How Much Do Preschool Teachers Earn?
March 10, 2021
Being a preschool teacher has a lot of benefits (including snacks). Sadly, high pay is not usually one of them. Most preschool teachers make under $30,000 per year, though some can make over $60,000 in the right situation.
As a preschool teacher, you will shepherd children at a critical point in their lives through a crucial formative experience. You might think that this essential work would be well-compensated. In financial terms, at least, that is sadly not the case. Even though your job will be to introduce students to a classroom setting while providing working parents the opportunity to, you know, actually have a chance to work, you might feel undervalued and almost certainly will feel underpaid as a preschool teacher. Being a preschool teacher is without question a job that you do for the love of it.
So, how much will you earn leading extremely repetitive songs and tripping over tiny chairs? In this guide on how much do preschool teachers make, we will cover:
- How much do preschool teachers make?
- Things that impact a preschool teacher's salary
- The benefits of being a preschool teacher
- What does a preschool teacher's workday look like?
- How to become a preschool teacher
How much do preschool teachers make?
Preschool teachers earned a median annual income of $29,780 in 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of pre-k teachers earned around $55,350, and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $21,000.
Location, location, location
Preschool teachers in certain states do a bit better than their peers elsewhere. The five highest-paying states, by median income, are:
- New York: $48,630
- Connecticut: $43,350
- District of Columbia: $42,060
- New Jersey: $40,880
- Hawaii: $39,560
Of course, incomes can vary widely within a state. For example, the median income for the 34,790 preschool teachers in Texas is $34,960. The median income for preschool teachers in Laredo, Texas, however, is $60,880. If you're one of the 150 preschool teachers in Laredo, you're likely doing pretty well, dining out on barbecue brisket and Blue Moons every night. If, however, you're among the 600 preschool teachers in Lubbock earning a median income of $23,050, well, that's a different story. No 'cue for you, my friend, and at the bar? PBR.
The lowest-paying state, for the record, is Alabama (where the average annual income for preschool teachers is $24,800).
The states with the highest number of preschool teachers are:
- New York
Things that impact a preschool teacher's salary
Where a preschool teacher works can significantly impact their salary. Here is the breakdown of BLS data:
- Elementary and secondary schools—state, local, and private: $46,770
- Individual and family services: $31,570
- Religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations: $30,820
- Child daycare services: $27,830
Most preschool teachers (60 percent) work in child daycare settings, while 17 percent are employed by "religious, grantmaking, civic, professional, and similar organizations," according to the BLS. Only 15 percent work for state and local schools, and only 3 percent are employed by individuals and families.
You might look into switching careers and becoming a daycare director, which requires a similar skill set. Daycare directors usually make more money than teachers. Their average salary is $54,593 per year, though it can go as low as $37,000 or as high as $94,000.
We can put these numbers in perspective by comparing them to other teacher salaries. For instance:
- High school teachers earn a median annual income of $60,320
- Middle school teachers earn a median annual income of $58,600
- Kindergarten and elementary school teachers earn a median annual income of $57,980
If the money is more important to you than working with three-to-five-year-olds, you might want to look into becoming a kindergarten teacher. You'll still get to work with small children, but you'll be making a lot more money, on average.
Special education preschool teacher
Becoming a special education teacher is a great service, not only to students who sorely need your attention but also to your wallet. Preschool special education teachers earn an average annual salary of just under $50,000.
Becoming a special education preschool teacher will almost certainly require passing a state licensure exam.
Though you may not need it, earning a Master's in Early Childhood Special Education is a surefire way to become a special education preschool teacher. Many programs, such as the one at The University of Texas at Austin, prepare students to take state credentialing exams and earn their teaching licenses.
The benefits of being a preschool teacher
If you think great health benefits are going to make up for your low wages as a preschool teacher, you might want to reconsider. According to an article for the Johns Hopkins University School of Education, preschool teachers often have few or no benefits. In fact, many cannot even take sick days when they really need them.
If you are one of the lucky teachers to work in a state or local preschool, you may be entitled to the same health benefits as the other public school teachers. These benefits usually include:
- Health insurance
- Pension plan
- Sick days
Many teachers get summers off, though some of the best preschools are year-round. This means you might be able to get a second job in the summer to supplement your teaching income.
What does a preschool teacher's workday look like?
As a preschool teacher, you won't be grading papers or administering exams. You likely won't be sending kids down to the principal for misbehaving, either. The kids just won't be there yet.
As a preschool teacher, you'll be in charge of three-to-five-year old students. You job duties will include:
- Teaching concepts like shapes and colors
- Identifying potential special needs students or those with behavioral issues
- Supervising snack and nap times
- Reading stories
- Cutting paper for arts and crafts
Depending on your class size, you might get a teaching assistant. You also might have unconventional hours, depending on where you work, though most preschool teachers work in eight-hour shifts. If you teach an afternoon class, you might have your kids until 6 pm. If you work in the morning, you might start at 6 am.
A good preschool teacher has communication skills and a lot of patience. You will need both to deal with the stresses of trying to communicate with tiny people who don't have well-developed communication skills yet.
How to become a preschool teacher
Becoming a preschool teacher, perhaps shockingly, requires quite a bit of education. Who knew it would take so much training to be able to teach three-to-five-year-olds a play-centered curriculum?
The first step is to earn either a two-year associate's degree, or a four-year (longer and more expensive) bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Though it is possible in some areas to become a preschool teacher with just an associate's degree, many public schools prefer (or require) a bachelor's degree. There is some wiggle room, however, for the type of bachelor's degree that you earn, since teaching certification programs exist for those with bachelor's degrees outside of education.
A bachelor's degree also sets you up better for a long-term career in education. Consider earning a bachelor's if you want to:
- Become an administrator (this will probably require a master's)
- Become a curriculum specialist (this, too, is typically master's-level work)
- Teach a higher grade level than pre-K
An associate's degree may qualify you to teach the youngest students. According to Concordia University - Portland, "a preschool teacher most likely needs an associate's degree and some work experience, while a kindergarten teacher more than likely needs a bachelor's degree and a year of student-teaching experience."
Alternatively, you could teach in a private school, which gets to set its own teaching qualification requirements. It is possible to teach any level at a private school with just an associate's degree. In reality, however, you'll probably need at least a bachelor's degree and even some teaching certifications. Parents pay good money for most private schools, so they expect the teachers to meet a reasonably high standard for qualifications.
Check your state's education requirements before jumping into a degree program. Some states require a bachelor's degree. Some, however, offer multiple options based on work experience. For instance, to teach in a New York City Early Education Center, which is a partner of the New York City Department of Education, you must have one of the following:
- Certification from a state program
- A bachelor's degree and relevant coursework
- Extensive early childhood teaching experience (and you will need to earn certification within three years)
One of the benefits of attending a bachelor's program is that your school will often place you in a student teaching role to get that required experience. The University of Vermont, for instance, even has a school on campus where (college) students can gain teaching experience as early as their freshman year.
So, what are the takeaways here? First, there are several different ways to become a preschool teacher. Second, if you're going to be a preschool teacher, it's best to live in Laredo.
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