Preschool and Pre-K Teacher: Job, Education and Salary Information
Preschool teachers play a vital role in the lives of young students by nurturing and developing their interests in age-appropriate subjects. These teachers encourage social interactions and foster a creative learning environment.
Preschool and pre-kindergarten teachers generally instruct children from ages 2 to 5, depending on when parents choose to enroll their children.
With the use of interactive teaching methods, preschool teachers provide young children with learning foundations in basic subjects like learning letters and numbers. They use individual and group activities to help students begin the learning process through activities like group reading and various exercises, such as collecting objects and distinguishing shapes and colors.
Our guide offers insights into the required education, salary and job outlook for preschool and pre-kindergarten teachers. Browse through the content or use the following links to jump to your desired location:
Teaching preschool and pre-K in-depth
> What do preschool and pre-K teachers do?
> Where do preschool and pre-K teachers work?
> Educational requirements
> Salary and employment projections
Preschool and pre-kindergarten teachers should be passionate about working with small children. They need to be patient and empathetic toward students from diverse social backgrounds and with a wide range of learning abilities.
Preschoolers may attend preschool, pre-kindergarten or transitional kindergarten. Although the approach and focus of the school may vary, all have a similar goal: to make sure children are ready for kindergarten and are on a path to succeed by third grade.
- Preschool, also known as PK2, PK3 or PK4, is for ages 2-4 and usually is private.
- Pre-kindergarten, also known as pre-K, PK and K4, is primarily for 4-year-olds. Most are run by public school systems; the rest are administered by community agencies or private providers.
- Transitional kindergarten is for students turning 5 after the school year cutoff date, which varies among the states. It also includes some 5-year-olds who are not ready for a regular classroom but might benefit from an extra year. Public school districts offer transitional kindergarten.
Preschool and pre-K differ from day care by focusing on school readiness. Some facilities offer preschool in addition to day care.
Preschool and pre-K teachers
- Education: Associate degree; bachelor’s preferred
- Certification: Child Development Associate credential, state certification
- Typical study time: 2-4 years
- Median salary range: $26,210 to $42,880
- Job outlook: +7%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Once you meet your state’s requirements, you may choose to work in public schools or private education settings. Private settings include day care 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 day care or preschool facilities.
What personal characteristics do preschool and pre-K teachers have?
It takes special skills and personality traits to succeed as a pre-K or preschool teacher. Desirable traits include:
- Respect for diversity
- Excellent listening skills
- Positive reinforcement practices
- Patience and understanding
- Tolerance for different learning abilities
Are you interested in early childhood development? Do you enjoy collaborating with peers to help children reach their full learning potential? If you’re naturally inclined to work with children, perhaps you can identify with the pre-K teachers in this video:
Teaching preschool and pre-K
Pre-K teachers instruct children who are 4 years old, although some may be as young as 3. They are focused on preparing students to be ready for kindergarten by providing them with early learning foundations in basic subjects such as pre-reading readiness and early math experiences.
By comparison, preschool teachers generally work with children from ages 2 to 5 in day care settings, churches, Head Start centers and various private schools. Although most preschool educators focus on teaching, they also supervise children during meal times and personal hygiene activities. Their work may include coordinating play-learning and nap time, dressing students and even changing toddlers’ diapers.
Pre-K schools place a strong emphasis on preparing toddlers academically for kindergarten. Public Head Start programs, private preschools and day care centers are all geared toward group interaction and the development of listening skills. Public pre-K teachers are expected to meet minimum education and credential requirements, depending on the state in which they teach.
Private preschools include day care centers and parochial, or faith-based, pre-K schools. They may also include private employers that offer day care services to personnel. The education and teaching credential requirements for private preschool and pre-K teachers are generally less stringent than the teacher education requirements for public schools. Consequently, the wages are also lower. Private schools — particularly day care centers — offer more full-time positions. However, preschool teachers who work part time in private schools have fewer opportunities to procure full-time positions.
Preschool and pre-K teacher job description
Preschool and pre-K teachers are responsible for helping children develop social skills and monitoring a range of daily activities, from playful learning to rest time. You need to be flexible and creative while maintaining structure and sticking to schedules.
