Montana has been in an ongoing process of assessing and strengthening its statewide supports and programs for early childhood education since at least 2014. An initiative with the appropriate title of Strengthening Montana’s Early Childhood System Project is focused on developing a comprehensive system that attends to early childhood health, learning, and development.
That program has been gaining momentum in recent years and received a shot in the arm in 2019 with a $4.2 million Preschool Development Birth through Five (PDG B-5) grant. The grant came from the Administration for Children and Families with the goal of further engineering an early childhood system that works to the benefit of all families in Montana. The Early Childhood Services Bureau is administering the grant and will use it to engage early childhood educators in professional development and improve the overall quality and access to ECE programs and providers.
That’s a boon to early childhood administrators and educators in the state. Becoming a preschool teacher here has always been more straightforward than in many surrounding jurisdictions, but it’s also come without much support. Now, the dedication you put into preparing and equipping yourself for early childhood education will be matched by state-backed programs. One of these programs that has proven successful is the Best Beginnings STARS to Quality, a continuous quality improvement program that rates participating preschools across the state.
Here you will find the steps to become a preschool teacher in one of Montana’s private preschools, day care centers, family homes or Head Start programs:
|Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education|
|Register for the Montana Early Childhood Project|
|Consider Advanced Credentials in Early Childhood Education|
Step 1. Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education
Montana’s Department of Education doesn’t license Pre-K teachers and imposes no direct educational requirements, though the state does regulate childcare centers.
Requirements for state-regulated facilities vary according to the type and size of the facility. For example, teachers or primary caregivers at a Montana childcare facility (defined as a facility that cares for and educates 13 or more children) must have:
- Two years experience in a licensed or registered child care facility, Head Start or another recognized preschool program
- The CDA credential
- An Associate or Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field
Preschool teachers must also have 8 hours of annual approved early childhood training, plus CPR and First Aid training.
Many day care centers and preschool programs, including Head Start, require teachers to hold at least an associate’s degree in early childhood education or a comparable area, although a bachelor’s degree is often preferred. A bachelor’s will also help you qualify if you want to apply for a job as the director of a childcare center.
This area of study will prepare you to work with children ranging in age from birth to eight years old. You will have both classroom classes in general education, core and elective courses, plus hands-on lab instruction. Generally speaking, you will have to maintain an average of C or above in core courses, and an average of B- or above in specialty courses, to stay in the program.
Sample courses might include:
- Early Childhood Curriculum
- Meeting Needs of Families
- Computer Literacy
You may also choose to earn a nationally-recognized credential, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The CDA may also help you qualify for childcare center director jobs, and is recognized by the state as an alternative to the bachelor’s degree credential.
Step 2. Register for the Montana Early Childhood Project
Montana does not have a traditional path to certification for Pre-K teachers; however, the Montana Early Childhood Project has established standardized levels of expertise and a voluntary certification program for Pre-K teachers who become part of the registry. This voluntary certification can help you qualify for Professional Development Incentive awards that the group offers. It may also help you achieve career advancement, since the certification will establish that you have a well-defined, standardized level of expertise.
The Montana Early Childhood Project identifies 10 levels of teacher expertise, each representing specific kinds of training and work experience. Levels 4 through 8 require college credits or degrees for further advancement. The Early Childhood-relevant credits or degrees must be from regionally accredited colleges or universities, and you must have passed or graduated with a grade of “C” or better. The Montana Early Childhood Project recognizes the CDA credential, as well as National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) accreditation, when determining levels of teacher expertise.
When you apply to the Montana Early Childhood Project registry, your training and work experience will be assessed, and you will be assigned a relevant level of expertise on the 10-level scale. To move up to the next level, you will have to complete the additional educational and/or work experience requirements for the new level.
Upon completion, you will submit all required documentation, such as employment verification and school transcripts, to the Montana Early Childhood Project for voluntary certification. Certification is valid for one year; there is an initial application fee of $25, and a yearly renewal fee of $10.
The organization requires 23 hours of approved ongoing training for annual renewal, except at the entry level, which requires 8 hours of annual training.
Step 3. Consider Advanced Credentials in Early Childhood Education
You may choose to pursue a master’s degree in early childhood education at one of Montana’s accredited schools. A master’s degree or its equivalent meets all requirements for the higher levels of certification with the Montana Early Childhood Project, and is often required for more advanced employment positions in childcare facility administration.
A Permissive Special Competency is also available for Elementary Education students who wish to acquire Pre-K teaching skills, and for teachers who already have an Elementary Education teaching license in Montana. For students, the path to Permissive Special Competency starts by embarking on a four-year bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, with a 20-credit focus on Early Education courses.
Licensed Elementary-level teachers take only the Early Education course of study to earn the Permissive Special Competency. Licensed teachers can satisfy continuing education requirements for license renewal with this special competency, and both students and teachers can use it to display special teaching qualifications at the Pre-K level.
Montana Preschool Teacher Salaries
Montana preschool teachers can expect a 9.6 percent growth rate between 2016 and 2026 according to the state Department of Labor and Industry, creating 120 openings each year through attrition and new job creation. Preschool administrators will see a 5.6 percent increase through the same period.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2018, those professions could expect salaries within the following ranges (median, top 25%, and top 10%):
Preschool Administrators: $37,180 – $44,330 – $60,930
Preschool Teacher: $29,660 – $36,470 – $41,690
The additional grant money coming in from the PDG B-5 grant and other sources may impact those numbers over time. It’s also important to look at the specific area where you plan to work. We’ve found some of the largest employers in some of the major urban centers in the state and listed them below, together with the specific salary data for the region.
Missoula is one of the few places in the country where preschool teachers themselves can earn more at the highest levels of the profession than even administrators can.
- Missoula County Public Schools
- Snuggle Bunnies Preschool
- Origins Education Preschool
- Missoula Head Start
- Missoula Parent Co-op/Kid Central
- Missoula Early Learning Center
- Sunflower Montessori School
Schools and learning centers in Missoula offer preschool teachers and administrators salaries that fall within these ranges:
- Median – $35,950
- 75th Percentile – $38,270
- 90th Percentile – $39,690
- Median – $27,480
- 75th Percentile – $30,320
- 90th Percentile – $68,830
These are some of the major preschool employers in the Great Falls area:
- Great Falls Public Schools
- TLC Center
- Lea Ahead Learning Center
- Little Learners Academy
- Opportunities Head Start
In Great Falls, preschool teachers can expect to earn salaries within this range:
- Median – $19,870
- 75th Percentile – $23,940
- 90th Percentile – $29,610
Although Billings has fewer teachers and fewer preschool employers than Great Falls, the pay rates here are higher at every level.
- Buyske Full Care Preschool
- Young Families Early Head Start
- Bright Little Stars
- Explorers Academy
- Kid Kountry Child Development Center
The salary range in this area looks like this:
- Median – $28,730
- 75th Percentile – $35,010
- 90th Percentile – $38,570
Salary and employment data compiled by the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics in May of 2018 for preschool teachers, preschool special education teachers and preschool administrators – https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_mt.htm#11-9111. The BLS salary data shown here represents median – 90th percentile salary ranges for the state and its MSAs (Metropolitan Statistical Areas) and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries.
Job growth projections sourced from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry and published in the U.S. Department of Labor-funded Long Term Occupational Projections (2016-2026) database – https://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm. Employment conditions in your area may vary.
All salary and job growth data accessed in September 2019.