Teaching Careers Updated October 30, 2019

Preschool and Pre-K Teacher: Job, Education, and Salary Information

By Alisa Bates, PhD October 4, 2012

The work of a preschool or pre-K teacher is both meaningful and valuable. Preschool and pre-K teachers play a vital role in the lives of students ages three to five by nurturing and developing their interests in age-appropriate subjects. They encourage social interactions and foster a creative learning environment while providing the fundamental educational foundation to prepare them for a successful start to school.

At-a-glance

Preschool and pre-kindergarten teachers are passionate about working with small children. They are patient and empathetic while working with students and enjoy the unpredictable nature of young children.

Preschool and pre-K teachers job description

Preschool

Focusing on school readiness, preschool teachers generally work with children ages two to five in daycare settings, churches, Head Start centers, and various private schools. They supervise children during meal times, help in the development of social skills, and reinforce personal hygiene activities. Days include coordinating play-learning and nap time, dressing students, and even changing toddlers’ diapers. Preschool teachers are flexible and creative while maintaining structure and sticking to schedules.

Pre-K

Pre-K teachers instruct children three to five years of age. A main focus at this level is preparing students to be ready for kindergarten. Early learning foundations in basic subjects such as pre-reading readiness and early math experiences are practiced daily.

As a pre-K teacher, your typical activities may include:.

  • Plan curriculum: Prepare daily lessons and exercises; follow age-appropriate curriculum guidelines for preschoolers, such as counting single-digit numbers, identifying colors, categorizing and grouping shapes, and memorizing the alphabet.
  • Serve meals: Serve lunches and/or snacks to students in accordance with school and district nutritional policies, and assist students with cleaning up after mealtime.
  • Personal hygiene: Help students understand the benefits of personal health habits, including eating nutritional snacks, washing hands, grooming, and dressing.
  • Lead procedures: Arrange seating plans, take roll, keep attendance records, and implement school procedures.
  • Fun activities: Organize and lead games, arts and crafts, and other activities designed to help students learn, expend energy and work in groups.
  • Store supplies: Select supplies, such as arts and crafts, story books, and other learning tools; keep supplies organized; assist students in gathering and returning supplies before and after activities.
  • Storytelling: Read stories from age-appropriate books and encourage students to interact through creative feedback in group discussions.
  • Social development: Help students integrate with one another and interact in groups, whether they’re working on curriculum, completing tasks, or during play activities.
  • Behavior issues: Identify emotional problems and address them with the child’s parents or guardians during parent-teacher conferences.
  • Staff meetings: Attend staff meetings and work with colleagues to plan curriculum and discuss student progress.
  • Professional support: Work with school staff, such as counselors, nurses, and psychologists, who specialize in early childhood development and behavior management issues.
  • Teaching assistants: Supervise teaching assistants or volunteers as appropriate and in accordance with school procedures and policies as well as state and federal equal employment guidelines.
  • Education plans: Identify children with potential special needs and develop Individualized Educational Plans (IEPs) for remedial attention if necessary.
  • Progress reports: Evaluate work; keep student records and provide parents or guardians with timely progress reports.
  • Evaluate students: Administer tests and formal assessments; evaluate students’ grade-level performance in accordance with school and district policies; meet with parents to discuss performance.

Public pre-K teachers work a variety of hours, depending on whether they’re employed full time or part time. Some pre-K teachers work full time and are responsible for separate morning and afternoon classes. Preschool teachers who work full time for daycare centers typically work eight-hour shifts ranging from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Who makes good preschool and pre-K teachers

Someone who is:

  • A clear communicator
  • Flexible
  • Understanding of the importance of reinforcement practices
  • Patient and understanding
  • Capable of working with varying learning abilities
  • Able to collaborate effectively
  • Energized by working with young children
  • Celebrates the complexities of childhood
  • Emotionally stable and able to handle stress well

Preschool and pre-K teachers in-depth

Education and certification requirements

  • Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Certification: Child Development Associate credential, state certification, or teaching license.
  • Typical study time: 2-4 years

Preschool and pre-K teachers must meet specific requirements:

  • Complete an approved education program
  • Pass state/national competency examination(s)
  • Earn a state teaching license/certification

Degrees earned for preschool and pre-K teachers often include early childhood education, special education, or child development. Coursework completed may also include early childhood learning technology, principles of childhood development, and educational and childhood psychology.

More states are requiring pre-K and preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and certification in a childhood teaching program, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate in addition to a teaching license.

In addition to an educational degree and initial certification, preschool teachers need to complete continuing education credits, known as CEUs, to maintain their credential or license.

Once you meet your state’s requirements, you may choose to work in public schools or private education settings. Private settings include daycare centers and parochial, or faith-based, schools. Job opportunities can also include working with children at U.S. armed services bases, government agencies and large private companies that provide onsite daycare or preschool facilities.

Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page to see regulations in your state.

Salary range for preschool and pre-K teachers

Salary ranges for preschool and pre-K teachers can vary depending on the state, degree, experience, and institution of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for preschool and pre-K teachers is $29,780. The lowest 10% earn less than $20,610 and the highest 10% earn more than $55,350.

According to ZipRecruiter.com, average pay for preschool and pre-K teachers by state varies from $21,287 to $29,921.

Here is a snapshot of average preschool teacher salaries:

  • ZipRecruiter.com: $27,435
  • Payscale.com: $29,761
  • Glassdoor.com: $28,973
  • U.S. News: $28,990

Employment projections

Early childhood education is essential for a child’s social and intellectual development. With an increase in preschool-age children and the national movement toward a universal pre-K program, many states will require more qualified and dedicated preschool and pre-K program teachers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of preschool and pre-K teachers is projected to grow 7% from 2018 to 2028.

Advantages and disadvantages

Pros

  • Shaping the lives of young children
  • Working with young students
  • Witnessing understanding for the first time
  • Staying young through play
  • Continuing to learn from young minds
  • Variety in every day
  • Teaching basic skills like colors, shapes, letters, and numbers

Cons

  • An unpredictable environment
  • Low to moderate pay compared to other grade levels
  • Physically demanding, such as being on your feet all day, bending down, and lifting students
  • Limited contact with adults
  • Emotionally taxing to keep desires and emotions in check and appropriate
  • Lots of prep time necessary for instruction
  • Long days that typically go beyond the school day

Professional Development

Continuing education

It is important to stay current in all levels of education. Preschool and pre-K teachers are required to take continuing education credits or professional development units to maintain their licenses. Preschool and pre-K teachers seeking graduate studies should look for programs that expand their early childhood development expertise.

Concordia University-Portland’s MEd in Curriculum & Instruction: Early Childhood Education addresses many challenges associated with teaching preschool and pre-K.

Further professional development may also include formal arrangements through workshops, seminars, and conferences. There are many in-person or online professional development options. Check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children for suggestions.

Professional associations

These associations provide resources for teachers in preschool and pre-K classrooms:

Best of the Web

The internet is ideal for pre-K and preschool teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning, presentations, and a chuckle.

Favorite preschool and pre-K teacher websites and blogs

Resources to follow on Twitter and Instagram

Learn More: Click to view related resources.

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