Table of Contents
The education track for preschool teachers is not as straightforward or structured as that for primary or secondary school teachers. This is because different kinds of preschool programs fall within the scope of different state regulatory agencies, from the state’s Board of Education to its Department of Health and Human Services. Because preschool teachers may work in public and private programs, for school districts, or in federally funded programs, requirements often vary from one employer to the next. What is universal, however, is that regardless of the setting in which they work, preschool teachers must bring a certain level of education or training to the job.
Preschool teachers in public schools are generally expected to hold a Bachelor’s Degree in early childhood education, while private preschool teachers or those found in childcare settings may only be required to have an Associate’s Degree. Degree programs typically include classes in early childhood development and literacy, child psychology, strategies for teaching young children, children’s literature, and basic courses in math and science.
In most public and private preschools, lead teachers, supervisors, or administrators are required to hold a Bachelor’s or even a Master’s degree in early childhood education (ECE) or a closely related field.
The Council for Professional Recognition offers the Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential. The Council’s programs are available to applicants with a high school diploma or equivalency, as well as junior and senior students enrolled in a high school vocational program in early childhood education. The nationally transferrable CDA credential is based on a core set of competency standards, which guide early care practitioners as they work toward becoming qualified teachers of young children. The CDA credential, however, may also be pursued by working preschool teachers seeking a national certification.
The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) Commission awards the Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential, which is designed especially for teachers who have not completed a college degree or whose degree is in another field.
Many states stipulate that preschool and childcare center teachers be licensed. Some states recognize and accept the CDA or CCP credential for licensure. In most cases, the licensing process also requires that applicants submit immunization records and undergo background checks.
How long does it take to become a Preschool Teacher?
Because the education requirements for preschool teachers vary by state, the type of preschool, and employer, the length of time to enter the profession also varies. After earning a high school or GED diploma, aspiring preschool teachers typically choose one of three educational tracks:
Vocational School Certificate in Early Childhood Education – as little as six weeks
Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood Education – two years
Bachelor’s Degree in Early Childhood Education – four years
Steps to becoming a Preschool Teacher
Becoming a preschool teacher is about commitment to your own education. Being a preschool teacher is about commitment to the education of our youngest children.
1 High School & Volunteer Experience
Courses in English, creative writing, health, sociology, and psychology will prove to be valuable for prospective preschool teachers.
While in high school or while obtaining your GED, consider volunteering in childcare settings. This exposure will achieve two important objectives: it will help to determine your suitability for working with children and it will lay an early foundation for a career in teaching preschool.
2 Certificate or Undergraduate Degree in Early Childhood Education (ECE)
A Certificate in Early Childhood Education is the fastest credential to earn. Some aspiring preschool teachers choose to obtain a certificate, gain some experience before taking control of an entire classroom of preschoolers, and then consider studying for an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree. Certificate programs cover the fundamentals of the early childhood education career; creative expression and play; disciplining young children; cultural diversity; movement and music; and early childhood literacy.
An ECE Certificate can lead to employment as a Teacher’s Aide or Assistant Teacher. In these roles, individuals work under the supervision of a lead teacher and help in the classroom as needed. Job duties often include working one-on-one with students, assisting with record keeping, helping at mealtimes, or providing general supervision.
ECE Associate’s Degree
Two-year Associate’s programs focus on the specifics of helping young children learn. Curricula typically cover child health, safety, and nutrition; basic psychology; lesson planning; creating a positive learning environment; and classroom management techniques. These programs commonly include some real-world experience in classroom settings.
An Associate’s Degree qualifies a preschool teacher for entry-level early education positions in most U.S. states. It also satisfies the minimum requirement to teach in state-funded Head Start programs (programs designed to ensure that children from low-income families are ready for school) and some – but not the majority of – public schools.
ECE Bachelor’s Degree
Curricula for four-year Bachelor’s Degree programs focus on teaching strategies; classroom management; early childhood literacy; child psychology; strengthening behavior observation skills; health, safety, and nutrition for young children; assessment and evaluation methods; and ECE trends and leadership topics. Bachelor’s programs also comprise a teaching practicum or internship.
Graduates with a Bachelor’s in the field are sought after by public schools and especially by Head Start programs, where a nationwide mandate requires that at least fifty percent of preschool teachers hold a relevant Bachelor’s Degree. In addition, these graduates have a wider range of opportunities available to them. They may choose to teach full time or they may advance to work as preschool program coordinators and managers, training and development specialists, or childcare/learning center directors. While these positions do not entail as much contact with students, they provide opportunities to design and monitor curricula, hire and supervise teachers, create training materials, determine budgets, and establish policies and procedures.
Preschool teachers who hold a Bachelor’s may also qualify to teach at the elementary level.
3 Licensure & Certification
Preschool teachers generally become licensed by fulfilling the educational requirement (ECE certificate or Associate’s Degree or Bachelor’s Degree) and undergoing the background checks of the state in which they wish to work. Those working in childcare centers must maintain current first-aid and CPR certifications.
Some jurisdictions and many preschools and childcare centers – regardless of where they are located – also require that teachers hold a nationally recognized certification. The most widely held is the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential granted by the Council for Professional Recognition. To be eligible to receive this designation, candidates must have at least 120 hours of formal early childhood education training and 480 hours of professional experience.
