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Preschool Teacher Career Guide

A preschool teacher, also called a pre-kindergarten (pre-K) 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 and for religious institutions as well as Head Start and similar programs centered on under-served children. This guide provides further information on what preschool teachers do, how to become one, and salary and job outlook.

Preschool Teacher Job Description

Teachers at preschools instruct children who are between the ages of three and five. 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 and with peers. Preschool teachers plan lessons and activities teaching children basic motor 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 they will build on for a lifetime is certainly fulfilling, but the physical and mental effort it takes to care for children in their early years is also exhausting.

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.

How to Become a Preschool Teacher

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:

  1. Earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship in a preschool classroom.
  3. If required, take the state’s tests for preschool teacher certification and apply for a teaching certificate.
  4. Begin applying to open preschool teacher positions.

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.

Preschool Teacher Salary and Job Outlook

Prospects for preschool teachers are expected to remain strong as the emphasis on early childhood education increases. The profession is projected to grow about 7% by 2028, which is faster than the average for all occupations.1 The job also has a relatively 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 for preschool teachers was $29,780 as of 2018.1 Preschool teachers who have a bachelor’s degree will be more desirable than those without one. Similarly, potential teachers with a Child Development Associate (CDA) or Child Care Professional (CCP) certification may 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, as well as develop age-appropriate lessons. Effective teachers at this level 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. A willingness to collaborate with other teachers is critical since working with multiple adults in the same room is common.

Additional Resources

Early Childhood Education Degrees and Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do you need a degree to be a preschool teacher?

Answer: Whether you need a degree to teach preschool depends on the state and school where you hope to teach. Some schools may only require a high school diploma, while others require a college degree plus specific certification through the state education department. Most public preschools require a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education to be a preschool teacher.1 According to O*NET OnLine, 29% of respondents said that preschool teachers need a high school diploma or equivalent, while 17% said they need a bachelor’s degree.2

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

Answer: Requirements for becoming a preschool teacher vary by state and school. Some require a high school diploma, while others require a college degree. The majority of preschool teachers hold at least an associate’s degree, which takes around two years to complete, or a bachelor’s degree, which takes around four years to complete.2

Question: How much do preschool teachers make an hour?

Answer: According to the BLS, preschool teachers earn a median salary of $29,780 per year, or $14.32 per hour.1 Teacher pay varies, however, based on a variety of factors such as degree earned, years of experience, school type, and location.

Question: What are the requirements to be a preschool teacher?

Answer: Depending on the type of school you work in, the requirements for prospective preschool teachers vary. If you want to work in a public preschool, however, you will likely need a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field from a state-approved program as well as state certification.

References:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Preschool Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm
2. O*NET OnLine, Preschool Teachers: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2011.00