What Is a Generalist Teacher?

Elementary school teachers typically teach multiple subjects.
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The TV game show "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?" challenges contestants to answer general knowledge questions on a range of typical grade school subjects, including math, history, social studies and science. Generalist teachers, most often found in elementary and middle schools, face this challenge every day in real life. As a generalist, you have to be able to teach all basic subjects, often to more than one grade level -- whether you were math-challenged yourself or not.

Covering All the Bases

    The Indiana Department of Education spells out clearly what is expected of generalist teachers: "Elementary teachers are expected to have a broad and comprehensive understanding of the knowledge and skills needed ..." to teach mathematics, science, language arts, reading, social studies and fine arts. With minor variations, this defines what generalist teachers throughout the country are required to know -- and teach effectively -- in the classroom every day. In some schools, they must also be equipped to teach physical education, including health and wellness classes. A generalist teacher not only has to know the substantive material in each of these subject areas, she must also be able to identify and use effective techniques, including technology, to present these subjects to her students.

Job Opportunities

    Generalist teacher positions are most commonly found in public and private schools, typically for grades K through 6. Some middle schools -- grades 6 through 8 -- also hire generalist teachers, at least for core curriculum subjects. Generalist teachers also work in faith-based schools, where, in addition to basic subjects, they often are required to teach religious education classes or incorporate the school's beliefs into their presentation of core subjects. According to O*NET Online, teaching jobs are expected to increase between 10 to 19 percent in the years from 2010 to 2020, while the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook places the increase at 17 percent.

Educational Requirements

    Becoming a generalist teacher requires you to complete at least a bachelor's degree in elementary or middle school education, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Master's degrees are often required for advancement or tenure. Specific requirements vary by state and school district: Teachers typically are required to pursue continuing education, often leading to a master's degree, but also in areas such as educational technology or child psychology. Private schools are not subject to state requirements that teachers have bachelor's degrees, but many still require this of their teachers.

State Certification

    Each state has detailed qualifications a generalist teacher must have to obtain state teaching certification, sometimes referred to as licensing. These qualifications are based on both federal and state educational standards as outlined by each state's board of education. Along with the requisite bachelor's degree, states typically require generalist teachers to pass a general teaching certification test, covering both techniques and content. Some states require teachers to recertify on an annual basis, while others require annual professional development coursework to remain certified. Many require elementary generalist teachers to obtain a master's degree once they have been certified.

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