CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a preschool teacher.

Step 1

Is becoming a preschool teacher right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do preschool teachers do?
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Are preschool teachers happy with their careers?
What are preschool teachers like?

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Step 2

High School

High school students interested in becoming preschool teachers can take several courses that provide a solid foundation in early childhood education and related subjects. Here are some suggested high school courses that can benefit aspiring preschool teachers:

  • Child Development: A course in child development provides an understanding of the physical, cognitive, social, and emotional development of children from infancy through early childhood. It covers topics such as milestones, theories of development, and factors influencing growth.
  • Psychology: Psychology courses provide insights into human behavior and learning. Understanding psychological principles can help future preschool teachers better comprehend children's emotions, behavior, and cognitive processes.
  • Education or Teaching Foundations: Courses in education or teaching foundations introduce students to the fundamentals of teaching, including learning theories, instructional strategies, classroom management, and assessment techniques. These courses provide a glimpse into the teaching profession and the skills required to work with diverse learners.
  • English and Communication: Strong communication skills are vital for preschool teachers. English courses focus on reading comprehension, writing, and verbal communication, helping students develop effective communication skills necessary for interacting with children, parents, and colleagues.
  • Art and Music: Art and music courses can foster creativity and help students develop skills in using art and music as educational tools. Preschool teachers often incorporate art and music activities into their lesson plans to enhance children's creativity and self-expression.
  • Health and Nutrition: Courses in health and nutrition provide knowledge about promoting a healthy lifestyle, proper nutrition, and child wellness. Understanding the importance of nutrition and maintaining a healthy environment is essential for the well-being of preschoolers.
  • Foreign Language: Learning a foreign language can be beneficial for preschool teachers, especially in diverse communities where bilingualism is common. It can enhance communication with children and families from different cultural backgrounds.
  • Special Education or Inclusion: Taking a course in special education or inclusion can help students understand the needs of children with disabilities and diverse learning abilities. It provides insights into inclusive practices, accommodations, and strategies to support the learning and development of all children.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

To become a preschool teacher, individuals typically need to follow a series of formal education steps. Here is a general outline of the common educational requirements:

  • Pursue an Associate Degree: Many preschool teaching positions require at least an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Education or a related field. Associate degree programs typically take two years to complete and provide foundational knowledge in child development, curriculum planning, classroom management, and assessment.
  • Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education: While an associate degree may be sufficient for some positions, a Bachelor's Degree in Early Childhood Education or a related field is increasingly becoming the preferred qualification for preschool teachers. A bachelor's program usually takes four years to complete and provides more in-depth knowledge in areas such as child psychology, curriculum design, literacy instruction, and classroom leadership.
  • Complete a Teacher Preparation Program: Many states require preschool teachers to complete a teacher preparation program approved by the state's Department of Education. These programs provide additional coursework and practical experiences specific to teaching in early childhood settings. They often include supervised teaching or practicum hours in preschool classrooms.
  • Obtain State Certification or Licensure: Most states require preschool teachers to obtain certification or licensure to work in public schools or receive certain benefits and recognition. The specific certification requirements vary by state, but they typically involve completing the necessary education, passing a background check, and passing a state-approved certification exam.
  • Continued Professional Development: Preschool teachers are encouraged to engage in ongoing professional development to stay updated with the latest research, teaching practices, and educational policies. This may involve attending workshops, conferences, or pursuing advanced degrees, such as a master's degree in early childhood education or a related field.

Specific requirements for preschool teachers may vary by state and employer. Some private preschools or childcare centers may have different educational requirements or accept a combination of education and relevant experience. Checking with the specific state's Department of Education or the hiring institution can provide the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the requirements for becoming a preschool teacher in that particular area.

Step 4

Licensure and Certification

Licensure and certification requirements can vary significantly between states. Some states may have multiple pathways or alternative certification options for individuals with a bachelor's degree in a related field who want to become preschool teachers. Additionally, private preschools or childcare centers may have their own specific requirements or prefer certifications such as the CDA credential.

To determine the specific licensure or certification requirements in a particular state, aspiring preschool teachers should consult the state's Department of Education or the licensing board responsible for early childhood education. They can provide detailed information about the requirements, application procedures, and any additional steps needed to obtain the necessary credentials to work as a preschool teacher in that state.

