8 minute read


Responsibilities of Elementary and Secondary School Teachers, Qualifications of Elementary and Secondary Teachers

The role and responsibilities of elementary and secondary school teachers have undergone a significant evolution since the publication of the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Education. Historically, teachers have been viewed as purveyors of content knowledge and academic skills, but teachers in the early twenty-first century have also become ambassadors to multicultural communities and promulgators of democracy. As expectations for teacher performance have increased, so too has the status of teaching–the term teaching profession has become commonplace.

Conventionally viewed as dispensers of knowledge, teachers are increasingly perceived as facilitators or managers of knowledge. They are often thought to be colearners with their students. Few modern teachers would try to claim intellectual hegemony in the classroom; such a claim would not stand the challenge of increasingly sophisticated students. There is too much to know and too many sources of knowledge outside the classroom that can easily be brought to bear within school walls by students themselves. Teachers teach, of course, but they do not simply dispense information to their students. Teachers are also intellectual leaders who create opportunities for students to demonstrate what they know and what they know how to do.

Responsibilities of Elementary and Secondary School Teachers

Public school teachers spend an average of 49.3 hours per week meeting their responsibilities, including 11.2 hours per week on noncompensated duties. Customary responsibilities for teachers include planning and executing instructional lessons, assessing students based on specific objectives derived from a set curricula, and communicating with parents.

This list of seemingly simple tasks belies the complexity of the job. It was once the norm for teachers to address the needs of large groups of students via standard lesson plans and stock practice. This is no longer the case. Teachers of the early twenty-first century must create and modify lessons, fitting them to the diverse instructional needs and abilities of their students. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ensures that any student with an identified disability receive a written Individualized Education Program stating the modifications that must be implemented by any teacher working with that particular child. Students' needs run the gamut from learning disabilities to giftedness–a broad range that compels teachers to behave in certain ways.

Unlike their predecessors, twenty-first-century teachers expect to deal with the dictates of standardized testing and curricula to match. Signed in 2002 by President George W. Bush, the No Child Left Behind Act is simply one very visible indication of the emphasis on local accountability for student performance. The bill requires that all schools display proof of meeting a minimal set of academic standards, as defined by each state. States must begin implementing annual high-stakes testing–testing upon which important decisions such as passing and failing depend. These tests will concentrate, at least initially, on reading and mathematics in grades three through eight.

As always, teachers are responsible for classroom management and discipline. This aspect of a teacher's job shows no signs of growing easier–quite the contrary. According to the U.S. Department of Education, during the period from 1992 to 1996, 1,581,000 teachers were victims of nonfatal crimes that occurred while at school. Recognizing the challenge of student discipline, the No Child Left Behind Act includes steps for providing a safer work environment for teachers as well as students. Opportunities for professional development and training in positive methods of discipline abound.

Teachers are expected to use computer-based technology with increasing frequency and proficiency. The technology boom of the 1990s was accompanied by many efforts to help teachers integrate technology into their teaching and into students' learning. Although there is legitimate concern about the ultimate value of the use of technology in schools, there is little doubt that considerable resources have been expended to advance the digital revolution. The E-rate, for example–a federal program that provides targeted discounts to schools and libraries with the goal of increasing access to the Internet and other telecommunications services–funneled $3.65 billion into schools from 1997 to 2002. The federal government spent another $275 million from 1999 to 2002 to train teachers to use technology via the PT 3 program.

Changing societal demographics have forced changes in the practice of teaching. There are, for instance, more than ninety languages spoken in Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia. Teachers all over the nation work with students and parents from many different cultures. Teachers themselves are students of culture. They create classroom environments to celebrate various ethnic and religious traditions. They are expected to treat children and their families sensitively so as to avoid the proliferation of stereotypical images of races, cultures, or religions.

Teachers continue to exhibit a rich history of participation in educational and political groups, committees, and events. In 1996, 42 percent of public school teachers participated in committees dealing with local curriculum. On the national level, teachers are members of unions that include the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA), as well as their local affiliates.

Qualifications of Elementary and Secondary Teachers

State governments determine their own requirements for a teaching license. In addition to a college degree with course work in appropriate areas, more than thirty states require a national teacher examination, such as the Praxis Series. Developed by the Educational Testing Service, the Praxis Series is designed to assess a teacher's knowledge of basic subject matter including reading, writing, and mathematics. Praxis also evaluates a prospective teacher in two other areas: general knowledge of the field of education and knowledge within the teacher's specialty content area.

