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How to become an early childhood education specialist

Early childhood education teachers are fundamental to the development of a healthy, well-adjusted population. These teaching professionals are formative in the shaping of the minds of young children, and their work continues to influence thoughts and behavior throughout entire lives. While it's not easy being tasked with imparting habits that will carry into adulthood, it's a privilege and a public service to be involved at such a crucial juncture in the growth of society. So how do people join the growing ranks of teachers and directors of child care organizations? Here's what you need to know if you are interested in working to become an early childhood education (ECE) specialist. 

When you're done learning about ECE career options, be sure to look at the top schools for early childhood education degrees

What skills do early childhood education teachers need?

Before you look into starting an early childhood education program, consider the qualities needed for ECE teachers. There are several important qualities that characterize successful early childhood education teachers:

  • Communication skills: The ability to collaborate with assistants and special education teachers and to relay needs to parents and administrators is crucial.
  • Creativity: A knack for planning engaging lessons while adapting to different learning styles of young children.
  • Patience: The capacity to work with a variety of personalities, backgrounds, abilities and learning styles — all at once.
  • Organizational skills: With many moving pieces involved in a classroom and child care in general, it's critical for teachers to have organized classrooms and an organized approach to their teaching methods.

How to become a preschool teacher

One possible career path for an early childhood education specialist is to become a preschool teacher. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that this career will grow 10 percent nationally between 2017 and 2027, which is faster than the average for all jobs in the U.S.

On average, preschool teachers make $33,590 yearly, with the states that pay teachers the most typically being New York, New Jersey, D.C., Nebraska, and Connecticut, according to the BLS.

Education

You'll need to start with a degree or education before focusing on licensure. The minimum educational requirements for this job vary by the type of institution:

  • To be a preschool teacher at a child care center typically require a high school diploma and certification in early childhood education.
  • The Head Start program requires an associate degree.
  • Public schools typically require a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related specialization; private schools may require the same or slightly different qualifications and/or work experience.

Certification or Licensure

Once you've earned the degree, you typically have to earn your teaching license or get certification if it wasn't covered in your degree program. There are several nationally recognized certifications that can prepare early childhood education specialists for their careers. Be sure to check with the accrediting agencies for the most recent requirements, and check with any prospective employer about which certifications are preferred:

  • Child Development Associate (CDA), acertificate from the Council for Professional Recognition
  • Child Care Professional (CCP), a designation from the National Early Childhood Program Accreditation

The requirements for licenses vary by state, but they usually involve a bachelor's degree, the completion of an exam, a certain number of teaching hours, and continuing education credits throughout one's career.

How to become a kindergarten teacher

Working with young children in a kindergarten classroom can be rewarding as you prep students for their foray into more structured classroom environments. Consider this if you want to become a kindergarten teacher: Kindergarten teaching positions are expected to increase from 2017 to 2027 by 7 percent, according to the BLS, which is about as fast as the average for all U.S. occupations.

On average and as of 2017, kindergarten teachers make around $57,110 annually. As of 2017, the states that pay their teachers the most are New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon and Alaska.

Education

While the educational requirements for kindergarten teachers can vary by state, a bachelor's degree is usually a minimum requirement to teach at public schools. Private schools may have more or less flexibility when it comes to minimum education requirements. In general, many requirements are the same as those to become a preschool teacher. 

Certification or Licensure

Additionally, the completion of a teacher preparation program for licensing is often required regardless of the type of school you may work at as a teacher. The details can vary state by state but expect to need a certain amount of hours with hands-on teaching experience, and know that you will likely have to regularly update your certification. It also doesn't hurt to expect to refresh your own education during the course of your teaching career.

Another option to consider: Become a child care center director

Another career path for a childhood education specialist is to become a preschool and child care center director, which the BLS also projects to have faster-than-average growth of 11 percent between 2016 and 2026. This position entails a number of responsibilities, including:

  • Directing and leading staff in the care of children, often with a teaching angle
  • Overseeing daily activities
  • Preparing teacher lesson plans and office budgets
  • Maintaining all aspects of the center's program

Similar to becoming a preschool or kindergarten teacher, the prerequisites vary by state, but a background check, proof of immunizations and a child care certification (CDA or CCP) are normally additional minimum requirements to work as a child care director.

The visual below explores these career options for aspiring early childhood education teachers and specialists, including more detailed salary information. When you've finished exploring ECE teacher careers, you can read about becoming an elementary school teacher for more insight into the world of education careers, and check out the best colleges for child development degree programs.

Sources: 
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher, accessed May 2018, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252012.htm#st
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Preschool Teacher, accessed May 2018, http://www.bls.gove/oes/current/oes252011.htm#st
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program, accessed May 2018, https://www.bls.gov/emp/home.htm 

how to become an ECE teacher
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