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How to Become a Preschool Teacher

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Getting the Littlest Students Off to a Good Start

Tying shoes, drying tears, wiping noses, calming fears—often while attempting to teach a few things at the same time—a preschool teacher is a “second mother” to her young pupils. Maybe you have little ones at home, too, or hope to at some point. Or, perhaps your children are older and you want to revisit the endearing 2- to-5-year-old age group. As a preschool teacher, you’ll guide children through their first school experiences and set them on the path to years of learning.

Job Description

Once upon a time, the job of a preschool teacher was to introduce children to a group environment and teach socialization skills such as sharing, communicating with words, and empathizing with others when they’re sad, upset or hurt. Today, the role has evolved to doing all of those important tasks but also teaching children the basic learning tools they’ll need in kindergarten. It’s up to preschool teachers to help children learn colors and shapes and to recognize the numbers 0 to 9 and the letters of the alphabet. Recent studies even have shown that preschoolers are capable of learning math concepts, which become a strong indicator of their success later in school.

Preschool teachers plan a curriculum for the school year that’s designed to help students meet developmental milestones. They try to keep to a routine that includes time for play and learning, alternating with nap or rest times, high-energy activities, and possibly snack or lunch.

Since children learn best through hands-on activities, preschool teachers use storytelling and play to teach them. While reading a story, she may ask which character’s name begins with the letter “B.” Then, the children may practice fine motor skills by drawing a picture that depicts an event from the story. During snack, the teacher may give each child five crackers and asks them to count the crackers out, eat one, and count them again.

Whether her class is homogeneous or diverse in ethnicity, culture and belief, a preschool teacher creates opportunities to talk with the children about the similarities and differences among people in the world.

Preschool teachers keep detailed records of each child’s development and share this information with parents regularly. She also watches for signs that a child may be having problems developmentally, socially or emotionally, and, if problems persist, she talks with parents about it.

Education Requirements

Although some preschools may accept teachers with a two-year associate’s degree in early childhood education, most require at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. If your degree is in a related field, however, you’ll need to have verifiable experience working with young children. Even if you’re a mother of several children and have been through many stages with each of them, other children may experience these stages very differently.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, you’ll learn about the different stages of childhood development; for example, you’ll learn what your just-turned-4-year-olds should be able to do now and what not to expect for another six months.

You’ll also learn the specifics of the job, such as observing and documenting behavior and milestones. And you’ll be glad you learned different strategies for handling the many issues you’ll encounter while working with preschoolers. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll gain classroom experience by observing and working in classrooms during your four years in college.

Public schools require preschool teachers to be licensed by their state, which involves obtaining a bachelor’s degree and passing a competency exam. The exams vary by state, and they may or may not be accepted in another state. Check with your state early in your education for additional requirements you’ll need to meet.

Some states also require preschool teachers to work toward a Child Development Associate (CDA) certification. This requires you to be observed at work, submit a portfolio of experiences and pass the CDA exam.

Preschool teachers received a median salary of $28,790 in May 2016, which is a lower salary than the median for all occupations. A median salary is the midpoint, which means that half earned more, and half earned less. Teachers in day care settings earned the smallest salary: $26,520. Those in religious, civic and professional settings earned a median salary of $29, 950; those in individual and family settings were paid $31,060; and teachers in public and private schools earned the most, at $45,230.

Industry

Most preschool teachers, 57 percent, work in day care centers with preschool programs. They typically work a longer day than public and private school teachers, because children are cared for while parents are at work and traveling to work, some as early as 6:00 a.m. and as late as 6 p.m. They also are likely to work year-round.

Approximately equal numbers work in religious, civic or professional organizations (18 percent) and in public or private schools (17 percent). About 3 percent work in individual or family preschools. Teachers in settings that follow public school schedules may not work during the summer, while those that incorporate day care work year-round.

Years of Experience

Preschool teachers can be hired with no professional experience beyond the internships or programs they completed during school. Of course, some teaching experience is often preferred, but there’s also no substitute for a new teacher’s enthusiasm. If you’re looking for your first job teaching preschool, be prepared with your education credentials, but also let your joy of working with children and your eagerness to get started shine through.

Job Growth Trend

The need for preschool teachers is expected to grow by 10 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than the average growth for occupations as a whole. Highly populated cities and areas with a higher number of young families will have more job opportunities for preschool teachers than smaller, less-populated areas and those with higher numbers of older residents.