Many states recognize licenses earned in other states, thus a license earned in one state may be used to work in another state. This process is referred to as "reciprocity" of licensing. Teachers who are interested in pursuing additional endorsements–that is, approvals to teach other specialties–do so most often by taking additional college course work. They can also attempt to acquire national certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, but they may still have to gain a state license in order to teach in a public school. In 2001 the NEA estimated that there would be 100,000 National Board Certified teachers by 2005.

Teachers also join professional honorary societies. For example, teachers may be invited to become a member of Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society in education that seeks to inspire high teaching standards. Kappa Delta Pi and other education honorary societies recognize the actions of individual teachers and through membership distinguish them as exceptional educators.

There were approximately 2.78 million public school teachers working in K–12 education during the 1998–1999 academic year. It was estimated that by 2008 the number of teachers needed to meet the demands of a growing student population would be3.46 million. To address an increasing teacher shortage, the No Child Left Behind Act suggests that state governments and school districts use alternative means of licensing and endorsing teachers, including fast-track teacher education programs for professionals outside education. The act also supports various incentives to keep teachers on the job, including merit pay for practicing educators and performance-based bonuses.

Research on Elementary and Secondary Teachers

Teacher quality has been said to be the number one school-related influence on student achievement. Although research on what constitutes a quality teacher is often the subject of debate, there are some findings on teacher quality that are rarely contested. These suggest that it is what teachers do in classrooms that matters. Research has shown that teachers can improve student achievement when they communicate high expectations, avoid criticism, reward truly praiseworthy behavior, and provide abundant opportunities for success (academic learning time) on material over which students are tested.


According to the first edition of the Encyclopedia of Education, the average salary in 1969 for a public school teacher was $8,320 at the elementary level and $8,840 at the secondary level. The average salary for a male secondary public school teacher was $9,160, and the average for a female public school secondary teacher was $8,670. While the average salaries have increased, the differences in salaries between elementary and secondary teachers as well as the disparity in salary between male and female educators have diminished. These changes in salaries reflect changes in attitudes about equal pay for equal work and the increasing responsibilities of female educators. The current public school teacher workforce is approximately 74 percent female.

A survey performed in 1995–1996 by the NEA found elementary and secondary public school teachers with a mean salary of $35,549. The range of salaries, however, is quite remarkable. Connecticut consistently ranks number one; in 1999–2000 its average teacher salary was $52,401. South Dakota falls on the opposite end of the spectrum, with an average salary that year of $29,072.

With approximately 90 percent of public school teachers classified as white in 2001, the racial demographics of teachers have not changed as noticeably as the student populations they serve. What has changed significantly is the number of advanced degrees obtained by teachers. In 1970, 25 percent of public school teachers received an advanced degree. The NEA reported in 1997 that this number had more than doubled to 56 percent–54 percent with master's degrees and 2 percent with doctoral degrees.


BROPHY, JERE E., and GOOD, THOMAS L. 1986. "Teacher Behavior and Student Achievement." In Handbook of Research on Teaching, 3rd edition, ed. Merlin C. Wittrock. New York: Macmillan.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997. U.S. Public Law 105-17. U.S. Code. Vol. 20, secs. 1400 et seq.

NATIONAL CENTER FOR EDUCATION STATISTICS. 1998. Indicators of School Crime and Safety:2001. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics.

NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. 1997. Status of the American Public School Teacher, 1995–96: Highlights. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. RESEARCH DIVISION. 1970. NEA Research Bulletin. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

SOLMON, LEWIS C., and FIRETAG, KIMBERLY. 2002. "The Road to Teacher Quality." Education Week 21 (27):48.


AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS. 2000. "Teacher Salaries Fail to Keep Up with Inflation: AFT Releases Annual State-by-State Teacher Salary Survey." <www.aft.org/research/salary/home.htm>.

CUBAN, LARRY. 1998. "Cuban Speech." Tapped In. <www.tappedin.org/info/teachers/debate2.html>.

NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION. 2001. "Teachers and Students Excelling Together: Ensuring the Quality Teachers America Needs." <www.nea.org/lac/bluebook/execsum.html>.



Additional topics

Education - Free Encyclopedia Search EngineEducation Encyclopedia