First, Second, or Third Grade Teacher

Elementary school teachers who teach first, second, or third grade work with students on the basics of academic subjects like reading and math in addition to preparing them to behave like good students in the classroom as they get older.

When dealing with young students, many teachers find a hands-on approach most effective. They may use props or simple experiments in order to get students to understand important facts and concepts.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an elementary school teacher is responsible for teaching all academic subjects to her group of students. This requires broad knowledge and skill. Elementary school teachers may be asked to teach a multi-level class in which students who would traditionally be in separate grades are in the same classroom.

Teachers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, some schools require a master’s degree. In public schools, they must also have a teaching certification. The requirements for obtaining one vary from state to state. In private schools, only a bachelor’s degree is required. USC Rossier offers an online Master’s in Teaching with Teaching Credential for aspiring K-12 teachers.

A Day in the Life

  • Morning: Early in the morning, an elementary school teacher will review the lesson plans for the day and make copies of any necessary handouts. She might have early morning meetings with other teachers or school administrators. Then, she starts teaching the students.
  • Mid-Morning: Lessons continue, and the students might take a short break for a snack. The teacher, possibly with the help of a teacher assistant, passes out snacks and monitors students.
  • Lunch: During the lunch break, the teacher may also get a break and use this time to prepare afternoon lessons or meeting with students during their recess time to tutor them through difficult concepts.
  • Afternoon: The teacher teaches an afternoon lesson and then send students to one of their elective classes, which might be physical education, music, or art. During this time, the teacher has additional time to prepare lesson plans, make copies, meet with parents, and other duties.
  • After Work: Teachers will oftentimes have to take their work home. In the evening, they may plan future lessons, grade homework assignments and tests, and make phone calls to parents.


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Licensing Requirements

Teachers need a bachelor’s degree in order to complete the certification process. In many states, elementary school teachers need to show they have basic knowledge of language arts, math, science, and social studies. These skills and knowledge are assessed through standardized tests. Some states might reward teachers who have a master’s degree with a higher salary. Teachers who want to work in an area of specialization, like special education, may need to take additional classes and take additional tests in order to receive clearance. For more information about getting certified in a specific state, check out our state certification pages.

Areas of Specialization

Most first, second, and third grade teachers are prepared to teach any grade between first grade and fifth grade, depending on their certifications. If they have an early childhood education certificate, they can teach preschool through third grade. Teachers can also specialize in an elective like art or music. Some schools hire teachers who have training in teaching English to students who speak other languages at home. Another specialization is special education. Teachers with training at the elementary school level can become special education teachers or resource teachers who work with special education students on a more individual basis.

Previous and Next Steps

New college graduates can get a job as an elementary school teacher if they complete the certification process before they graduate. In order to improve their chances of getting hired, potential teachers can get experience working with students through tutoring, being a teacher assistant, or volunteering at a daycare center. Many elementary school teachers, however, have made career changes from completely unrelated fields. The most important part of your resume when looking for an elementary teaching position is your certification.

Depending on the school, there can be many options for job growth for elementary school teachers. Some schools have grade level chair positions, which means an appointed second grade teacher would be the supervisor for all second grade teachers. Administrative positions like Elementary School Dean, Vice Principal, Principal, and Headmaster are within reach for teachers who excel and seek additional education and training.

For average salary information for a range of early childhood education-related positions), go to our Jobs page and select a state.


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