My Journey From Early Childhood Education Certificate to Preschool Teacher

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An early childhood certificate can be used as a stepping stone to teach in public schools or private preschools. Teaching in a private preschool offers flexibility compared to that of a traditional public school classroom (known as pre-K).

Preparing to Teach Early Childhood

From the time I was young, I knew I wanted to work with younger children. It was just natural to me. I loved getting down on their level and exploring the world from their point of view. Playdough, finger-painting, and playing house with them always put a smile on my face. So when I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to work with young children. I just wasn't exactly sure of what type of environment I wanted to work in.

Earning an Early Childhood Certificate

In actuality, the easiest decision I had to make was the one to earn an early childhood certificate. To earn my certificate, I enrolled in a program at my local community college. The core courses of my program focused on early childhood development and teaching different subjects in early childhood classes. Towards the end of my program, I had completed an internship with a licensed local preschool in order to graduate. I chose the option to complete the program and actually earn an associate's degree, which required me taking general requirements such as math, history, and English.

Finding a Job in Early Childhood Education

Initially when I started by certificate program, I figured I was destined at least for the immediate future to work in a daycare type setting. Knowing that going into the certificate program, I was surprised to learn I had a few other options for jobs with an early childhood certificate. With some college education, and if I could pass the Praxis exam for paraprofessionals, I could work as a teaching assistant in a public school setting. Additionally, with an early childhood certificate I could work as an aide to special needs children.

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Going through the certificate program, I quickly realized that a lot of my fellow students were recruited to work in the sites that they did their internship hours in. In my community, daycares advertised for teachers with early childhood certificates through online job boards and sometimes the newspaper. Looking for public school teaching assistant jobs was a bit more challenging. These jobs typically only post in the spring, and you usually have to search the district's webpage for job postings to find them.

Since I earned my certificate in the spring, I went ahead and rolled the dice and applied to be a teacher's assistant in a public school near my home. The whole process seemed to take longer than my friends who chose to work in daycares, but I felt I had made the wise decision. Working in a public school, we received retirement and better benefits (like health insurance) than most daycares. There was also the added bonus of having summers off while still making pay comparable to a daycare setting.

The Reality of Running an Early Childhood Classroom

I realized in my first few months in public school that I had been naïve when I started my teaching assistant job in a 4K classroom in a public school. All of my students in the class were in very different places, and that made my job difficult. Some of my students had been read to at home and even in daycare before coming to school. They could color, hold a pencil, and follow classroom rules. However, there were many that had never set foot in a classroom environment until that year. I had to work with the classroom teacher to teach them how to behave, follow our procedures, and interact with other children. It also seemed that our time to 'play' was restricted to two thirty minute blocks of recess.

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Transitioning to a Preschool Teacher

After my first year in 4K in a public school setting, I realized I wasn't getting to do what I loved with my students. There was pressure in the public school setting to meet certain standards and benchmarks with my students, even though they were all in vastly different places developmentally. The pressure to perform with twenty-five early childhood students was more than I wanted.

Class size was another area that I struggled with working as a teacher assistant in a large public school classroom. Twenty-five four-year-olds in a room is a lot to deal with, even with two adults. I felt that as the teaching assistant, I spent a lot of time working with children on their behavioral issues, and not really getting to teach. I decided it was time to explore my other options.

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Transitioning from a teaching assistant position to a preschool teaching position can be a rather smooth process if you know what will be expected of you. With only an early childhood certificate, it wasn't likely I could make the leap to teacher. However, by finishing a few courses in math, English, and history, I was able to turn my certificate into an associate's degree. With this degree, I was well qualified to switch over from teacher assistant to teacher.

I ended up taking a teaching position in a private preschool environment for a variety of reasons. First, my class size dramatically dropped. Instead of teaching 25 students, I only had 10 - 15 students in my class. In addition to a smaller class size, I actually got to teach. Private preschools have more flexibility, so I was allowed to teach, instead of just assisting. This helped me rekindle my passion because I finally had a chance to create and execute lessons that I could get excited about with my students.

I could also give them what they needed most: play. I could teach them math while playing house or store in our classroom. I could choose lessons or themes for units based on their interests, rather than a state standard. When they needed to get outside and play, we could just go outside and play. Through this, I rediscovered my love of young children and teaching early childhood.

Teaching in a Private Preschool

Even teaching in a private preschool, there were disappointments along the way. Sometimes I would design ambitious activities that ended in disaster, with crayons, paint, and glue everywhere. Fortunately, we had an experienced lead teacher who took me under her wing and helped me learn how to work with young children. Her mentorship helped me really take on the role of teacher in my room, and rediscover what I loved about working with young children: their energy, enthusiasm, and loving nature.

By Rachel Tustin
November 2017
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