How to Become a Preschool Teacher
Preschool teachers must plan lessons that engage young students and must also adapt their lessons to suit different learning styles.
Education and training requirements vary based on settings and state regulations. They range from a high school diploma and certification to a college degree.
In childcare centers, preschool teachers generally are required to have a least a high school diploma and a certification in early childhood education. However, employers may prefer to hire workers with at least some postsecondary education in early childhood education.
Preschool teachers in Head Start programs are required to have at least an associate’s degree. However, at least 50 percent of all preschool teachers in Head Start programs nationwide must have a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. Those with a degree in a related field must have experience teaching preschool-age children.
In public schools, preschool teachers are generally required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field. Bachelor’s degree programs teach students about children’s development, strategies to teach young children, and how to observe and document children’s progress.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Many states require childcare centers, including those in private homes, to be licensed. To qualify for licensure, staff must pass a background check, have a complete record of immunizations, and meet a minimum training requirement. Some states require staff to have certifications in CPR and first aid.
Some states and employers require childcare workers to have a nationally recognized certification. Most often, states require the Child Development Associate (CDA) certification offered by the Council for Professional Recognition. Obtaining the CDA certification requires coursework, experience in the field, a written exam, and observation of the candidate working with children.
Some states recognize the Child Care Professional (CCP) designation offered by the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation. Candidates for the CCP must be 18 years old, have a high school diploma, experience in the field, take courses in early childhood education, and pass an exam.
In public schools, preschool teachers must be licensed to teach early childhood education, which covers preschool through third grade. Requirements vary by state, but they generally require a bachelor’s degree and passing an exam to demonstrate competency. Most states require teachers to complete continuing education credits to maintain their license.
A few states require preschool teachers to have some work experience in a childcare setting. The amount of experience necessary varies by state. In these cases, preschool teachers often start out as childcare workers or teacher assistants.
Communication skills. Preschool teachers need good communication skills to tell parents and colleagues about students’ progress. They need good writing and speaking skills to convey this information effectively. They must also be able to communicate well with small children.
Creativity. Preschool teachers must plan lessons that engage young students. In addition, they need to adapt their lessons to suit different learning styles.
Interpersonal skills. Preschool teachers must understand children’s emotional needs and be able to develop good relationships with parents, children, and colleagues.
Organizational skills. Teachers need to be organized to plan lessons and keep records of their students.
Patience. Working with children can be frustrating, and preschool teachers should be able to respond calmly to overwhelming and difficult situations.
Physical stamina. Working with children can be physically taxing, so preschool teachers should have a lot of energy.
Experienced preschool teachers can advance to become the director of a preschool or childcare center or a lead teacher, who may be responsible for the instruction of several classes. Those with a bachelor's degree in early childhood education frequently are qualified to teach kindergarten through grade 3, in addition to preschool. Teaching positions at these higher grades typically pay more. For more information, see the profiles on preschool and childcare center directors and kindergarten and elementary school teachers.