According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 there were over 1.6 million elementary school teachers in America. If you are considering joining this growing work force as a first grade teacher, there are specific classes that you will have to take before starting your job search. These college courses -- including topics such as child development, assessment and instructional techniques -- will give you the knowledge to understand how the first grader learns and methods for teaching.
Becoming a first grade teacher requires a bachelor's degree. Although some states don't require private school teachers to have state teaching certification, it is required for public school teachers, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that a 4-year degree is a must to teach at any school.
To teach first grade, you can major in elementary education or early childhood education. For example, Penn State University's Elementary and Kindergarten Education major prepares you to teach kindergarten through sixth grade. Early childhood programs typically allow you to teach children preschool through third or fourth grade. Additionally, you can earn an undergraduate degree in a specialization such as special education.
Although most early childhood or elementary education graduate programs will accept students with degrees in any area, there are typically prerequisites such as child development or human learning courses that you must take before or during the beginning of the master's curriculum. These programs allow students with a college degree to earn the teaching certification that is necessary to work with first graders. The graduate degree program typically consists of teaching and child development classes, following a similar early childhood or elementary education degree format as undergraduate programs.
Depending on the college that you attend, you will also have to take general education requirements in a variety of subjects. For example, the elementary education program at Penn State's College of Education requires all students to take non-teaching classes such as the arts, natural sciences and mathematics. Graduate students in education will only take courses that focus on education and instructional practices.
Aside from the general education requirements, pre-service first grade teachers must take classes on education theory and teaching practices. This typically includes coursework on child development, curriculum design and assessment. For example, the University of Minnesota's elementary education degree requires introductory courses on the elementary school and psychology, along with technology for teaching, pedagogy, learning and cognition, educational assessment, children's literature and teaching in different subject areas, such as social studies or the physical sciences.
Before graduating with an elementary education degree, prospective first grade teachers must fulfill a student teaching experience, allowing them to get acquainted with real world aspects of working with first graders in the classroom. During this course, you will have to prepare and teach lessons under the guidance of a certified classroom teacher. During this time the student teacher will work in an elementary school every day for at least one semester.