As a preschool or pre-K teacher, you need to explain subjects in a way that young children will understand. Your activities may include:
- Working with children one-on-one and in groups, supervising activities, keeping students on task
- Serving snacks and using meals as a way to incorporate learning, especially social skills
- Introducing students to concepts that are to be explored further in kindergarten, such as early literacy experiences
- Creating schedules and routines, ensuring children have a proper balance of rest and physical activities
- Planning curriculum targeting areas related to child development such as social, motor and language skills
- Developing language skills by reading to students and encouraging discussion through storytelling activities
- Updating parents on their child’s progress with daily recordkeeping and documentation of behavior issues
- Helping students interact and adapt socially through activities that promote group engagement and fairness, such as group experiences for music and parallel play for choosing activities
Public pre-K teachers work a variety of hours, depending on whether they’re employed full time or part time. Those who work part time typically have classes that run three to six hours each day, four or five days per week. However, some pre-K teachers work full time and are responsible for separate morning and afternoon classes. Preschool teachers who work full time for day care centers typically work eight-hour shifts ranging from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Pre-K teachers who work full time for public school districts may be off during the summer. Teachers employed by districts with year-round schedules typically work eight weeks in a row, with one week off every three months and a five-week midwinter break.
The average public pre-K class size is approximately 10 students; however, average class sizes vary from about eight to 20. Pre-K classrooms often have a lead teacher and an assistant teacher to help with responsibilities.
Private school class sizes vary. Some rural or parochial preschools may have only a handful of preschool students, while certain private day care centers can comprise upwards of 30 children per class. The size of the class has a direct bearing on job satisfaction.
Where should you teach?
A number of factors come into play in deciding whether to pursue public or private school jobs. The teacher’s education level, early childhood learning credentials, career goals, personal ideals and expectations for students are important factors in deciding where to work.
Some distinctions between public and private schools:
- Rigid standards for classroom procedures and curriculum requirements
- Job security potential with excellent benefits and opportunities for tenure
- College credential requirements and rigorous professional standards
- Increased one-on-one time with students in smaller class sizes
- Emphasis on prior preschool experience
- Increased job opportunities and faster potential for advancement
Where the jobs are for preschool and pre-K teachers
Child day care services have the majority of employment opportunities for pre-K and preschool teachers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. BLS data does not distinguish between private day care and public Head Start programs.
Here are BLS projections of jobs for pre-K and preschool teachers:
- Child day care services: 245,640
- Elementary and secondary schools: 74,240
- Individual and family services: 13,040
- Religious organizations: 8,410
- Civic and social organizations: 6,640
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)
A day as a pre-K teacher
Here is a snapshot of learning concepts and responsibilities for preschool and pre-K teachers:
- Meet and greet: Meet students outside or in the hallway; organize and manage classrooms to keep students focused and prepared to begin their school day.
- 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: Grade students on assignments and 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.
How to become a preschool or pre-K teacher: educational requirements
Neither pre-K nor preschool teachers are required to have bachelor’s degrees. Employers, though, prefer to hire teachers with at least some postsecondary classes in early childhood education. As more states implement mandatory pre-K education programs, however, teachers need to have at least an associate degree and usually a bachelor’s degree.
Most public schools require certification in a childhood teaching program, such as the Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate, in addition to a license. Most states also require experience working in early childhood development and education. In addition to initial certification, preschool teachers need to complete continuing education credits, known as CEUs, to maintain their credential or license.
Parochial and other private schools that receive federal, state or local public funding — including education, nutrition and other grants — are expected to follow many of the same laws as public schools. Private schools that receive public funding may require teachers to have certifications for preschool and pre-K teachers in line with the state’s public schools.
Conversely, some private schools and privately operated day care centers for military bases and companies that provide early childhood development services for personnel have more stringent requirements for preschool teachers than public schools.
Certification requirements for preschool and pre-K teachers
Currently there is no nationwide standard educational requirement for pre-K and preschool teachers. However, all but a few states require that preschool teachers hold a current teaching license. Staff working in child care centers must be licensed as a child care provider. Most states also require pre-K and preschool teachers to maintain their license by completing continuing education credits.
In states that require certification to become a preschool teacher, degrees earned often include early childhood education, special education or child development. Coursework completed may also include:
- Early childhood learning technology
- Principles of childhood development
- Educational and childhood psychology
With the movement for universal pre-K, more states are requiring pre-K and preschool teachers to have a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license. Visit our state-by-state teacher licensing and reciprocity page to see regulations in your state.
