A kindergarten teacher sets the foundation for the rest of a child’s education. As this kind of teacher, you work with one group of students, five days a week, and guide them through one of their most formative years. Teaching five and six year-olds everyday requires a love for children and a dedication to imbuing each kid, across a wide spectrum of skill levels and personalities, with the essential skills of socializing, discipline, and basic learning. If you have a knack for interacting with little kids and care a great deal about their well being, teaching kindergarten could be your ideal career.
Typical Requirements to Become a Kindergarten Teacher
|Minimum Education Level||Bachelor’s degree|
|Recommended Major Field(s)||Early childhood education, elementary education, early childhood development|
|Licensure/Certification||State licensure is required to work in all public schools, but not necessary for private schools|
|Minimum Work Experience||Student teaching experience|
Key Skills and Strengths
- A love for working with small children: This one seems obvious, but it is so critical it is worth mentioning. You spend each day by yourself with a room full of little kids, singing, dancing, playing games, and reading stories. If hanging out with toddlers and little tikes isn’t your idea of a great time, you might want to reconsider.
- Classroom management: As a kindergarten teacher, it’s important that you are able to hold the attention of the young students. You should be able to work and teach in a manner that keeps the room from devolving into chaos.
- Interest in childhood development and psychology: Teaching kindergarten isn’t just about ABC’s and story time. Young parents are anxious to know that their kids are developing as they should. Are they sharing, making friends, learning about autonomy and responsibility? Be prepared to give plenty of feedback to parents on what you are doing with each kid and why what you are doing matters.
- Energy: If you haven’t noticed, kindergartners have a lot of energy, so you need to have enough to keep up. You’ll be on your feet for most of the day and constantly speaking, singing, and monitoring. After your first day teaching, it will be clear how much one day of work can wipe you out.
- A love for your work, not the money: Any teacher will tell you, elementary education is no easy gig. You’ll be exhausted at the end of the day and still have to plan lessons and complete evaluations. All for a median salary of only $53,000 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But loving your work, and a long summer vacation, can make such a job well worth it.
Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education
A bachelor’s degree is the standard entry requirement to become a kindergarten teacher. A major in early childhood education or elementary education is ideal, but you may be able to get by with another major. Once you have your degree, you need to be certified to teach in public schools. This directory from the U.S. Department of Education will help you plan which courses to take in college. It provides a list of websites with the different academic certification requirements for each state.
A major in elementary education prepares you to teach any age group from kindergarten to eighth grade, as well as the essentials for teaching across a wide range of subjects, like math, history, science, and English. You’ll likely take a good amount of courses in psychology and early childhood development as well. Here are some courses you are likely to find in a typical program.
- Brain Research & Linguistic Theory – Starting children off with reading, often from a square one, is one of the key roles of kindergarten teachers. It is no easy task. Courses in brain functions and process behind language acquisition, motivation, and development are necessary to get the job done.
- Teaching Elementary School Subjects – A kindergarten teacher handles every subject, so you can expect to take courses on the best practices for teaching each one. Courses touch upon planning lessons, in-class delivery, and best practices for assessment.
- Teaching with Digital Technologies – Ipads, smartboards, computers, and more. Today technology is viewed as having big potential for the learning process, especially for young children. You might take a course on all the possible technologies you’ll encounter in the classroom and how to integrate them effectively into lessons.
Master’s Degree in Elementary Education
A master’s degree in elementary education is an excellent choice for two kinds of people: those who already have a bachelor’s in a non-teaching field and want to transition into a new career as a kindergarten teacher, and experienced teachers looking to enhance their knowledge and career potential.
There are many master’s programs in either early childhood education or elementary education that cover both the basics and advanced areas of pedagogy, child psychology, and language development. You may have opportunities to add a focus on special education, English language-learners, reading skills, or another similar area to your advanced degree.
Here are a few sample courses in higher level specialities that you may choose to include in your advanced degree.
- Special Education and Special Programs – Kindergarten teachers work with students of very different skill levels, some of whom could suffer from mental or learning disabilities. In such a course, you learn how to create an inclusive classroom. You may also investigate the approaches and requirements laid out in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- Research Project – As a master’s student, you can expect to conduct research. So you will take one or two courses covering essential research methods and procedures and then form a thesis of your own. Research is often done in the field and results could even be submitted for publication.
- Creating a Constructive Environment – Master’s students usually take one or two courses on how to create the best learning environment possible. In similar courses, you become familiar with major educational theories, such as Piaget, Erickson, and Montessori.
Work Experience Requirements
In order to become a kindergarten teacher, you need to earn your state teaching license. Requirements differ by state, but all of them require you to complete an approved teaching preparation program. These programs are offered by colleges and universities as part of a bachelor’s or master’s program and place you in a classroom as a student teacher, usually for one semester. Once you complete these programs, you are qualified to find your first job.
Of course, additional experience won’t hurt. Look for opportunities to tutor or volunteer as a teacher while you complete your degree. Volunteer to teach ESL or register to substitute teach in your area.
Earning a state license is a must for getting your first job as a kindergarten teacher in a public school. The requirements differ a little for each state but all expect the following:
- A bachelor’s degree – While many states may be flexible on your major, all states have specific course requirements, often in areas like childhood development, math and science, or educational methods.
- A clean criminal record – You need to submit fingerprints to be a certified teacher. Any major criminal infractions could be a disqualifier. Inquire with your state education agency if you are worried about any minor run ins with the law.
- Completion of an approved teacher preparation course – Depending on your state, a teacher preparation course is part of a bachelor’s degree program or completed after you earn your degree as a continuing education requirement. The program must be state-approved and includes a tenure as a student teacher in a public school.
- A certification exam – You need to pass a test covering basic skills to be a kindergarten teacher, proving that you are competent in the key subjects of math, science, and reading.
The U.S. Department of Education website offers a complete directory of the education agency websites in all 50 states. From these state websites, you can find the exact requirements for earning a certification for where you intend to work.
Teaching in a private kindergarten would not require a state certification at all, but keep in mind, the number of job opportunities are more limited and competitive if you rule out working in the public school system.
Looking for a Teaching Job
The number of open positions for kindergarten teachers is expected to grow at an average pace overall, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand varies by region, and teachers with skills in English as a Second Language (ESL) or special education have the best employment prospects.
In any case, once you are licensed and have student teaching under your belt, it is time to find your first job. The best way to get started is to visit the website for your local school district. There you will find listings for open positions at various schools and usually an online application system.
Otherwise, here are some excellent websites for finding open kindergarten teaching jobs around the country.