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Career Info for a Degree in Teaching Young Children

Teachers of young children play a key role in shaping the development of their students. They are employed at the preschool, kindergarten and early elementary levels in both public and private schools. They use age-appropriate teaching methods to introduce academic subjects, and they encourage development of effective communication and social skills. Preschool teachers also meet the practical needs of the children under their care.

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Career Options for Teaching Young Children

According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the age group referred to as 'young children' usually includes children through age eight, which includes preschool, kindergarten and early elementary through the third grade. Teaching objectives and instruction methods are specific to each of these levels.

Preschool Teacher

The role of a preschool teacher is to encourage social development, general understanding of educational concepts and language skill acquisition through play and group activities. Preschool teachers also attend to the practical needs of their students by serving meals and snacks and by changing diapers and clothing as needed. They often work part-time in small day care centers but may be employed full time in private or public preschools.

Kindergarten Teacher

Kindergarten teachers use creative activities to develop the concepts introduced in preschool. They design lesson plans that target language skills, build vocabulary, introduce academic subjects and develop social skills. These teachers monitor and evaluate student academic progress, behavior and health. They also meet with parents to review student progress.

Early Elementary Teacher

Early elementary teachers instruct students in the first, second and third grades. Their objective is to ensure each student meets academic requirements established by their school board. Early elementary teachers accomplish this objective by setting performance standards for students and by devising lessons plans and teaching strategies that direct students towards meeting those standards.

Early elementary teachers typically teach all required subjects, including reading, social studies, science, math, health education and art. They promote peer cooperation and good citizenship and maintain order in the classroom. Early elementary teachers monitor and document student progress and coordinate with administrative staff to address any special learning needs. They also meet with parents periodically to discuss student progress.

Special Education Teacher

A young child who has demonstrated a physical or education-related disability may be assigned to a special education program. These programs are coordinated and taught by special education teachers. These teachers develop an individual education plan (IEP) for each student. Each IEP addresses the student's unique set of challenges with the goal of fostering educational, social or physical development and with the ultimate objective of placing the student into a mainstream class, if possible. Special education teachers also often help coordinate the efforts of other professionals, such as physical therapists, psychologists and social workers, who are involved in the student's education. Special education teachers meet with parents and school administrators to review student progress.

Education and Certification Requirements for Teachers of Young Children

Preschool Teachers

Teaching at the preschool level generally does not require a degree or license. Most employers require candidates to have completed high school or obtained a GED equivalent and to be pursuing a program in early childhood education. Employers also prefer candidates who have obtained the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential from the Council for Professional Recognition (www.cdacouncil.org).

Kindergarten Through Third Grade Teachers

Education and certification requirements for teachers of young children differ among grade levels. Generally, kindergarten and elementary teachers must earn a bachelor's degree in a teacher education program. These programs include courses in math, science, social science and art, in addition to courses that teach education concepts, strategies and methods. Most programs also require the completion of student teaching internships.

Additionally, public school teachers must obtain a teaching license that is issued by their state's board of education. License requirements vary by state, but all require a bachelor's degree, the completion of a teaching training program, completion of supervised student teaching and a passing score on a basic skills competency test. Completion of continuing education courses are typically required for license renewal.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) offers advanced teaching certification that extends beyond the scope of state license requirements (www.nbpts.org). NBPTS certification is obtained through a series of assessments and a peer review of past teaching performance. Many states accept NBPTS certification in lieu of state licensure.

Special Education Teachers

Generally, special education teachers become qualified by completing a bachelor's or master's degree in special education, depending on their state's requirements. A state teaching license is also required. Some states offer general education licenses, while others offer licenses for specific types of disorders.

Beyond these basic requirements, additional education and training are required in the teacher's chosen field of specialization, including autism, emotional disorders and speech language disorders. This specialization is often completed as the fifth year of a bachelor's degree program or may be completed while pursuing a graduate degree in special education. Student teaching under the supervision of a certified special education teacher is also required. Those who have completed a master's degree in special education may pursue Professional Board Certification in Special Education with the American Academy of Special Education Professionals (www.aasep.org).

Job Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, from 2012-2022, employment is expected to grow by 12% for all teachers of kindergarten and elementary school students, by 17% for preschool teachers and by 6% for special education teachers (www.bls.gov). As of May 2013, the BLS stated that the median annual salary was $53,590 for elementary school teachers, $50,230 for kindergarten teachers, $27,570 for preschool teachers, $52,070 for special education teachers in preschools, and $53,910 for special education teachers in kindergarten and elementary schools.

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