How to Start Your Career in Early Childhood Education

How to Start Your Career in Early Childhood Education

StraighterLine
9 minute read

Early Childhood Education, or ECE, focuses on the development and education of children from infancy to about age 8, typically through 2nd grade. Working with this age group can be quite rewarding and fulfilling as you help prepare young children for their educational journeys. 

This guide covers how to become an early childhood educator, including educational requirements, necessary skills, potential career paths, and practical steps to get started.

Why Early Childhood Education?

What are some of the most common reasons why people pursue early childhood education careers? Take a look and see if any of these apply to you:

  • The chance to shape young lives as a primary role model by getting kids excited for a lifetime of learning.
  • A measure of job security: jobs for preschool teachers are expected to grow by 3% through 2032, and jobs for child care professionals are expected to grow by 2% through 2032.
  • You get to work in a fun environment full of storytime, music, arts & crafts, and play!
  • Early childhood educators can help build and support strong families in the community by teaching parents how to get involved with their children’s education and establishing resources to help families thrive.
  • You’ll watch children learn new things in real time, like reading, counting, and social skills.
  • A certain amount of work flexibility: this is not a 9-5 career. For example, teachers usually work from just before school starts to just after school ends and might have summers off if employed by an elementary school. Child care center employees might work in shifts from early morning to late evening. It all depends on where you work and your specific role.

8 Early Childhood Education Careers

Early childhood education careers come in many forms, so there’s something for all interests and preferred schedules.

Note that the salaries listed below are accurate as of this writing.

1. Nanny

Average Salary: $57,656

Nannies typically take care of kids for several years, starting from early infancy. They usually handle transportation, meals, some teaching, and household tasks. They also coordinate activities like playing, eating, bathing, and dressing. 

Live-in nannies often have more responsibilities, including cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and school transportation. 

Some families hire nannies through word-of-mouth referrals, while others go through a placement agency. While agencies often make it easier for nannies to find jobs, they may require an associate degree in early childhood education or related fields.

2. Child Care Provider

Average Salary: $37,169

Child care providers work with children as young as infants up to elementary school-age students. They engage children in activities that promote learning, such as playing games to teach social skills and using storytelling and rhyming games to enhance language and vocabulary. 

Child care centers also often provide care for children before and after school or during the summer while the parents are at work.

The center, state, and employer requirements vary from no formal education to a certification in early childhood education.

3. Education/Child Care Center Director

Average Salary: $70,441

For those who’ve been working at a child care center for a while and are ready to move up to a more managerial position, the option to work as a child care center director may be available. 

Solid organizational skills are must-haves for education and child care center directors. They create schedules and budgets, hire educators, and supervise employees. The director also plays a significant role in curriculum development by setting academic standards and managing the school supply inventory. The director is often the primary contact for parents. 

A bachelor’s degree in education or early childhood education is usually the minimum education required for this position.

4. Preschool Teacher

Average Salary: $37,130

Young children learn through playing, problem-solving, and experimenting. Preschool teachers use these and other age-appropriate techniques to teach children. At this age, children typically begin learning things like their ABCs and counting.

Preschool teachers usually need a certain amount of hours as a teacher’s assistant and at least an associate’s degree in education for some jobs or a bachelor’s degree to work in public schools.

5. Kindergarten Teacher

Average Salary: $63,680

Kindergarten teachers help children around five years old learn and grow. They make lesson plans, create daily schedules, and keep track of how each student progresses academically, emotionally, and socially. Kindergarten teachers also keep a close eye on their students as they move between different parts of the school day, like lunch and recess.

Kindergarten teaching usually requires real-world experience as a classroom assistant and at least a bachelor’s degree in elementary education.

6. Teacher’s Aide/Teaching Assistant

Average Salary: $35,550

Teacher's aides support head teachers in the classroom by providing one-on-one help to students and reinforcing lesson content. They also give teachers feedback on student progress and might collaborate on lesson plans and student development.

Teaching assistants in public schools must have at least two years of college coursework in education or an associate’s degree.

7. Special Education Teacher

Average Salary: $60,838

Special education teachers support students with diverse abilities. They collaborate with parents, teachers, and administrators to create individualized educational programs (IEPs) to guide the students' education and transitions between grades. 

