Requirements for Early Childhood Education Jobs in Tennessee

Preschool teachers in Tennessee hold the important responsibility of preparing the state’s youth for success in grade school, and ultimately the real world. Numbers from the most recent census reveal there are 393,458 children under the age of five in Tennessee, with last year’s employment figures showing only 7,760 preschool teachers working in the state. This ratio of students to teachers is one of the most telling illustrations of the demand for preschool teachers across Tennessee.

The qualification requirements for preschool teachers vary according to the type of preschool program and employer. However there are basic benchmark requirements for each type of preschool, and there are also certain qualifications that are preferable in all preschools throughout the state. To become a preschool teacher in Tennessee, you will need to make your way through the following steps:

Meet The Qualifications to Become an Early Childhood Educator
Take and Pass the Required Exams
Maintain and Improve Your Early Educator Credentials



Step 1. Meet The Qualifications to Become an Early Childhood Educator

The types of early childhood education jobs in Tennessee can range from state-certified teachers in a public school classroom to preschool teachers who work in private daycare centers. Most types of preschool teachers are regulated by the state, as will be explained here for:

  • State-sponsored preschools
  • Tennessee Head Start programs
  • Childcare programs

State-Sponsored Preschools – To qualify to work as a preschool teacher in a state-sponsored preschool, you will need to earn a teaching license through the Tennessee Department of Education. This can be accomplished in several stages:

  • Complete at least a bachelor’s degree and educator preparation program in early childhood education
  • Pass all state-required tests
  • Submit an application for licensure with the Department of Education

Tennessee Head Start Programs – The national Head Start program has proven to be widely successful in Tennessee. Each year the Tennessee Head Start program serves more than 21,000 children and families, including nearly 12,000 four-year-olds and nearly 9,000 three-year-olds. For local Tennessee preschools to receive funding through Head Start, they must hire quality preschool teachers.

The national Head Start program requires half of all its teachers to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a closely related field. Tennessee’s Head Start early education programs show preference to candidates that have prior experience teaching preschoolers.

Childcare Programs – For a childcare program to receive a certificate of approval it must pass an inspection by the Department of Education. As part of the conditions for passing this inspection, preschool teachers – also referred to as directors – employed at these childcare programs must meet the following qualification requirements:

  • Have completed training in child abuse prevention
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Have earned a TECTA orientation certificate (Tennessee Early Childhood Training Alliance), or equivalent
  • Have at least four years of experience working with children

One of the most common non-degree preschool teacher certification requirements in Tennessee is the TECTA credential. Earning this will mean you have been introduced to the fundamentals of early childhood care and education. You can find TECTA training opportunities online.

Earning a Degree in Early Childhood Education

One of the best ways to prepare for a successful career as a preschool teacher is to earn a degree in early childhood education or a closely related field. While studying this subject at the associate’s level can be beneficial, a bachelor’s degree in this field is either preferred or required by many employers.

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Earning a degree in the area of early childhood education means you will study subjects such as:

  • Creating appropriate learning environments for early childhood education
  • Early childhood development in reading, language, and literacy
  • Diversity among children and families
  • Early childhood teaching methodology
  • Child and parent education
  • Child and family studies
  • Early childhood development and psychology
  • Professional responsibilities and ethics of an early childhood teacher

If you are completing a degree in early childhood education to become eligible for a teaching license from the Tennessee Department of Education, you will need to include an approved educator preparation program in early childhood education with your bachelor’s degree. This program will focus on pedagogy, culminating with a student teaching segment where you will translate your theoretical knowledge in early childhood education into practice.

If you already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject or want to further the depth of your knowledge in this field, you can earn a master’s degree such as an M.A.T., M.Ed. or MATL that concentrates on the field of early childhood education.



