How You Can Become a Preschool Teacher

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So you want to be a preschool teacher? That's great!

How can you do this? That's a little more complicated.

Unfortunately, not all programs that can train you to teach preschool are created equal. You're going to have to take a hard look at how well a program will prepare you to be an outstanding teacher. Here are the questions to ask to find a high-quality preschool teacher prep program.

What type of degree will I need? The answer to this largely depends on the type of preschool you want to hire you. Many public preschools require a bachelor's degree. But, if you're interested in working in a Head Start preschool, an associate degree may be enough. Requirements vary from state to state, district to district, and even preschool to preschool. Consider where you want to teach and find out its required degree and certification.

What is the grade span of the teacher prep program? Just because a teacher prep program includes preschool doesn't mean it will give the early years much attention. Some programs train you to work only in preschool, while others cover preschool through grade 6 or beyond. In general, aim for programs with a narrower focus on the lower grades, since they're more likely to give you skills relevant to being a preschool teacher. For more on certification grade spans in each state, visit here.

What kinds of courses do I need to take to be successful? While not an exhaustive list, these are four core courses that you should make sure your program offers. Read more in our guide for aspiring preschool teachers:

  • A course on developing children's language skills. First and foremost, your program needs to train you to build children's understanding and use of language, including enlarging their vocabulary and engaging in back-and-forth conversations. Not every teacher prep program requires such a course. Our research found this course in only three out of five programs. When looking at course catalogs, keywords like "speech," "language development" and "vocabulary" in course titles and descriptions suggest that the course addresses this content.
  • A course on building a foundation for reading. You should learn how to teach a range of literacy skills that are essential to reading These skills include phonological awareness (the ability to detect or manipulate the sounds in words, such as syllables and rhymes), phonemic awareness (relating to the sounds of letters), the alphabet, and concepts of print (such as title, author, text direction, and turning pages in a book). Programs across the country have a better track record here, but still almost 1 in 4 programs don't require a course in this area. Look for courses that list the skills above and explicitly mention preschool.
  • Courses on introducing and building interest in math and science. This coursework should train you to develop students' mathematical knowledge, including number sense, pattern recognition and understanding of measurements. You should also take a course that will teach you to foster a child's interest in and exploration of science concepts. These may be more difficult to find, as our research shows that fewer than half of preparation programs require courses in how to teach either subject. When reviewing courses, look for course descriptions that explicitly includes preschool-age children.

Will this program provide an opportunity to student teach in a preschool? Four out of five programs do so, but avoid those that say student teaching is not needed. Additionally, be sure to also ask the program questions like "How often will you observe me?" "Do you require trained mentor teachers?" and "Have your mentor teachers demonstrated their effectiveness?" You also will want programs to evaluate your ability to build a positive, engaging classroom environment through techniques like establishing rules, reinforcing appropriate behavior, and effectively managing play.

Teaching is one of the most rewarding professions out there. But it's also a very challenging one and you want a high-quality program that will prepare you to become an effective preschool teacher from your first day in the classroom.

We hope these questions will help guide you through the process and, ultimately, help you find the preschool teacher prep program that will train you for the job of your dreams!

If you're interested in learning more about our methodology or criteria for program evaluation, we encourage you to visit our resources on preschool programs here