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What is a Preschool Teacher?

A preschool teacher introduces a child to school and formal education. The experience small children have in this first academic endeavor can set the stage for the rest of their school career. Preschool teachers work with children between the ages of 3 and 5, before these children enter kindergarten. They teach their students a variety of skills, including motor, language, social, and basic academics. In preschool, children learn the alphabet and number recognition, colors and shapes, as well as some degree of independence. Most of these activities are play-based but educational. Preschool teachers also prepare their students for kindergarten. There are many occupations that pay more than a preschool teacher, but few that are as rewarding.

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Steps to Becoming a Preschool Teacher

While teaching preschool does require a degree, there are some positions for preschool teachers that do not require a bachelor’s degree. An associate’s degree in early childhood education may be enough for some preschool teacher positions, and you can receive this degree from a community college. Much depends on state educational requirements for preschool teachers. However, most states do require that preschool teachers earn a bachelor’s degree, so make sure to check your state’s requirements before enrolling in an academic program.

  • Step 1: Get experience working with young children

  • Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education

  • Step 3: Complete student teaching

  • Step 4: Obtain state licensing

  • Step 5: Join national and state preschool teacher organizations


Step 1: Get experience working with young children

It is wise to obtain experience with young children before becoming a preschool teacher. Such experience may include babysitting, working at a childcare facility, teaching at a Sunday School or similar program or caring for young family members.

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Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education

After earning your high school diploma or GED, your first step in becoming a preschool teacher is enrolling in an early childhood education degree program, with the goal of obtaining at least an associate’s degree but most likely you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree may be completed in four years, and sometimes less if you take courses over the summer. Classes for preschool teachers will include subjects such as child growth and development, childhood social and emotional development, health and nutrition for young children, and early childhood guidance.

If you have a community college close to home, you might consider completing your core courses there and then transferring to a four-year university known for their education program, and one which also has a state-approved teacher preparation program.

Step 3: Complete student teaching

Before receiving a degree, future preschool teachers must complete student teacher training. Depending on the school’s program requirements and state requirements, this may involve between 60 and 100 hours of supervised student teaching.

Step 4: Obtain state licensing

As with all other teachers, preschool teachers must complete necessary testing in order to receive licensure. Most states in the US use the PRAXIS tests in order to verify each teacher has the knowledge to teach their chosen age-group. Preschool teachers will have to take the PRAXIS I, which covers core skills in reading, writing, and mathematics. Preschool teachers will also likely have to take a PRAXIS II exam, which covers pedagogy and knowledge for their specific age group.

Once you’ve completed the exams with passing scores (you will have the opportunity to try again if you fail to pass the first time), you’ll need to complete fingerprinting and a background check. Some states may require more than this, such as your full transcripts, that you already have a position ready for you to start teaching, a recommendation from your student teaching, etc. Make sure you check while you are still in school so that you know what is required by your state.

Step 5: Join national and state preschool teacher organizations

Although becoming a member of a national and state preschool teacher organization may not be a requirement per se, it is certainly a good idea. Most states have such organizations, and national organizations worth looking into include the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD), Children Now, National Child Care Association (NCCA), the National Head Start Association (NHSA) and the National Network for Child Care (NNCC).

What Does a Preschool Teacher Do?

Every day is different when you’re a preschool teacher, because the needs of your particular students may vary. In the morning, when children arrive, you not only greet them and the parents, but receive instructions from the moms and dads regarding their children’s care and scheduling. You might start the school day with a special ritual – such as sitting in a circle and singing – to get the kids acclimated. During the school day, you’ll oversee kids on the playground in good weather or inside playing when it’s inclement; supervise snack and nap time; work with children in music, crafts, and art projects; read to them; and introduce them to the alphabet and the basics of arithmetic, reading, and writing. Preschool teachers also work with children on development of their motor and social skills. Although preschool children are supposedly toilet-trained, expect a few accidents now and then. Preschool teachers answer lots of questions, play lots of games or show kids how to play, and teach them about nature, colors, and other wonders of the world. In the afternoon or evening, you’ll wait while the parents pick their children up, answer any questions they have or give them necessary information. It’s a lot packed into each day, but if you love children, there is nothing more rewarding.

