A common question that is asked by education majors and prospective teachers is, “What is the best grade to teach?”
And, well, it is impossible to choose a “best” grade.
Deciding what grade to teach is a very personal decision, and there is no shortage of teachers that regret having chosen the wrong age. And on a more optimistic note, there are many teachers that have found their ideal grade level and wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Ultimately, it comes down to the sort of teaching that you find fulfilling. Do you want to help children learn, explore, and socialize? Or would you rather nurture minds in critical thinking or the upper level sciences?
Quick Answer – What Grade Should I Teach?
The easy answer is that there is no easy answer. The answer depends upon you, the prospective teacher, more than it depends on any advice or objective facts.
If you want to be a subject matter expert that teaches chemistry or mathematics at a rigorous level, obviously the high school (or college) level is an appropriate fit.
If you would rather nurture kids as they learn to play and explore, an elementary (or preschool) teaching job will be more suitable.
In the late elementary grades, the average student is excited about learning and also becoming more capable of understanding complex topics. So, you can address problem solving at a higher level and with more nuanced dialogue.
And in middle school (think 6th-8th grade, or thereabouts), students are often at a crossroads socially and therefore can be positively impacted by a special teacher.
Ruling Out Certain Grades
Many prospective teachers want to find a test or some empirical way to choose the “right” grade to teach. Personally, I wouldn’t trust any such test to make a major life decision for me.
A better method would be to rule out certain grade levels until you find a grade level that is the ideal fit for you. For example, if you wish to teach a single subject at a challenging level, you can safely rule out elementary education.
Ultimately, it is a matter of what skills you want to nurture. If you want to teach the fundamentals of learning while also providing instruction as students grow and play, don’t get a license to teach high school (obviously). If you want to spend time teaching critical thinking, philosophy, and ethics, it will look quite different in a kindergarten classroom than a high school lecture hall.
Flexibility of Elementary vs. Secondary Education Degree
When choosing which grade to teach, the most important decision (at least in the United States, where we are based) is whether to pursue an elementary education or secondary education degree.
Generally, an elementary education degree will allow you to teach kindergarten through 6th grade, while a secondary education degree will allow you to teach 7th through 12th grade. Depending on the state, additional training, and some nuances in educational law, these grades can vary slightly.
So, thankfully, you don’t have to decide the exact grade level you want to teach as a college freshman. Instead, you can pursue the primary (elementary) or secondary track.
Once you are licensed as an elementary teacher, there are options to teach at many grade levels, so don’t worry about being “locked in” to a particular grade level. Likewise with secondary teachers.
Finally, you should consider the flexibility that is allowed by a primary or secondary education degree. As an elementary school teacher, you may have the ability to teach kindergarten one year and then change your mind and teach fourth grade the following year. As a high school teacher, it isn’t quite as simple to switch from teaching AP Calculus one year to French the next.
Relationships vs. Course Content
You should consider whether you can make more of an impact through relationships or through effective teaching of course content.
I know some excellent high school math teachers that would never dream of teaching a room full of kindergarteners. Alternatively, some of the world’s greatest elementary school teachers would be bored and unfulfilled teaching Chemistry to sophomores.
To be clear, a teacher can positively improve students’ lives through both effective instruction and by teaching interpersonal and social skills. This is true at any grade level. But depending on your skills and interests, some teachers can make more of an impact at one grade than another.
Practical Job Considerations
Lastly, you should consider some practical, real-world differences between different grade levels. Included in this category are items like salary, coaching positions, additional certifications needed, and the ability to work towards a promotion or related role in the future.
I won’t add any opinion here, but the fact of the matter is that (on average) high school teachers often make a couple thousand dollars more yearly than elementary school teachers.
Sports coaching, FBLA, and quiz bowl advising is generally easier from a logistics standpoint for a middle/high school teacher than it would be for a high school teacher. Although an elementary teacher is generally eligible to sponsor these groups and organizations, these positions are disproportionately staffed by upper grade level teachers.
One final point to consider – how much variation do you want in your day? Do you value routines, such as giving multiple calculus lectures each day? Or would you prefer to embrace the outbursts and chaos of a lower elementary classroom?
Hopefully you weren’t here for a simple and easy answer to the question of deciding what grade to teach! Sadly, such an answer doesn’t exist.
The “easiest” way to decide is by ruling out certain levels based on your likes/dislikes, while focusing on secondary factors like course content, job flexibility, wages, and the ease of sponsoring or coaching extracurriculars.
And remember that you aren’t “locked in” to one single grade level by choosing an elementary education or secondary education track.