Preschool Teacher Career Guide

A preschool teacher provides education, care, and nurturing in a school setting for children who are not yet old enough to enter kindergarten. They work at public or private schools, or for religious institutions or Head Start programs, which receive government funding for underprivileged children. This guide provides further information on what preschool teachers do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and outlook.

Preschool Teacher Job Description

Teachers at preschools instruct children who are between the ages of 3-5. They work with small groups and teach basic skills through combined play and structured learning. They also help their students learn to socialize, both with adults who are not their parents, and with one another. Preschool teachers plan lessons and activities teaching children basic skills such as motor skills and language skills. They also introduce children to routines and schedules, providing a safe place for them to grow and learn, with enough time to play and rest. As with other teaching jobs, being a preschool teacher can be rewarding as well as stressful; helping children develop important skills is certainly fulfilling, but the physical and mental activity it can take to care for children ages 3-5 can be exhausting.

Preschool Teacher Requirements and Common Tasks

Necessary skills of preschool teachers include effective communication, the ability to instruct a group of students, and an affinity for young 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, naptime, 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. Preschool teachers might work on their own in a classroom, or with other adults who help teach the children, so not only should they be able to relate to children, but also to other adults.

How to Become a Preschool Teacher

Requirements vary from state to state. Some states and markets demand a high school diploma, while others call for a degree or certification in early childhood education, which covers preschool through third grade. A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education will typically cover subjects such as early childhood development, teaching strategies for teaching young children, and basic courses in reading, math and science. A teacher may also be required to have a fingerprint clearance card or certification in CPR and first aid. A teacher who has earned a bachelor’s degree will often be able to demand a higher salary and room 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.

Preschool Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Prospects for preschool teachers are expected to grow faster than average, as emphasis on early childhood education is increasing. The profession is projected to grow about 17% by 2022, which is much higher than the growth projected for other teachers.1 The job also has a high turnover rate, as many preschool teachers leave to pursue further education or care for their own families. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary range for preschool teachers was $27,130 in 2012.1 Preschool teachers who have a bachelor’s degree will be more desirable than ones without one. Similarly, potential teachers with a Child Development Associate (CDA) or Child Care Professional (CCP) certification should have an advantage.1

Helpful Skills and Experience

Successful preschool teachers possess patience, kindness, and the ability to respond properly to students’ developing emotional and physical needs. Teachers should also be able to inspire trust and motivate learning, and develop age-appropriate lessons. Effective teachers realize how important play is for young children, and will be able to effectively incorporate learning into play. Good communication with parents, other teachers, administrators, and children is also important. Effective cooperation with co-teachers is important, since working with multiple adults in the same room is common.

Additional Resources

The Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential – Attaining the CDA credential helps teachers get better jobs in many preschools. This website explains how to get it.

The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation NECPA – This website explains how to obtain one’s Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) certification, which may give potential teachers an advantage when looking for preschool jobs.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) provides content, discounts on resources, and networking opportunities for its members.

Early Childhood Education Degrees and Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming an Preschool Teacher

Question: Do you need a degree to teach preschool?

Answer: Whether you need a degree to teach preschool depends on the state in which you hope to teach. Some states may only require a high school diploma, while others require a college degree plus specific certification through the state education department. Most commonly, a minimum of an associate’s degree or some college credits are required.

Question: How long does it take to become a preschool teacher?

Answer: Requirements for being a preschool teacher vary by state. Some require a high school diploma, while others require a college degree. The most common requirement is an associate’s degree. To earn this degree typically takes two years.

1. Bureau of Labor: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm