Early Childhood Education Careers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were 438,200 preschool teachers in the U.S. in 2012. By 2022 this number is expected to grow to 514,600, an increase of 17 percent. The growth in the number of preschool teacher jobs in the U.S. is due, in part, to an increase in funding for federally sponsored preschool programs, as well as an increase in the implementation and expansion of state-funded preschool programs.


The Job Duties of Today’s Early Childhood Educators

Early childhood education jobs involve providing safe and developmentally appropriate programs that are aligned with all relevant federal and state initiatives. Early childhood educators are responsible for planning and implementing these programs, which may involve:

  • Adapting daily routines to meet the interest and needs of the individual child and the group
  • Developing activities that promote literacy and math concepts
  • Ensuring that the facility and all equipment is clean, well-maintained, and safe
  • Establishing policies and procedures, including disciplinary policies
  • Maintaining and scheduling weekly and monthly activities
  • Participating in on-going in-service and education development opportunities, and participating in the ongoing development and evaluation of the program’s goals and objectives
  • Planning and implementing activities that meet the physical, intellectual, emotional and social needs of their students
  • Providing a classroom environment that encourages parent participation
  • Providing adequate equipment and activities

The main activities of preschool teachers, whether in a private, public, federally funded, or nonprofit preschool setting, include:

  • Building children’s self-esteem through positive guidance and nurturing
  • Communicating with parents and discussing their children’s development
  • Ensuring that all children are supervised at all times
  • Establishing routines
  • Implementing positive discipline
  • Integrating special needs children in a positive and respectful manner
  • Observing children and making notes of progress and development
  • Promoting literacy and early education
  • Providing a safe and secure environment where children feel comfortable
  • Providing age-appropriate experiences and activities for children, including storytelling, games, and songs


Qualifying for Early Childhood Educator Jobs

Given the increased attention being placed on high-quality preschool programs; program administrators, school districts, and federal programs, such as Head Start, are finding significant value in hiring and retaining preschool teachers who possess bachelor’s degrees in early education and specialized training in teaching preschool (pre-k). In fact, of the 53 state-funded preschool programs that span 40 states, 30 programs require lead teachers to possess a bachelor’s, and 45 require lead teachers to possess specialized training in pre-k.

Further, many federal programs, such as Head Start, are now strongly requiring at least 50 percent of the teaching staff in any Head Start program to possess a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.

Preschool teachers in public schools must be state licensed and possess a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education (earned through a teacher preparation program). Given this fact, it becomes clear that the standard degree requirement for preschool teacher jobs in the U.S. has become a bachelor’s degree.

Further, many preschool teachers are now pursuing advanced degrees in the field, particularly for state licensing purposes or to achieve administrator jobs in the field of early childhood education.

Assistant preschool teachers are often required to possess an associate’s degree in early childhood development and/or a nationally recognized teaching credential, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential through the Council for Professional Recognition. The CDA credential requires the completion of at least 120 hours of professional education, at least 480 hours of professional experience, and the completion of a professional portfolio.

The Skills, Knowledge and Abilities Required of Early Childhood Educators

Beyond a degree in early childhood education, preschool teacher jobs require specific skills and attitudes that allow these teachers to provide only the highest quality teaching and childcare programs, such as:

  • Analytical and problem solving skills
  • Decision making skills
  • Effective verbal and communication skills
  • Knowledge in child development and early education theories and practices
  • Knowledge of relevant legislation, policies, and procedures
  • Knowledge of safe and appropriate activities for preschool children
  • Supervisory skills
  • Team building skills
  • Time management skills

These early childhood education professionals must also be able to demonstrate:

  • Compassion
  • Consistency and fairness
  • Cultural awareness and sensitivity
  • Flexibility
  • Respectfulness


Early Childhood Educator Resources

Resources abound for individuals seeking a career in early childhood education:

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