We know just how important a child’s early years are to their overall development — which makes early childhood educators all the more critical. But that doesn’t scare you away—it inspires you. Never one to shy away, you’re looking to roll up your sleeves and dive in, making positive changes from the ground up.
So if you’re feeling the call of early childhood education (ECE), don’t neglect it. Embrace it. You know what you were born to do, but getting there can seem difficult, which is why we broke this down into five simple steps. Keep reading to learn how to become a pre-k teacher and turn your passion into a career.
5 steps to becoming a pre-k teacher
1. Gain childcare experience
You guessed it—if you want to launch a career as a pre-k teacher, you’d be wise to get some experience under your belt first. Gaining hands-on experience with young children in a classroom will also allow you to develop and enhance the qualities needed to work in ECE. Pre-K teachers need to be confident managing a class full of children, and nothing teaches this better than hands-on experience. They also need to have exemplary communication skills, stamina and creativity as well as an unparalleled level of patience—all things you’ll acquire with time in the classroom.
You’ve already mastered the basics by watching your younger siblings, so consider yourself primed to take it to the next level in a full-time setting. However, you will want to spend some time in an early childhood classroom before you take on the next steps. This will not only help you acquire valuable teaching experience, but also validate your feelings that this is the career you want to dedicate your life to.
2. Learn what your state requires for you to launch your career
The requirements to become a pre-k teacher will differ depending on where you live. State regulations vary from a high school diploma with certification to a college degree. While states may be split over requirements for pre-k teachers, they find agreement in two common credentials: the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential and the Certified Childcare Professional (CCP), both of which require passing an exam.
Requirements to become a pre-k teacher may also vary depending on the type of employer you are considering. For example, childcare centers tend to require high school diplomas and certifications, if not some postsecondary education. Head Start facilities, on the other hand, require educators to hold at least an associate degree, and half of their teachers must hold a bachelor’s degree. Preschool teachers in public schools must also have their bachelor’s degree in ECE or a related field.
3. Find a program that meets your needs
Once you’ve learned your state’s requirements for teaching ECE, it’s time to decide what steps you’ll take to obtain your education and certification. You have plenty of options, and in your search you’ll likely come across several early childhood education degrees across the associate, bachelor’s and master’s levels. Some may even bundle two degrees into one dual program.
When choosing a program, you’ll have many factors to keep in mind, such as time to completion, accreditation, reputation, program specialty or area of focus and your own professional goals. Do you aspire to be a head teacher or even a childcare center director? These outcomes are important to keep in mind when selecting a program, as each degree level will present you with different career opportunities.
4. Graduate and get certified
Once you’ve settled on a school and a program, you’ll need to transition back into student mode. Grab your backpack, hit the books and get ready to learn. You’ve got your work cut out for you before you toss that revered grad cap in the air.
ECE programs often cover a wide variety of subjects, including human growth and development, special education, early childhood literacy and language development. They generally also include a practicum for a real-life setting and application of all you’ve learned.
You’ll also likely need to become certified with your CDA or CCP credential following graduation as well. These credentials both require some coursework and passing a written exam, among other requirements. Becoming certified will demonstrate your commitment to the field and show employers you’re serious about your career as a pre-k teacher.
5. Find a job and become a pre-k teacher
It’s time to put all that learning to good use. With your coursework, graduation and certification behind you, celebrate your accomplishments, and then direct your efforts to the job search.
Refresh your resume with your newfound education and certifications and brush up on those interviewing skills. Dive in and dedicate yourself fully to the job search and all the while keep your eye on the prize. Remember, all of this work will soon prove its worth as you get the chance to put it into action—helping the children who inspired you in the first place.
Take the next step
Now that you know how to become a pre-k teacher, do you still think you have what it takes for a career in early childhood education? For a lifetime of molding the minds of future generations? For the challenges and joys of teaching?
Learn how we can help prepare you to carry out your mission in our article: 8 Things You Need to Know About Early Childhood Education Programs at Wheelock College.