Preschool teachers educate and care for children, usually ages 3 to 5, who have not yet entered kindergarten. They teach reading, writing, science, and other subjects in a way that young children can understand.

Duties

Preschool teachers typically do the following:

  • Prepare children for kindergarten by introducing concepts they will explore further in kindergarten and elementary school
  • Work with children in groups or one on one, depending on the needs of children and the subject matter
  • Plan and carry out a curriculum that targets different areas of child development, such as language, motor, and social skills
  • Organize activities so children can learn about the world, explore interests, and develop talents
  • Develop schedules and routines to ensure children have enough physical activity, rest, and playtime
  • Watch for signs of emotional or developmental problems in children and bring problems to the attention of parents
  • Keep records of the students’ progress, routines, and interests, and keep parents informed about their child’s development

Young children learn from playing, problem solving, questioning, and experimenting. Preschool teachers use play and other instructional techniques to teach children about the world. For example, they use storytelling and rhyming games to teach language and vocabulary. They may help improve children’s social skills by having them work together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox or teach math by having children count when building with blocks.

Preschool teachers work with children from different ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. Teachers include topics in their lessons to teach children to respect people of different backgrounds and cultures.

Work Environment: 

Preschool teachers held about 438,200 jobs in 2012.

Many preschool teachers work in public and private schools or in formal childcare centers that have preschool classrooms. Others work for charitable or religious organizations that have preschool programs or Head Start programs. Head Start programs receive federal funding for disadvantaged children between the ages of 3 and 5.

The industries that employed the most preschool teachers in 2012 were as follows:

Child day care services 54%
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations 21
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 16
Individual and family services 3

Seeing children develop new skills and gain an appreciation of knowledge and learning can be very rewarding. However, it can also be tiring to work with young, active children all day.

Work Schedules

Preschool teachers in public schools generally work during school hours. Many work the traditional 10-month school year, which includes a 2-month break during the summer. Some preschool teachers may teach in summer programs. Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 8 weeks in a row then have a break for 1 week before starting a new school session. They also have a 5-week midwinter break. Those working in day care settings may work longer hours and often work the whole year.

Education and Training: 

Education and training requirements vary based on settings and state regulations. They range from a high school diploma and certification to a college degree.

Education

In childcare centers, preschool teachers generally are required to have a least a high school diploma and a certification in early childhood education. However, employers may prefer to hire workers with at least some postsecondary education in early childhood education.

Preschool teachers in Head Start programs are required to have at least an associate’s degree. However, at least 50 percent of all preschool teachers in Head Start programs nationwide must have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. Those with a degree in a related field must have experience teaching preschool-age children.

In public schools, preschool teachers are generally required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. Bachelor’s degree programs teach students about children’s development, strategies to teach young children, and how to observe and document children’s progress.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Many states require childcare centers, including those in private homes, to be licensed. To qualify for licensure, staff must pass a background check, have a complete record of immunizations, and meet a minimum training requirement. Some states require staff to have certifications in CPR and first aid.

Some states and employers require childcare workers to have a nationally recognized certification. Most often, states require the Child Development Associate (CDA) certification offered by the Council for Professional Recognition. Obtaining the CDA certification requires coursework, experience in the field, a written exam, and observation of the candidate working with children.

Some states recognize the Child Care Professional (CCP) designation offered by the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation. Candidates for the CCP must be 18 years old, have a high school diploma, experience in the field, take courses in early childhood education, and pass an exam.

In public schools, preschool teachers must be licensed to teach early childhood education, which covers preschool through third grade. Requirements vary by state, but they generally require a bachelor’s degree and passing an exam to demonstrate competency. Most states require teachers to complete continuing education credits to maintain their license.

Other Experience

A few states require preschool teachers to have some work experience in a childcare setting. The amount of experience necessary varies by state. In these cases, preschool teachers often start out as childcare workers or teacher assistants.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Preschool teachers need good communication skills to tell parents and colleagues about students’ progress. They need good writing and speaking skills to convey this information effectively. They must also be able to communicate well with small children.

Creativity. Preschool teachers must plan lessons that engage young students. In addition, they need to adapt their lessons to suit different learning styles.

Interpersonal skills. Preschool teachers must understand children’s emotional needs and be able to develop good relationships with parents, children, and colleagues.

Organizational skills. Teachers need to be organized to plan lessons and keep records of their students.

Patience. Working with children can be frustrating, and preschool teachers should be able to respond calmly to overwhelming and difficult situations.

Physical stamina. Working with children can be physically taxing, so preschool teachers should have a lot of energy.

Advancement

Experienced preschool teachers can advance to become the director of a preschool or childcare center or a lead teacher, who may be responsible for the instruction of several classes. Those with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education frequently are qualified to teach kindergarten through grade 3, in addition to preschool. Teaching positions at these higher grades typically pay more. For more information, see the profiles on preschool and childcare center directors and kindergarten and elementary school teachers.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for preschool teachers was $27,130 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $18,090, and the top 10 percent earned more than $48,660.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for preschool teachers in the top four industries in which these teachers worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and
private
$41,520
Individual and family services 28,390
Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar
organizations
27,390
Child day care services 24,410

Preschool teachers in public schools generally work during school hours. Many work the traditional 10-month school year, which includes a 2-month break during the summer. Some preschool teachers may teach in summer programs. Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 8 weeks in a row then have a break for 1 week before starting a new school session. They also have a 5-week midwinter break. Those working in day care settings may work longer hours and often work the whole year.   

Job Outlook: 

Employment of preschool teachers is projected to grow 17 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations.

Early childhood education is important for a child’s intellectual and social development. As a result, there has been increasing demand for preschool programs, which is expected to create demand for preschool teachers.

In addition, the population of children ages 3 to 5 is expected to increase. Because children between these ages are typically enrolled in preschool, the demand for preschool teachers increases when this population increases.

Job Prospects

Workers who have postsecondary education, particularly those with a bachelor’s degree, should have better job prospects than those with less education. In addition, workers with the Child Development Associate (CDA) or Child Care Professional (CCP) credential should have better prospects than those without these certifications.

For More Information: 

For more information about early childhood education, visit

National Association for the Education of Young Children

For more information about professional credentials, visit

Council for Professional Recognition

National Child Care Association

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.

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