Preschool teachers teach children ages 3 to 5 about the basics of subjects like reading, writing, math, and science. For many students, this is their first structured learning experience, so preschool teachers often show their students an elevated level of care and attention.
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Preschool is about more than learning how to read, write, and count. It’s also an opportunity for young children to learn about the world, develop their motor skills, and practice social skills. Preschool teachers have to design a classroom experience that allows students to explore a variety of skills. For instance, reading a story to students while they sit still on a reading rug helps students to learn language and vocabulary skills while teaching them proper classroom behavior.
Most childcare centers require preschool teachers to have a high school diploma in addition to a certification in early childhood education. In other settings, particularly public schools, teachers may be required to have more education or training.
A Day in the Life
- Morning: Preschool teachers may start their day by greeting students and parents and helping ease each student’s transition to the classroom. This will most likely be harder in the beginning of the year for students and parents who are new to school.
- Mid-Morning: Depending on the school’s schedule, mid-morning may be circle time where students may receive instruction or hear a story while sitting in a circle on the floor. Teachers may receive help from a teacher assistant to manage classroom behavior.
- Lunch: The teacher may have a break during lunch to prepare for afternoon lessons while the teacher assistant takes the students to the cafeteria for lunch and then outside.
- Afternoon: After lunch, students will most likely take a nap. This may be easier for some students than others, and the teacher is responsible for managing their behavior during this time. The rest of the afternoon may be a time for students to play or work on a project together under the teacher’s supervision.
- After Work: After the students leave for the day, teachers may be responsible for making calls to parents, meeting with administrators, and planning lessons for the next day or week.
The licensing requirements for preschool teachers varies depending on the type of preschool program and the location. For instance, a high school diploma and a certification in early childhood education are all that’s required for many childcare centers. Head Start requires that teachers have an associate degree. Public schools require a bachelor’s degree and certification in early childhood education or a related field. An early childhood education certification allows teachers to teach from preschool through third grade. Other requirements may include: up-to-date immunizations, background check, CPR certification, and additional training in a preschool setting. For more information on individual state requirements, check out our state certification pages.
Areas of Specialization
A preschool teacher looking to specialize in disabled children might consider getting additional training or education in special education. With a master’s degree in special education, a preschool teacher might receive a higher salary in a public school and would likely have the knowledge necessary to help young children with learning, physical, and emotional disabilities.
Previous and Next Steps
Many current preschool teachers embark on a career path in early childhood education fresh out of high school or college. Others looking to make a career shift later in life have opted to become preschool teachers, as well. Childcare centers are usually not as strict as public schools about requirements and certifications, so it’s possible to get experience without a degree in early childhood education. While some preschool teachers move on to become directors of childcare centers, others go on to teach children at the elementary school level.
For average salary information for preschool teachers (and several other early childhood education-related positions), go to our Jobs page and select a state.