Pre-K Teacher Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A pre-K teacher's mean annual salary is around $32,000. Is it worth the training and licensure requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about the field's career prospects to find out if becoming a pre-K teacher is right for you.
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A Pre-K Teacher Career: Pros and Cons

Pre-K teachers work with children who are too young for kindergarten and plan developmentally appropriate activities for them. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of becoming a pre-K teacher and see if it could be a good career choice for you.

Pros of a Pre-K Teacher Career
Employment growth expected to be faster than average (17% from 2012-2022)*
Seeing the growth of children can be rewarding*
Possible to gain relevant work experience without a degree*
Certifications available to improve training and job prospects*

Cons of a Pre-K Teacher Career
Low average salary of $32,000*
Lots of energy required to work with active children*
Need to control emotions and stay composed, even in stressful situations**
License required to teach early childhood education in public schools*

Sources: *The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET Online.

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

Pre-K teachers usually educate children who are around ages 3 to 5, before the children enter kindergarten. Pre-K teachers plan a curriculum to help children acquire skills and aid their psychological and educational development. As a pre-K teacher you'll help children learn about the world around them and develop their own interests in activities, and you'll keep an eye out for any developmental issues and discuss them with parents.

Your schedule as a pre-K teacher can vary depending on where you work. You could work only during the traditional 10-month school year, or you could also teach in a summer program. If you work in a day care center, you might work year-round. It's possible to work at a private school, a public school, a religious organization or a child care center. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 58% of preschool teachers worked in child day care services in 2010. With experience, you could move on to take leadership roles as a lead teacher or a preschool director.

Salary Information and Job Growth

According to the BLS, pre-K teachers earned a mean annual wage of around $32,000 in May 2014. Among those who employed pre-K teachers, elementary schools (including both private and public schools) paid the highest salaries, with a mean annual wage of around $45,000. Other employers included child day care services and civic organizations. New York was the top-paying state and Delaware was the state with the highest concentration of jobs.

Employment of all preschool teachers was expected to grow at the faster-than-average rate of 17% from 2012-2022, according to BLS statistics. The BLS also predicted a greater demand for childhood development programs, due to more people acknowledging the importance of such programs for the growth of their children and an increase in the number of children in the 3-5 age group.

What Are the Requirements?

Education requirements vary by employer and by state. You might need to have a high school diploma and a certification or you might have to be a college graduate. Childcare centers might require workers with some postsecondary education, though a high school diploma is generally the minimum. Preschool teachers who work in the federally-funded Head Start program might be required to have a bachelor's degree and some experience teaching children of the same age group. Public schools generally require teachers to have at least a bachelor's degree in a related field.

Licensing might also be required, though specifics vary by employer and by state. In public schools, teachers must be licensed to teach early childhood education. Typical licensing requirements include earning a bachelor's degree and passing an exam. For a child care center to be licensed, all staff must usually pass a background check and meet a minimum training requirement. All pre-K teachers should have the following general skills:

  • Good communication with children and parents
  • Creativity and flexibility in daily activities
  • Patience to handle frustrating situations with young children
  • Instructional skills

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers usually require some previous experience working with pre-K or kindergarten-aged children when looking for a pre-K teacher. A background check and particular credentials might be required. The following is a small sampling of what employers were looking for on Careerbuilder.com in April 2012:

  • A California child development center advertised for a pre-K teacher. The posting specified that candidates with a bachelor's degree in a related field and 1-2 years of previous experience working with the age group are preferred.
  • A school in Iowa posted an ad for a preschool teacher to work half time starting in the 2012-2013 school year. Applicants need to have an Iowa teaching license with either a pre-K or Kindergarten endorsement.
  • A child development center in Des Moines is looking for a pre-K teacher with at least a 4-year degree in education and 2 years of experience working in childcare. Candidates should be at least 18 years old and need to be able to pass a background check. Pay is listed at around $12-$14 per hour, depending on the applicant's background.
  • A Christian family center in Delaware is seeking an early childhood assistant teacher. Duties include helping the early childhood teacher with caring for and teaching children and supervising activities in the gym, pool and playground. Applicants should have at least a high school degree and some combination of training and experience working with children. The posting states that the maximum number of hours per week is 30.
  • A Phoenix preschool advertised for a preschool teacher to work from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. during weekdays. The teacher must be bilingual in English and Spanish, and needs to be certified in CPR and first aid. The teacher will be responsible for 13-18 children in a classroom.

