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Early Childhood Education Requirements and Careers Guide

A child’s early years are the most critical for their educational development. Early childhood is defined as birth through age eight. Internally, their brains form vast numbers of neural connections during these early years. Physically, emotionally, and educationally, this is the time that shapes a lifelong foundation for mental acuity. The child’s genetic make-up and experiences contribute to social, emotional, and physical development. It is a time when children learn about language, thinking, and the ways to experience the world around them. Experiences play a vital part in the child’s early development and education.

Early Childhood Education is one of the best investments our society can make. The landmark work of the Nobel awarded Economist James Heckman helped change the view of early development by showing that early childhood education keeps more children in school, creates more successful students, and produces graduates that become economically productive and active citizens. Children that lacked early childhood education were far worse off in learning, performance in school, and long-term success.

The job prospects for Early Childhood Education have improved in recent years and appear to be on an upward trend. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects above-average growth in occupations like preschool teacher and early childhood educators. The Bureau projected a gain of 50,000 preschool teacher jobs in the ten-year period that ended in 2016 and is still expecting growth.

Despite the urgency of the need for early childhood education in the lives of each and every child, the salaries and rewards for early education providers have lagged behind other types of teaching. Without sufficient rewards, early childhood education will suffer. Higher wages help preschool educators pursue higher levels of education, professional certifications, and specializations.

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Steps to Become an Early Childhood Education Teacher

Preschool teachers contribute to education that makes a significant difference in the lives of students. Students motivated to accept the challenges of a rewarding career working with the youngest learners must begin with a solid foundation in teacher education and training.

Step 1. Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education

Degree programs in early childhood education may include:

  • Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education
    Each school shapes its curriculum offerings to meet their choices about the training and education needed to fulfill an educational leadership role. In early education, the associate degree is a first step towards a bachelor’s degree. The associate degree is also the entry-level degree for some types of education occupations. The Associate of Arts degree or Associate of Science degree is built to prepare students for completing a bachelor’s degree. The Associate of Applied Science usually denotes a degree intended to help the graduate go to work in an occupation or profession.
  • Bachelors of Arts or Science in Early Childhood Education
    This type of degree offers coursework to prepare graduates for preschool teaching, credentials, and certifications. It is a foundation for a successful career in education. These bachelor programs are often offered in conjunction with a teacher preparation program that provides access to state teacher licensure. If intended for a licensure program, the curriculum would include an internship and practicum coursework for hands-on experience.
  • Master’s in Educational Leadership and Administration
    Once you have a bachelor’s and some experience under your belt, this type of early childhood education masters program will allow you to advance your career, either into directorship of a childcare facility or preschool, or as a principal at an elementary school. You can take the classes for this degree in lieu of your continuing education courses you would usually take to maintain your teaching license.
  • Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration
    A master’s in the entry-level requirement for teaching at the college level, but a doctorate will make you an obvious choice for the positions available at that level. With this degree you can teach the educators of tomorrow and eventually even chair the education department at your university.

Step 2. Complete any Required Exams

Each state sets teacher certification and licensing requirements for public schools within its boundaries. Teaching students and aspiring ECE teachers must carefully check the requirements in their state for licensing, testing, and educational attainment. Many private schools adopt the same or similar testing requirements as the state. For assurance of quality, many private employers prefer to hire teachers with state teaching licenses. Some professional educator testing concerns have developed standard tests which many states have adopted for use in their licensing procedures.

