Becoming a Preschool Teacher Career & Salary Outlook
A preschool teacher introduces a child to school and formal education. The experience small children have in this first academic endeavor can set the stage for the rest of their school career. Preschool teachers work with children between the ages of 3 and 5, before these children enter kindergarten. They teach their students a variety of skills, including motor, language, social, and basic academics. In preschool, children learn the alphabet and number recognition, colors and shapes, as well as some degree of independence. Most of these activities are play-based but educational. Preschool teachers also prepare their students for kindergarten. There are many occupations that pay more than a preschool teacher, but few that are as rewarding.
Steps to Becoming a Preschool Teacher
While teaching preschool does require a degree, there are some positions for preschool teachers that do not require a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree in early childhood education may be enough for some preschool teacher positions, and you can receive this degree from a community college. Much depends on state educational requirements for preschool teachers. However, most states do require that preschool teachers earn a bachelor’s degree, so make sure to check your state’s requirements before enrolling in an academic program.
Step 1: Get experience working with young children
It is wise to obtain experience with young children before becoming a preschool teacher. Such experience may include babysitting, working at a childcare facility, teaching at a Sunday School or similar program or caring for young family members.
Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education
After earning your high school diploma or GED, your first step in becoming a preschool teacher is enrolling in an early childhood education degree program, with the goal of obtaining at least an associate’s degree but most likely you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree may be completed in four years, and sometimes less if you take courses over the summer. Classes for preschool teachers will include subjects such as child growth and development, childhood social and emotional development, health and nutrition for young children, and early childhood guidance.
If you have a community college close to home, you might consider completing your core courses there and then transferring to a four-year university known for their education program, and one which also has a state-approved teacher preparation program.
Step 3: Complete student teaching
Before receiving a degree, future preschool teachers must complete student teacher training. Depending on the school’s program requirements and state requirements, this may involve between 60 and 100 hours of supervised student teaching.
Step 4: Obtain state licensing
As with all other teachers, preschool teachers must complete necessary testing in order to receive licensure. Most states in the US use the PRAXIS tests in order to verify each teacher has the knowledge to teach their chosen age-group. Preschool teachers will have to take the PRAXIS I, which covers core skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Preschool teachers will also likely have to take a PRAXIS II exam, which covers pedagogy and knowledge for their specific age group.
Once you’ve completed the exams with passing scores (you will have the opportunity to try again if you fail to pass the first time), you’ll need to complete fingerprinting and a background check. Some states may require more than this, such as your full transcripts, that you already have a position ready for you to start teaching, a recommendation from your student teaching, etc. Make sure you check while you are still in school so that you know what is required by your state.
Step 5: Join national and state preschool teacher organizations
Although becoming a member of a national and state preschool teacher organization may not be a requirement per se, it is certainly a good idea. Most states have such organizations, and national organizations worth looking into include the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), Children Now, National Child Care Association (NCCA), the National Head Start Association (NHSA) and the National Network for Child Care (NNCC).
What Does a Preschool Teacher Do?
Preschool Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks
Necessary skills of preschool teachers include effective communication, the ability to instruct a group of students, and being good with children. Common tasks include teaching shapes, colors, early reading skills, numbers, and counting. Teachers will also teach social skills important to doing well in elementary school such as listening, sharing, cooperation, and working in groups. Supervising activities such as play, nap time, snack time, and field trips may also be required. Teachers of preschoolers foster an environment in which children can explore their interests, ask questions, and learn about the world around them. They also monitor students’ progress and keep parents up-to-date on the development of their children.
Requirements for preschool teachers vary from state to state and from school to school. Some states and markets demand a high school diploma, while others call for a degree or certification in early childhood education (ECE), which covers preschool through third grade. Head Start preschool teachers must have an associate’s degree at minimum, but at least 50% of all Head Start teachers must have a bachelor’s degree in ECE or a closely-related field with experience. 1 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most public school preschool teachers are required to have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education to teach. 1 Preschool teachers in private schools may have different requirements. Bachelor’s degrees in ECE typically cover subjects such as early childhood development, teaching strategies for teaching young children, and basic courses in reading, math, and science. Those who are planning to become state-certified teachers should be sure to complete a state-approved teacher preparation program. To be competitive in the job market, most preschool teachers complete the following steps to qualify for this career:
While a four-year degree is not required for preschool teachers in all states, a teacher who has earned a bachelor’s degree will often be able to demand a higher salary and have more opportunities for advancement. The emphasis on hiring teachers who have taken college coursework in early childhood education and development is increasing, and potential preschool teachers should consider pursuing a degree. Educators who earn a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education may also qualify for teacher certification across a wider age range, which increases the number of job opportunities available.