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Preschool Teacher Skills to Acquire

The most obvious skill for a preschool teacher is a love for and appreciation of young children, and the desire to help them grow intellectually, socially, and emotionally. Other necessary skills needed to perform well as a preschool teacher include:

Six most suggested skills:

  • Creativity
    Teaching young children requires a lot of creativity. There is no one size fits all when it come to teaching kids. Some children respond well to certain types of learning, while others do better with a different learning style. Preschool teachers also have to remain creative to keep children focused. Bored children aren’t learning and may act up.

  • Patience
    Young children can try your patience. It’s just their nature. Impatient, humorless individuals aren’t cut out for teaching preschool.

  • Good communication
    Preschool teachers must know how to communicate with children on their level, but also communicate with parents about their children’s development and behavior.

  • Flexibility
    When you’re dealing with young children, you soon learn that things don’t always go as planned. That’s not a problem if you can remain flexible and get the point of a lesson across in a way that kids can understand.

  • Stamina
    Working with young children all day requires a lot of physical stamina. In addition to teaching, it’s likely that during a typical school day you may have to lift a child, help put on and take off coats, and just try to keep up with the energy of your charges.

  • Nurture
    Young children respond to a nurturing personality. A preschool teacher must care about their students and prove willing to care for them and help them set them on the right path in life. Although the children are young, a preschool teacher’s role is very influential in their development.

Alternative Paths

There are not many alternative paths to becoming a preschool teacher. The requirement for a bachelor’s degree is becoming more and more standard as state’s increase knowledge and training requirements for those who work with young children. However, as mentioned before, there are some positions which only require an associate’s degree.

Childcare workers may only need a high school diploma or GED to work with children. While childcare workers concentrate primarily on addressing children’s needs in terms of feeding, toileting, napping, and playing, it is a good way to find out if you truly have what it takes to work with youngsters day in and day out. Other alternative paths to gain experience with children include volunteering to help with various children’s programs. For any of these pursuits, background checks are necessary.

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You may also earn a Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential. According to the Council for Professional Recognition, which oversees CDA credentialing, the CDA is based on a core set of competency standards and is nationally transferable. This credential verifies that you are competent to work with young children and may allow you access to positions within a Head Start program or any number of private childcare facilities which also focus on teaching the children in their care. With this experience under your belt, you can take courses while you work, and you might even have a chance to lower your student teaching hours if you go for your bachelor’s degree later.

Some states have alternate teacher certification programs, which generally involve those who already have certification to teach in one subject but wish to become early childhood teachers. Preschool teachers may seek additional certification in early childhood education, but the requirements vary by state.

Preschool Teacher Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


Preschool teachers may work in private, public, or non-profit schools, or in daycare facilities offering a preschool program. National programs such as Head Start also employ preschool teachers, and 50% of such preschool teachers must have a bachelor’s degree. Some preschool teachers work year-round, but most work a standard school schedule of September through May/June with the summer months off. The median pay for preschool teachers is approximately $30,300 per year. During the summer, preschool teachers may work for private or public camps catering to children in this age group.

Potential Career Paths

Preschool teachers who wish to teach older children, including kindergartners and elementary school students, must earn a bachelor’s degree in education. Some preschool teachers may want to become preschool directors, possibly opening their own preschool. Here are some potential career paths and their requirements:

Montessori preschool teacher
The Montessori method is a century-old, child-centered form of learning based on human development. To teach in a Montessori preschool, you must go through Montessori early childhood teacher training and certification. Once you have this certification, you can teach at any Montessori school in the world, although local teaching certifications also come into play. You may take classes via an eight month distance learning program, then attend a 2.5 week residency program. After that, a nine month Montessori teaching internship is required before you can become a Montessori preschool teacher. While the Montessori method is best known for teaching toddlers through elementary school students – and that is how most Montessori schools are structured – there are also Montessori programs for middle and high school students.

