A bachelor's degree in elementary education or early childhood education -- and lots of patience -- are generally the minimum requirements for first grade teachers. In addition to a college education, teachers must complete student teaching and be certified in the state they work. States accept alternate routes to teacher certification, but still require a minimum of a bachelor's degree, not necessarily in education.
A college degree in elementary education or early childhood education prepares teachers to understand how children learn. It also helps them manage classroom behavior and to motivate children to achieve. A degree in elementary education trains teachers who want to teach kindergarten through sixth grade. A degree in early childhood education trains teachers to teach pre-K through third grade. Check with your state board of education, as some states vary slightly on the grade levels that these degrees qualify teachers.
If your heart is set on getting into the classroom, you will have the chance sooner than you think. Before you're eligible to take the helm, you need student teaching experience. This is generally a part of an education degree and is arranged through your school and a local elementary school. In some cases, you may be able to set up your own student teaching experience with a school. During this time, you get a chance to observe firsthand how the classroom works and learn from a seasoned teacher who mentors you.
Public school teachers must be certified to teach by their state. Certification is obtained by applying to your state's board of education. Generally, new teachers are certified for an initial introductory period. Your state may require you to meet additional requirements such as completing a mentoring program or teaching a few years before you can renew your license to obtain a regular teaching license. All teachers are expected to stay knowledgeable, so you need to earn continuing education credits as determined by your state or earn a master's degree to continue to renew your license.
Being a good teacher isn't something you can fake. Teachers share a passion for teaching and for the subject they teach that sparks learning in their students. This is not a career you go into to get rich. Instead, teachers believe in education and their students. They want a career that is meaningful and value the difference they can make in the lives of their students. Since teachers don't pick their students, they must be talented in working with all kinds of kids and have the patience to deal with classroom challenges.
Teachers must pass a background check and be of good moral character. Schools fingerprint teachers before they work in the classroom and teachers may have to pay for the background check and fingerprints out of their own pocket. To meet teacher demand and to bring outside experts into the classroom, states have an alternate route to certification. Ask your state board of education if you qualify for alternate certification if you already have a bachelor's degree in another major. The exact criteria for the alternate route varies considerably and could depend if there's a shortage of first grade teachers in your area.
Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.