How to Become a Preschool Teacher

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book. Unknown

Preschool is one of the only environments in school where the focus is on play and creativity, rather than intense curricular standards. Preschool teachers use playtime and story time to teach problem-solving skills, encourage social development, and hone fine motor skills.

Qualities of a Preschool Teacher

Preschool teachers need to love children, be patient, and have a nurturing personality. Their main goal is to participate in a child's growth and development, learn to understand and help their students, and to use a child's natural curiosity to develop a learning plan that is developmentally appropriate. Preschool teachers need to create an atmosphere where risks can be taken and discoveries can be made all while maintaining a child safe environment.

Job Growth

Employment of preschool teachers has been expected to grow 17 percent between 2012 to 2022. This expected growth is due in part to the continued emphasis on the importance of early childhood education. In addition, there has been a increasing population of children between ages 3 to 5.

What are the Requirements for Teaching Preschool?

The education and training requirements for preschool teachers will vary from state to state. At the minimum, most preschool teachers will be required to earn certification in first aid and child CPR as well as be able to pass a background check.

Child Development Association (CDA)

Some states require certification through (Child Development Association), if the prospective teacher has not finished their college degree.

The Child Development Associate (CDA) requires prospective preschool teachers to complete specific coursework related to early childhood education as well as relevant experience in the field. Teachers who do not have a college degree or teachers who have a degree in a field other than early childhood education can consider going this route.

Degree Requirements for Preschool Teachers

Head Start preschool programs and public schools require their preschool teachers to have a minimum of an Associate's Degree. Head Start programs must have 50% of their teachers hold at minimum a Bachelor's Degree. As with public schools, preschool teachers should hold at least a Bachelor's Degree. However, requirements for private preschools may vary. Often times, as Associate's Degree or merely experience will suffice.

When completing a degree in Early Childhood Education, the prospective preschool teacher will take classes related to behavior assessment, classroom management, teaching methods, educational psychology, and methods on reading instruction. Most education programs will require teaching experiences where the students will work directly in a classroom.

Prospective preschool teachers will be required to take and pass all classes related to their preschool certification and Associate's Degree.

Many Preschool Teachers earn a degree in Early Childhood Education and Child Development.

Preschool Teacher by Degree Level

The tables and charts below break down the education level obtained as averaged across the U.S.

Degree LevelPercent (%)
Less Than High School Diploma2.0%
High School Diploma13.2%
Some College23.8%
Associate Degree13.7%
Bachelors Degree33.9%
Masters Degree12.7%
Doctorate Degree0.7%

Data taken from BLS Educational attainment for workers 25 years and older by detailed occupation, 2010-11 (http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_111.htm)

Who Will My Students Be?

Preschool teachers, or Pre-K teachers, educate and care for children between the ages of three and five years old. These are children who are not old enough to enter kindergarten. Working with children in this age group can be very tiring but tremendously rewarding. Typical preschool students tend to be quite active and some may have difficulty communicating their needs effectively.

What Does A Preschool Teacher Do?

Preschool teachers are responsible for the care and education of children between the ages of three and five.

Curriculum

Their curriculum is focused on a child's conceptual understanding of fundamental education through play and hands on experiences. Preschool teachers educate their students by utilizing a child's play time and helping them further their language and vocabulary development.

Classroom Structure

>Preschool classrooms will have varying levels of structure, but most will include small group lessons and one on one instruction throughout the day by using creative activities like music, art, and dance. Discussion and collaborative problem solving are normal characteristics of a preschool classroom. Many times a preschool classroom will have "centers" set up to give the children ample playtime and learning opportunities. These can include a science, art, music, dramatic play, and block areas.

Preschool Teacher Jobs & Job Description

Contrary to ‘child minding' preschool teachers have an important job shaping a child's relationship with others, himself, and the world. Preschool teachers help children build confidence, a sense of importance and inquiry about the world. While jobs do vary from state to state and between institutions, most preschool teachers have the following job traits:

  • Help students use play as learning
  • Help students develop their imagination with art, role play, and dolls
  • Help preschoolers develop better coordination
  • Help preschoolers have a healthy body weight
  • Teach students about nature
  • Help preschoolers master new motor skills
  • Model emotional regulation for preschoolers
  • Teach appropriate behaviors in a particular setting
  • Model understanding and response for behavior
  • Model clear rules
  • Model consistent expectations
  • Use positive discipline tactics
  • Help preschoolers develop positive relationships with each other and other people in their lives
  • Undergo pretend play with toddlers to help them synthesize the world
  • Teach emotional intelligence in a way that is practical and relevant
  • Teach and model behavior of strong readers and listeners
  • Show preschool students that reading is fun
  • Teach preschoolers how to make inferences about a story line
  • Teach preschoolers about cause and effect in a story
  • Teach preschoolers how to act in a classroom environment
  • Model how preschoolers should listen and concentrate in a classroom
  • Teach preschoolers how to use words instead of behavior to share feelings
  • Teach preschoolers about routines and activities that are linked to the school day
  • Teach preschoolers the foundations of literacy and numeracy
  • Advocate for preschoolers to get adequate amounts of rest
  • Model healthy food and eating behaviors
  • Help families identify potential developmental milestones
  • Help families access resources and supports for child development, should they be required
  • Assist families in completing developmental assessment at intervals for preschoolers
  • Undertake professional development whenever possible
  • Advocate for proper safety equipment - i.e. locks, latches, car seats - and safe behavior surrounding driving, bathing, and sleeping
  • Praise students to acknowledge their achievements using appropriate words and body language
  • Work in partnership with families to help preschoolers attain proficiency with life skills like getting dressed, using the toilet, and eating
  • Conduct all work activities in a timely and professional manner reflecting best educational practices

There are several career paths open for preschool teachers - read on to discover more information about this field.

