10 Concentrations for an Elementary Education Degree (Master’s Level)

elementary education

According to the latest reports from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the majority of public school teachers hold a post-baccalaureate degree such as a master’s in education. The percentage of elementary school teachers who hold an advanced degree is slightly lower than that of secondary school teachers (i.e., 55 vs 61%), but it’s still a significant representation of primary school teachers.

Elementary school teachers return to school for an advanced credential for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is pay. School districts reward educators who earn a master’s credential with a significant raise, so the investment in your higher education will no doubt pay off in the future. PayScale reports that master’s-educated teachers make $60,000 per year on average.

Teachers who choose to earn a Master’s degree in Elementary Education have a variety of options when it comes to degree programs. By selecting a concentration within a degree program, educators who are transitioning from bachelor-level teachers to master-level teachers will be able to tailor their education so they are covering specialized content that is relevant to the career they would like to pursue.

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What Can I Specialize in With a Master’s in Elementary Education?

The field of education is vast, so there are many different ways that educators in elementary school settings can specialize in their field, both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. Current educators who want to hone their skillsets or venture out into a different area of education should consider these ten popular concentrations when enrolling in a M.Ed. program:

  • Supporting Language Learners
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Special Education
  • STEM
  • Educational Leadership
  • Educational Technology
  • Reading Education
  • Mathematics Education
  • Gifted and Talented
  • Pre-K/Kindergarten

In this article, we’ll discuss each of these ten elementary education concentrations in detail, providing information about what each of these specializations has to offer teachers in terms of coursework and career advancement opportunities.

Supporting Language Learners

Graduate students should choose to concentrate their Master’s in Elementary Education in an area that they are passionate about. One area many teachers find rewarding is Supporting Language Learners. This is a great option for educators who already work as Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages specialists in the classroom or for those who want to move into this area of teaching. The Supporting Language Learners concentration is sometimes referred to as English as a New Language, English as a Second Language, or English Language Learners. Different schools may have different titles for this concentration, but the coursework is usually very similar. While it is most common for ESL teachers to have an English degree, there are other options. For instance, if you know you want to teach English to Spanish-speaking students, or teach at a Spanish/English immersion school you might also consider a Spanish degree.

The Supporting Language Learners concentration helps students navigate learning a new language while also studying content in other disciplines. Teachers enrolled in such a specialization will learn new language acquisition strategies and theories that can be applied in a classroom setting to help children succeed. Typically, this concentration is a 9-credit elective, but this can vary by master’s degree program and school.

Supporting Language Learners Concentration Coursework

For the sake of reference, we’ve listed some sample coursework characteristics of the Supporting Language Learners concentration below. Keep in mind that course titles vary by program as well as by college/university.

  • Theory and Research in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
  • English Linguistics for Educators
  • Teaching ESL in a Multicultural Society
  • Grammar for ESL Teachers

Curriculum & Instruction

One of the most popular concentrations for educators seeking an advanced degree in elementary education is the Curriculum and Instruction emphasis. This particular concentration is a great option for educators who would like to be part of the change in how the school curriculum is developed and delivered. Curriculum policies and standards are ever-evolving due to changes in state and federal recommendations as well as advancements in educational research.

While this specialty won’t prepare teachers to work in administrator roles for curriculum design, it will help them develop their own innovative curriculum that meets requirements and still is engaging for students. By studying courses on curriculum design and learning through inquiry, educators will be prepared to create exciting new curricula and design their own standards-based lesson plans. The Curriculum and Instruction specialty may also prepare educators for positions as department chairs or lead teachers.

Curriculum & Instruction Concentration Coursework:

Here are some of the courses you can expect to take in a master’s degree in education program with an emphasis in Curriculum & Instruction:

  • Designing Curriculum and Instruction
  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Educator as Researcher
  • Trends in Curriculum and Instruction

Special Education

Educators who want to work with kids with special needs and who chose not to go the Special Education Degree path could earn their Master’s in Elementary Education and then take a 9-credit concentration in Special Education. Graduate elementary education students will take courses on special education law, systems for behavior support, and behavior management to better understand effective strategies for teaching pupils who might have varied abilities.

