Jobs in Early Childhood Education: Career Options and Requirements

Sep 26, 2019

Degrees in early childhood education cover topics in infant and childhood development as well as effective instructional strategies. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for early childhood education graduates.

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If your ambition is to teach children in the early stages of their education, there are three major career paths you can take: preschool teacher, teacher's assistant, or elementary schoolteacher. The educational requirements for these jobs vary, but an associate's degree will prepare you for two out of three paths. Becoming an elementary teacher requires more education, but the salary you can expect is also much higher.

Essential Information

For those who want to work with young children, it's not uncommon for employers to require applicants to have some formal education related to early childhood education. With an associate's degree in early childhood education, individuals may find themselves prepared to work as teacher's assistants or preschool teachers. With a bachelor's degree and student teaching experience, an individual may be qualified for a K-3 teaching job.

Career Preschool Teacher Teacher's Assistant Elementary School Teacher
Educational Requirements Associate's degree High school diploma or equivalent Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements State licensure Some college Teacher education program and State licensure
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 7% 4% 3%
Median Salary (2018)* $29,780 annually $26,970 annually $58,230 annually

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Preschool Teacher

According to O*Net OnLine, a preschool teacher works with children between the ages of two and five, teaching them social skills and helping them prepare for kindergarten (www.onetonline.org). After greeting children at the start of the day, a preschool teacher usually spends the rest of the time teaching skills such as color and shape recognition and directing playtimes to allow children's creativity to flourish. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that the education requirements for preschool teachers vary, depending on the type of preschool program they plan to teach (www.bls.gov). For example, individuals interested in teaching in a federally funded Head Start program must have at least an associate degree.

Preschool teachers must be licensed; however, the BLS reports that licensure requirements may vary by state. The Council for Professional Recognition offers the Child Development Associate credential for multiple settings and age levels, including preschool and infants (www.cdacouncil.org). CDA applicants must have 120 hours of training in early childhood education and 480 hours of professional experience. Additionally, applicants must show proof of formal observation in a classroom within the previous six months. Applicants must also pay a fee and complete a verification visit with a representative of the council. CDAs must recertify every three years.

Employment prospects for preschool teachers are expected to be about average, with a 7% rise in job availability between 2018 and 2028, according to BLS. The bureau further reports $29,780 as the median salary for preschool teachers in 2018.

Teacher's Assistant

Teacher's assistants work with a classroom teacher to ensure that the teacher has enough time for lesson planning and that children who need additional support receive individualized attention. Teacher assistants may help record grades, keep attendance records or manage classroom supplies. Some teacher's assistants work in non-academic settings, monitoring children during play or meal times. There are no set postsecondary degree requirements for teaching assistants, although the BLS notes that at least two years of college or early childhood education courses may help an aspiring teacher's assistant find a position. In an associate's degree program in early childhood education, students learn to work with at-risk children and to teach movement, music and art.

Teacher's assistants earned a median salary of $26,970 in May of 2018, as indicated by figures from the BLS. Opportunities for new teaching assistant jobs from 2018-2028 decade should increase by 4%, as indicated by the BLS.

Elementary School Teacher

Elementary school teachers typically teach grades K-5. They usually work with a single classroom of children in one grade level, although some elementary teachers specialize in a single subject, such as music, and teach multiple classes, according to the BLS. In addition to their teaching duties, teachers monitor student performance and development, create lesson plans and communicate with parents. Elementary school teachers must have at least a bachelor's degree and those teaching in public schools must be licensed by their state.

Most bachelor's degree programs in early childhood education or elementary education are designed to fulfill state requirements for licensure; however, some programs focus on educational theory and are designed for students seeking jobs outside the classroom. In programs that lead to licensure, aspiring teachers are required to complete supervised student teaching assignments in a local classroom; programs that teach educational theory don't always require student teaching. Common courses in these programs include early childhood literacy and assessment methods and curriculum planning.

The job outlook for teachers at the elementary school level is favorable. The BLS predicts the growth rate in this field will be 3% from 2018 to 2028. These professionals earned a median salary of $58,230 in 2018, according to the BLS.

Of these career options, teacher's assistant is the easiest to achieve, in some cases requiring only a high school diploma or equivalent (although a degree is an asset), and no licensure. Preschool and elementary teachers require a degree and state licensure which involves in-classroom practice teaching and observation. All three of these professions are expected to grow at an average rate over the next decade.

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