Pros and Cons of a Career in Early Childhood Education
If you're considering a job teaching or caring for children, you might be excited to learn that many professionals in this career field find it personally rewarding. Some of the careers you might consider include child care worker, preschool teacher and preschool or child care center director. Here's a brief comparison of these job options:
|Child Care Worker||Preschool Teacher||Child Care Center or Preschool Director|
|Career Overview||Child care workers supervise children in day care centers and private homes. They might also help prepare them for preschool and kindergarten.||Preschool teachers develop and implement curricula designed to provide children with the educational and social skills needed for kindergarten.||Child care center or preschool directors are in charge of managing the day-to-day operations of educational and child care institutions.|
|Education Requirements||High school diploma or GED; some employers require an associate's degree||Bachelor's degree is common, though positions are available with less education||Associate's or bachelor's degree|
|Program Length||Two years for an associate's degree||About four years for a bachelor's degree||Two years for an associate's degree and four years for a bachelor's degree|
|Certification and Licensing||Some states and child care centers require a Child Development Associate (CDA) or Childcare Professional (CCP) credential||A CDA or CCP credential is required by some states and child care centers; licensure is required to work in a public school setting||CDA or CCP credentials could be required|
|Experience Requirement||Ranges from six months to two years of experience||N/A||One to five years of administrative and/or education experience|
|Job Outlook for 2012-2022||As-fast-as-average growth (14%)*||Faster-than-average growth (17%)*||Faster-than-average growth (17%)*|
|Median Salary (2014)||Roughly $20,000*||Roughly $28,000*||Roughly $45,000*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Child Care Worker
Child care workers are employed in a variety of settings, such as day care centers, hospitals and private residences, often on a part-time basis. Essentially, your job as a child care worker is to tend to the needs of children when their parents or families are unable to. Job duties commonly include bathing and feeding kids as well as organizing playtimes and educational activities aimed at giving them the social skills they'll need for preschool or kindergarten. You might also be responsible for providing after school care to older children.
In many cases, a high school diploma or GED is all that's required to become a child care worker, though some employers look for applicants with an associate's degree. Beginning in 2013, Head Start facilities will require you to complete one of these 2-year degree programs.
They may also mandate that you hold a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. The Council for Professional Recognition grants this designation to applicants who've met requirements that can include 120 hours of formal training and 480 hours of related work experience. Applicants must also submit to a formal observation. The National Early Childhood Program Accreditation offers a similar Childcare Professional (CCP) credential.
Child care workers should also have the interpersonal skills, patience and stamina necessary for working with children. CPR certification is another common requirement. The following are a few child care worker job listings available in November 2012:
- A Colorado health care facility was looking for a child care professional who could assist with recreational activities, prepare meals and transport clients. Applicants needed at least an associate's degree and two years of experience.
- In New York City, a family day care was seeking a bi-lingual, part-time child care assistant with three references. Candidates also needed a high school diploma or GED and at least 60 credit hours of coursework in early childhood education. Six months of experience would also suffice.
- A nonprofit organization in Arizona was hiring a seasonal child care worker to supervise children as well as clean equipment and classrooms. Minimum requirements included CPR certification, an associate's degree and two years of experience. Applicants with a high school diploma or GED and four years of experience were also accepted. Bilingual applicants were preferred.
Although not necessarily required for employment, completing an early childhood education certificate or associate's degree program might work to your advantage. The BLS explains that child care workers who complete this college or university coursework could face better employment prospects. Learning a second language might also help you get an edge in the job market. Some employers prefer, if not require, applicants to be fluent in Spanish as well as English.
As a preschool teacher, you'll also be responsible for preparing children for kindergarten. Preschool teachers typically work with kids between the ages of three and five years old on such subjects as math, reading, science, art and music. You'll also help kids develop their social and motor skills. Often, you'll be required to plan and carry out a curriculum as well as assess student progress.
As is the case for child care workers, requirements for preschool teachers vary from one employer to another. While an associate's degree or high school diploma can qualify you for positions with a child care center, you'll more than likely need to earn a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related field to work for a Head Start program. Other state requirements could include a CDA or CCP credential.
If you want to work in a public school, you'll need to get licensed as an early childhood education teacher. This process typically entails earning passing scores on an exam after completing your bachelor's degree program. First aid and CPR certification are among other common requirements.
Take a look at the following November 2012 job postings to see what employers were looking for:
- In Minnesota, a private school was seeking teachers who could create lesson plans for preschool children and toddlers. Postsecondary education in preschool or early childhood education and CPR certification were required. Applicants with a bachelor's degree were preferred.
- A private preschool in Washington was searching for a preschool teacher with two or more years of experience and a CDA credential or an early childhood education associate's degree.
- A Methodist children's home serving underprivileged kids in Florida sought a preschool teacher who met the requirements of Florida's child services statutes. Those who held a CDA credential were preferred.
While a CCP or CDA designation isn't always required for employment, the BLS indicates that those who've undergone this rigorous credentialing process could have an easier time getting a job. Candidates with a bachelor's degree could also face better employment prospects.
Child Care Center or Preschool Director
If you decide to work as a preschool or child care center director, your primary responsibilities will include managing the daily operations of a facility. You'll be in charge of hiring and firing employees, managing the budget, developing program curricula and communicating with parents. This is almost always a full-time position; overtime is common.
A 4-year degree in early childhood education or a related discipline is often the minimum requirement to become a child care center or preschool director, though some employers accept applicants with an associate's degree or even a high school diploma. You might need administrative experience and a CDA or CCP credential as well.
Here are sample child care and preschool director positions posted by employers in November 2012:
- A Pennsylvania child care and education center was searching for a head teacher and director with a bachelor's degree in early childhood or elementary education. Applicants also needed at least one year of child care and supervisory experience.
- A preschool in Ohio sought a director with at least three years of experience in business or education administration. Although an associate's degree was required, a bachelor's degree in early childhood education was preferred.
- A children's center in California was seeking a preschool director with at least a bachelor's degree in early childhood education, child development or a similar discipline. Candidates needed five years of experience in a preschool setting as well as a minimum of two years of administrative experience. CPR certification was also required.
If you decide to pursue a bachelor's degree, the BLS states that you might have better employment prospects than job candidates with less education. While enrolled in one of these four-year programs, look for opportunities to develop your leadership skills. You might volunteer with after-school programs, take on special internships or get involved with a regional or national student organization involved with education, such as Kappa Delta Pi (also known as the International Honor Society in Education), or Phi Delta Kappa, a national organization that numbers education students and educators among its members.