Many schools require that their special education teachers hold a minimum of a master’s degree in special ed in order to work with children with mild to moderate disabilities. A teaching license is also required. When selecting programs, be sure that the degree plan is aligned with your career goals.

Special Education Concentration Coursework

Below, you will find some examples of coursework associated with a master’s degree in education with a concentration in Special Education. These course titles are taken from actual degree programs offered by colleges and universities in the U.S.

  • Transition Planning and Collaboration in Special Education
  • Diagnosis and Remediation of Reading Difficulties
  • Assistive and Technological Devices
  • Classroom Management for Diverse Learners

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

STEM, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is a concentration that helps educators who teach these subjects learn how to effectively develop curricula that will get kids excited about careers in these fields. The courses aligned with such a concentration will focus on curriculum reform in life and physical sciences as well as issues in teaching math and science.

Upon completion of a STEM concentration, teachers will be able to develop new and proven instructional strategies and methodologies that are working in other schools across the globe. With the help of these master’s-education teachers, best practices can be adopted and upgraded as necessary throughout the school. The concentration can also prepare master’s students to become better classroom educators or to take on leadership roles within their schools, including curriculum designers, instructional specialists, or lead teachers.

STEM Concentration Coursework

Below, we list course titles representative of a master’s-level concentration in STEM Education. Your actual courses may vary, depending on the school you attend:

  • The Art of Engineering and Design
  • 21st Century Technology Tools for Teaching and Learning
  • Engaging Diversity in the Science Classroom
  • Creating an Environment for STEM Learning

Educational Leadership

All educators are leaders in their own right, but those who want to take on specific leadership roles within their schools or districts may wish to pursue a formal concentration in Educational Leadership.

Enrolling in the Educational Leadership concentration can provide classroom teachers with the opportunity to assume positions such as school principal, assistant principal, district coordinator, or instructional coach. If you want to rise to the top of your field and make an even bigger mark on the world by influencing other educators within your school or local district, then this may be the concentration for you.

Just remember that with an Educational Leadership concentration, you’ll be responsible for studying topics outside of educational pedagogy. Many of these classes will focus on organizational management issues like human resources and budgeting, for example. You may feel like you’re studying for an MBA as opposed to a master’s in elementary education program! If you’re up to the challenge, though, this particular concentration could prove to be very lucrative. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), elementary school principals make nearly six figures per year on average.

Educational Leadership Concentration Coursework

The curricula for Educational Leadership concentrations will vary by program. Even so, once enrolled in an Educational Leadership Specialization, you can expect to take up coursework such as:

  • Ethical, Legal, and Professional Issues in Education
  • School Budgeting and Resource Management
  • Leadership of Curriculum Design and Instruction
  • Systems Management and School Operations

Educational Technology

Technology is changing the very landscape of our lives, and the field of education is not exempt. To keep up with technological advancements in teaching and learning, we need teachers who specialize in instructional technology. Those educators who feel up to the challenge can take up a formal master’s concentration in Educational Technology and help lead their fellow teachers into the 21st century and beyond.

Career advancement opportunities abound for teachers who elect an Educational Technology master’s specialization. Some of these employment prospects include technology specialists, technology directors, or technology coaches. As an added bonus, the Educational Technology concentration is one of the higher paid specializations an elementary school teacher can pursue. According to PayScale, this particular credential can earn you nearly $70,000 per year on average.

Educational Technology Concentration Coursework

With a master’s in Educational Technology specialization, you can expect to confront course titles such as the following:

  • Technology for Learning and Assessment
  • Creating Professional Environments in a Virtual World
  • Integrating Technology Across the Curriculum
  • Educational Technology Hardware and Software

Reading Education

Reading is one of the fundamental skills taught in elementary school, and it’s crucial since it affects all other subject areas and has a prolonged impact on academic success. A master’s degree in education with a concentration in Reading Education is ideal for those teachers who value literacy as one of the most important goals of an elementary-level educational program. It’s also a great fit for teachers who enjoy reading as a hobby and hope to instill a lifelong love of reading in their students.

Specializing in reading education can help you become a more effective classroom teacher, expanding your expertise and instructional toolbox. It can also lead to advancements in your career as a teacher, opening up opportunities for roles such as reading specialist, instructional coach, or department head, for example.

Reading Education Concentration Coursework

  • Expanding Reading Ability Through Content Area Instruction
  • Differentiated Elementary Literacy
  • Assessment and Teaching of Students with Reading Difficulties
  • Foundations of Reading Instruction

Mathematics Education

Another content area specialization for elementary educators, the Mathematics Education concentration is a good option for teachers who enjoy teaching math concepts and strategies. Like reading, mathematics is a fundamental skill for all learners, and it can impact school success in various subject areas for many years beyond elementary school. Teachers who specialize in this critical area of instruction can make a real impact on their students’ confidence and engagement with mathematics.

In addition to improving your own effectiveness as a math teacher, a master’s degree concentration in Mathematics Education can prepare you for advanced roles within your school system, including math coach, instructional specialist, or curriculum facilitator, for instance.

Mathematics Education Concentration Coursework

Students undertaking a Mathematics Education concentration can expect to study coursework similar to the following:

  • Measurement, Data, and Geometric Thinking
  • Understanding Rational Numbers and Proportional Reasoning
  • Number Sense and Functions
  • Finite Mathematics

Gifted and Talented

Academically gifted students have their own unique set of challenges and needs within a classroom environment. If you have an interest in helping these talented students reach their full potential, then a master’s degree in education or teaching with a Gifted and Talented concentration may be a good fit for you.

With a master’s credential in Gifted and Talented Education, you’ll have the opportunity to enhance your own effectiveness as a GT teacher or move into advanced roles, including instructional specialist, school counselor, or program coordinator, for instance.

Gifted and Talented Concentration Coursework

While all programs are unique, a master’s degree in elementary education with a Gifted and Talented concentration will typically feature required course titles like the ones highlighted below:

  • Differentiating Instruction for Gifted Learners: Teaching Methods
  • Advising the Gifted Learner: Social and Emotional Needs
  • Program Design and Services in Gifted Education
  • Identification and Education of the Gifted Learner


Elementary school teachers with a desire to work with the youngest primary school children could benefit from a master’s degree with a formal concentration in Pre-K/Kindergarten. Sometimes referred to as an Early Childhood Education specialization, this emphasis prepares teachers to meet the unique learning needs of a younger population of students such as those enrolled in preschool or Kindergarten.

Typically, teachers who elect a Pre-K/Kindergarten concentration do so to increase their own educational effectiveness within a classroom of early learners. However, the specialty can also lead to career transition or advancement in areas such as instructional leadership, school administration, or program development, for instance.

Pre-K/Kindergarten Concentration Coursework

Teachers who choose to enroll in a master’s in education program with a concentration in Pre-K/Kindergarten will take classes similar in scope to those featured below:

  • Creative Experiences for Young Children
  • Early Emergent Literacy
  • Early Childhood Math, Science, and Technology
  • The Young Child

There are dozens of graduate-level concentrations for elementary school teachers seeking a master’s degree in education or teaching. While all of these specializations represent valuable add-ons for your advanced credential in the field, it’s still important to choose wisely when selecting one of these areas of emphasis. Your selection could ultimately impact your effectiveness in certain areas of instruction, your career advancement opportunities, and even your pay. Our advice? For a win-win, choose something you’re passionate about that can also move your teaching career along in the right direction.