master’s in elementary education or master’s in secondary education

Master’s in Elementary Education vs. Master’s in Secondary Education: 3 Key Differences

Teaching is one of the most important professions in today’s world. Teachers are leading our younger generations towards success, influencing youth’s development and instructing them on how to become change-makers. However, there is currently a great need for teachers in our society.

More than likely, you’ve heard of the massive teacher shortage that school districts nationwide are facing collectively. Elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools especially are seeking qualified, compassionate teachers who can not only step into the classroom, but elevate the learning experience.

For aspiring teachers, this begs an important question: How do you decide which grade level to teach? Whether you are a prospective educator or a seasoned teacher considering your master’s degree, you may be weighing your options between a Master’s in Elementary Education or a Master’s in Secondary Education. These are two of the most popular degree paths among educators today.

This article will explain three, key differences between these two master’s programs:

  • Teaching responsibilities
  • Developmental levels in children
  • Subject matter expertise each program focuses on

Both elementary education and secondary education are equally valuable professions. We want to make sure you have the information you need to determine which program and setting best suits you.

Elementary vs. Secondary Teaching Responsibilities

K-12 educators can teach in all accredited schools: public, private, charter, magnet, and others.

Typical breakdowns for grade levels are as follows:

  • Elementary School: Kindergarten through 5th grade
  • Middle School: 6th grade through 8th grade
  • High School: 9th grade through 12th grade

In addition to the ages of the students, there are other differences to note between elementary and secondary education, as well as differences in a teacher’s responsibility in and outside of the classroom.

For example, in elementary school, teachers will typically instruct the same group of children for the entire academic year. However, a teacher specializing in secondary education will teach rotating groups of middle or high school students throughout the school day.

Teachers in elementary education also teach all core subjects in their school district’s curriculum, while secondary educators usually teach a single subject.

There are also differences to note in teaching responsibilities outside of the classroom, as well.

As part of their contracts, all teachers in both elementary education and secondary education settings have “other duties as assigned,” and these duties look different for each teacher. Typically, elementary schools coordinate school functions by assigning their teachers duties such as recess duty, bus duty, lunchroom duty, after-school duty, and tutoring duty, among others.

Additionally, there are often rotating social and academic events in the evening that elementary educators will assist in planning and hosting, such as:

  • Math competitions
  • Book fairs
  • Science fairs
  • Talent shows
  • Art shows
  • Concerts
  • Plays

High schools also have many of these same events. However, secondary education teachers (also known as high school teachers) often volunteer to take on the sponsor role of a club or group at the school and as such, they take on the bulk of the planning responsibilities for that specific activity.

Whether you complete a Master’s in Elementary Education or a Master’s in Secondary Education, being involved both in and outside of the school day will help form strong connections and relationships with both your students and community. However, knowing these duties in advance can help you make a more informed decision for your future career path.

Elementary vs. Secondary Developmental Levels

Another key factor to look at when choosing between a Master’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Secondary Education is the developmental levels of your students, and the qualities needed for teachers in those settings.

Starting with elementary school, teachers have the special opportunity to make a positive impact on young children by implanting a love for reading, writing, art, math, and science in their hearts and minds. Elementary teachers guide developing minds who are just discovering the joys of learning and the mysteries of the world around them.

The teaching strategies in elementary school focus on many cooperative learning strategies. Often, elementary educators will teach a subject matter in thematic ways by overlapping several content areas in one unit or lesson with music, movement, and manipulatives. As such, teachers in elementary schools need to have good communication and classroom management skills, enthusiasm, a love for children and lifelong learning, a lot of patience, and a good sense of humor.

In secondary education, teachers must be masters of their specific subject and often choose the content area that interests them most personally. Their particular passion for their content area helps students reach their full academic potential in that subject.

Secondary teachers are also the ones that aid students in thinking about their futures beyond high school. And teachers in middle and high school often have more career flexibility to work as school counselors, program directors, or school administrators. For these reasons and more, secondary educators need passion, consistency, adaptability, and a good understanding of the psychological, emotional, and social dispositions of pre-teens and teenagers.

Elementary vs. Secondary Education Expertise

In an elementary school setting, it does not often matter which subject you like the most because elementary school teachers utilize an interdisciplinary approach. They need to be prepared in all, or most, of the content areas that their students will be learning.

As mentioned previously, as an elementary educator, you will most likely be teaching math, language arts/literacy, science, social studies, and depending on the size of the school, you could possibly teach art, music, or physical education.

On the other hand, secondary educators tend to focus on one or two content areas they are passionate about. Along with traditional subjects, high schools often offer specialty courses like:

  • Ceramics
  • Choir
  • Dance
  • Drama
  • Band
  • Newspaper
  • Computer Science

Is Elementary Education or Secondary Education Right for You?

Now you’ve uncovered the three key differences between elementary and secondary education, consider your own interests and personal teaching philosophy as you determine which master’s program is the best next step.

You may also want keep in mind your own personality, teaching style, sense of humor, propensity for working with young or older students, and your level of extroversion.

Both a Master’s in Elementary Education and a Master’s in Secondary Education offer you the distinct (and continued!) joy of being a teacher. You are privileged as well as respected in your ability to shape tomorrow’s leaders and build a firm foundation for their future successes.

Apply to UB today. We’ll be sure you make the right decision for you and your future students!

For more information about advancing your career as a teacher, you may also download our free guide, How to Become a Teacher in Connecticut, here.