Preschool is often referred to as the most important grade. Early childhood education has become a topic of intense public interest in recent years, with everyone from the president to national advocacy groups touting the importance of high-quality preschool programs for the nation’s youngest learners. With more children being enrolled in preschool than ever before, the demand for qualified early childhood educators has never been greater.
Thanks to state and federally funded preschool programs, more children aged three to five have access to high-quality early childhood education than ever before. As of 2013, the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) reported a total enrollment of nearly 1.39 million children in state preschool programs. State funding for pre-k programs increased by more than $30 million in the 2012-13 school year, and 20 states increased their total enrollment during this time. To date, just 10 states do not have state-funded preschool programs in place.
- District of Columbia
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
Researching Career Options in Early Childhood Education
Preparing for a career in early childhood education is not as straightforward as it would be for a primary or secondary school teacher since different types of preschool programs can fall within the purview of different state regulatory agencies, from the state’s Board of Education to its Department of Public Health Human Services. Because preschool teachers may work in public and private programs, for school districts or federally funded programs, requirements for working as a pre-k teacher often differ from one employer to the next. What is universal, however, is that some type of education or training is required to serve as a preschool teacher, regardless of the setting.
Pre-k teachers most often work in the following settings:
- Public pre-k programs
- Childcare centers
- Family childcare homes
- Head Start programs
- In-home care
- Private preschool programs
Preschool teachers in public school settings are generally expected to hold a bachelor’s degree, while private preschool teachers or those found in childcare settings may only be required to have an associate’s degree in early childhood education.
In most public and private preschools, those designated as lead teacher, supervisor, or administrator are required to hold a bachelor’s or even a master’s degree in early childhood education or a closely related field.
The Child Development Associate (CDA) credential is also a typical requirement for teacher assistants in pre-k settings. The CDA credential requires, among other things, at least 120 hours of professional education and at least 480 hours of professional experience.
Earning a Degree in Early Childhood Education
Once a career route has been determined, the completion of a degree program in early childhood education is standard.
Degree programs in early childhood education may include:
- Associate of Arts (A.A.) in early childhood education
- Associate of Arts (A.A.) in early childhood development
- Associate of Science (A.S) in early childhood education
- Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in early childhood education
- Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in early childhood education
- Master of Science (M.S.) in early childhood education
- Master of Arts (M.A.) in early childhood education
- Post-baccalaureate (ECE certificate program) in early childhood education
- Master of Education (M.Ed.) in early childhood education
- Ph.D. in early childhood education
A typical undergraduate degree in early childhood education is designed to prepare students to apply their knowledge of early child development and best teaching practices in a variety of educational settings. As such, these programs teach students to employ research-based practices that will allow them work with children in their early education years.
Graduate degree programs in early childhood education focus on advanced principles in early childhood education. Curriculum in a master’s degree program is often focused on child psychology and the atypical learner. Learning theories with a focus on special education or supervisory skills are commonplace.
Pursuing State Licensure or Certification
Teaching preschool in a public school setting generally requires the completion of an educator preparation program, passing content-specific examinations, and meeting other state-specific requirements for initial licensure.
A state-approved teacher preparation program in early childhood education will result in a bachelor’s or master’s degree or post-baccalaureate certificate. Since state-approved teacher preparation programs satisfy all pedagogy course requirements and include a student teaching experience, they are the most streamlined approach to initial licensure. However, most states also have alternative teacher preparation programs for recent college graduates or career professionals.
Upon the completion of a teacher preparation program, candidates are usually required to successfully complete pedagogy and content examinations in early childhood education to demonstrate their knowledge of this field of instruction. Most state teacher licenses allow preschool teachers to teach young children from birth through age eight.
State licenses/certificates must be renewed regularly, and most states require the completion of professional development hours during each renewal period. It is typical for teachers in the public school setting and elsewhere to pursue a master’s degree in early childhood education to meet professional development requirements and advance in the profession.