The NCCA (National Child Care Association) offers the Child Care Professional (CCP) designation, which is recognized by some states. In order to earn your CCP, you need:
- High school diploma
- Completion of some continuing education courses
- Preschool teaching experience
Some states and private employers require preschool teachers to be certified as a CDA (Child Development Associate). The national CDA certification is implemented by the Council for Professional Recognition. Requirements to become certified include:
- High school diploma
- Preschool teaching experience
Preschool and pre-K teacher salary and employment projections
According to the BLS, employment for preschool teachers is expected to grow 17 percent. Once you meet your state’s requirements, the demand for preschool and pre-K teachers is much higher than for other grades.
Robust job growth projections are due to the understanding that early childhood education is essential for a child’s social and intellectual development. Additionally, the population of children ages 3 to 5 is increasing, according to recent U.S. Census Bureau data.
The average salary for pre-K and preschool teachers across the United States ranges from about $26,210 to $42,880, depending on job title. Pre-K teachers tend to be at the higher end.
- SimplyHired: $21,000
- Indeed: $329,000
- Glassdoor.com $32,000 to $49,577
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: $26,420
Pros and cons of being a preschool and pre-K teacher
- Opportunity to work with young students and help develop early childhood skills and proficiencies
- Flexible working hours, with some positions available for part-time teachers who work half-days
- Challenging job in an unpredictable environment with children who are learning social-adaptability skills
- Low to moderate pay compared to other grade levels that reward teachers with college credentials
Professional development for pre-K teachers
States vary widely regarding requirements for preschool and pre-K teachers working in private and public schools. Consequently, opportunities for professional development are contingent on the education level teachers have obtained. But all pre-K and preschool teachers are required to take continuing education credits or professional development units to maintain their licenses.
What kinds of graduate programs can help pre-K and preschool teachers?
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 and Instruction: Early Childhood Education addresses many challenges associated with teaching pre-K. The comprehensive program is designed, in part, to help students:
- Explore pre-K and primary education curriculum development, with a focus on child-centered learning and assessment practices using prescribed standards and benchmarks
- Study early childhood development for young learners from birth through age 8, distinguishing between play and learning while reinforcing playful-learning classroom environments
- Examine the development of literacy skills in young children and the connections between reading and writing; conduct research using qualitative and quantitative analytical methods
- Advocate for children and families at the local, state and national levels by understanding research and applying theory
Professional associations for preschool and pre-K teachers
These associations provide resources for teachers in preschool and pre-K classrooms:
- Council for Professional Recognition (CDA credential)
- National Early Childhood Program Accreditation (CCP credential)
- National Association for the Education of Young Children
- National Education Association
- National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators
- Association for Early Learning Leaders
- Association for Childhood Education International
- National Black Child Development Institute
Numerous options are available to teachers with preschool credentials, particularly among those with college degrees. You may be able to advance from an assistant teacher, to teacher, to the lead teacher, and then to director of the preschool.
Jobs available to preschool and pre-K teachers beyond teaching
Professionals who are trained in early childhood development are a good fit for jobs in civic leadership positions working with underprivileged children, the homeless and social services agencies. In addition, preschool teachers who hold master’s degrees and doctorates and have significant early childhood development experience are well-suited to lead day care centers and private preschools.
Here are some related career options for preschool and pre-K teachers:
- Elementary school teacher
- Private family day care provider
- Civic community leader
- Preschool assistant director
- Child care center director
- Preschool administrator
Best of the web: our favorite preschool and pre-K teacher websites and Twitter handles
The web is ideal for pre-K and preschool teachers as a tool for research, lesson planning, presentations and a chuckle.
Favorite preschool and preschool teacher websites
- Tom Hobson: Teacher Tom
- Paula Harrell: Learn + Play = Pre-K
- Jamie White: Play to Learn Preschool
- PreK + K Sharing
- Karry from New York: Yay for PreK
Favorite preschool and pre-K teacher Twitter handles
- Leslie McCollom: @PreschoolGems
- Vanessa Levin: @PreKPages
- Karen Cox: @prekinders
- Ami Brooks: @AmiBrooks4
- Deborah J. Stewart: @Teach_Preschool
- "Preschool Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014
- "Occupational Outlook for Preschool Teachers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Preschool Teachers
- "Pre-kindergarten: What the research shows," Center for Public Education
- "The State of Preschool," National Institute for Early Education Research