In simpler times, kindergarten was seen as a place where children developed social skills and acclimated to a learning environment. While that acclimation was critical—it laid the groundwork for the academic learning to come at higher grade levels—kindergarten was still primarily about fun. Think Chuck E. Cheese ball pit with a lifeguard.
Today's kindergarten classroom, however, stresses academics as much as playtime. Caring, effective kindergarten teachers integrate engaging playtime with learning activities to build young children's skills in basic math, reading, and comprehension. Add the development of socialization and communication skills to the mix and watch the stakes ratchet up even higher. While play remains a central activity in kindergarten, it's literally not just fun and games anymore.
That's because educators now understand how crucial early-childhood education is to the development of a child's interests and abilities. In a kindergarten classroom, young children learn how to interact socially in a positive, constructive way. They rely on the instructions of their teachers, who serve as one of their first positive adult role models outside of the family. They undergo orientation for the elementary education awaiting them the following year.
Kindergarten teachers are tasked with a big job for little people. The rewards include:
In this guide to becoming a kindergarten teacher, we'll discuss:
At all other grade levels, students arrive with at least one previous year's learning. Teachers know what skills their students have—or at least should have—on the first day of class. Not so in kindergarten. As a kindergarten teacher, you must be prepared for students of all levels, from proficient readers to those who don't yet know the alphabet.
That's just one of many challenges kindergarten teachers face. Most kindergarteners are five-year-olds, and their attention spans are short, to put it mildly. It is necessary to have a catalog of activities ready to keep children engaged and learning throughout the day. Kindergarten classes typically rotate lessons every 15 minutes or so—which probably still feels like an eternity to the kids.
But there's a lot more to leading a kindergarten class than merely teaching academics and keeping students engaged. Kindergarten is also a time for children to develop social skills, such as learning how to resolve disputes and understanding the value of diversity. You'll be teaching children how to:
At the same time, you'll be teaching the children critical school behaviors such as:
Along with helping children develop foundational learning and social skills, kindergarten teachers have an added duty of helping parents, for whom the transition to schooling can be equally challenging. A kind, understanding teacher makes a big difference.
So, how long does it take to become a kindergarten teacher?
To teach kindergarten in a public elementary school, you'll first need a bachelor's degree (sadly, the less-expensive, easier-to-obtain associate's degree in early childhood education isn't sufficient to lead a kindergarten class in the public school system; it may be enough to teach in some private schools).
Most kindergarten, pre-k, and other early childhood instructors complete a bachelor's degree program in one of these subjects:
As an undergraduate, you'll complete coursework with titles like:
If your undergraduate degree is not an education degree, you may also need to complete a teacher preparation program to qualify for your teaching certificate. All told, it should take four to five years from high school graduation to your first kindergarten class.
Each state sets its own licensure requirements for teachers; contact your state's Department of Education to learn how to earn a teaching license in your state. Most states award a preliminary license to teachers with a bachelor's degree. Most also require a background check (seriously consider whether you want to raise your children in a state that doesn't).
Some states require a master's degree to renew your license, typically after five years. Others may accept additional certifications or other professional development, and a few require no further education among their licensing requirements.
Regardless, a master's degree will provide you with a greater understanding of young children's needs. It will also likely earn you an automatic pay raise. Some academic programs allow you to earn both a bachelor's and master's degrees in an accelerated time frame.
It makes sense to pursue your master's in the state where you plan to teach, since programs typically prepare students for their home state's licensure requirements. However, it is possible to pursue your master's online from any school you want, regardless of location. American University in Washington, DC, for example, offers an excellent online Master of Arts in Teaching at the elementary level that is perfect for kindergarten and preschool teachers.
Prospective kindergarten teachers should know that their chosen profession pays parsimoniously, even compared to other teacher salaries. Kindergarten teachers earn an average annual income of $59,420, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, job recruiting websites offer less encouraging numbers: Indeed ($35,502), ZipRecruiter ($34,801), and Glassdoor ($46,035) all report substantially lower annual incomes. Public school teachers earn considerably more on average than private school teachers.
Kindergarten teachers can increase their value and, perhaps, their salaries by developing specialized skills. Building expertise in special education is one way to advance your career as a kindergarten teacher. Most teachers receive automatic raises every year, so your salary will increase as your teaching career progresses.
Kindergarten teachers should meet appropriate education requirements, but that's only the beginning. They also need these skills.
Kindergarten-aged children can only reasonably be expected to sit for 15 minutes at a time. Teachers of young students must always be ready with novel, interesting activities that engage all five senses.
An effective kindergarten teacher has cultivated a playful spirit that can transfer both academic concepts and social skills to young children.
High-quality teaching demands preparation. According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, making checklists, taking notes, and creating plans to track student needs can make you a more effective teacher.
Kindergarten teachers must learn to motivate children with clear, simple, specific reinforcements, like: "You were very considerate to let her go in front of you." Just saying "Good job" or giving a sticker is less effective. Effective kindergarten teachers also need to maintain a good rapport with students' guardians.
If you plan to teach in your home state, you should seriously consider finding a program there. Your state university systems likely offer excellent, affordable teacher education programs that will prepare you for the specific teacher certification you need.
We've highlighted a few programs that offer a little something extra below:
With your teaching certification, you can work not only as a kindergarten teacher in a public school but also in:
Is teaching kindergarten the right career for you? If you love working with children, have a near-limitless supply of patience and compassion, and understand that kindergarten, while fun, is also a critical period in a child's education, then you have what it takes to thrive in this role. You won't get rich, but you will enjoy days full of energy, wonder, and high-pitched shrieks. If that sounds like paradise to you, then yes, you were born to teach kindergarten.
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