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Early Childhood Educator Career Guide

In most states, an early childhood educator works with children from birth to third grade or age eight. This teacher works with students in a public or private school setting, elementary schools of all kinds, and federal- and state-funded programs for early intervention with children from birth to kindergarten such as Head Start. This guide provides further information on what early childhood educators do, how to become an early childhood educator, and early childhood educator salary and outlook.

Early Childhood Educator Job Description

Early childhood teachers specialize in the learning, developmental, social, and physical needs of young children. These educators provide a safe and comfortable environment in which young children can learn not just early academics, but social, motor, and adaptive skills. Educators working with students in early childhood specialize in childhood learning and developmental health. Educators teaching pre-kindergarten through third grade can expect to teach core subjects such as reading, math, science, and social studies according to the curriculum set out by their school or district. Educators will also provide opportunities and activities for structured and unstructured play, as well as light snacks during the school day. Children’s behavior and development is discussed regularly with parents. Those working in an at-risk program such as Head Start can expect to make home visits and counsel parents.

Early Childhood Educator Requirements and Common Tasks

In order to work as an early childhood professional in public schools, state certification is typically required. This certification is most commonly earned through a traditional bachelor’s degree program with a major in early childhood education. One major responsibility for early childhood teachers is providing a safe and fun learning environment for young children, which involves planning and arranging the learning environment(s) and providing careful supervision with an eye to safety. In many classrooms with young children, an early childhood teacher will also supervise a teacher’s aide or teaching assistant who is present to assist with younger children’s physical and learning needs. Educators must also plan and provide developmentally appropriate learning lessons and activities that are structured to advance children’s understanding of fundamental skills. Structure in an early childhood learning environment is especially important as children learn from routines and become comfortable learning and expressing themselves appropriately.

How to Become an Early Childhood Educator

Since teaching younger children requires a specialized set of skills, educators working with students in early childhood typically begin their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, child development, or a closely-related area of study. For traditional students pursuing a bachelor’s degree, the typical process is as follows:

  1. Complete a teacher preparation program in early childhood education that is approved by your state’s board of education.
  2. Complete a student teaching practicum in an early childhood program.
  3. Take your state’s required tests for educators.
  4. Apply to your state’s board of education for a teaching certificate or license.
  5. Begin applying to open early childhood teacher positions.

Once accepted into a bachelor’s degree program, students will typically spend the first two years of study earning general education credits. The second two years of the bachelor’s degree program will focus on courses in childhood development, methods of teaching children, and theories of learning. Students can expect to complete at least one internship or practicum working with small children in a classroom setting. Many early childhood education programs include several separate classroom engagements to prepare teachers for the demands of the job. After graduating, prospective early childhood teachers will be ready to become licensed to teach and earn their early childhood endorsement through testing such as the Praxis Series, although state testing requirements for early childhood certification vary from state to state.

Previously licensed teachers, or those who already earned a bachelor’s degree in another subject, may be able to add an early childhood endorsement to a teaching certificate by completing a master’s program in early childhood education or development. A master’s degree in early childhood education provides opportunities to gain a deeper understanding of learning in childhood and a more developed skill set for working with small children. Many master’s degree programs offer avenues for specialization within the early childhood education field, such as special needs or gifted and talented. Master’s program graduates will then take the required tests to earn an early childhood endorsement in their state.

Early Childhood Educator Salary and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn an average annual salary of $54,550 and have job growth prospects of 6% from 2014 to 2024.1 Preschool teachers, who teach ages 3 to 5, earn an average annual salary of $28,570 per year and have similar job growth prospects of 7% from 2014 to 2024.2 As schools work to decrease student-teacher ratios amid student enrollment increases in most areas of the country, job prospects for early childhood teachers should remain positive.

Early Childhood Education Career Interviews

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The Top 50 Early Childhood Education Blogs provide lesson and activity ideas, insights into teaching young students, helpful teaching resources, and inspiring stories of success.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Early childhood educators have a love of children, an understanding of the needs and abilities of children, and a passion for teaching. Educators wanting to work in the early childhood field must possess essential character traits such as caring, patience, flexibility, and compassion. These educators must also possess high-level knowledge of childhood development and the content areas to be taught. Previous experience working with small children, especially in a classroom setting, is sought by most employers looking to hire early childhood professionals.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Community Teacher
  • Early Childhood Teacher
  • Early Education Teacher
  • Elementary School Teacher
  • Kindergarten Teacher
  • Master Teacher
  • Preschool Teacher

Additional Resources

Early Childhood Development Degrees and Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming an Early Childhood Educator

Question: What certification is required to become an early childhood educator?

Answer: In most circumstances, early childhood educators must have a bachelor’s degree and a state teacher’s license with an endorsement in early childhood education. Preschool teachers may only be required to hold an associate’s degree. However, requirements in some states and private schools may differ. Your state Board of Education and local teacher preparation programs can provide information on the specific requirements for your area.

Question: What ages do early childhood educators teach?

Answer: Early childhood is commonly considered infancy to the age of eight. As this includes a range of developmental levels, early childhood professionals may specialize in particular age groups, such as Pre-K, Kindergarten, or Grades 1-3. Specialization can begin during college or be developed through post-graduate certification programs, as well as through experience.

Question: Are there career opportunities for early childhood educators outside of public schools?

Answer: There are many career opportunities for early childhood professionals aside from working in public schools. Private schools, such as Montessori schools, frequently hire early childhood specialists. Community centers, day care centers, and other child-focused organizations also have demand for early childhood specialists.

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers.htm
2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Preschool Teachers: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/preschool-teachers.htm