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  • State-Based Tests
    The states of California and New York are large employers of public and private school teachers. Each state has developed a comprehensive testing regimen with unique state-based competency tests. In California, teachers must pass the California Basic Education Skills Test. This credential does not work in New York, where teachers must pass the New York State Teacher Certification Examination. California also uses NES Assessments and other types of testing as acceptable alternatives for some teacher categories.
    Praxis is a series of standardized tests administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The traditional and widely used standard tests are the praxis tests; forty states use the Praxis series in their state examination and licensing processes. The Praxis core tests cover reading, writing, and mathematics. Praxis offers subject testing in over 90 titles, and they have Principles of Learning Testing (PLT testing) in the Early Childhood Education
  • edTPA
    The edTPA is a recent addition to national standardized testing. This standardized testing system seeks to establish national standards, a consistent set of teacher performance requirements, and standardized terminology for the elements that every teacher should possess. The edTPA system has student-age and grade-specific testing and 27 teaching subjects. Today, 18 states use edTPA in their testing requirements for teacher license.
  • NES
    The National Evaluation Series is a computer-based testing protocol administered by the Pearson organization. Some states do not accept the NES and students and aspiring preschool teachers must consult with their state department of education to determine the exams that work for their situation. The states of Arizona, California, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin accept NES for some types of state certification.

Step 3. Get Classroom Experience

Preschool teachers have a large responsibility to care for the physical and emotional well-being of their students. State teacher standards require varying lengths and types of student or practice teaching. State-approved ECE college and school curricula contain preparation courses with hands-on teaching (practicums) and internships in which students teach under observation by an experienced, licensed teacher.

Step 4. Get Hired

Preschool teachers pass a background check in the licensing process, and they must maintain a personal history that shows good character and civic responsibility. In some states, the salaries for teachers is higher than the national averages, and applicants find some competition for positions. In many parts of the country, and particularly in some urban centers, school districts have trouble filling vacancies. Some states offer loan forgiveness incentives to attract students to attend their colleges and teach in their schools after graduation.

Step 5. Continuing Education

Once certified and licensed, a teacher must maintain good standing. Nearly every state requires continuing education and refresher courses. Teachers must keep current in their fields. Research and development in the field of early childhood education produce innovations, new technology for the classroom, and new and successful best practices. States require teachers to review their licenses from time to time and to prove that they have completed the required level of qualified continuing education course units.

ECE Potential Credentials, Requirements, and Certifications Needed

In states that require licensure for public teaching positions, certifications will not replace the teacher’s exam and educational requirements. Private employers and some public interest groups hire teachers without licenses. Many of these private employers rely on professional certifications. The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is a popular certificate.

The CDA requires a high school diploma, about 500 hours of qualified experience, and 120 hours or more of approved education in child education or a related field. Certification for preschool teachers in public school systems requires completion of a bachelor's degree program and state teacher preparedness certification exams. Some states recognize the National Child Care Association's Certified Childcare Professional (CCP) credential. However, this credential has greater use for childcare workers than teachers.

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  • Certifications
    Early Childhood Education involves children at tender ages and periods of dependency on adults for physical safety and emotional security. As teachers are in charge and responsible for young children, states require some preliminary certifications. One nearly universal certification is for CPR intervention and first aid. Teachers must have training to respond instantly to such events as a loss of consciousness or breathing.
  • Specializations
    Early Childhood Education offers challenges similar to education at later stages such as students with visual or hearing impairments. Early childhood challenges are unique because the early learners often cannot express many of the issues that confront them. Some popular specializations include the below-listed items.
  • Special education
  • Teaching students with visual, speech, or physical impairments
  • Teaching students with Autism
  • Teaching students with Dyslexia or other learning disabilities
  • Teaching students with mental health issues

Potential Careers and Salaries for Graduates

  • Preschool Teacher

    Working with children aged three to five, preschool teachers have an opportunity to impact the learning foundation of children at its most critical and formative time. Early learning experience builds a lifetime of success. Preschool sessions are typically half-day attendance for children, but preschool teachers can manage morning and afternoon sessions. The role of teachers blends with requirements to promote safety and emotional well-being. Preschool teachers must create interesting, challenging, and engaging learning environments.

    Preschool teachers with a bachelor’s degree have qualifications for teaching based on education. Some preschool teachers enter the field with an Associate of Arts or Associate of Applied Science degree in childcare or child education. They can gain greater responsibility and professional knowledge through work experience.

  • Elementary School Teacher

    Elementary education typically covers grades one through six. Grades one through three are part of the early childhood education range of birth through age eight or third grade. At these levels, teachers may not need to specialize in a single area because they will typically teach fundamentals in a range of basic subjects. The usual subjects include arithmetic, reading, English, science, and history.