Step 2. Take and Pass the Required Exams

The tests you will need to pass to be eligible for Department of Education Licensure are all administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), and available at the following testing centers across the state:

    • Chattanooga
    • Clarksville
    • Jackson
    • Johnson City
    • Knoxville
    • Martin
    • McKenzie
    • Memphis
    • Murfreesboro
    • Nashville

The specific tests you will need to take are:

    • Core Academic Skills for Educators in reading, writing, and mathematics – these tests are required for admission to an educator preparation program and evaluate your basic knowledge in these three fields
    • Principles of Learning and Teaching: Early Childhood – this test evaluates your knowledge of pedagogical principles for early childhood learners
    • Education of Young Children – 150-minute test with 120 select-response and 3 constructed-response questions covering the areas of:
      • Childhood learning and development
      • Teaching knowledge
      • Documentation, observation, and assessment
      • Content knowledge and pedagogy
      • Developmentally appropriate practices
      • Family, professionalism, and community



  • Teaching Reading: Elementary Education – 150-minute test with 90 select-response and 3 constructed-response questions covering the topics of:
    • Diagnostic and assessment teaching of reading
    • Reading development
    • Phonetics, word analysis, and vocabulary development
    • Development of reading comprehension and fluency
    • Writing in support of reading



Step 3. Maintain and Improve Your Early Educator Credentials

The maintenance requirements for your preschool teaching credentials depend on what type you hold.

If you are a preschool teacher at a childcare center as previously detailed, you must obtain at least 18 hours of in-service training each year.

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If you are required to maintain a Department of Education-issued teaching license, you will need to complete 45 renewal points every five years. These can be earned by attending professional development activities or college courses that further your knowledge and understanding of what it means to be a preschool teacher. You are exempt from earning these renewal points if you have a master’s degree and complete a local performance evaluation with your employer.

No matter what kind of employment you are seeking as a Tennessee preschool teacher, you will always have the opportunity to improve on your professional qualifications. Be it to fulfill the renewal-points requirement or to improve teaching effectiveness, many preschool teachers choose to earn an M.A.T., M.Ed. or MATL that focuses on early childhood education. Doing this can open up additional employment opportunities and reinforce a solid foundation in this important subject area.

Preschool Resources in Tennessee

Whether you are a prospective preschool teacher exploring the options for your future career or an experienced educator, joining a professional organization can offer a number of benefits such as:

  • Up-to-date news and developments regarding preschool laws and regulations
  • Information about professional development events and activities
  • Networking and employment opportunities

Some of the most prominent professional organizations in the field of early childhood education in Tennessee include:

Ready to start your preschool teaching career with a bachelor’s degree in ECE or advance your career with a Master’s degree in ECE? Check out our comprehensive list of ECE degrees by State at various levels to determine what program is right for you.

Tennessee Preschool Teacher Salaries

The average preschool teacher salary in Tennessee was $27,259 in 2014, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Preschool teachers in the 25th percentile earned $18,140 a year on average while experienced teachers in the 75th percentile averaged $35,307.

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Tennessee preschool teacher salaries varied widely throughout the state. For instance, the average salary for preschool teachers in the 25th percentile was 61.4% higher than the state’s average in the Johnson City area:

25th Percentile Salary
75th Percentile Salary
Johnson City

The field of early childhood education is growing in Tennessee and throughout the country as educators and policy makers become increasingly aware of the benefits of preschool education. The state of Tennessee alone invested $86,552,900 in funding for Pre-K education in fiscal year 2014.

The demand for preschool teachers in Tennessee is projected to increase by 2.1% a year in the ten-year period leading up to 2018, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

More than 60% of the 7,760 Tennessee preschool teachers employed in 2014 were located in the Memphis and Nashville metropolitan areas:

Nashville 6%
Memphis 23%
Knoxville 9%
The Tennessee General Assembly increased its funding for early childhood education in 2005. This resulted in a 6.3 fold increase in the number of preschool classrooms between the 2004-05 school year and the 2013-14 school year. More than 18,000 children were enrolled in such programs in the 2013-14 school year.

The Bureaus of Labor Statistics provides a detailed breakdown of Tennessee’s early childhood education salaries by percentile and location as of 2013:

Area name
Annual mean wage
Chattanooga TN-GA
Clarksville TN-KY
Estimate not released
Cleveland TN
Jackson TN
Johnson City TN
Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol TN-VA
Knoxville TN
Memphis TN-MS-AR
Morristown TN
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin TN
Western Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
South Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
North Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area
Eastern Tennessee nonmetropolitan area

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