If it's always been your dream to be an early childhood teacher, then there are quite a number of requirements you will have to fulfill before you can start job hunting. Because children are capable of absorbing a lot of information, as a preschool or kindergarten teacher you will have the unique opportunity to make an everlasting impact in the lives of these children. Most of all, you will be preparing them for their later years in school. In order to become a preschool or kindergarten teacher, though, you will need to earn your teaching degree, which can take a bit of time.
In general, it takes four years to get a teaching degree for kindergarten or preschool, as you will need to earn your bachelor's at a four-year school.
What Is Early Childhood Education?
When you go to school and study to become a teacher, there are different fields of education that you can study. While this will vary from one school to another, in general, these fields are:
- Early childhood education
- Elementary education
- Secondary education
- Special education
Of course, within these and in addition to these there are other fields as well. For instance, some teachers may go on to study how to teach English as a second language, how to teach a subject like art or physical education or how to become a literacy specialist. Though you can always choose to specialize in something specific later on, those looking to teach just preschool or kindergarten in the meantime will need to pursue a degree in early childhood education.
According to PreSchoolTeacher.org, early childhood education, also known as ECE, is "a broad term used to describe any type of educational program that serves children in their preschool years." In many states, this means children from birth to 8 years old. While this website and others may say that early childhood education only refers to education prior to kindergarten, many ECE programs and certification paths encompass future kindergarten teachers as well.
What Degree Do You Need to Become a Teacher?
In order to become a preschool or kindergarten teacher, you will first need to pursue an undergraduate degree in early childhood education. This could be a B.A. or B.S. in early childhood education, but typically, it's a B.S. Again, the terminology will differ slightly depending on the school you attend. No matter what program you choose, you have to be sure that it's an accredited, state-approved program. You can check a list of approved college programs online at your state's department of education website.
The program must be state approved because that means it is equipped with the appropriate course work, field work and student teaching component to make you eligible to take your certification tests to become a teacher. Once you earn your degree, you will be able to theoretically become a teacher, though only if you earn all the credentials required in your state.
Teachers who do not complete a bachelor's degree program in education but still want to become an early childhood teacher for preschool-aged and kindergarten-aged students can do so by entering an alternative route program. However, to become eligible for one of these, you typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree even if it's not in education or an associate degree in a related field.
Other Preschool and Kindergarten Teacher Requirements
Though having obtained your bachelor's degree at a state-approved college program is one of the most important steps toward becoming a preschool or kindergarten teacher, unfortunately, you're not quite done yet. In order to actually get a teaching job, you will also need to pass the individual certification tests for the state in which you intend to teach.
Your bachelor's program will help you prepare for these tests with courses that generally align to the subject matter you'll need to know. However, you may have to do additional studying on your own. You will also need to complete a practicum and/or student teaching along with field work that amounts to the number of pedagogy hours required for your certification. Finally, you'll need to pass this student teaching with the grade that's required by your program, which is determined by the state.
It's important to recognize that the requirements can vary greatly from one state to another. Also, even if you don't intend to teach in the state where you're completing your degree, you may still need to obtain that state's certification in order to graduate with your degree. This is because your program has a duty to prepare you as best as possible for the job market so you can essentially pursue a teaching job right after graduation. Not all certifications are reciprocated in other states, so if you move a lot, you may need to get recertified for each state in which you live.
You must also pay attention to renewal guidelines and deadlines. Certifications need to be renewed every so often, and if you fail to renew it, you won't be able to continue working. To do this, you may need to file some paperwork and also attend a number of professional developments each year. Some states/schools in which you work may also eventually require you to get your master's degree in order to continue teaching. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as you'll likely get paid more once you have that.
What to Expect as Part of Your Program
Now that you've decided to become an early childhood education teacher, it's nice to know what to expect while you're in school. During your time in college, you will have to obtain a certain number of credits to fulfill your degree's requirements. In addition to the general education courses and electives your individual school may require in order for you to graduate, you can expect to take classes about:
- Introduction to early childhood education
- Child psychology and development
- Methodologies for teaching different subjects
- Lesson planning and meeting state standards
- Child health and safety
- Teaching literacy and language arts
- How to teach students with special needs
- How to effectively discipline students with positive behavior reinforcement
- How to teach ELL students
- How to integrate science and social studies into language arts and mathematics
- How to communicate with parents and other teachers for the benefit of the students
- How to assess a student's learning progression
- How to create learning interventions with struggling students
- How to create and maintain a conducive learning environment for young minds
Prerequisites for Preschool and Kindergarten Teachers
If you want to go to school to become a preschool or kindergarten teacher, you can apply while you're in high school. Like any college or university, admissions can be competitive, so you'll need to work hard in your classes and prepare for your college entrance exams (the SAT or ACT) in order to have more choices as to where you'd like to earn your degree. It also doesn't hurt to take some child psychology classes in high school if your school offers them. Other than this, there are no other prerequisites for kindergarten teachers except, of course, you must love children and be willing to dedicate your time and energy to the journey ahead.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Teacher?
If you're interested in becoming a preschool or kindergarten teacher, you're probably eager to know how long it takes to achieve your dream. In most cases, if you attend college right after high school and stick to your studies, you can complete your course work in four years. Some students may even be able to complete it in three years if they take a heavier course load.
Remember that on top of all this you will also have to pass all the tests required by your state in order to apply for certification. Most students will take these certification tests while they are still in school, so they'll essentially be killing two birds with one stone. However, those who do not pass their certification tests by the time they graduate will need to spend the summer trying to pass it in time for the start of the school year. Many jobs – especially charter schools – will hire teachers who are already on the path toward certification but will likely only give you a year to earn it.