    Because they deal with young learners, teachers must be comfortable when working with student’s families. They play an important role in assessing students in the classroom and related settings. Teachers offer valuable insights for parents and other educators about a child’s learning abilities and steps that parents and the education system can take to improve the student outcomes.

  • Professor of Education

    College-level educators play a key role in the ongoing process of providing education for children and students of all ages. College level education teaching creates qualified teachers at the early childhood levels and all other levels through graduate and doctoral work. Nearly every teacher was once a student that was guided by well-trained teacher or professor.

    College-level faculty also directly prepare the next generation of college professors. Graduate study requires intense relationships between graduate students and graduate school faculty. College level education professors perform research that advances the field of early childhood education. The field must grow with increasing demands for high-quality early childhood education as parents and the society overall learn the value of early education.

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  • School Principal

    The role of the school principal relates to several groups connected to the function of a school. These include vital relationships with faculty, administrative personnel, parents of students, and the student body. The principal must also represent the institution as a part of a local community. The principal is a top executive that normally has the highest level of decision-making in the organization. However, principals must also often report to school boards, local elected officials, and other school administrators.

    Principals must have strong communication skills and develop strong interpersonal relationships among the many parts of a dynamic school system and the community in which it exists. The overall concern must be for the personal and educational welfare of the students. The youngest learners are the most vulnerable and also the group upon which education has the greatest impact. While all students in elementary school are in youthful stages and forming intellectual and social identities, the youngest learners are in the most critical phase of educational development.

  • Special Education Teacher

    Teachers must have skills and knowledge that equips them to work with learners with emotional, physical, and mental limitations. However, these specially-able students may also need expert attention as they move towards fulfilling their potential. Special education teachers adapt lesson plans and educational practices to the needs of the special children in their care. They modify the general education lesson plans in various early education subjects including mathematics, science, reading, and writing.

    Special education often involves technology aids that help students with special needs. These include devices for autism and hearing, visual, and ambulatory limitations. Special education techniques and methods must meet the needs and situation of the students and their families.

  • ESL Teacher

    Teaching English as a second language can be a difficult task. ESL teachers help students that do not speak English as their first language adjust to education in their communities. Learning language is part of learning the culture in which the learner will study and live. ESL is important to other coursework too. Students that must learn English will frequently need language help in STEM and other coursework.

    ESL teachers must use many types of tools and techniques to help students acquire English skills as quickly as possible. They must use creativity to design lessons that relate to the challenges facing the student using a new language to learn and integrate into a culture. ESL teachers need a bachelor’s degree. They may also get certification in multiple subjects or some specific subjects like math or science so that they may use their language teaching skills to work with students in specific subject areas.

  • School Psychologist

    School psychology is a specialized type of psychology practice that focuses on children and families within the school system. The school psychologist is a resource to promote social adjustment, emotional security, and academic well-being. The school psychologist’s first obligation is to the children.

    A secondary role consists of advising the school system on ways to improve education. School psychologists perform regular assessments of students and their adaptation to the learning environment. They can diagnose learning abilities and detect physical, psychological, and emotional issues. School psychologists may review tests and test scores to assess and interpret the student’s experience. These highly trained professionals must also communicate well with colleagues, teachers, and parents. They also occasionally provide community education.

    School psychologists may play an important role in detecting emotional and behavioral problems. They can work with students, school personnel and families to help resolve issues and develop plans or referrals for needed care.

Early Childhood Education Teaching Salaries

Occupation / Degree Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Preschool Teacher AA/BA $29,500 $30,500 $31,000
Elementary School Teacher BA/BS $39,500 $44,300 $57,200
Professor of Education MA/Ph.D. $60,100 $70,300 $99,000
School Principal MA/Ph.D. $73,500 $79,200 $86,500
Special Education Teacher BS $41,200 $46,300 $58,000
ESL Teacher BA/BS $39,300 $40,500 $50,900
School Psychologist MA/MS $54,200 $61,000 $73,200

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