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What is Early Childhood Education?

For those who hear the calling to become teachers, Wisconsin offers loads of opportunity. As of May 2021, there were approximately 28,700 elementary teachers working in Wisconsin. The state annual mean wage was equal to the national average, $56,900, and nationwide growth was projected to be 7 percent, which is considered average across all occupations.

When considering pay rates, note that Wisconsin teachers are paid according to their local tax base. Thus, the higher the tax base, the higher your pay. For example, teachers in Milwaukee are better-paid than those in sparsely-populated Northwestern Wisconsin. Keep in mind that variations in pay rates are often mitigated by the relative cost of living for the geographic area.

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Steps to Become an Early Childhood Education Teacher in Wisconsin

To become an early childhood education teacher in Wisconsin, you must first determine that this is the profession for you. Many seasoned teachers consider their career as educators to be a calling. Given the incredible importance the job carries, it is best to know beyond any doubt that you are ready to make your work with children a lifetime commitment. Once you have made that decision, the practical steps are:

Step 1. Earn Your Degree

In Wisconsin, your first step to full state licensure is a bachelor's degree in early childhood education. More importantly, you need to make sure that you complete an educator preparation program. Without completion of said program, you won’t be able to take the tests and become a head or supplementary teacher. Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction asks that you attend a program that has been approved in order to attain a license to teach Early Childhood, which includes 4-year-old kindergarten through fifth grade. This program will include a final full semester of student teaching which will take approximately 18 weeks and an EdTPA, on which you will need a satisfactory score to obtain licensure.

If you already have a bachelor's degree in another subject but desire a career change, you can still become an Early Childhood educator. Wisconsin offers alternative routes to licensure, which may involve on-the-job training, more coursework, and testing. There are also positions available in the education sector that do not require a degree or preparation program. Namely: Educational Interpreter; School Audiologist; Special Education Program Aide; and Tribal, Community, and School Liaison.

Step 2. Pass Your Exams

Once you have completed your state-approved education degree or are taking an alternative route to licensure, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction asks that you take and pass the ETS Praxis II examination. This is a subject-specific test, as there are specific tests for every teaching area/specialty. For Early Childhood and Elementary Education, you'll take the PRAXIS II, ‘Elementary Education: Content Knowledge’ and the ‘Core Academic Skills for Educators’, which will test your competency in pedagogy, content, reading, writing, and mathematics. The ETS website has practice materials that will help you sharpen your knowledge.

Step 3. Standards and Qualifications

In addition to Wisconsin's educational and testing qualifications, you will need to submit to a background test. In particular, the Department is concerned about any past behavior that could put your pupils in danger. If you have a less-than-perfect track record, you must note any past convictions in the state's Conduct and Competency form. At that time, you can provide a written explanation of the matter and include any relevant police or court documents. Depending on the infraction's severity and relevance, and your account thereof, the Department will decide whether or not to grant your license.

Step 4. Get Your Teaching License

You’ll apply for your Initial License after your background check using the Wisconsin teachers licensing portal, Educator Licensing Online (ELO). Through this portal you will verify your scores on tests and all other pertinent information before receiving licensure. You will have to have completely passed your preparation program and received positive scores on your EdTPA.

You can upgrade this license to a Provisional License through the same program and renew any licensure as necessary. A Provisional license lasts for 3 years and requires 6 semesters of successful teaching experience within the last 5 years to renew. You can also obtain a Lifetime Teaching License that means you will no longer have to renew every 3 years, though this needs significantly more experience than renewing your Provisional License. Once you have obtained a Lifetime License, you will still need to go through a background check every 5 years in order to maintain it.

Popular Career Choices:

  • Preschool Teacher
  • Kindergarten Teacher
  • Elementary School Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher

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Additional Specialization Certifications

You can augment your early childhood education credentials with additional certifications. With more certifications, you can always make the most of the opportunities that are available to you. If you have attained full licensure in the state, you can add new certifications, often with only a few extra courses. According to the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families the following requirements need to be met in order to be able to teach early childhood education.

  • Be at least 18 years of age; and
  • Have completed high school or its equivalent as determined by DPI; and
  • Have at least 80 full days or 120 half days of experience as an assistance child care teacher in a licensed child care center

Some additional education requirements you will need:

  • Two non-credit department approved courses in early childhood education; or
  • Two courses for credit in early childhood education or its equivalent from an institution of higher education; or
  • A bachelor degree in education from an institution of higher education or a license from WI DPI to act as a teacher; or
  • An associate degree in early childhood education or child care from an institution of higher education.

