Teaching Careers Updated November 14, 2017

Head Start Teacher – Education, Job and Salary Information

By Robbie Bruens October 4, 2012

Head Start is a federally funded program that provides early childhood education, healthcare and nutrition services to impoverished youth. Becoming a Head Start teacher gives you a chance to make a difference in the lives of young children who need an abundance of guidance and care.

Head Start teachers work in prekindergarten classrooms with children who are 3 to 5 years. Motivated, passionate Head Start teachers improve the learning outcomes, living standards and later academic and professional success of their students.

Launched over 50 years ago, Head Start has a strong track record and is likely to be around for years. It’s also a great launch pad for other careers in education.

This guide will give you a head start of your own on learning the job description, required education and likely salary of a Head Start teacher. Browse through the article or use the links to jump to what interests you most:

> Head Start teacher job description
> Who makes good Head Start teachers?

Head Start teaching at the various levels
> Head Start lead teachers
> Head Start teacher assistants
> Head Start teacher aides

Professional development
> Continuing education

Related careers
> Jobs beyond teaching

Best of the Web
> Sites and Twitter handles to follow

At-a-glance: Head Start teachers

Preschool teachers earn an average annual salary of $28,570, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the BLS does not provide information directly for Head Start teachers, we’ve included several Head Start-specific sources in the table for salary comparisons.

Lead teacher Teacher assistant Teacher aide
Education Bachelor’s; master’s preferred Child development associate (CDA) credential or bachelor’s/associate’s degree High school diploma or GED
Median salary $23,474 to $57,755 (PayScale.com)
$32,756 (Glassdoor.com average for all Head Start positions)
$14,289 to $25,462 (PayScale.com)
$32,756 (Glassdoor.com average for all Head Start positions)
$32,756 (Glassdoor.com average for all Head Start positions)
Job growth outlook +7% (BLS, average for all preschool teachers) +7% (BLS, average for all preschool teachers) +7% (BLS, average for all preschool teachers)

The popularity of early childhood education programs is on the rise, creating demand for more professionals in this field. The BLS anticipates 7 percent growth in preschool teaching positions through 2024.

Head Start teacher job description

Head Start teachers are preschool teachers with an extra responsibility: coordinating with other Head Start workers to provide wraparound benefits to underprivileged kids. Head Start teachers focus on educating the child, while Head Start provides health services such as immunizations, dental and medical care, mental health services and nutritional assistance. Head Start teachers can expect to work closely with the parents of their students, because parental involvement is a key component of the program.

A Head Start teacher’s typical day is eventful and busy — managing, educating and inspiring a large group of young children for six to eight hours straight with little time for breaks. Because Head Start teachers are often responsible for older infants and toddlers, they must teach the most basic social skills in addition to changing diapers and cleaning up bathroom accidents.

This work is challenging, which is why Head Start teachers work in teams. A Head Start teaching team consists of a lead teacher, a teacher assistant and teacher aides. Later in this article, we will look into each of these positions in more detail.

Who makes a good Head Start teacher?

Someone who is:

  • Empathetic and caring
  • Patient and kind
  • Good at planning and organizing
  • Creative and flexible
  • Enthusiastic about learning
  • Passionate yet pragmatic
  • Able to have a sense of humor yet remain respectful of differences
  • Willing to take risks for the sake of the children
  • Qualified with the proper credentials and degrees

Interested in becoming a Head Start teacher?

Different types of Head Start teachers

You may start out working for Head Start as a teacher assistant or aide before eventually becoming a lead teacher. Let’s take a look at each of these roles.

Head Start lead teachers

Lead teachers are in charge of preschool classrooms. They plan each day so children have the opportunity to express themselves, develop basic social skills and learn the rudiments of elementary subjects.
Continue reading to learn more about Head Start lead teachers

What Head Start lead teachers do

Lead teachers guide preschool children through art and science projects, activities like show-and-tell and story time, and other games and lessons. While activities may vary, they will always be designed to teach children to share, express themselves, communicate well with others, follow their curiosity, and learn about the alphabet and number system.

