What Does a Teacher Do?

teacher with students doing a painting activity

If you are thinking about earning your teaching degree, there are many things to keep in mind. You might think that you would make a good teacher because you like to work with children or because you enjoyed your time in school. But being a teacher is more than just getting up in front of the classroom and teaching. It also includes planning lessons and differentiating instruction for children with varying levels of understanding about a topic. You also work closely with parents, other teachers and principals to ensure that children are receiving the best education possible.

Whether you decide to earn a teaching degree and go on to work with elementary-age or high school students, your work will have a big impact. Many teachers serve as role models for students, and the things that children learn in your classroom can stay with them forever. Every teacher, from art teachers and foreign language teachers to math teachers and preschool teachers, make a big difference in students’ lives. Read more about the responsibilities and duties of teachers at every level of education.

What You Will Do as a Teacher

How you spend your time as a teacher really depends on which age or grade-level you teach and which subjects you specialize in. A preschool teacher’s day will look very different than that of a middle school technology teacher. If you teach kindergarten or elementary school, you will likely need to cover a wide range of subjects with your students. If you teach at the middle school or high school level, you will likely specialize in a particular subject or area such as English, science or art.

But no matter what age or subject you teach, you do need to be an effective communicator. Teachers must convey information to students in ways that help them learn and grow. Teaching happens in front of the whole class, in small groups and one-on-one sessions. This means you must be comfortable communicating in many different situations. Teachers not only communicate with students, but they also work closely with their colleagues, their administrators and parents to support students.

Teaching by Grade Level


A preschool teacher generally works with toddlers from ages three to five to prepare them for kindergarten. Some of the lessons you could find yourself teaching if you become a preschool teacher include vocabulary, language development, social skills and personal hygiene. Preschool teachers also help students develop social 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 a preschool curriculum. However, it’s not always 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 ensures teachers that progress is being made.


Kindergarten teachers tend to work at elementary schools. They bridge student development between preschool and the subsequent grade levels of elementary school. They integrate students into the world of academic learning and help to prepare them for more rigorous academic content in elementary school. However, kindergarten teachers also continue the work of preschool teachers by including social 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 in school before. These students will 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 nicely with their peers.

Kindergarten teachers plan the curriculum for each day so that their students build their basic reading and writing skills throughout the year. They also help students build their understanding of numbers in order to begin early mathematics.

Elementary School

Teaching elementary school can be greatly rewarding. Elementary school teachers generally instruct students through fifth or sixth grade and teach a wide variety of subjects to develop their students’ academic skills in all areas. Subjects could include:

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Science
  • History/social studies

While many elementary schools have dedicated art, music and physical education teachers, these positions may require certain degrees, such as a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, for example.

The early grades, such as kindergarten and first grade, may focus more content on basic phonics and reading and social skills. Learning is often done through play, arts and music.

Second and third grade students are more acclimated to school, so teachers are able to focus on the 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 areas such as science and social studies are added to the core curriculum.

By fourth and fifth grade, students can read independently. They can also use reading as a tool for learning, allowing them to be more independent in all academic areas. Students in upper elementary school are maturing quickly, and teachers who work with this population need to have patience, energy and creativity.

Middle School and High School

If you plan to teach at the middle school or high school level, you will need to earn a specific teaching degree in secondary education that allows you to teach just one subject. Middle schools generally run from grades six to eight and high schools from grades nine through twelve. The teaching degree that you earn may allow you to teach in areas such as:

High school students rotate between teachers and classes, meaning you may interact with more than a hundred students per day. High school teachers can have a lot of influence on the students in their community, especially considering these years can be emotionally difficult times for many students as they transition between adolescence and young adulthood. Teachers at this level need patience and an understanding of what students are going through in many areas of their life.

Other Teaching Roles

Besides running a classroom at a specific grade level, you might find that you want to earn a teaching degree in a specialized area. You can become a special education teacher who works with children with a variety of disabilities. You may work with children in the general classroom to support them with their teacher and their classmates or work with them one-on-one or in small groups to support them in the academic areas that they need additional assistance with.

You may also become an extracurricular teacher. Physical education teachers engage students in physical activity, teach them the rules to games and incorporate health and nutrition into their classes. Music teachers may give singing lessons or teach instruments to classes. At the elementary school level, music teachers may work with whole classes of students or only with students in band or orchestra. Art teachers are found at all levels of school. At the elementary level, you likely will teach a class of students at a time. At the middle school and high school levels you may teach specific art classes such as pottery or jewelry making.

Earning your teaching degree can lead to an incredibly rewarding career helping prepare the next generation of leaders. Check out all of the different teaching degree choices at Grand Canyon University’s College of Education and get started on your journey to find your purpose.

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.

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