Becoming a Preschool Teacher: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn how to become a preschool teacher. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in early childhood education.

Should I Become a Preschool Teacher?

The primary responsibility of a preschool teacher is to care for and educate children before they enter kindergarten. Preschool teachers also help children develop language acquisition and social skills. Education requirements vary and range from a high school diploma to a college degree in early childhood education or a related field. Certification or licensure may be required.

Preschool teachers work in public or private schools, day care centers, Head Start programs, or other child development facilities. Working with this age group can be very tiring and stressful. At this young age, students tend to be quite active and may still have difficulty communicating effectively.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma and early childhood education certification (minimum); associate's degree or bachelor's degree preferred in some settings
Degree Field Early childhood education
Licensure/Certification National certification, such as the CDA or CCP, is required
Experience Work experience with children is usually required to teach preschool
Key Skills Flexibility, creativity, nurturing demeanor, patience, and strong verbal communication skills; technical skills with spreadsheet software, data entry software, or educational software and equipment; instructional skills and classroom management techniques
Additional Requirements Pass background check, mandatory immunizations, meet minimum training requirements and continuing education credits
Salary $28,120 (median annual wage for preschool teachers (2014)

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

Step 1: Choose Training Suited to Your Goal

Education and training requirements vary depending upon the type of preschool. In childcare centers, preschool teachers are generally required to have a least a high school diploma and certification in early childhood education. Preschool teachers in Head Start programs need to have at least an associate's degree. Associate of Arts (A.A.), Associate of Science (A.S.), and Associate in Arts in Teaching (A.A.T.) programs in early childhood teaching are available. The A.A.T. degree is intended for those who want to transfer their credits to a 4-year degree. An associate's degree may suffice for employment with Head Start; however, by 2015, at least 50% of teachers at Head Start programs must have a bachelor's degree, reports the BLS. Preschool teachers in public schools typically need a bachelor's degree.

Success Tips:

  • Take advantage of opportunities to work with children outside of formal training. Summer or part-time jobs, hobbies and volunteer roles that involve children can confirm your choice of careers and provide valuable experience.
  • Explore different preschool teaching philosophies. There are a variety of preschool educational philosophies that approach early childhood education in various ways.

Step 2: Earn Teaching Credentials

Many preschools require teachers to earn the Child Development Associate (CDA). In order to earn the CDA, individuals must have a high school diploma, experience in the early childhood education field, and specific coursework. The Child Care Professional (CCP) designation is recognized by some states. The CCP can be earned by teachers who do not have a college degree or teachers who have a degree in a field other than early childhood education. Experience, writing samples, and a credentialing exam are a few of the requirements for CCP.

Success Tips:

  • Keep your credential current. Teachers have to complete ongoing professional development courses and meet other requirements in order to renew their certifications.

Step 3: Complete a Degree in Early Childhood Education

A preschool teacher can gain broader employment options by earning a bachelor's degree in education. Common topics covered will include behavior assessment and management, math teaching methods, educational psychology, and reading instruction methods. Education programs require teaching practicum experiences, where students work directly in classroom settings.

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