If you’ve decided that becoming a teacher is your career calling, it is a high one! However, you may now be wrestling with the decision of training to teach at the elementary level or the secondary level. Since that decision will ultimately determine your degree path, it’s essential to discuss the differences between elementary education and secondary education, as each has its unique challenges, duties, work environments, and opportunities for advancement.
Why Education is Important
As the foundation for transitioning into adulthood and establishing a mindset of lifelong learning, the education of our young people is of paramount importance, and the teachers who help lay that foundation are the primary builders of tomorrow’s workforce and leaders. In an increasingly complex culture, teachers have the opportunity to not only impart critical knowledge, but also to give the next generation the tools for acquiring and applying knowledge, thinking critically, and for making decisions that will lead to productive lives and a healthy society. Without strong educators, our children will be destined for a world that is uninformed and unquestioned – that lacks minds equipped to become the next doctors, scientists, engineers, writers, and entrepreneurs. So, whether at the elementary or secondary level, it’s clear why education is important.
What is Elementary Education?
Now let’s look at the differences between elementary and secondary education. You likely have a general idea of what elementary education is because you were once in elementary or grammar school yourself. From a teacher’s perspective, however, it takes on a more comprehensive definition. So, what is elementary education when it pertains to teaching?
First, it generally encompasses grades K-6. The elementary education teacher has one group of children, usually in a specific grade, all day for an entire year. Occasionally this will vary for sixth graders if they are part of a middle school. The teacher is responsible for teaching all core subject matter, with art, music, and physical education often taught by separate instructors. It is here, in elementary school, that students first gain a love for reading, writing, science, music, history, art, and/or math.
What Do Elementary Teachers Do?
Besides answering, “What is elementary education?” it’s also important to understand what elementary teachers do. Elementary teachers plan, evaluate and assign lessons; prepare, administer and grade tests/assignments; create a positive classroom learning environment; and maintain classroom discipline. Teachers observe and evaluate a student’s performance and potential, and they increasingly are asked to use new assessment methods. They also grade papers, prepare report cards and meet with students, parents, and/or school staff to discuss a student’s academic progress or personal problems. The elementary teacher will likely have children with learning and physical disabilities in their classrooms, and potentially second language learners, which requires creative teaching strategies and methods to address diverse needs.
To prepare you in all of these areas to become a highly effective teacher that inspires students and fosters their intellectual and emotional development, it is imperative that you select the right education program with the best teachers, like Ottawa University’s accredited online Elementary Education program.
What is Secondary Education?
Likewise, we need to ask, “What is secondary education?” from the teacher’s perspective.
Secondary education refers to grades 9-12, or high school. You may be wondering about grades 7 and 8. Typically, a teacher licensed at the secondary level is also qualified to teach at the middle school level, whereas elementary credentialed teachers traditionally are not.
Unlike their elementary counterparts, secondary educators are able to impact far more students throughout the year, as multiple groups of students rotate through their class throughout the day for pre-determined class periods. Depending on the subject, students will typically take a class either for the whole year or for a single semester, with a new group of students enrolling for the second half of the year. While the overall time they spend with students is less than elementary school teachers, high school teachers have the opportunity to help shape adolescents during their critical formative years, reach their full academic potential, and guide them toward a successful future after high school.
What Do Secondary Teachers Do?
As noted, secondary teachers focus on a single subject or content area. Many of the duties will be similar to the elementary school teacher, but they could be more rigorous in the areas of grading, reporting, parent communication, and coordination of services, simply because of the greater number of students they are teaching. Secondary teachers often act more as facilitators or coaches, using classroom presentations or individual instruction to help students learn and apply concepts. They also have a special opportunity to identify the aptitude of students for their subject matter that may help direct them to future careers.
Beyond wondering “What is secondary education?” you may have questions about the long term of the teaching profession. Specifically for a secondary teacher, the career path is a bit more flexible. Options for teaching related content, assuming extra paid duties, moving into administration, or pursuing a counseling role are all possibilities that can aid in career advancement for the secondary teacher.
Types of Education Degrees at Ottawa University
Becoming an elementary or secondary school teacher requires completing a bachelor’s degree from an accredited teacher education program and obtaining a certificate or license in a specific state. Ottawa University offers both elementary and secondary education programs, with the program requirements meeting certification standards for the states of Arizona and Kansas. Please note that completion of either program does not guarantee licensure or certification in other states; rather, it is the responsibility of the student to learn the requirements for his or her state.
It is also worth noting that those already holding a bachelor’s or master’s degree in another field may meet state guidelines to become a teacher by completing a teacher licensure program. Ottawa University’s teacher education programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).
Elementary Education Program
The Elementary Education program at Ottawa University is designed to produce teachers who are competent in the liberal arts areas, including mathematics, science, writing, reading, and the fine arts. Based on Kansas and Arizona licensure criteria and testing competencies, the program prepares future teachers with the knowledge, social competencies, methods, communication skills, and sensitivity to be effective in today’s school environment. Students complete methods courses, professional education courses, field experience, and observations. Throughout their studies, they develop critical thinking skills through an analysis of educational history, philosophy, and psychology; assessment of learning; measurement and evaluation of learning; and classroom management. They also gain awareness of cultural diversity, the social and political contexts of education, teaching the exceptional child, instructing English language learners, and using technology to aid instruction.
Students put what they learn in the classroom into practice through their student teaching experience, which provides hands-on learning that cultivates real-time skills, teaching strategies, and greater ease in the teaching role while gaining valuable insights and qualifications to begin their teaching careers.
Secondary Education Program
Ottawa University’s Bachelor of Arts in Secondary Education (BASE) program is designed to produce teachers who are sensitive and compassionate to the unique needs, challenges, and learning styles of a diverse adolescent student population, both at the middle and high school levels.
Preparations in the student’s chosen content area, along with methods courses, professional education courses, and field experiences, assist in leading to licensure. Deep content knowledge as well as best practices for teaching prepare students to teach in one of the following content areas:
- Music with a choral emphasis
- Music with an instrumental emphasis
Students’ specific subject matter courses build connections between theory and practice and are developed in collaboration with lead faculty in the discipline. Students may also be subject to state-specific requirements, such as courses surrounding the U.S. and State Constitutions.
The degree program will culminate with students completing their student teaching, through which they will gain a practical foundation in educational methods while working towards their teaching license.
Start Your Career in Teaching
Now that you have a better idea of why education is important, the differences between elementary and secondary education, and the requirements for each, it’s time to get back into the classroom yourself to start your career in teaching. Contact us today and our enrollment advisors will help chart your course to becoming one of tomorrow’s well-trained, highly impactful educators.
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