasping a certain math concept or whine when not being able to do something.
Just having a child of your own requires a lot of patience. Now take that and add 20 more kids to the room. Empathy, sincerity and patience go a long way in elementary.
Con #5: Students Are Highly Dependent on You
Expect students to be highly dependent of you when being an elementary teacher. This applies even more for K-2 teachers, as it becomes more “uncool” in the upper grades.
Students will constantly be wanting your attention, asking for you to tie their shoes, pointing to week old scabs and asking for a band aid, and many more things.
I feel part of my job as a primary teacher is to teach students to be more self-dependent. Students ask help for many things that they can easily do themselves. They either don’t think they’re capable, or just want someone else to do it for them.
I will do certain things for students, but after some time, I tell them it is now their responsibility to do it on their own. Teachers in our society don’t teach just academics, but also life skills.
Con #6: Exhaustive Work
I can feel mentally, physically, and emotionally drained coming home from a day of teaching. The amount of attention students require as well as responsibilities we have is mind-boggling.
When I come home, I have little energy to do anything that requires me to think or actively participate in. I typically find something to eat, lay on the sofa and watch YouTube, and then pass out.
It gets better with time when your teaching skills improve, but be prepared for the fatigue that can affect you in multiple ways.
Selfcare is important. I had a school social worker of mine ask me why I am not taking care of myself by doing a yoga class with them after school. I told her my selfcare is me going home right when contract time is done. Do things that make YOU happy and recharge.
Con #7: Endless Work
Being a teacher means there is always something I can be doing to improve my lessons, classroom, student growth, CFAs, etc. You can fall down a deep pit.
It is a job where your work feels like it never ends. There’s always some training, prep, or improvement you can do.
You can develop guilt or shame from you or even colleagues when you aren’t working outside your contract hours. Some new teachers fall for this and burnout fast.
The key to remember is that this is a job. You are important and for those contract hours you have, put in everything you can. When your hours are done, that’s it.
Your students will be okay if you don’t create that fun lesson that took you 5 hours to make. They need a healthy teacher more than that lesson.
Con #8: Duties Outside of Teaching
I was rather naive when I wanted to become a teacher. I thought I would teach my curriculum and that would be it for my responsibilities.
In the U.S., that is dead wrong. You will possibly have:
- Committees you’re required to attend outside of contract time
- Morning and afternoon duty to make sure kids are safe before and after school
- Trainings and Professional Developments
- Faculty Meetings
- Parent Conferences
- After School Programs (voluntary)
- Clerical items like grading, attendance, parent communication
- Professional Learning Communities
- Admin Observations (formal and informal)
It can become overwhelming when you add those to the stress of teaching. This is another reason I advocate that when your contract hours are done, you stop doing any work. Don’t let the endless work consume you.
With all that said, I enjoy being an elementary teacher. It’s a career where I get to have fun with kids and I get to be a part of my students’ future success. Making an impact on all these lives keeps me humble and appreciate my job even more.
That’s not to say it’s all rainbows and sunshine, but the pros do outweigh the cons for me at the moment. I am a big advocate for educator work conditions, as I understand how much they impact a student’s education.
If you’re considering education as your career, I hope I haven’t scared you off as there are lots of good things going on. Just know there are many areas for improvement and that there are people like me that are fighting to improve them.