Requirements for Early Childhood Education Jobs in Washington

There is currently a shortage of preschool teachers in Washington and the demand is only expected to rise. This is evidenced by the fact that, as of 2014, there was only one preschool teacher for every 59 children of preschool age in the state.

A total of 7,220 preschool teachers were found working in Washington state as of 2014, with the majority of them working in the following areas:

  • 4,460 in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area
  • 4,060 in the Vancouver-Portland-Hillsboro area
  • 3,980 in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett area
  • 430 in Spokane
  • 350 in Yakima
  • 210 in the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland Tri-Cities area
  • 210 in Bellingham
  • 140 in Olympia
  • 120 in Longview
  • 100 in the Mount Vernon-Anacortes area
  • 80 in Lewiston

The Washington Department of Early Learning recognizes the need to foster the growth and development of preschool students, and ensures that only the most qualified teachers are allowed to work in pre-k classrooms.

Review these steps to learn how to become a preschool teacher in Washington:

Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education
Maintain and Improve Your Preschool Teacher Qualifications
Seek Employment with Washington State Preschools


Step 1. Earn a Degree in Early Childhood Education

In Washington, preschools themselves are licensed, not individual teachers or directors. However in order to be licensed, a preschool must employ preschool teachers that meet the minimum requirements as specified by law.

There are several positions for preschool educators regulated under Washington State law by the Washington State Department of Early Learning, formerly known as the Department of Social and Health Services. These positions and their minimum requirements are:

Preschool Director minimum requirements:

    • Have written proof of completion of early childhood education in the form of one of the following:
      • A current and valid Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate
      • At least 10 college credits (quarter system) in early childhood education if your preschool educates 12 preschoolers or fewer. If your preschool educates 25 or more preschoolers, you must complete at least 45 college credits.
  • Be at least 21 years of age
  • Have at least two years of experience working with preschoolers
  • Sign up with the Department of Early Learning’s MERIT registry

Lead Preschool Teacher, also referred to as Preschool Teacher, minimum requirements:

    • Have documented proof of one of the following:
      • Child development education (associate’s degree at minimum)
      • Child development work experience
      • Complete the state’s STARS basic course within six months of being hired
  • Be at least 18 years of age
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Sign up with the MERIT registry

Preschool Assistant or Aid minimum requirements:

  • Be at least 16 years of age
  • Be willing to always work under direct supervision

Earning a Bachelor’s Degree

One of the most effective ways to meet qualifications for preschool teacher jobs in Washington is to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education. This exceeds the minimum qualifications for state licensure, yet many private preschools in Washington require teachers to hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum.

A bachelor’s degree in early childhood education will include the following courses:

  • Child psychology and learning
  • Learning and teaching in a multicultural and technological world
  • Teaching exceptional children
  • Family and community influence on early childhood education
  • Early childhood curriculum development
  • Child observation and assessment
  • Early childhood and family studies research
  • Social organization and policy relating to early childhood development
  • Preschool volunteer, student teaching, practicum, or service learning experience

You can find colleges, universities, and online education programs available to Washington residents throughout the state. These educational institutions can provide you with more specific details about their own early childhood education and development programs.

Washington Head Start Program

Washington State Head Start is part of a national preschool program aimed at improving the academic performance of children whose families fall below the poverty line. It has proven to be very successful, with 20,526 students participating in Washington Head Start programs last year. One of the ways the Head Start program achieves its goal is through providing a high quality of education by hiring the most qualified preschool teachers.

The Head Start program routinely specifies the minimum requirement of a bachelor’s degree in a field related to early childhood education, or an associate’s degree in early childhood education.



Step 2. Maintain and Improve Your Preschool Teacher Qualifications

MERIT (Managed Education and Registry Information Tool), formerly administered as STARS (State Training and Registry System), is the Department of Early Learning’s required training and registration program. It also offers a variety of resources for early childhood educators, including professional development and educational courses. All preschool directors and preschool teachers must register with MERIT and complete one of the following within six months of being hired:

  • An associate’s degree in early childhood education or early childhood development
  • A Child Development Associate (CDA) Certificate, or if you already have this, 12 additional college credits in early childhood education or early childhood development
  • Either 20 clock hours or two college credits approved by MERIT

Washington law additionally requires preschool directors and preschool teachers to complete at least 10 hours of MERIT training every year, which may also be earned by completing one college credit. Directors must have a portion of their training be related to administration and program management. This continuing education must be approved by the state, such as that which is linked to through the MERIT system.

