If you are considering a teaching degree, there are many things to keep in mind. You might think you can make a good teacher because you like to work with children or enjoyed your time in school. However, being a teacher involves more than getting up in front of the classroom and teaching.
What do teachers do? A teacher’s job responsibilities are diverse, including planning lessons and differentiating instruction for children with varying levels of understanding about a topic. A teacher’s job description also includes working closely with parents, other teachers and school administrators to ensure that children are receiving the best education possible.
Your efforts as a teacher can have a big impact, whether you decide to work with elementary or high school students. Many teachers can serve as role models for students, and some things children learn in your classroom may stay with them forever. All kinds of teachers, from art instructors to foreign language teachers to math teachers and preschool teachers, make a big difference in students’ lives. Read more about a teacher’s job responsibilities at every level of education.
In This Article:
- What Is a Teacher and What Do They Do?
- What Does a Teacher Do at Different Grade Levels?
- Other Teaching Roles
What Is a Teacher and What Do They Do?
Before we explore a teacher’s job description at different grade levels, let’s take a closer look at the broader ways a teacher — at any level — can have a positive impact on their students. What does a teacher do to prepare children for lifelong success?
- Educate: Teachers wear many hats, but above all, they are educators who seek to teach children critical thinking, academic content and analytical reasoning skills. Educators are often subject matter experts who are passionate about one or two particular subjects and who strive to share that passion with their students.
- Learn: Teachers are often considered lifelong learners. A good teacher understands that they don’t know everything and that they can learn something every day from everyone they meet — including their own students. Effective teachers keep an open mind and are open to acknowledging different world views, perspectives and beliefs.
- Inspire: Teachers can serve as role models for their students, inspiring them to work toward their full potential and to achieve more than they would have thought possible. An effective teacher can help students realize that learning is not only beneficial but also a fun process that lasts a lifetime.
What Does a Teacher Do at Different Grade Levels?
How you spend your time as a teacher depends on the age or grade level you teach and the subjects you specialize in. A preschool teacher’s day will look very different from that of a middle school math teacher, for example.
If you teach kindergarten or elementary school, you will need to cover a wide range of subjects with your students. If you teach at the middle school or high school level, you will specialize in a particular subject or area such as English, science or art.
No matter what age level or subject you teach, you will need to be an effective communicator. Teachers must clearly convey information to students in ways that help them learn and grow. Teaching happens in front of the whole class, in small groups and in one-on-one sessions.
This means you must be comfortable communicating in all these situations. Teachers not only communicate with students, but also work closely with their colleagues, administrators and parents or guardians to support students.
A preschool teacher generally works with toddlers from ages three to five, preparing them for kindergarten. Some of the lessons you might find yourself teaching as a preschool teacher include vocabulary, language development and personal hygiene. Preschool teachers also help students develop socioemotional skills, and gross and fine motor skills.
Academics at the preschool level are often activity-based. Art, music, crafts, dance and storytelling make up a large portion of the preschool curriculum. However, not all teaching is fun and games. A preschool teacher must show students how to work together and follow rules and routines.
Preschool teachers generally teach in small groups and one-on-one. This allows students to get the attention they need and teachers to ensure that progress is being made.
Kindergarten teachers tend to work at elementary schools. They bridge student development between the preschool level and the subsequent grade levels of elementary school. They integrate students into the world of academic learning and help prepare them for the more rigorous academic content of elementary school.
However, kindergarten teachers also continue the work of preschool teachers by addressing socioemotional skills, hygiene, art, music and reading. Since not all students go to preschool, teaching kindergarten means you may work with students who have never been to school before. These students need extra help in learning the rules and routines of the classroom. They may need help with how to behave during the school day and how to play cooperatively with their peers.
Kindergarten teachers plan the curriculum for each day so that their students build basic reading and writing skills over the course of the year. They also help students develop a basic understanding of numbers so they can begin early mathematics classes.
You may find teaching elementary school to be rewarding. Elementary school teachers generally instruct students through the fifth or sixth grade and teach a wide variety of subjects to develop their students’ academic skills in all areas. This can vary by different states and districts; if interested, be sure to check the requirements. The subjects may include:
- History/social studies
While many elementary schools also have dedicated art, music and physical education teachers, these positions may require specific degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education.1
The early grades, such as kindergarten and first grade, often focus much of their content on basic phonics and reading and social skills. Learning is often done through play, art and music.
Second- and third-grade students are more accustomed to school, so teachers can focus on core subjects while continuing to help students develop positive behavior and social skills. In third grade, you will likely see a shift to more academic work as the core curriculum gains areas such as science and social studies.
By the fourth and fifth grades, students can typically read independently. They can also use reading as a tool for learning, which allows them greater independence in all academic areas. Students in upper elementary school often mature quickly, and teachers who work with this population need patience, energy and creativity.
Middle School and High School
If you plan to teach at the middle school or high school level, you will typically need to earn a teaching degree and certification in secondary education or a teaching degree and a middle school endorsement that qualifies you to teach a specific subject.2 Middle schools generally include grades six through eight, and high schools encompass grades nine through 12.
The teaching degree you earn may allow you to teach in one of these areas:
Since high school students rotate through a series of teachers and classes, you may interact with more than a hundred students each day. High school teachers can have a major influence on the students in their community, especially given that these years include the emotionally challenging transition from adolescence into young adulthood. Teachers at this level need patience and an understanding of what students are going through in many areas of their lives.
Other Teaching Roles
As an alternative to learning how to run a classroom at a specific grade level, you might find that you want to earn a teaching degree in a specialized area. One option is to become a special education teacher who works with children with a variety of exceptionalities. In that role, you may work with children in the general classroom to support them in participating with their teacher and classmates, or you may work with them one-on-one or in small groups to support them in the academic areas with which they need additional assistance.
You may also become an extracurricular teacher. Physical education teachers engage students in physical activity, teach them the rules of games and incorporate health and nutrition into their classes. Music teachers give singing lessons and teach students how to play instruments. At the elementary school level, music teachers may work with whole classes of students or only with the students who are in band or orchestra.
Art teachers are found at all levels of schools. At the elementary level, you would likely teach one class of students at a time. At the middle school and high school levels, you might teach specialized art classes in different areas, such as pottery or jewelry making.
Earning your teaching degree can lead to a career helping prepare the next generation of leaders. Check out all the teaching degree choices at Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and get started on the journey to find your purpose. Complete the form on this page to learn more about joining our community.
If seeking licensure or certification, applicants to the program are responsible for contacting their state department of education for licensure requirements and program approval. In addition, fingerprint and background clearance is required.
1 Indeed. (2023, Dec. 5). FAQ: What Are the Qualifications To Become a Teacher? Retrieved on Jan. 31, 2024.
2 Teachers of Tomorrow. (2023, June 25). Certified vs Non-Certified Teacher – Main Difference in 2023. Retrieved on Jan. 19, 2024.
Approved by the dean of the College of Education on Jan. 29, 2024.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.