Master’s degree in elementary education

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Introduction to elementary education

For many, a career teaching elementary school is a calling. Despite the inherent demands of the field, new teachers graduate with a bachelor’s degree every year to joint the ranks of these valued professionals. After a few years teaching, many are ready to upgrade their skills or move out of the classroom. For those just entering the field, a master’s degree in education marks the first step toward a satisfying career.

Paired with a job outlook on pace with the national average, graduating with this advanced degree assures a smooth transition into the profession.


Earning a master’s in elementary education signals to future employers that you have a significant depth of knowledge and skill in the elementary classroom. Paired with a job outlook on pace with the national average, graduating with this advanced degree assures a smooth transition into the profession.

About the degree

There are 2 options for students interested in earning a master’s degree in elementary education: a master’s of education (M.Ed.) or a master’s of arts in teaching (MAT). While both degrees qualify you to teach in elementary schools, the M.Ed. is better suited to educators focused on moving into leadership positions such as principal or administrator. Meanwhile, MAT programs are meant to prepare future classroom teachers interested in building skills in areas like teaching methodologies and classroom management.


Requirements to earn a master’s degree

A master’s degree in elementary education is usually a 2 year commitment. For students interested in moving directly from a bachelor’s to a master’s program, there are dual degree options.  These programs typically combine the 4-year bachelor’s with a 1-year master’s degree. Most programs offer supervised practicum experiences or field placements that give students an opportunity to practice their knowledge and skills in the real world. If you are not already licensed, it is important to check whether your program includes licensure preparation.


Prerequisites needed

Most master’s in elementary education programs require applicants to have earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education or related field. Some schools may also require candidates hold a current teaching license although this varies by program and state.


Degree flexibility

Whether you need extra time and flexibility or are looking to earn your degree as quickly as possible, there are plenty of options with this master’s program. In addition to the traditional in-person, full-time learning experience, there are part-time, online, and hybrid options. Current teachers benefit from alternative programs, especially asynchronous programs designed for students to complete at their own pace.

Degree tracks

The coursework in this degree often allows students to choose specific tracks within the area of elementary education. Common tracks include the following:

  • Curriculum and instruction

This specialization emphasizes understanding the various approaches to teaching. Classroom teachers learn to meet the needs of diverse classrooms by adjusting teaching methodologies and structures.

  • Literacy

This track teaches students the latest theories and techniques on reading and writing acquisition, examining practical teaching strategies for linguistically diverse learners. Specific courses studied include areas like digital literacy and student engagement.

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math)

This concentration develops skills in integrating STEM subjects in the classroom with a focus on developing investigative, reasoning, and creative skills. Students in this track take extra courses in physics, engineering, and various levels of mathematics.


Outside of specific areas of specialization, most master’s programs in elementary education include advanced level courses in broader areas of teaching. Listed below are some of the most common courses included in these programs:

Qualitative methods in educational research

This course prepares students to analyze and interpret qualitative research to better understand its purposes, techniques, and limitations. Students examine qualitative research in practice, discuss ethical issues, and review various methodologies.

Curriculum development

Students learn about curriculum planning from early development through implementation and evaluation. This includes identifying the factors that influence planning, analyzing curriculum changes, defining various conceptions of curriculum, and applying theory to practice.

Differentiated instruction

Students explore new instructional methods used in modern elementary school classrooms. Ways of applying different instructive techniques based on areas like cognitive ability, learning style, readiness, and gender give students alternative means to lead diverse classrooms.

Educational assessment

This course examines the principles and tools used to evaluate students. Many aspects of testing are presented, including evaluating a test’s psychometric properties, interpreting scores, and writing objectives.

Additional steps

In addition to coursework, most master’s programs in elementary education include hands on experience, a project, or both. These aspects of the degree are outlined briefly below:

  • Applied research project – Students who complete this kind of research aim to find a solution to a current problem in the elementary classroom. Practically, this could look like finding ways to reduce bullying, lessen the achievement gap between students of varying socio-economic backgrounds, or improve literacy readiness.
  • Thesis – Some programs require students to complete a thesis paper based on original research conducted during their master’s program. Topics related to this age group could include themes like extra-curricular activities, self-esteem, or social popularity.
  • Field or practicum teaching experience – Field experiences, sometimes referred to as a practicum, are connected to specific courses, allowing students to make direct connections to the concepts learned in theory. This may include work in private organizations, teaching early literacy in a first grade classroom, or delivering special education services.

When choosing a program, it is wise to pick one with regional accreditation. This type of accreditation holds more weight with other schools should you choose to transfer credits to a new program. Students concerned about whether their chosen program is properly accredited can refer to the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, the gold standard organization for elementary education concerning research, policy, and practice.

What you can do with a master’s in elementary education

Earning a master’s degree in elementary education brings many opportunities for career development. As a significant portion of students choosing this degree path already work as teachers, the ability to apply this degree to areas outside the classroom can be attractive. Listed below are 3 common careers graduates of this program follow:

Elementary teacher

Those with a master’s in this field can begin or continue a career as elementary school educators. A graduate degree allows these educators to concentrate in specific areas such as special education. Teachers need state licensure to begin working.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


Instructional coordinators

An attractive option for teachers ready to move out of a traditional classroom environment, coordinators work with school administrators to design a school district’s curriculum. In addition to a master’s degree in education, these professionals are often required to have worked previously in a school administration capacity.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required



To lead a school as principal, you need a master’s in education and a license as a school administrator. Those in this role manage a school’s day to day operations, evaluate curricula, oversee staff, and may also promote extracurricular programs.

Total employment


Projected growth (2018-2028)


Degree required


Continuing your education

For education professionals ready to take their experience and expertise to the highest level of the field, earning a doctorate is the final step. This degree level represents the next logical step after earning a master’s degree, allowing those holding this title to work in a research capacity or to influence policies. There are 3 primary doctorate degrees available for education professionals, as follows:


Doctorate in education (Ed.D.)

This degree is designed for students preparing to step into leadership roles. While Ed.D. degree holders may focus on research, they are also in a position to apply findings to real-world scenarios in a variety of educational environments.


Doctorate in education (Ph.D.)

Students who choose this degree path are interested in honing their skills in research and eventually stepping into teaching roles. With a Ph.D. in education, you review the literature and generate new theories to test with the hope of contributing to the field as whole from a theoretical perspective.


Doctorate in curriculum and instruction

Students in these programs focus on theory, competency, and assessment strategies that help them develop curricula. A doctorate in curriculum and instruction has a more interdisciplinary focus as students gain insights from child development, psychology, law, and ethics.

Should I get this degree?

Earning a master’s in elementary education gives you the advanced skills and knowledge to skillfully structure your lessons, efficiently manage classrooms, and address the unique needs of children from diverse backgrounds and cognitive abilities. Even if your bachelor’s degree is not in education, earning a master’s degree allows you to start teaching with all the knowledge and skills you need to be a successful educator. If you are serious about teaching, entering into the field or building your credentials with this graduate degree is a wise choice to build a solid career in education.

National Education Association (NAE)

The NEA supports public school educators build their skills, advocate for their rights, and build inclusive educational environments. Teachers can find learning resources, licensure support, and leadership development opportunities via this organization.

American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

The AFT is a union of professionals from not only teaching but also healthcare and public services. The goals of this organization are to promote equality, economic opportunity, and access to public education and services. Teachers can find resources on professional growth and job opportunities via the AFT.

Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE)

The OESE is an official government office designed to empower individual states to deliver excellent educational programs by providing financial and leadership assistance. Teachers can learn about all the national programs currently available via the OESE, including initiatives like early childhood development and school leadership.

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