Teaching the First Year of "Real School"
Whether they've been to preschool or not, kindergarteners know that this is "real school." The classroom itself is in the big elementary school, and they may ride a school bus for the first time. If you want to be the teacher who greets them at the door with a reassuring smile, you'll have a career with hours that work well if you're raising your own family. You'll see if techniques you try at home work in the classroom, too, and vice versa. And as your class moves on at the end of the year, you'll know they're leaving with a solid foundation and enthusiasm for learning.
In kindergarten, you'll have the same class of students for most of the day, teaching them the beginnings of reading and math, social studies and science and helping them recognize and write the letters of the alphabet and numbers zero through nine. You'll introduce them to the magic of letters making words and numbers combining to make larger numbers. And you'll show them what's expected of them in school and how to be good listeners and good classmates.
On the days they have music, art or P.E. , you or your aide take them to the class and pick them up, giving you time to correct papers or prepare for the next lesson. The same is true for lunch, though you may have a day when it's your turn to monitor all the classes in the lunchroom. When it's time for recess, you may stay with the class or take turns with other teachers supervising.
While kindergarten used to be a half-day introduction to school, many states or school districts have switched to full-day kindergarten to better prepare students for first grade. In full-day kindergarten, students may take a nap in the afternoon. In half-day programs, you'll go through the same routine with your morning and afternoon classes. Some school districts have two teachers in kindergarten classes: the lead teacher and an assistant or aide.
Over the past 20 years, kindergarten has switched from being a playful introduction to school to becoming serious business. Five and 6-year-olds are now expected to act and learn as first graders used to, and many aren't developmentally ready to do so. Kindergarten teachers must be able to teach a class of multiple ability levels and discern the way each child learns best.
As a kindergarten teacher, you'll tie more than your share of shoelaces. But you'll also share the joy when, after mastering a new skill, that light of understanding crosses their faces.
To become a kindergarten teacher, you need to earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education. Programs include courses in teaching each subject as well as classes in child psychology and learning disabilities. Programs also include valuable time in actual elementary school classrooms, first as an observer, then as a helper for several weeks at a time. Your last year of school will include an internship for an entire semester, where you'll be given opportunities to teach the class under supervision by the classroom teacher. Representatives from your college will also observe you teaching.
After graduation, you'll need to become licensed by the state where you'll teach. Every state has different licensing requirements and general knowledge tests. A few states have reciprocal agreements and will accept another state's license, but most will not.
Sometimes, especially when a school district has a shortage of available teachers, they establish alternative ways of becoming certified. They may accept graduates with non-teaching degrees, for example, allowing them to begin teaching before they're certified.
The median annual wage for kindergarten teachers was $52,620 in May 2016. The median is the midpoint in a list of salaries, at which half earned more and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,050 and the top 90 percent earned $81,210. Beginning teachers typically receive salaries at the lower end of the scale, with wage increases as they gain experience.
About the Industry
Most kindergarten teachers—about 80 percent—work in local public schools during the hours school is open, approximately 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., though they often take papers and tests home to grade. They may come in early or stay late to meet with parents or other teachers. Most work a 10-month year except for those who teach in year-round schools. They may also teach summer programs and earn extra pay.
Years of Experience
Experience isn't required to be hired, but it's always desirable. More experienced teachers are paid higher salaries. What new teachers lack in experience they often make up for in enthusiasm, so bring your innovative ideas to your interviews and demonstrate how eager and ready you are to get to work.
Job Growth Trend
Employment for kindergarten teachers is expected to grow 7 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is about the same as the general job outlook. Increased student enrollment should result in a greater need for kindergarten teachers in some areas, but hiring also depends on the school district's budget. Some schools may increase class size instead of hiring more teachers.
Barbara Bean-Mellinger is an award-winning writer in the Washington, DC area. She writes nationally for newspapers, magazines and websites on topics including careers, education, women, marketing, advertising and more. She holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Pittsburgh.