Special education teachers are required to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in special education as well as state certifications.

8. Elementary School Counselor

Average Salary: $71,700

Elementary school counselors support students' social and academic development through individual or group sessions and collaborate with parents and teachers to address students' needs. 

Counselors provide emotional support as young children start to navigate their increasingly complex feelings. For example, they might run group sessions for students who need to work on their social skills development or a safe space to talk about their feelings. 

Many also run age-appropriate anti-bullying campaigns, such as a Week of Respect that highlights friendship and kindness. 

School counselors typically need a master's degree in school counseling or a related field and a state-issued credential.

How to Become an Early Childhood Educator

Depending on your ECE career path, there are several ways to get started in this fun and rewarding field. Some of the steps mentioned below are only necessary for higher-level careers, such as school counselors or early childhood center directors. 

Note that every state has its specific requirements for certification and licensure, so check those out before embarking on your path. Some of these steps need to be done in a different order or concurrently, depending on where you live or want to work.

Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

While some careers in ECE require only an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree can open up more opportunities for higher-paying roles.

An ECE bachelor’s program usually includes core coursework in child development and psychology, educational theories and practices, specialized courses in literacy, language development, math, science, art, music, and physical education, and options for electives and concentrations.

Get Real World Experience

Jobs in early childhood education typically involve completing a student-teaching practicum to help you gain real-world experience. During this practicum, you would work alongside experienced mentors to gain practical classroom experience and feedback. 

The details of the practicum can vary depending on your university or college program. It may last anywhere from one semester to a full year and may require experience in different classrooms. Most teaching programs have dedicated services that assist in placing student-teachers with mentors.

Pass Your State’s Mandated Tests

Just as each state has specific requirements for becoming an early childhood educator, they also mandate which tests you must pass to earn certification. 

Most states require candidates to take and pass one or more of the Praxis tests to assess their ECE knowledge and skills. These tests are designed to ensure that you have the necessary competencies to effectively teach young children and meet the state's educational standards. 

Once again, we emphasize the importance of researching the specific testing requirements in your state to prepare for becoming an early childhood educator.

Apply for Your License

Applying for your license is usually the final step in becoming an early childhood educator. Each state has specific procedures and requirements for licensure. For example, you may need to provide additional documentation, such as background checks or letters of recommendation. 

Once your application is reviewed and approved, you will be officially licensed to begin your career as an early childhood educator.

Advanced Degrees

Certain careers in ECE require an advanced degree. For example, most states require guidance counselors to have a master’s degree in school counseling or a similar field. Advanced degrees can also help you move up in your career and earn more money.

Staying Up To Date

Some states require you to periodically renew your license or fulfill continuing education hours to stay certified. But beyond state requirements, it’s always a good idea to stay up to date with the latest technologies, trends, and dialogues in early childhood education. 

Organizations like the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the National Head Start Association (NHSA), and the National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC) provide excellent resources for early childhood educators looking for continuing education and professional development opportunities, from national conferences to online training.

Skills Needed for a Career in Early Childhood Education

Early Childhood Education is an extraordinary field that requires outstanding, committed individuals. These are some of the hard and soft skills needed to succeed in early childhood education careers.

Industry Skills

These skills are needed by almost everyone who works with children:

Soft Skills

Working with such young children requires an enormous amount of soft skills that will make them feel heard, seen, and respected and will hold their attention, including:

  • Communication
  • Creativity
  • Empathy
  • Patience
  • Observation
  • Adaptability

Start Your Early Childhood Education Career With StraighterLine

While StraighterLine doesn’t provide degrees, we can help you get started earning credits toward one. Our Early Childhood Education Bundle focuses on the classes you need to get started while saving time and money on your path.

Through our partnership with the American College of Education and our subsidiary CCEI, we also have a degree pathway program in Education Studies that will have you well on your way to earning your bachelor’s degree and your certification of choice in early childhood education.

Many of the credits earned with StraighterLine are easily transferable to colleges and universities through our partner program or ACE credit recommendations. Find out more about careers in Early Childhood Education and how StraighterLine can help.

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