Early Childhood Education (ECE) is increasingly being recognized as a national asset. Studies have shown long term positive effects of quality preschool programs: as adults, preschool attendees stay in school longer, earn more, and lead more stable lives in terms of home ownership and longer marriages. Other studies have shown that preschool education produces positive effects on children’s learning and development. The national government has acted to support preschool education by funding prekindergarten programs for low-income families.
How does this apply to you? If you love children and feel motivated to help them learn and grow, you can join this collective effort to improve the chances of success for our young folk. Working with children not only brings future benefits to them, it brings immediate rewards in the responses and affection you will receive and the learning and growth that you will witness.
“Early childhood” generally refers to children at ages one to eight, or preschool through grade three. Different opportunities exist depending on your educational qualifications and experience. In this article, we will look at the levels of education up through the bachelor’s degree and the kinds of jobs and salaries you can expect to find.
Teaching Assistant Certificate
There are training programs in community and technical colleges and other institutes that will confer certificates for teacher’s assistants or teacher’s aides. Some states have entry requirements of course credits for early childhood certification, usually about 12 credits. These basic courses will cover the topics of child development, educational psychology, children’s literature and classroom management; the credits can be applied toward an Associate degree if the student decides to continue his or her education.
A number of colleges offer one-year programs leading to an Advanced Certificate in Early Childhood, requiring about 32 credits of coursework that includes a practicum in a pre-school. Courses on topics such as creative activities for young children, health safety and nutrition, language and literacy development, and pre-school science and math are required.
A teaching assistant works under the supervision of the lead teacher to help in carrying out the educational program of the school. She or he may assist with lessons and preparing materials, read aloud to subgroups or work one on one with a student who needs extra help. The assistant carries out the bulk of the many administrative duties that come with teaching: recording and maintaining records, assisting in the playground and with meals, arranging field trips, and keeping a check on supplies. The assistant is also available to help with the personal or special needs of students.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), teacher assistants earned an average salary of $25,570 in 2013. The top ten percent earned more than $36,770; the lowest 10 percent averaged less than $19,430. BLS predicted a rise in employment of nine percent, or about as fast as average, between 2012 and 2020 for this occupation.
Nearly all employers of early childhood or preschool teachers require or state a preference for an ECE Associate degree in their hiring. The two year Associate degree program is offered in many community or technical colleges and in some universities. The National Association for the Education of Young children (NAYEC) http://www.naeyc.org/ecada/ecada_programs accredits Associate and Baccalaureate programs in Early Childhood Education, and reports that there are currently 161 institutions in 31 states that carry this accreditation for their Associate program.
The following types of courses are usually added to the basic courses in the certificate programs:
social and emotional development in young children; observation and assessment in the early childhood classroom; ethics; technology in education; developmentally appropriate curriculum for infants and toddlers; child, family and community relations; and childcare administration and management.
The ECE Associate program prepares students to take a responsible position as a professional, creating high quality nurturing and learning environments for children, building positive and supportive relationships with families, and serving as an advocate on behalf of young children and their families to improve the quality of early childhood programs and services. The preschool serves as a transition from the home to the school environment and makes a vast difference in the readiness of children for formal schooling.
The Associate degree graduate typically works as a preschool teacher, often in a lead teacher position, in privately owned childcare centers, publicly funded daycare centers or religious organizations. A preschool teacher performs the following functions:
• Creates a nurturing environment for the children to learn and grow.
• Plans and carries out daily activities which stimulate and prepare students for learning language and math concepts and to develop their thinking skills and vocabulary.
• Prepares creative activities such as arts and crafts and music to foster creativity and self expression.
• Prepares outdoor activities and games which develop coordination and motor skills.
• Teaches children how to interact with others and to handle their physical needs.
• Monitors and records progress and prepares notes on each child; communicates with school staff and parents on each child’s progress.
• Takes care of other administrative and physical duties to maintain a clean and smoothly functioning facility.
The mean annual wage of preschool teachers in 2013 was $31,520 according to BLS
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252011.htm. There was a disparity in average salaries of this occupation among the different work settings. Preschool teachers working in child day care services earned an average of $27,870; in civic and social organizations, $30,520; individual and family services, $31,190; religious organizations $32,700; and elementary schools, $44,760.
BLS predicts the job outlook for preschool teachers to be 17%, or faster than average, between 2012 and 2022.
A Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education is typically completed in four years and qualifies the graduate to work as a kindergarten or early elementary school teacher in a school system. With preschool teaching experience, the degree also meets the educational requirement for a director of a preschool, Head Start or other child development programs.
There are currently 266 institutions in 38 states/territories that carry an NAEYC accreditation for Baccalaureate and Graduate degree programs in Early Childhood Education. A student pursuing an ECE B.Ed. must meet all the undergraduate requirements of the college. These include the general education courses in communication, sciences, social sciences, fine arts and humanities as well as the foundational Education courses in child development theory, subject matter basics, methods of teaching, classroom management and assessment. An internship and practical experiences in ECE settings are important facets of the program where students will experience putting research and theory into practice.
The ECE major will include courses such as the following:
• Theoretical foundations of early childhood education
• Early childhood curriculum and instructional methods: language arts; social studies; science
• Phonics and spelling development
• Diagnostic and remedial reading methods
• Processes & inquiry in science/social studies in early childhood education
• Assessment and data-based decision making in early childhood education
• Media resources for the education professional
• 21st century classroom technology
• Family and community in early childhood education
• Administration of early childhood care and education programs
The kindergarten teacher is faced not only with varying levels of readiness in a class of children, but also the standards of achievement set by the state or school that must be met by the end of the school year. The teacher must create and maintain a classroom that is conducive for learning and design and carry out lessons and activities that develop the skills that kindergarteners need to be ready for first grade. Effective classroom routines must be established as well as rules for acceptable behavior. The teacher also instructs children on personal hygiene practices and fosters social development through cooperative play. An important part of the kindergarten teacher’s job is to communicate with parents and secure their cooperation in developing school readiness in the child.
Elementary teachers face the challenge of teaching a heterogeneous group of children, growing and learning at different rates and in different ways. To prepare young folk to succeed in the twenty-first century is an awesome task. Teachers must be up on the changes that are occurring and the knowledge and skills needed in tomorrow’s world. They must be comfortable with technology in the classroom and the global reach enabled by such technology; they must master classroom management and new ways of teaching and engaging students. This is, indeed, an exciting time to be a teacher with a chance to have a significant impact on a new generation of world citizens.
According to BLS, the average annual wage of kindergarten teachers in 2013 was $52,840. The top ten percent earned more than $77,140; the lowest ten percent earned less than $32,890. Elementary and secondary school teachers earned an average of $53,800. Preschool and child care center administrators earned an average of $52,010.
BLS reports that Bachelor’s level kindergarten and elementary school teachers can expect a job outlook of 12 percent between 2012 and 2022.