Other day-to-day duties can include:

  • Creating lesson plans with goals, objectives, activities and outcomes
  • Providing opportunities for children to develop positive self-images and experience success
  • Building effective partnerships with parents
  • Fingerpainting
  • Working with crayons, markers and construction paper
  • Teaching children how to play fairly with others
  • Disciplining children for bad behavior
  • Rewarding children for good behavior
  • Taking children on field trips and outings to local museums, history exhibits, cultural attractions and more

Educational and certification requirements

Head Start usually requires lead teachers to have a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree in early childhood education or child development, with coursework in such areas as early literacy, learning assessment, typical and atypical development, family development, psychology, children’s literature and health/physical development.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated area, you may still be eligible to become a lead teacher if you complete an alternative teaching program such as Teach for America’s Early Childhood Initiative and take an early childhood content exam like the Praxis II.

In many cases, lead teachers are also required to have a teaching credential.

Salary projections

Here are two estimates of what you might earn as a lead teacher:

  • PayScale.com: $23,474 to $57,755
  • Glassdoor.com: $32,756 (average for all Head Start teaching positions)

Pros and cons of being a Head Start lead teacher

As you consider becoming a Head Start lead teacher, take into account the good and the bad that come with the job.


  • You get to run the classroom
  • Guide children through early development and have a lifelong impact on them
  • Enjoy substantial time off for holidays and summer break
  • Full benefits
  • Experience the creativity and curiosity of young children firsthand


  • Lots of responsibility
  • Working with young children can be tiring if you’re mainly used to interactions with adults
  • Fewer opportunities to work one-on-one with students compared with teacher assistants and teacher aides
  • Salary may lag other education jobs

Head Start teacher assistants

Managing a classroom of very young children is hard work. Teacher assistants provide backup for the lead teacher, helping with tasks the lead teacher cannot do while leading the classroom through activities and lessons.
Continue reading to learn more about Head Start teacher assistants

What Head Start teacher assistants do

Teacher assistants help the lead teacher plan and implement the day’s lessons and activities for a classroom of preschool children. They help with supervising the children, preparing the room for meals and rest periods, and maintaining important documents and records.

Other day-to-day duties include:

  • Ensuring all children are under appropriate supervision at all times
  • Managing the classroom if the lead teacher is absent
  • Observing, assessing and documenting each assigned child’s health, skills, behavior, growth and development
  • Identifying physical or mental development concerns in assigned children
  • Scheduling parent/staff conferences
  • Conducting two home visits per year for each student
  • Developing and maintaining confidential educational records for each child
  • Participating in recruitment efforts to help maintain full program enrollment
  • Completing daily attendance and meal participation reports

Educational and certification requirements

In addition to a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) certificate, an assistant teacher must have a child development associate (CDA) credential or a state-awarded certificate that meets or exceeds a CDA. To earn a CDA, you need to provide documentation of training and experience in the field of early childhood care and education. You must also complete a CDA assessment.

In some cases, you may be able to start work as a teacher assistant while still enrolled in a CDA program as long as you complete the program within two years. If you have an associate or bachelor’s degree in any field or if you are currently enrolled in a degree program relating to early childhood development, the CDA may not be required.

Salary projections

Here are two estimates of what you might earn as a teacher assistant:

  • PayScale.com: $14,289 to $25,462
  • Glassdoor.com: $32,756 (average for all Head Start teachers)

Pros and cons of being a Head Start teacher assistant

Consider the advantages and disadvantages of working as a teacher assistant.


  • Gain valuable experience working under an experienced lead teacher
  • Get to work one-on-one with kids
  • Make a difference in the lives of underprivileged youths
  • Enjoy substantial time off for holidays and summer break


  • Recordkeeping and paperwork can be tedious and repetitive
  • Lots of menial work
  • You aren’t running the show in the classroom
  • Low pay

Head Start teacher aides

Teacher aides support teacher assistants and lead teachers in a Head Start classroom.
Continue reading to learn more about Head Start teacher aides

What Head Start teacher aides do

Teacher aides provide the third level of teaching support in a Head Start classroom. They follow the lead teacher’s oral and written instructions and work one-on-one with children who disrupt or cause difficulty in the larger group setting.

The day-to-day duties of a teacher aide can include:

  • Lifting and carrying children
  • Providing guidance and support to children with social or learning deficiencies
  • Standing, squatting, pushing and pulling for long hours
  • Supervising children during recess and lunch
  • Keeping the classroom neat and tidy
  • Changing diapers and cleaning up bathroom accidents

Educational and certification requirements

To get a job as an entry-level teacher’s aide, you need only to pass a background check and possess a high school diploma or general educational development (GED) certificate. This makes Head Start teacher aide an ideal job while you are enrolled in another education or certification program. You could work as a teacher aide while you earn your bachelor’s or master’s degree or a child development associate (CDA) credential.

