Elementary vs High School Teaching – A Career Comparison

August 5th, 2014 by

if you can read this, thank a teacherTeaching has been called the noblest profession, and it is definitely one that can make a real difference in the lives of others. Each generation relies on teachers to help them learn the basics like reading, writing and arithmetic, but they also rely on teachers to help expand their horizons, think critically and see the world from a new perspective.

If you think that you would enjoy becoming a teacher, you will need to narrow down the options and uncover what kind of teacher you should be.

Two of the most popular options are high school teacher and elementary teacher. Learn more about both, their differences and how to tell which option is the best for you.

Elementary School Teachers: Focus on Multiple Subjects

One of the biggest differences between elementary school teachers and high school teachers is the kind of subjects they teach and how many they focus on at a time.

For elementary school teachers, it is common to teach students six or more subjects on any given day. This means that teachers need to have a basic and working knowledge on topics such as English language, reading, math, history, science and government.

However, it is rare that teachers require an advanced knowledge of any one subject in particular because they will only be teaching students roughly age 11 and below.

High School Teachers: Focus on One or Two Subjects

High school teachers, generally speaking, will be licensed to teach just one or perhaps two subjects at any given time. A high school teacher is not a general education major, and he or she will typically have a degree that focuses on one area of study.

You might choose to become a high school history teacher, a high school biology teacher, a high school physical education teacher or a high school algebra teacher, among countless other subjects.

This allows you to become more of an expert in one field, and it is better for those individuals who are only interested in a limited number of subjects.

Elementary School Teachers: Emphasis on Music and Arts and Crafts

While not necessarily a mandatory part of being an elementary school teacher, there is no question that adding in music, singing and art can make certain subjects more enjoyable and particular topics easier to understand for students.

In addition, elementary school teachers may spend several hours each week decorating their classrooms, displaying art projects done by their students and using artistic skills and creativity to make the learning space more appealing to young children.

High School Teachers: Emphasis on Lectures, Group Work and Exam Prep

Some high school teachers may put a lot of effort into creating an attractive classroom, but there will naturally be less emphasis on things like singing and crafts, which typically appeal to younger students.

At the high school level, much of the teaching is done through lectures, group projects, classroom discussions and perhaps even science experiments.

The goal at the high school level is to develop beyond the basic skills and prepare for college as well as standardized testing and year-end examinations.

Elementary School Teachers: May Work with 30 Students All Day Long

One of the biggest challenges, and advantages, of being an elementary school teacher is that you might work with a classroom full of students all day long.

That means that whether the students are studying math, science, history or reading, they sit in the same chairs throughout the course of the school day.

This presents a challenge for elementary school teachers because it can cause some students to get bored or fidgety after several hours.

However, it is also a big advantage because it allows teachers to create deep and meaningful relationships with their students. It is far easier to become close with a student you teach for multiple hours every day than a student you see for just 55 minutes each day.

High School Teachers: Often Teach Students in 60 Minute Increments

Typically, high school teachers work in a single classroom, and groups of students enter and exit for set periods of time each day. This means that over one day, a high school history teacher may well teach five or six groups of up to 30 students at a time, which adds up to as many as 180 high school students per day.

Obviously, that number of students can be hard to keep track of, and it may be a challenge to creating lasting relationships. However, it can be a relief in many ways as well.

High school teachers often get a brief pause between classes, and they may even have gaps during the day where they can prepare work and grade exams or essays during an empty period with no students.

What it Takes to Become an Elementary School Teacher

Becoming an elementary school teacher can be a challenge, but it is well worth the hard work if you end up with a career that is both fulfilling and enjoyable for you.

In the United States, it will take a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in order to become a teacher in the classroom within the public school system.

This degree covers a range of introductory subjects, but it also includes child psychology courses, classroom management courses and a heavy focus on classroom management.

In the final year of education, students generally spend between one and two semesters student teaching, which involves assisting an experienced teacher in the classroom.

Elementary school teachers generally also need a background check and they need to be licensed in the state where they want to be employed.

What it Takes to Become a High School Teacher

In many ways, becoming a high school teacher is similar to the process listed above. Teachers need to earn a bachelor’s degree, gain experience in the classroom, get certified and licensed by the state in which they plan to be employed and then pass a background check to ensure that they can work with underage students.

The biggest difference between the two is that high school teachers have a bachelor’s degree curriculum that focuses on the subject that they plan to teach rather than in general education.

That means that history teachers major in history, math teachers major in algebra or trigonometry and science teachers major in biology, physics or chemistry.

Salary Differences Between High School and Elementary School Teachers

Salaries for teachers can vary substantially from state to state and from school to school based on a number of different factors. Things like years of experience, whether a teacher has a master’s degree, whether the school is public or private and the area’s cost of living all play a role in pay.

However, high school teachers do typically earn more than elementary school teachers, earning an average of $55,050 per year compared to elementary school teacher averages of $53,090 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Although there are numerous similarities between working as a high school teacher and working as an elementary school teacher, there are also many differences.

Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide whether they would be a better fit in an elementary school classroom or teaching groups of students at the high school level. Find out more about earning or advancing your current degree through a convenient online degree program at

About the Author:

Sandy Davis

Sandy Davis is a long-time educator who holds a Master’s Degree in Education, having taught English, writing, and communication on the secondary and college levels. With ten years of experience in blogging, social media and content management, she is a freelance writer and content marketing specialist for a diverse range of clients.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *