How to Become a Certified Preschool Teacher

Research the requirements to become a certified preschool teacher. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in early childhood education.

Do I Want to Be a Certified Preschool Teacher?

Preschool teachers provide educational instruction, create engaging learning environments and promote social growth for children who typically range from ages 3-5. Certified preschool teachers may work in childcare centers, Head Start programs or public schools. Many positions are for the traditional 10-month school year, while others may be year-round or based on alternate school schedules. Working with small children can be demanding and tiring, requiring a great deal of patience.

Job Requirements

The requirements to become a preschool teacher vary among states, but common criteria include formal education, experience working with children and professional certification or licensing. The following table contains essential requirements needed to become a certified preschool teacher:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Depending upon the school's setting, a high school diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree is required*
Degree Field Early childhood education; childcare*
Licensure/Certification Must have nationally recognized certification. Public schools require preschool teachers to be licensed in early childhood education*
Experience Work experience with children is usually required*
Key Skills Ability to be flexible, creative, nurturing and patient*
Computer Skills Spreadsheet software, data entry software, educational software and equipment**
Technical Skills Instructional skills, classroom management techniques*
Additional Requirements Pass background check, have mandatory immunizations, meet minimum training requirements*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ONET Online.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

In childcare centers, preschool teachers are generally required to have at least a high school diploma and certification in early childhood education. While in high school, courses in English, health, sociology and psychology can provide valuable knowledge to aspiring preschool teachers. Prospective preschool teachers should also develop proficient reading and writing skills to create practical lesson plans.

Success Tip:

  • Volunteer in childcare settings. To gain awareness and experience in working with young children, volunteer at childcare centers or preschools.

Step 2: Work with Children

Before taking control of an entire classroom of preschoolers, most employers require teachers to have experience working with children. This can be achieved in a variety of settings, although a common avenue is working as an assistant teacher. Assistant teachers work directly with children to help with academic, social and behavioral issues. Assistant teachers must work under the supervision of licensed teachers.

Step 3: Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education

Public schools and Head Start programs require preschool teachers to have postsecondary early childhood education. By 2013, Head Start programs will require at least 50% of teachers to have at least a bachelor's degree. Public schools in all states require preschool teachers to have a bachelor's degree. Students in bachelor's degree programs learn about early childhood development, health and safety, nutrition and child psychology.

Success Tip:

  • Complete student teaching. In order to gain proficiency in academic subjects, organization, and instructional skills, education programs require field work experience.

Step Four: Become Certified

Although each state has different requirements for teaching licensure, nationally recognized certification is required for childcare center teachers. Earning the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential requires a candidate to have a high school diploma, complete at least 480 hours of experience working with children, and complete 120 hours or more of formal childcare education. Certification for preschool teachers in public schools involves passing state certification exams after completing a bachelor's degree program.

Some states recognize the National Child Care Association's Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential. The CCP credential can be earned by those who do not hold a college degree and by those whose college degrees are in areas not directly related to childhood education.

Step Five: Maintain Certification

A CDA credential requires continuing education for renewal. Preschool teachers in childcare centers must be certified in first aid, show active teaching practice and obtain membership in an approved organization for childcare professionals. Preschool teachers in public schools must participate in professional development programs in order to keep their licenses current.

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