How to Become a Preschool Teacher in 5 Steps

Preschool teachers instruct and guide children 3-5 years old with their skills and development. Read on for steps to becoming a preschool teacher, including qualifications for preschool teachers, and preschool teaching requirements. Schools offering Early Childhood Education degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Preschool Teacher?

Preschool teachers instruct and guide children in the early stages of their development. They may teach things such as how to recognize colors, shapes, letters, and numbers, organize activities for children to develop interests and skills, and learn about the world, and develop schedules and routines for children to integrate physical activity and rest.

They monitor children's progress and pay special attention to children who are showing signs of slow development. They often have meetings with parents, and develop curriculum and teaching strategies based on approved methods. Preschool teachers are responsible for creating a safe, fun, and open environment that teaches children how to get along with people from all backgrounds.

Steps to Becoming a Preschool Teacher

Preschool teaching requirements vary by state, but the 5 steps listed below can provide a general outline for individuals who think teaching preschool may be the path for them.

Step 1: Apply for Child Care or Teacher Assistant Jobs

Those interested in preschool teaching may want to consider pursuing a job as a childcare worker or a teacher assistant. Some preschools require teachers to have experience in childcare or instruction. Childcare workers can work in daycare centers that teach children through an approved curriculum, and they may work with preschool teachers. Teacher assistants work with licensed teachers to give additional attention and instruction to children. Both childcare workers and teacher assistants instruct and monitor child development.

Most entry-level childcare center positions only require a high school diploma or equivalent. Some childcare programs, such as Head Start, will require employees to be enrolled in a post-secondary early childhood education program that will grant them a degree or credential. Staff in childcare centers must complete training, pass a background check and have immunization records. Teacher assistants only have to complete 2 years of relative coursework or earn an associate's degree. Both jobs may require employees to have CPR certification.

Step 2: Research Preschool Teacher Qualifications

Qualifications for preschool teachers will vary, so it is a good idea to research the state's requirements. Usually, the minimum requirement is an associate's degree in early childhood education or a related field, however, many teachers in programs such as Head Start have a bachelor's degree. Public schools that offer preschool programs typically require an early childhood education bachelor's degree. If an individual has a degree in a related field, they will usually need to have experience teaching pre-school age children.

Some states require the Child Development Associate credential of all preschool teachers. To obtain the credential, they must complete coursework, pass a written exam, have experience in the field and be observed working with children. The credential must be renewed every 3 years. Public schools require preschool teachers to be licensed to teach early childhood education, which usually requires a bachelor's degree and passing an exam, though the requirements vary by state. They must also complete continuing education to renew their license.

Step 3: Pursue Preschool Teacher Education

Depending on where an individual wants to teach and how far they want to advance in their career, preschool teacher education will vary. The minimum requirement is an associate's degree. One option is an Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education. This program teaches the basics of child learning and development, as well as instructional strategies, and individuals with this degree are prepared to teach in preschool programs.

Because of varying requirements, pursuing a bachelor's degree in early childhood education may be beneficial. Two types of this degree are a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education. Much of the coursework overlaps but a BA might focus more on liberal arts and a BS may impart the more technical aspects of teaching. Both can prepare students to earn state teaching certification which is necessary to work in a public school.

Step 4: Obtain Preschool Teacher Certification

Even if a state does not have any certification or license requirements, it may still be a good idea to gain preschool teacher certification to work in other states or public schools.

Certification for preschool teachers is the Child Development Association (CDA) credential, which is offered by the Council for Professional Recognition. The process has many components, including taking an exam and being observed working with children by a verified specialist.

Some states allow preschool teachers to teach with the Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential from the National Child Care Association. The CCP is primarily for teachers who don't have a degree or have a degree in an unrelated field.

Step 5: Apply for Preschool Teaching Jobs

Once an individual has completed the necessary education and/or obtained certification, they are eligible to apply for preschool teaching jobs. They may need to start as assistant teachers or childcare workers to gain the necessary experience to land a job.

Preschool Teacher Salary and Job Growth

The table below offers a brief overview of the skills, education and certification preschool teachers need and provides median salary and job forecasts.

Job Type Preschool Teacher
Education Associate or bachelor's degree in early childhood education
Experience Previous experience in childcare
License and Certification (requirements vary by state) CDA credential, teaching license (for public schools)
Skills Patience, communication, interpersonal, creativity, organization, physical stamina
Median Salary (2018)* $29,780
Job Outlook (2018-2028)* 7%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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