Preschool teachers nurture, teach, and care for children who have not yet entered kindergarten. They provide early childhood care and education through a variety of teaching strategies. They teach children, usually aged 3 to 5, both in groups and one on one. They do so by planning and implementing a curriculum that covers various areas of a child’s development, such as motor skills, social and emotional development, and language development.
Preschool teachers play a vital role in the development of children. They introduce children to reading and writing, expanded vocabulary, creative arts, science, and social studies. They use games, music, artwork, films, books, computers, and other tools to teach concepts and skills.
Preschool children learn mainly through investigation, play, and formal teaching. Preschool teachers capitalize on children's play to further language and vocabulary development (using storytelling, rhyming games, and acting games), improve social skills (having the children work together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox), and introduce scientific and mathematical concepts (showing the children how to balance and count blocks when building a bridge or how to mix colors when painting). Thus, an approach that includes small and large group activities, one-on-one instruction, and learning through creative activities such as art, dance, and music, is adopted to teach preschool children. Letter recognition, phonics, numbers, and awareness of nature and science are introduced at the preschool level to prepare students for kindergarten.
Preschool teachers often work with students from varied ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. With growing minority populations in most parts of the country, it is important for teachers to be able to work effectively with a diverse student population. Accordingly, some schools offer training to help teachers enhance their awareness and understanding of different cultures. Teachers may also include multicultural programming in their lesson plans, to address the needs of all students, regardless of their cultural background.
Preschool teachers held about 469,600 jobs in 2020. The largest employers of preschool teachers were as follows:
- Child day care services - 58%
- Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations - 17%
- Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private - 16%
- Individual and family services - 3%
It may be rewarding to see children develop new skills and gain an appreciation of knowledge and learning. However, it can also be tiring to work with young, active children all day.
Preschool teachers in public schools generally work during school hours. Many work the traditional 10-month school year and have a 2-month break during the summer. Some preschool teachers may teach in summer programs.
Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 9 weeks in a row and then have a break for 3 weeks before starting a new school session.
Those working in daycare settings may work year-round with longer hours.
Education & Training Required
The training and qualifications required of preschool teachers vary widely. Each State has its own licensing requirements that regulate caregiver training. These requirements range from a high school diploma and a national Child Development Associate (CDA) credential to community college courses or a college degree in child development or early childhood education.
Different public funding streams may set other education and professional development requirements. For example, many States have separate funding for prekindergarten programs for 4-year-old children and typically set higher education degree requirements for those teachers, including those providing prekindergarten in a child care center. Head Start programs must meet Federal standards for teacher requirements. For example, by 2011 all Head Start teachers must have at least an associate degree.
Some employers may prefer workers who have taken secondary or postsecondary courses in child development and early childhood education or who have work experience in a child care setting. Other employers require their own specialized training. An increasing number of employers require at least an associate degree in early childhood education.
Other Skills Required
In addition to being knowledgeable about the subjects they teach, preschool teachers must have the ability to communicate, inspire trust and confidence, and motivate students, as well as an understanding of the students' educational and emotional needs. Preschool teachers must be able to recognize and respond to individual and cultural differences in students and employ different teaching methods that will result in higher student achievement. They should be organized, dependable, patient, and creative. Teachers also must be able to work cooperatively and communicate effectively with other teachers, support staff, parents, and members of the community. Private schools associated with religious institutions also desire candidates who share the values that are important to the institution.
How to Advance
Preschool teachers usually work their way up from assistant teacher, to teacher, to lead teacher - who may be responsible for the instruction of several classes - and, finally, to director of the center. Those with a bachelor's degree frequently are qualified to teach kindergarten through grade 3 as well. Teaching at these higher grades often results in higher pay.
Employment of preschool teachers is projected to grow 18 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 59,600 openings for preschool teachers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
Much of the projected employment growth in this occupation is due to recovery from the COVID-19 recession that began in 2020.
Early childhood education is important for a child’s intellectual and social development. More preschool teachers should be needed to meet the demand for early childhood education.
The median annual wage for preschool teachers was $30,210 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $22,840, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $58,530.
In May 2021, the median annual wages for preschool teachers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
- Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private - $48,190
- Individual and family services - $36,300
- Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations - $36,060
- Child day care services - $29,320
Preschool teachers in public schools generally work during school hours. Many work the traditional 10-month school year and a 2-month break during the summer. Some preschool teachers may teach in summer programs.
Teachers in districts with a year-round schedule typically work 8 weeks in a row and then have a break for 1 week before starting a new school session. They also have a 5-week midwinter break.
Those working in daycare settings may work year-round and have longer hours.