What’s the difference between elementary and secondary education?

by Ed Ventura | Feb 13, 2018

Edited by Susan Sullivan | February 14, 2018

Elementary Ed vs Secondary Ed

Deciding to major in education when you go to college is a good move. As a teacher, you’ll make a difference in the lives of children, make your community a better place to live, and have a rewarding, purpose-driven career.

But which bachelor’s degree in education should you choose? And what are the differences between them?

As you consider the type of school setting that’s right for you, think about the subjects, grade levels, and ages of the children you want to teach. Think, too, about the academic requirements to become licensed to teach in the state where you’ll live.

Types of degrees available

At Marian University, you can choose from programs suited for teachers who want to work with young children as well as those who want to work with older children and teens. They include:

We also offer a preparation program for future Catholic school teachers.

What are the differences?

K-12 educators teach in public, private, parochial, charter, magnet, and other types of schools, like language immersion or international schools. Typical grade levels are:

  • Kindergarten through fifth grade: Elementary school
  • Sixth through eighth grade: Middle school
  • Ninth through 12th grade: High school

As an elementary teacher, you will typically instruct the same group or cohort of children for the duration of one academic year. As a secondary educator you will teach rotating groups of middle and high school students throughout the school day.

In addition, an elementary educator teaches all subjects in their school district’s curriculum to students while a secondary educator teaches a single subject. The various subjects that educators teach are typically called “content areas.”

Teaching all subjects to young children

Elementary teachers have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on children as they implant a love for reading, writing, and math in young hearts and minds. Elementary educators guide developing minds that are just discovering the thrill of learning and the mysteries of the world around them.

Among the important qualities of a good elementary educator are warmth, good communication and classroom management skills, enthusiasm, a love for children and lifelong learning, and a good sense of humor. You’ll teach children to enjoy reading, writing, math, language, art, basic sciences, and more.

Elementary education students at Marian complete courses on educational theory, research, and psychology and best practices in instructional techniques and assessment strategies, They also explore legal and ethical issues in teaching.

Teaching fewer subjects to older children

Secondary (middle and high school) teachers need passion, consistency, adaptability, and a good understanding of the psychological, emotional, and social tendencies of teens.

They must also be masters of the subjects they teach and often choose a content area that interests them personally, whether the subject is math, science, history, English, or another language. Additionally, secondary teachers help students reach their full academic potential and start thinking about their futures beyond high school.

Secondary educators may have more career flexibility and can work as school counselors, program directors, and school administrators.

No matter which path is right for you, both offer the distinct joy of being a teacher—and the opportunity to shape tomorrow's leaders and build a firm foundation for their future successes.

Learn more about our education degrees

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Watch Bami's story
Building relationships with faculty and coaches
After he explored his college options, Conor Smith '20 decided to choose Marian because of his interest in athletics and exercise science.
Read Conor's story
Following her dream to be a dentist
After graduating cum laude with Marian's Class of 2017, Chrislyn (Church) Fite is well on her way.
Read Chrislyn's story

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