How to Stand out in the Field

Experience and education are two important factors in securing a job as a pre-K teacher. Those with a postsecondary education and certifications should have strong job prospects. You can gain relevant experience by starting out as a teacher assistant or childcare worker, perhaps while working on postsecondary courses in early childhood education and development.

Get Certified

In addition to specific educational requirements, you can make yourself stand out by earning certifications (some of which are even required by employers). The Council for Professional Recognition offers certification as a Child Development Associate with a specialization in a preschool setting. To earn the credential, you'll need to have a certain number of hours of training, professional experience and a formal classroom observation, in addition to other steps. As in many settings working with students, certification in CPR and first aid can also be highly desirable.

Alternative Career Paths

Childcare Worker

If you're not sure that a career as a pre-K teacher is for you, consider one of your many other options, such as becoming a child care worker. You'll usually only need a high school diploma. Your duties may include caring for children while their parents are at work and perhaps helping your charges with their homework. According to the BLS, employment in the field was expected to grow by 20% from 2010-2020, and child care workers made an average annual salary of around $21,000 in May 2011.

Preschool or Childcare Center Director

To take on a leadership position within the field of child care, you could become a preschool or childcare center director. Typical duties include managing staff, directing activities and preparing all necessary plans and budgets. You'll probably need to have at least a high school diploma, though some states might require an associate's or bachelor's degree, in addition to other particular certifications. Job growth is expected to be faster than average (25% from 2010-2020) according to BLS statistics, and childcare center directors made an average of around $51,000 in May 2011.

Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher

If you'd like to become a teacher but think that you're suited to working with kids who are a little older, consider becoming a kindergarten or elementary school teacher. You'll plan specific subject lessons, prepare students for standardized tests and evaluate and encourage students' educational and social development. According to the BLS, kindergarten teachers made an average salary of around $52,000 and elementary school teachers made around $55,000 in May 2011. Job growth for teachers in both levels of education combined is expected to be 17% from 2010-2020, about as fast as average for all occupations.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
      • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood Administration
      • Undergraduate in Early Childhood
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ed.D. - Early Childhood Education
      • PhD in Education - Early Childhood Education
      • PhD in Education - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Ed.D. - General Education
      • EdD - Learning Analytics in Higher Education
    Master's
      • M.Ed. - Early Childhood Education
      • M.Ed. - Curriculum and Teaching
      • M.Ed. - General Education
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Behavioral Health
      • Doctor of Education in Teaching and Learning with an Emphasis in Adult Learning
    Master's
      • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
      • M.Ed. in Elementary Education
      • M.Ed. in Secondary Education
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Early Childhood
      • B.S. in Early Childhood Education and Early Childhood Special Education
      • Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education
      • B.S. in Elementary Education with an Emphasis in Christian Education
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Secondary Education with Autism Specialization
      • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint John's University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ph.D. in Literacy
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education
      • Ph.D. in Literacy: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL)
      • Ph.D in Literacy: Literacy
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Argosy University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Teaching and Learning (EdD)
      • Higher and Postsecondary Education (EdD)
    Master's
      • Teaching & Learning: Integrated Concentration (MAEd)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: Methods & Curriculum
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: ESOL (K-Adult)
      • M.S. - Curriculum & Instruction: Adolescent Literacy
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Graduate Level Instructional Practices
  • Online Programs Available
    10. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Education - Curriculum and Instruction
      • Master of Education - Elementary Education
      • Master of Education - Secondary Education
      • Master: Education - Leadership in Educational Organizations

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Education (for Practicing Teachers: K-12)
  • Master: Teaching (for Aspiring Teachers: Grades 5-12)
  • BS in Early Childhood Administration
  • Undergraduate in Early Childhood

Which subject are you interested in?

Northcentral University

  • Ed.D. - Early Childhood Education
  • M.Ed. - Early Childhood Education
  • Education Specialist - Early Childhood Education

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Behavioral Health
  • M.Ed. in Early Childhood
  • BS in Early Childhood

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Secondary Education with Autism Specialization
  • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification

What is your highest level of education completed?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

What is your age?

Saint John's University

  • Ph.D. in Literacy
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Educational Leadership
  • Ph.D. in Literacy: Special Education

What is your highest level of education?

Argosy University

  • Teaching and Learning (EdD)
  • Higher and Postsecondary Education (EdD)
  • Teaching & Learning: Integrated Concentration (MAEd)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Concordia University Portland

  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Early Childhood Education
  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)

What is your highest level of education?