Few jobs are as simultaneously rewarding and exhausting as teaching young children. This career field is constantly growing and entry-level positions are widely available. Preschool teachers work with young children, ages two to five. Unlike kindergarten teachers, preschool teachers are not required to obtain a state teacher certification. The educational requirements to be a preschool teacher vary, depending on your state of residency and the position you seek. For access to the highest paying positions, though, you need a four-year degree.
Each state is responsible for developing its own educational requirements for preschool teachers through its Human Services agency. Some states require a bachelor's degree or a director's certificate, which is about the equivalent of a bachelor's degree. Most require an associate degree plus experience working with children. A few states require only a high school diploma.
Day Care Centers
Day care centers usually abide by the minimum requirements set by the state. In many cases, day care centers will hire preschool teachers who have taken classes in early childhood education or have an early childhood education certificate or CDA and have some experience working with children. The requirements to obtain a CDA include 480 hours of direct experience working with children and 120 hours of course work. Most teachers can complete this requirement within two years. Unfortunately, day care centers usually offer low salaries and few benefits. Preschool teachers in these settings face frequent burn out caused by long hours, large class sizes and a lack of materials and support.
Public schools and government programs such as Head Start offer better salaries and benefits, as well as improved working conditions. These programs usually have stricter educational requirements than those set forth by the state. Most programs require that teachers have at least an associate degree, which takes two years to complete, and extensive experience. A requirement of a bachelor's degree, which takes four years to complete, is not unusual.
Many universities offer early childhood centers or labs. These programs train future teachers and offer a stimulating work environment with many perks and advantages unavailable elsewhere. In addition to your responsibilities as a classroom teacher, you might have opportunities to teach workshops and conduct research. You'll have access to cutting-edge curriculum and work with highly dedicated colleagues. Universities usually require a bachelor's degree for preschool teachers. Many teachers in university settings have a master's degree or even a doctorate. Salaries in these programs are among the highest you'll find.
If you're serious about making a career as a preschool teacher, consider getting an advanced degree. Master's level teachers earn significantly more money than preschool teachers with only an associate or bachelor's degree. These teachers also have more opportunities. At the master's level, you can offer consulting or publish research. A master's degree takes six years to complete. Options include an M.A. or M.S. in Early Childhood Education, Special Education or Literacy. Teachers with a bachelor's degree and higher can specialize as curriculum, literacy or special education teachers. You might also consider a career as a school director. Being a preschool teacher is physically demanding; as they get older, most preschool teachers move into specialist positions, which are less strenuous.
Paying for School
Although public schools and universities usually require a four-year degree for teachers, they often hire teacher's aides who have little experience. Working as an aide allows you to gain firsthand experience before you commit to a career as a preschool teacher. Working as an aide can have some financial perks, as well. Most public schools and universities will help pay your tuition if you decide to go for that advanced degree.
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