Teaching elementary school can be rewarding, but it requires specialized education leading to state certification or license. However, if you hold a bachelor's degree, you may be able to start working as an elementary school instructor even before finishing a teacher preparation program. Becoming a teacher in this alternative manner is sometimes called lateral entry. Although specific requirements vary by state, the process is similar.
Teachers in public schools must have earned at least bachelor's degree. For lateral entry, that degree typically must relate to the area you will teach, such as a biology major could teach elementary science. If you want to teach in a different area, your transcript must show at least 24 semester hours of classes in that subject to demonstrate expertise. Most states demand a minimum GPA overall, in the subject area or during your senior year in college.
Most states also require lateral entry elementary school teachers to pass a Praxis exam. ETS offers two different tests. Praxis I examines basic understanding of math, reading and writing, using both multiple choice questions and a writing prompt. The Praxis II centers of the subjects taught most often in elementary, middle and high schools with topics ranging from agriculture to foreign language. Some states might allow you to substitute real-world experience in your field and a high GPA or specific coursework for the Praxis.
Lateral entry is a temporary measure to allow you to work as an elementary teacher while obtaining the necessary teacher education, so you must also enroll in an appropriate preparation program. To maintain lateral status, teachers usually must demonstrate progress toward certification and must complete the program before a deadline, although some states allow extensions. These teachers typically take a minimum of six credit hours in teacher education classes each year to maintain the lateral entry status.
Once you complete the teacher preparation coursework, you can apply for regular teacher status. Districts hire teachers through the lateral entry program when qualified instructors are in short supply. However, lateral entry teachers do not possess the credential and therefore may be offered jobs only after other teachers. Asheville City Schools in North Carolina, for instance, indicates that lateral entry teachers often work in math, science and special education, and they may not get job offers until the school year is about to start.