Here is an overview of the common types of licensure and certification for preschool teachers:

  • Child Development Associate (CDA) Credential: The CDA credential is a widely recognized certification in early childhood education. It is offered by the Council for Professional Recognition and demonstrates that an individual has met competency standards in the field. The CDA credential requires a combination of coursework, practical experience, and a portfolio review.
  • State Teacher Certification: Many states offer specific teacher certification for preschool teachers. This certification typically requires completing an approved teacher preparation program, which includes coursework and supervised teaching experiences in early childhood education. State certification may also involve passing required exams, such as a basic skills test or a subject-specific assessment.
  • Early Childhood Education Certification: Some states offer specialized certifications in early childhood education that focus specifically on preschool-age children. These certifications may have specific coursework requirements, including topics like child development, curriculum planning, assessment, and working with diverse populations.
  • Teaching License: In some states, preschool teachers may need to obtain a teaching license to work in public school settings. Teaching licenses are typically issued by the state's Department of Education and require completion of a teacher preparation program, passing required exams, and meeting other state-specific requirements.
  • Montessori Certification: Montessori schools follow a unique educational approach, and teachers in Montessori preschools may need Montessori certification. Montessori certification programs are offered by various Montessori organizations and typically involve coursework and practical training in the Montessori philosophy and methodology.
Step 5

Helpful Resources

Preschool teachers can benefit from a variety of helpful resources to enhance their teaching practices, gain inspiration, and access valuable educational materials. Here are some useful resources for preschool teachers:

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): NAEYC is a professional organization dedicated to promoting high-quality early childhood education. They offer resources, research articles, and publications related to early childhood development, curriculum, and teaching practices. NAEYC also provides professional development opportunities, conferences, and networking events for preschool teachers.
  • Teaching Strategies: Teaching Strategies is a company that offers comprehensive resources and tools for early childhood educators. Their resources include curriculum guides, assessment frameworks, lesson plans, and online platforms that support curriculum planning, individualized instruction, and family engagement.
  • Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center (ECLKC): ECLKC is an online platform provided by the Office of Head Start, which offers a wealth of resources specifically designed for early childhood educators working in Head Start and Early Head Start programs. It provides access to research-based curriculum materials, professional development resources, webinars, and other tools to support effective teaching and program administration.
  • PBS LearningMedia: PBS LearningMedia offers a collection of free digital educational resources for preschool teachers. Their library includes videos, interactive activities, lesson plans, and games that cover various subject areas and align with early learning standards. Teachers can search and filter resources by age, subject, and learning objectives.
  • ReadWriteThink: ReadWriteThink, a project of the International Literacy Association (ILA), provides lesson plans, activities, and interactive tools for promoting literacy skills in preschoolers. Their resources focus on reading, writing, and critical thinking, and can be easily integrated into early childhood classrooms.
  • Zero to Three: Zero to Three is an organization dedicated to promoting the healthy development of infants and toddlers. They offer resources and information on topics such as early brain development, social-emotional development, and supporting children with special needs. Their resources can provide valuable insights and strategies for preschool teachers working with the youngest learners.
  • Local Professional Associations and Networks: Connecting with local early childhood education associations and networks can be a valuable resource for preschool teachers. These organizations often offer workshops, conferences, and networking opportunities to exchange ideas and stay updated with the latest trends and research in the field.
Step 6

Employment Opportunities

Preschool teachers have a range of employment opportunities in various settings that cater to the early education and care of young children. Here are some common employment options for preschool teachers:

  • Public and Private Preschools: Public and private preschools are dedicated educational institutions that provide early childhood education to children typically aged 3 to 5. These schools often follow established curriculum frameworks and may require teachers to hold a state teaching license or certification.
  • Head Start and Early Head Start Programs: Head Start and Early Head Start are federally funded programs that provide comprehensive early childhood education, health, nutrition, and family support services to low-income families. Teachers in these programs work with children from birth to age 5, focusing on promoting school readiness and holistic development.
  • Childcare Centers and Nursery Schools: Childcare centers and nursery schools offer full-time or part-time care and education for young children, typically from infancy through preschool age. Preschool teachers in these settings create age-appropriate curricula and provide a nurturing and stimulating environment for children's growth and development.
  • Montessori Schools: Montessori schools follow the Montessori educational approach, emphasizing self-directed learning, hands-on activities, and mixed-age classrooms. Preschool teachers in Montessori schools facilitate learning experiences, guide children's exploration, and support their independence and self-discipline.
  • Religious or Faith-Based Preschools: Religious or faith-based preschools often integrate religious teachings and values into their educational programs. Preschool teachers in these settings deliver a combination of academic and religious instruction while promoting the spiritual and moral development of children.
  • Corporate or Workplace Childcare Centers: Many companies and organizations provide on-site childcare centers for their employees' children. Preschool teachers in these settings create educational programs that align with the organization's mission and values while offering convenient childcare services to employees.
  • Community or Nonprofit Organizations: Community centers, nonprofits, and organizations focused on early childhood education may offer preschool programs. These programs often serve specific communities or populations and may have a particular emphasis, such as bilingual education, special needs inclusion, or serving underserved populations.
  • Home-Based Preschools: Some preschool teachers choose to operate their own home-based preschools. These teachers create a small-scale, home-like learning environment and typically work with a small group of children. Licensing and regulations for home-based preschools vary by state and locality.