The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) defines “early childhood” as occurring before the age of eight, and it is during this period that a child goes through the most rapid phase of growth and development. Their brains develop faster than at any other point in their lives, so these years are critical. The foundations for their social skills, self-esteem, perception of the world and moral outlook are established during these years, as well as the development of cognitive skills.
Early childhood education is encouraged for the healthy development and nurturing of all these important foundations, and trends show that parents are increasingly recognizing this. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), enrollment in prekindergarten-level education has risen from 96,000 to over 1 million in the last 30 years.
Early childhood education is not mandated by the United States Department of Education. Elementary and secondary education is all that is legally required for students, though early childhood education is doubtlessly an important and fundamental stage of learning.
When deciding if early childhood education is right career choice for you, the first and most important question to ask yourself is: Do I like working with children? If you can’t answer yes, then this career may not be best for you. Working with children requires patience, dedication and sensitivity. Trying to keep up with them can be exhausting, but if you’re up to the challenge, it can also be extremely rewarding.
Young children are not like other students. Their needs are unique and you must be aware of this. It is important to understand that you could be one of the first adults a young child has interacted with outside of his or her own family. The separation from their parents in the beginning can be difficult, and a teacher must help them through this transition. A child can become very attached to you as a “substitute” for their parents, or they may shun you completely. Great teachers are adaptable to the emotional reactions of their students. And when it comes to your students’ interactions with other children, this can be one of the first times they interact with children their age. A teacher’s role often becomes that of mediator when children have problems sharing or learning how to get along.
Furthermore, teachers in early education need to be creative and adaptive. They must think outside their own mature perspective and be able to place themselves in their students’ shoes. What motivates a very young child? How do you hold a toddler’s interest? How do you make learning fun? These are all questions you will have to ask yourself. Lessons in early education classrooms are very hands-on. They involve arts and crafts, storytelling, exercise, educational games and more. You need to be fast on your feet and highly adaptable to continuously come up with new ways to guide children through their early learning stages.Return to the top
As an aspiring early education teacher, you need to have the right temperament. Patience, creativity, sensitivity, communication skills and ability to connect with children are arguably some of the most important qualifications. However, you’re also expected to have the proper schooling and credentials, and each state sets its own standards for what they expect from certified teachers. Before beginning your path to becoming an early childhood educator, you should find out what the requirements are for your state or school where you want to teach.
Because teaching young children is such a highly specialized field, some schools require a degree in early childhood education or child development. Many preschools set their minimum requirement at an associate’s degree, and most Montessori schools require a Bachelor’s degree. Having a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education will generally qualify you to teach through the third grade. Of course, having an advanced degree such as a master’s degree in education or teaching in this field only improves your abilities, job prospects and opportunities for career advancement.
Once you have attained your degree, you need to look into your state’s requirements to earn your official teaching credential. The Council for Professional Recognition offers the Childhood Development Associate (CDA) credential in different areas of early childhood education. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education offers national certification as well. Also, it is important to note that to teach at a Montessori school you must complete a special Montessori teacher education program. Once you are certified, the most important way to build your career is through experience. Many preschool and Montessori teachers begin as teaching aids to gain practical classroom experience before becoming teachers.Return to the top