Salary projections

Here is one estimate of what you might earn as a teacher aide:

  • Glassdoor.com: $32,756 (average for all Head Start teaching positions)

It’s likely your income will be significantly lower than what the lead teacher earns. Before long, you will want to seek out a higher-paying job in Head Start or another educational program using your experience as a teacher aide.

Pros and cons of being a Head Start teacher aide

Here’s some things to keep in mind when thinking about getting a job as a teacher aide.


  • Often flexible working hours
  • Lead teachers and teacher assistants will give you invaluable guidance
  • You are the most hands-on with respect to the students
  • Tasks are mostly simple and easy to learn
  • Make a difference in the lives of underprivileged youths
  • Enjoy substantial time off for holidays and summer break


  • Very low pay
  • Tasks can be tedious and repetitive
  • Lots of menial tasks and heavy lifting
  • Lowest status among Head Start classroom professionals

Professional development for Head Start teachers

Teaching children and educating future leaders can be a rewarding experience in and of itself. But preschool teaching for Head Start can can also be one step on your path toward a career in education.

You can work as a Head Start teacher aide or assistant (or even lead teacher in some cases) as you work to obtain degrees and/or credentials that will further develop your career as an educator. If you are in school or earning your teaching credential (or child development associate certification), try finding a job as a Head Start teacher aide or assistant. It will give you invaluable experience and look excellent on your resume when seeking future jobs in the education system.

Benefits of continuing education

Although you may be able to build a career in education without a master’s degree, Head Start lead teachers with a master’s degree have a much better chance at earning a higher salary or another job in education with more generous compensation and benefits. If you’re working to become a Head Start lead teacher (or if you already are one), you should seriously consider master’s programs in education to further develop your professional skills.

What kinds of programs can help Head Start teachers?

Concordia University-Portland offers online graduate degree programs that help Head Start teachers improve their skills and understanding of best practices in teaching and childcare, and prepare them for broader range of job opportunities in the education system:

Consider enrolling in a program based on the area of education you are most passionate about. Or you can take a look at the menu of related jobs to see what’s required for the job in education you want to pursue.

Jobs beyond Head Start

Head Start teachers may also work as teachers, librarians, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, principals or an educational administrator at a college or university.

K-12 teacher: Head Start teachers can easily become a K-12 teacher with a teaching credential and a strong educational background in the subject they plan to teach. A master of education degree in a field like curriculum and instruction might increase your potential earnings as a K-12 teacher.

Librarian: A master’s degree in library science (MLS) is generally required for employment. Some states also require librarians to pass a standardized test.

Instructional coordinator: Instructional coordinators generally need to complete a master’s degree related to curriculum and instruction and may be required to have a teaching or education administrator license.

Academic advisor: With a master’s degree in nearly any education-related field, Head Start teachers could transition to being an academic advisor at either the K-12 or college/university level.

School principal: If you’re interested in eventually becoming a school principal, consider pursuing a master of education in a field like education leadership. Most states also require public school principals to be licensed school administrators.

Education administrator: To become an education administrator, you will need years of experience in the education system and master’s degree in a field like education leadership. Most states may also require you to be a licensed school administrator.

Best of the Web: our favorite Head Start teacher blogs, websites and Twitter handles

The Web makes it easy for us to stay connected to prominent Head Start teachers. Here is a list of our favorite websites and Twitter handles, in no particular order.

Favorite Head Start websites and blogs

Office of Head Start
Office of Head Start Blog
National Head Start Association (NHSA)
National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
Teachstone Blog
Incredible Years Blog

Favorite Head Start Twitter handles

Iris Overstreet: @IrisECE
Chelsea Allen: @ChelseaKayAllen
Paula Foster: @paulafosterHS
Jeannette Dalton: @mrsdaltonrr
Gerilyn Slicker: @gerilynslicker
TLC for Families: @TLC4FAMILIES
Yasmina Vinci: @yasminanhsa
Office of Head Start: @headstartgov
National Head Start Association: @natlheadstart

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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