Preschool Certification: Finding Your Way Through the Maze

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Like working with children? You can become a preschool teacher.

You would be amazed at the incredible impact you can have as a preschool teacher that can influence children's entire future. But before you can step into the classroom, you need to obtain your state's preschool certification.

How? That's a bit of a challenge, but the results are worth it. Here's some advice to help you through the process.

Unfortunately, there are different types of preschool settings that require different forms of certification with different rules, even in the same state. Your town could well have Head Start, state-funded, school district-funded, and private preschool programs - each with different requirements for their teachers.

We'd love to list the requirements here, but there's simply too many. For instance:

  • To teach in 33 state-funded programs in 27 states, you need a bachelor's degree.
  • 12 programs in 10 states require a bachelor's degree for teachers in public settings but not those in nonpublic settings, like private or church schools
  • In Denver, teachers in district schools must have both a bachelor's and a teaching license, but teachers in state-run programs in the same city only need a specific associate's degree (a Child Development Associates.) 

For a better picture of this bewildering complexity, see our preschool policy report.

So, what can you do to get certified to teach preschool?

First, identify the type of preschool setting most interests you. Do you want to teach in a public or private preschool? Do you want one funded by the district, state or federal Head-Start program? They all have their different rules and regulations for teachers, and may differ in hours, salaries, and class sizes.

Once you've picked a type of setting, your next step is to discover its specific education requirements for certification. Talk to the director of the preschool or its human resources person about current and future rules. Be careful not to rely on what teachers tell you about their own degrees as requirements may have changed since they were hired.

Different preschool settings may require a specific college degree level—certificate, associate's, or bachelor's degree—and also could demand an early childhood major or specialization. You could have a master's degree in reading but still be asked to go back to school for a Child Development Associate's degree.

Then, after learning your what level of education your prefered program wants from potential new employees, you need to decide where you want to go for your preschool degree. Generally, if you need an associate's degree look for a two-year community college or some state colleges, while state universities and private colleges can help with a bachelor's or master's. Of course, four-year programs leading to a bachelor's tend to be more expensive than two-year programs leading to an associate's degree.

For more advice on what to look for when considering teacher preparation programs, check out our previous post on how to best evaluate preschool training programs <link once it's up>.

Bear in mind that different preparation programs will charge different amounts of tuition and could have different policies on financial aid.The cheapest program may not be the least expensive after calculating their financial aid package.

Also, salaries differ and some types of preschool programs may pay more than others. So, in the long run, you may be better off obtaining a more expensive degree if it allows you to work at a better-paying program.

The preschool certification process can be challenging to navigate, but once you're standing in front of children in your own class, it will be 100 percent worth it!