Preschool Teacher

Your guide to graduate degrees in elementary education

As a grade school teacher, you’re guiding children into a world that’s changing at a breathtaking pace. It’s not just a matter of addressing their intense interest in computers and smartphones. It’s also facing up to the fact that we live in an increasingly globalized economy. Today’s kids need a strong background in science, technology, engineering and math to compete with their counterparts on other continents. 

And all of this needs to start at the elementary level — waiting until high school or college to teach these vital skills delays their academic growth.

Do you think more training is necessary to handle all that? Or perhaps you’d like to rise into leadership roles in your school or district? If so, you an advanced degree in elementary education may help you achieve your goals. 

Is an advanced degree in elementary education right for me?

Pursuing an advanced degree is an extremely personal decision with many important factors to weigh. It requires a substantial investment of time, passion and money — and if you don’t choose wisely you could waste a lot of all three.  

It’s a long, challenging and complex process, but it starts with two relatively simple (but crucial) considerations:

  • Your personal and professional interests
  • Your personal and professional goals

Once you’ve laid out your goals and interests, you’ll have to answer a bunch of questions to know whether this degree is the right tool for the job. Let’s get started!

Does earning a master’s degree in elementary education fit with your personal and professional interests?

  • Do you love being around children and watching them reach their greatest learning potential?
  • Would you like more specialized teaching, such as teaching math or science?
  • Would you like join a nationwide effort to help our country regain its lead in the fields of math, science and technology?
  • Would you like to have an impact on your school beyond your classroom?
  • Would you like to put the latest discoveries in learning theory into practice?

Will completing a master’s program in elementary education allow you to meet your personal and professional goals?

  • Do you love learning and pushing yourself to be the best teacher you can be?
  • Would you like to move into administration, distance learning or curriculum development?
  • Would you like to train the next generation of teachers at the college level?
  • Do you understand the importance of professional development and want to help other teachers improve their skills?
  • Would you like to research learning theory and cognitive development?

If you answer “yes” to many of these questions, you’re probably a good candidate for an advanced degree in elementary education.

How do I pick the graduate elementary education program that’s right for me?

Once you’ve decided to pursue a master’s degree in elementary education, you’re ready for the next step. 

It’s time to choose a program that matches those goals and interests we explored above.

By any other name: elementary education master’s program titles

Colleges have a variety of titles for their elementary education master’s programs because each school has it own ideas about the right way to build a program. But regardless of the exact titles, they all focus primarily on elementary education. Some names reflect the type of degree offered — a master of science, for instance, or a master of education. Titles can also reflect the primary focus of the degree program — curriculum development, for example, or special education.

Here are some of the most common elementary education master’s programs:

  • Master of Arts in Teaching — Elementary Education
  • Master of Education in Elementary Education
  • Master of Arts in Elementary Education
  • Master of Education — Special Education Teaching Specialization
  • Master of Education — Curriculum Development and Outcomes Assessment
  • Master of Education with a Concentration in Reading
  • Master of Education in Educational Administration

What types of elementary education master’s programs are available? And what can I expect to learn while taking one?

Common coursework in elementary education master’s programs

Whether they focus on the classroom, administration or curriculum development, elementary education master’s programs typically have similar core courses. Here are some kinds of classes typically offered in a graduate-level elementary education program:

  • Learning theories and instruction — These courses explore the newest educational theories and research, examining student motivation, learning readiness and the development of problem-solving skills. Students also learn how to apply these lessons in their classrooms. 
  • Assessment and learning These courses typically cover the most effective ways to use assessment tools for different grade levels and age groups. They may also cover the newest legislation on assessments, and the ethical challenges of grading and testing.
  • Effective teaching and classroom management These classes touch on discipline, the psychological roots of student behavior and the varying needs of students in an inclusive classroom. Other topics can include classroom safety, professional ethics and the laws that apply to teachers and their students.
  • Children’s literature and language arts Students will study the various genres of children’s literature and learn how to incorporate them into the classroom in traditional ways and through electronic media such as e-books and the Internet. National and state language arts standards will also be covered.

Coursework variations in elementary education master’s programs

After you’ve looked over the core courses, it’s time to explore more specialized courses that will help you find the program that precisely suits your needs and goals. Some programs are designed specifically for those who wish to continue working in the classroom, while others focus on administrative roles, curriculum design, testing or special education. Here’s a look at some of these courses:

  • Administration — A master’s program focused on administration will show you how to take a leadership role and create a workplace community that includes people of diverse backgrounds and skills.
  • Curriculum development and design When you graduate from this type of program, you will know how to evaluate educational strategies and develop more effective ones. You will learn to design educational programs and materials that teachers will use in their classrooms.
  • Assessment — Assessment programs focus on the evaluation of both students and teaching strategies. They also cover the many ways to measure teaching effectiveness and identify students’ learning needs.
  • Special education — These courses show how to work effectively with children with disabilities. Students also learn about relevant legislation such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the No Child Left Behind Act. And they will learn how to design an effective individualized education program and how to work effectively with parents.

At first glance, these choices seem overwhelming, but there’s a substantial upside: You can find the program that does the best job of meshing with your goals and interests. 

It’s crucial to check every course offering in a program. Otherwise, you might get stuck taking courses that do not interest you, or you may miss out on the courses you need to succeed with your goals.

Career opportunities for elementary education master’s program graduates

With a master’s degree in hand, you’re better qualified for a more fulfilling, and perhaps better-paying, job. 

Who employs graduates with a master’s in elementary education? What kinds of jobs are available to them?

A master’s degree in elementary education can qualify you for a host of jobs in the public and private sectors. These are some of the most common ones:

  • Reading specialist Take charge of your school’s reading programs, creating reading lists and developing opportunities for all the children there. You’ll also specialize in assessing reading deficits in individual children and creating individualized learning opportunities for them.
  • Elementary school principal You’ll supervise a staff of teachers, instructional aides and support personnel while managing curriculum, instruction and assessments. And you’ll have to keep all daily operations running smoothly. Principals are the liaison between the school and its community.
  • Educational researcher You’ll evaluate teaching methods, teacher training, student learning styles and classroom dynamics, generating data schools and teachers can use to develop more effective teaching methods.
  • Community college instructor — Because elementary school teachers are in high demand, there’s also a demand for instructors who can help train the next generation of teachers.
  • Textbook author Help educational publishers keep their books current, drawing from the latest studies and theories on how children learn.
  • Assessment coordinator — You’ll ensure that the testing protocols at your school are fair, productive and in line with state and federal guidelines.