As your career advances, you might be inspired to specialize in particular areas that you feel deserve special attention, or to which you feel a particular affinity. While your early childhood education certification qualifies you to teach the full scope of classes offered to Pre-K-5 children, you might choose to add special credentials such as:

  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
    Many areas these days have seen a growth in populations for whom English is not their first language. These students need special attention if they are going to thrive in school and later life. If you have an affinity for foreign languages or linguistics, ESL could be a great fit.
  • Special Education (SPED)
    Children with all sorts of cognitive or developmental differences fall under the rubric of Special Education. Some are exceptionally bright students who have dyslexia, others have more profound difficulties. Indeed, this is a special population. While SPED often pays more than other subject areas, it also challenges every resource you have as a teacher.
  • Reading Specialist
    Reading is a skill that develops with us. Some students may fall behind their expected reading level, but you can specialize in this area to help students expand their vocabulary and overall reading comprehension. The state of Wisconsin requires a Reading Specialist license if you direct a reading program, teach more than one reading-centered class per day, or take an assignment to teach in a Title I reading program.
  • Gifted and Talented
    As part of the No Child Left Behind Act, Wisconsin is able to allocate funds that identify and provide special resources for low-income, talented children. Thus, if you wish to help identify these students and help them develop their significant talent, you can attend one of Wisconsin's three approved programs: UW-Stephens Point, UW-Whitewater, and Concordia University. Your additional Gifted and Talented Teacher license will surely be welcomed by administrators and parents alike.

Top Early Childhood Teacher Preparation Programs in Wisconsin

Accreditation is always important when pursuing post-secondary education. You want to ensure that your courses will be recognized by other schools if you intend on pursuing higher degrees and especially if you are seeking professional credentials. To become a Wisconsin teacher, you must receive your training from a state-approved program. Without a state-approved degree you will likely have to repeat many, if not all, of your courses if you wish to become a teacher.

  • University of Wisconsin-Stout
    Degrees Offered:
    • School Counseling and Guidance; MS.
    • Early Childhood Education and Teaching; BS.
    • Special Education and Teaching; BS.

    Accreditation By:

    • Higher Learning Commission
    • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
    • CAEP
  • Marian University
    Degrees Offered:
    • Early Childhood Education and Teaching; BS.
    • Elementary Education and Teaching; BS.
    • Special Education and Teaching; MS.

    Accreditation By:

    • NCATE
    • Higher Learning Commission
    • American Psychological Association – School Counseling (MA/PhD)
    • Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
    • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
    • Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) (Graduate)
  • Cardinal Stritch University
    Degrees Offered:
    • Early Childhood Education and Teaching; BS.
    • Elementary Education and Teaching; BS. & MS.
    • Reading Teacher Education; MS. & Dr.
    • Special Education and Teaching; MS. & Dr.
    • Urban Education and Leadership; MS.

    Accreditation By:

    • NCATE
    • Higher Learning Commission
    • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
  • Lakeland University
    Degrees Offered:
    • School Counseling and Guidance; MS. & Post-grad Certificate
    • Elementary Education and Teaching; BS.

    Accreditation By:

    • TEAC
    • Higher Learning Commission
    • Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction

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Potential Careers and Salaries for Graduates

Where You Can Work as an Early Childhood Educator

  • Public schools
    The state of Wisconsin requires full or partial licensure to teach early childhood education in its public-school systems.
  • Private childcare
    Special certificates or licenses aren't required by law, but if you have academic credentials you will find that you are more in demand to teach in a private setting. If you wish to market yourself to parents who need private, instructional childcare, a bachelor's degree in early childhood education will certainly stand out.
  • Private schools
    Certain private schools, such as Montessori, have special certifications they require of their teachers. However, if you have a bachelor's degree and experience with children you may be able to land a position with an independent private preschool or elementary.
  • Head Start programs
    This revolutionary, ground-breaking program has positively impacted the lives of millions of children who would have otherwise been left behind. To work as a lead teacher for Head Start you will likely need a full teaching credential from Wisconsin, though that is not always the case. The program does emphasize a degree in early childhood education or Child Development, Psychology, or some related field. You can also enter the program via an alternative teacher prep program such as Teach for America.
  • Community-based programs
    These educational programs help non-traditional learners gain access to opportunities for learning and achievement. This career path can include a supplemental license in alternative education, work with child and family services, and community leadership.
  • Faith-based programs
    This part of the educational world will welcome you without formal teaching credentials, but if you have a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, you will bolster your program's status and secure yourself as a highly-qualified faculty member.
  • Military programs
    The military employs many teaching professionals to work with young children who live on the base. This can be a very exciting position that has the potential to take you around the world to teach military children. To land one of these positions, you should have a current Wisconsin teaching license.
Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Preschool Teacher $29,000 $35,000 $40,000
Elementary School Teacher $35,800 $41,900 $59,900
Professor of Education $69,000 $99,000 $206,000
Preschool Director $25,000 $39,700 $44,900
Special Education Teacher $31,000 $44,000 $65,000
School Psychologist $54,200 $61,000 $73,200

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