Kindergarten or elementary school teacher
Although kindergarten is the next step up from preschool for children, it requires a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. With this degree, however, you can teach up to sixth grade. If you want to teach middle or high school students, you may need to finish a degree in the subject matter you plan to teach, such as history, English, or mathematics. You must also complete all state licensing requirements.

Preschool nursery director
Preschool directors are responsible for the programs offered by their center and the curriculum. Directors hire and supervise staff, design programs, oversee their school’s daily activities, and respond to any issues regarding students and parents. In most states, a bachelor’s degree is required for a preschool nursery director, although an associate’s degree is sufficient in some states for private preschools.

Childcare center director
The childcare director oversees day care administration. That includes staff hiring and management, curriculum development, budget preparation, professional development, and the overall running of the childcare center. In most states, childcare center directors need a bachelor’s degree, although some private childcare centers may require only an associate’s degree. Prior experience teaching young children is a prerequisite, as is licensure, which varies by state. Childcare center directors may also need certification as a Child Development Associate, or CDA.

Children’s camp director
A children’s camp director manages staff and the camp’s daily functions. The job also requires budget management, training program development, recreational program development and a great deal of administrative oversight. Most states require a children’s camp director to hold a bachelor’s degree. In addition, children’s camp directors may need various certifications, including CPR and other lifesaving measures.

In-home tutor
Some children cannot attend school due to physical or other disabilities, or because they are recuperating from illness or injuries. A certified early childhood education teacher can instruct these children with home-based learning. Sometimes, this role is combined with that of a personal caregiver to the child.

Special education teacher
Those interested in becoming a special education teacher must obtain a bachelor’s degree in special education. A teaching internship in a special education classroom is required for graduates, and once the internship is fulfilled, you may take the tests required by your state to become a special education teacher. After passing these tests, you can apply for a teaching license.

School administrator
School administration involves a variety of jobs, from superintendent to principal, assistant principal to business administrator. Most school administrators began their careers as preschool teachers. For the teaching position, a bachelor’s degree is required, and most people teach for several years before pursuing a master’s degree in education administration. States also require testing to obtain a public school administration license.

Preschool Teacher Career Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Daycare Teacher $18,000 $29,000 $43,000
Elementary School Teacher $40,000 $46,000 $59,000
Kindergarten Teacher $27,000 $40,000 $57,000
Preschool Teacher $20,000 $33,000 $50,000
Special Education Teacher $40,000 $49,000 $61,000
Substitute Teacher, K-12 $13,000 $29,000 $43,000
Teacher Assistant $15,000 $23,000 $36,000
Tutor $20,000 $38,000 $68,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for preschool teachers is very good, with employment expected to rise 10% by 2026. The millennial generation, the largest in history, is in their prime childbearing years. That, and increased awareness about the importance of early childhood educations, means preschool teachers will remain in great demand.

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Advancing From Here

Advancing from a preschool teacher position will likely require additional education, even if the teacher has a bachelor’s degree. If the preschool teacher wants to teach older children, they must earn a degree in that level of education or in the subject matter they wish to teach for middle or high school students. If the preschool teachers would like to advance to a college or administrative position, they’ll need to earn a master’s. For many preschool teachers looking to advance their careers, online education is an option. Distance learning allows the student to study at their own pace, and at a time convenient for them. Other options include attending a standard brick-and-mortar college or university, or a hybrid model consisting of some online and some face-to-face instruction.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What skills do you need to be a preschool teacher?

Preschool teachers need to have be reliable and have good communication and organizational skills.

What advancement opportunities exist for preschool teachers?

A preschool teacher can work toward administrative positions or they can work towards becoming a primary school teacher.

Where do preschool teachers work?

Preschool teachers usually work in public schools, and childcare centers, and private schools.

What jobs can you get with an early childhood education degree?

  • Childcare Center Director
  • Preschool Teacher
  • Special Education Teacher
  • Childcare Worker
  • Kindergarten & Elementary School Teacher
  • Nanny

What is the job outlook for preschool teachers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, preschool teacher jobs will increase by 18% by 2030.

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