Some preschool teachers pursue the Child Care Professional (CCP) credential granted by the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (NECPA) Commission. This certification is common among teachers whose degree is in another field or who do not hold a college degree. To be eligible to receive this designation, candidates must have at least 180 hours of education/training reflecting the NECPA Commission’s nine professional ability areas and 720 hours of child care experience.
While having slightly different requirements, both the CDA and CCP credentials serve as measurement of an individual’s level of competence in early childhood education. In most states, the CDA and CCP certifications are recognized as the same.
4 Continuing Education
To keep their state license current and maintain their CDA or CCP credential, preschool teachers must complete continuing education/professional development courses.
For information on resources, events, and additional accreditations, visit the website of The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
5 Graduate degree (optional)
A Master’s Degree in early childhood education allows preschool teachers to pursue very senior positions in the field.
Should I become a Preschool Teacher?
Preschool is one of the only educational environments where the focus is on play and creativity, rather than on intense curricular standards. In no way, however, does this make the career an easy one. Anyone who believes that the role is simple, uncomplicated, and without challenge is hugely mistaken. Preschool teachers are charged with the considerable mission of effectively using playtime and story time to teach language, reasoning, and problem-solving skills; encourage social development; and hone fine motor skills. Their objective is to use children’s natural curiosity to develop learning plans that are developmentally appropriate and to create an atmosphere where risks can be taken and discoveries can be made. This is no small task. Quite to the contrary, it is work that is demanding, foundational, and life-building.
This important work calls for a diverse set of characteristics, skills, and talents:
Trustworthiness and Nurturing Demeanour
Preschool teachers are trusted to care for and nurture people’s children at a point when they may be entering the public world for the first time
Young children learn at different rates. They can be loud, emotional, unruly, and irrational. Preschool teachers must be patient with young children who have a tough time expressing themselves or need lots of help learning new skills.
Creativity and Flexibility
Keeping young children’s attention demands creativity. Preschool teachers consistently need to think of new and innovative ways to engage children to learn,
Empathy and Communication Skills
Preschool teachers must be empathetic to children’s emotions and parents’ concerns. They must be able to communicate difficult concepts to children in a way they understand.
If you feel that you have the appropriate temperament and aptitude to be a preschool teacher, consider this further advice about entering the role:
Be prepared for anything
Yes, working with kids often means fun and excitement, but it also means skinned knees, upset stomachs, and sometimes unpleasant encounters with parents. If you are not prepared for surprises, unexpected emergencies, or the occasional deviation from your plans, you should probably reconsider becoming a preschool teacher.
Know how to play
Playtime is essential to child development. It allows children to explore and use their imagination to foster their creativity. Preparing to teach preschool begins with knowing how to play, how to be curious, how to be awed by small things like spiders and caterpillars. It begins with not being worried about getting messy with glue or arts and craft paint. Preschool teachers who know how to play naturally encourage their students’ ideas and curiosities.
Remember that you are in charge
When your students are being rowdy and not listening, it can be tough to get them to quiet down and follow instructions. With practice and time, though, your class will see you as the authoritative figure in the room. And while it is appropriate to listen to parents’ concerns and know that they mean well, you must convey that you are ultimately the educational leader in the classroom.
Remember that each child is an individual
Although you will be teaching a classroom full of kids, you will also need to focus on each one as an individual. Preschoolers follow their own developmental patterns and they change every day. Get to know your students and their needs so that you can accommodate their leaning styles. Adjust activities as needed so that everyone can participate.
Remember that making a difference never gets old
Rambunctious morning greetings. The proud look on a child’s face after they have mastered a new skill. A hug. A smile. These are the rewards for the long hours of dealing with rowdy kids and the time spent talking to upset parents. Being a preschool teacher may at times seem thankless, but it can be gratifying beyond imagination.
What are Preschool Teachers like?
Based on our pool of users, preschool teachers tend to be predominately social people. This finding is both expected and encouraging, given the responsibility of these teachers. They are charged with providing their young students with foundations for academic success, creative expression, and participation in social groups, organizations, communities, and society at large.
Preschool Teachers by Strongest Interest Archetype
Based on sample of 1719 Sokanu users
Are Preschool Teachers happy?
Preschool teachers rank as moderately happy among careers. Overall they rank in the 50th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
While we have no hard data to explain this only moderate satisfaction/happiness quotient among preschool teachers, it may be rooted in their relatively low pay scale vis-à-vis the significant responsibility of the position.
Preschool Teacher Career Satisfaction by Dimension
Percentile among all careers
Education History of Preschool Teachers
The most common degree held by preschool teachers is Early Childhood Education. 7% of preschool teachers had a degree in early childhood education before becoming preschool teachers. That is over 14 times the average across all careers. Psychology graduates are the second most common among preschool teachers, representing 6% of preschool teachers in the Sokanu user base, which is 0.9 times the average.
Preschool Teacher Education History
This table shows which degrees people earn before becoming a Preschool Teacher, compared to how often those degrees are obtained by people who earn at least one post secondary degree.
|Degree||% of preschool teachers||% of population||Multiple|
|Early Childhood Education||7.3%||0.5%||14.4×|
|Business Management And Administration||1.0%||6.5%||0.2×|
|Foreign Language Studies||1.0%||1.3%||0.8×|
Preschool Teacher Education Levels
|High school diploma||19%|
How to Become a Preschool Teacher
Find your perfect career
Would you make a good preschool teacher? Sokanu's free assessment reveals how compatible you are with a career across 5 dimensions!