Where Can Certified Preschool Teachers Teach?

Preschool teachers work in public and private schools, childcare centers, and charitable organizations. Although many preschool teachers work the traditional school year consisting of 10 months, some work the full year depending on the school or the program.

Public Preschools

Many public elementary schools have public preschools on the school's campus. Typically, these preschools will be free or reduced for students and will be supported by federal and state funds. Public preschool programs will be governed by the US Department of Education, the state's board of education and by the local school district.

Private Preschools

Private schools will charge tuition for a child to attend. They are typically governed by a private school board or organization. Private preschools are allowed to set their own standards for teachers and students. If a prospective preschool teacher is interested in teaching at a private school, they should check with the school in which they wish to teach to find out specific criteria. Keep in mind that in order for a preschool to be accredited, they must be recognized by NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). NAEYC accredits preschools according to health, safety, and education standards.

Head Start Centers

The Head Start program originated from efforts to combat poverty in America by providing children ages three to five years old with a variety of services. Head Start focuses on the needs of the child and their family by providing health, education, social services, and parent-community involvement in one program. Funding for Head Start comes from the state.

Preschool Teacher Organizations & Associations

What is the Salary of a Preschool Teacher?

Across the nation, beginning preschool teachers make between $27,455 (Payscale.com) and $32,000 (Glassdoor.com) a year. Preschool teachers generally do not require a Bachelor's Degree to work in public or private daycare environments. On average, preschool teachers who work in the private sector earn less than those who work in a public preschool. Many teachers enter the profession with starting qualifications and work to earn more education while gaining experience in the field of primary education, thus earning more money.

Read more about a Preschool Teacher's salary on our Salary page.

Salary (2016) and Job Outlook (2012 to 2020) by State

According to the published BLS data from 2016, the national average salary for Preschool Teachers is $33,300, with an estimated 385,550 being employed nationwide. Also, the job outlook growth projection from 2012 to 2020 is expected to increase by 17.4%.

StateProjected Growth (%)Avg Salary
Alabama19.2%$27,700
Alaska15.1%$35,980
Arizona30.6%$25,370
Arkansas16.8%$30,640
California4.5%$34,240
Colorado23.2%$31,170
Connecticut14.3%$34,520
Delaware10.0%$24,060
Florida19.2%$26,060
Georgia27.6%$29,970
Hawaii10.7%$32,850
Idaho13.4%$26,600
Illinois3.7%$29,470
Indiana22.5%$26,470
Iowa14.5%$27,060
Kansas16.0%$29,570
Kentucky15.4%$36,750
Louisiana10.0%$31,930
Maine2.0%$28,640
Maryland3.3%$32,110
Massachusetts17.0%$34,410
Michigan-$31,950
Minnesota10.1%$32,880
Mississippi15.4%$25,960
Missouri9.3%$27,800
Montana7.1%$24,400
Nebraska11.5%$30,940
Nevada17.1%$24,270
New Hampshire14.8%$27,600
New Jersey3.0%$36,970
New Mexico17.1%$28,860
New York9.5%$43,650
North Carolina23.3%$25,530
North Dakota11.3%$26,680
Ohio17.6%$25,520
Oklahoma12.7%$27,120
Oregon19.0%$27,440
Pennsylvania14.0%$27,800
Rhode Island7.2%$34,220
South Carolina16.7%$26,860
South Dakota15.2%$29,330
Tennessee21.9%$27,260
Texas22.5%$34,270
Utah20.8%$24,250
Vermont9.3%$32,180
Virginia19.7%$33,020
Washington19.4%$28,410
Washington, DC-$32,380
West Virginia-$28,640
Wisconsin-$27,360
Wyoming14.1%$27,650

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/) for Preschool Teachers (SOC Code: 25-2011)

Salary (2016) By Largest Metropolitan Areas

AreaEmployedAvg Salary
Boulder990$31,970
Grand Rapids, Wyoming970$28,750
Trenton970$37,120
Greenville, Anderson, Mauldin960$25,640
New Haven950$31,690
New Orleans, Metairie950$38,990
Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton950$35,000
Worcester940$33,570
Dutchess County, Putnam County930$26,040
Fresno920$28,610
Louisville/Jefferson County880$32,150
Elgin880$31,270
Stockton, Lodi850$36,000
Durham, Chapel Hill850$30,540
Knoxville830$28,660
Oxnard, Thousand Oaks, Ventura810$33,350
Framingham760$36,590
Tacoma, Lakewood730$27,790
Spokane, Spokane Valley730$24,590
Wichita710$26,710

Data taken from BLS Occupational Employment Statistics (http://www.bls.gov/oes/) for Preschool Teachers (SOC Code: 25-2011)