Altogether, you can accomplish the following through MERIT:

  • Submit your background check information for hire
  • Find approved training courses and opportunities
  • Plan your preschool career pathway and maintain a record of your trainings and qualifications
  • Create an online profile for your own preschool

One recognized way of both fulfilling your continuing education requirements and improving your professional qualifications is earning a master’s degree such as an M.A.T., M.Ed. or MATL with a concentration in early childhood development or a related field. This will improve your foundational knowledge as well as expertise in the field of early childhood education, making you a more competent and effective preschool teacher.



Step 3. Seek Employment with Washington State Preschools

When seeking employment as a preschool teacher, it may be helpful to consider the required student-to-teacher ratios in preschool classrooms. Preschools with students between 30 months of age and six years of age must have a total staff-to-student ratio of 1:10, with a maximum classroom size of 20 students.

As you continue to explore the field of early childhood education and what it means to be a preschool teacher in Washington, you may want to consider joining one of the state’s professional organizations. These associations can provide you with valuable resources for employment, legislative news or updates, continuing education events, and professional networking opportunities. These associations include:

  • Washington State Association of Head Start & ECEAP – the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECAP) was created in 1985 to supplement the state’s Head Start program, which was then only able to reach less than half of eligible children. Today the combination of these programs ensures that young children are getting the education they deserve. This association accomplishes in part by linking preschool educators with valuable teaching resources.
  • Early Childhood Development Association of Washington – this association focuses on quality services and programs for children with developmental disabilities. It does this by promoting education, communication, and providing information regarding early childhood development while also supporting existing early childhood education programs.
  • South Sound Association for the Education of Young Children (SSAEYC) – this is an association of early childhood professionals who range from preschool teachers, Head Start teachers, and child care providers from the counties of Thurston, Mason, Grays Harbor, and Lewis. One of the ways this organization helps preschool educators is by providing them with scholarships to obtain early childhood education.
  • Washington State Indian Education Association – an organization whose mission is to further educational excellence for Native American students by influencing education policy and implementation at the local, state, and national levels.
  • Washington Association of Educational Services Districts (AESD) – this agency works to facilitate communication between educational service districts throughout the state and country in order to improve the overall educational system. This information includes effective early childhood education staff training, networking, and technology integration.

Washington Preschool Teacher Salaries

The 2014 average preschool teacher salary in Washington was $28,410 a year according to the Washington State Employment Security Department.

Early childhood teachers in the 25th percentile averaged $22,672 annually, while experienced teachers in the 75th percentile earned $32,302 a year on average.

Washington early education salaries varied between metropolitan areas with the average salary being highest in the Yakima region:

Washington City
25th Percentile Salary
75th Percentile Salary
Mount Vernon

The field of preschool teaching is considered to be an in-demand job in Washington state as a whole, as well as in all of its individual counties, according to the state’s Employment Security Department. The Department expects the need for preschool teachers to grow by 1.9% a year in the five year period leading up to 2017. This is greater than the rate predicted for the U.S. as a whole.

381 jobs a year are expected to become available on average each year during this time frame. 40.9% of them are expected to come from growth, while the rest will come from the need to replace teachers leaving the workforce.

55.2% of the 7,220 preschool teachers employed in Washington in 2014 were located in the Seattle area. 6.6% were in Tacoma, while 5.9% were in Spokane.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a detailed breakdown by percentile of 2013 Washington early childhood education teacher salaries throughout the state:

Area name
Annual mean wage
Bellingham WA
Bremerton-Silverdale WA
Kennewick-Pasco-Richland WA
Lewiston ID-WA
Longview WA
Mount Vernon-Anacortes WA
Olympia WA
Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro OR-WA
Seattle-Bellevue-Everett WA Metropolitan Division
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue WA
Spokane WA
Tacoma WA Metropolitan Division
Wenatchee-East Wenatchee WA
Estiamte not released
Yakima WA
Northwestern Washington nonmetropolitan area
Southwestern Washington nonmetropolitan area
Central Washington nonmetropolitan area
Eastern Washington nonmetropolitan area

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