With a renewed focus on the importance and benefits of a strong pre-school education, the field of early childhood education is actually growing at a relatively stable rate for the first time in several decades. Today’s aspiring early childhood educators have a robust career field ahead of them, but they’ll need to make sure that they meet certain state or federal requirements during their educational process and immediately after. With a firm understanding of the job, its outlook and salary, and the requirements needed to enter in the profession, candidates will be setup for a great deal of rewarding success with today’s youngest learners.

Educational Requirements for a Career in Early Childhood Education

Those who aspire to a career in early childhood education will need to find a college or university that offers a degree in the field. It’s increasingly common for schools to offer a bachelor’s in ECE, since the field is growing at a fast pace and requires a unique educational background for the best chance at success in real world scenarios. The early childhood education program will educate students in early childhood psychology, lesson planning and development, childhood development and developmental considerations in teaching, and several other fields.

Most schools will offer a concentration in one of several areas, including early childcare, kindergarten or elementary school teaching, pre-school and daycare education, or other programs related to a niche within the field. Students should choose a concentration that they feel best meets their career goals and their unique strengths as an educator.

Generally, early childhood education students will not need to take the PRAXIS I and II exams that are taken by other educators, and they will not need to apply for a state certification in their field before they can begin teaching. It should be noted, however, that those professionals looking to teach kindergarten or elementary grades will need to take these tests and they will need to fall in line with state certification requirements for educators in general. They may also be required to have a minimum GPA, typically at least a 2.5 or 3.0, in order to graduate and obtain their initial certification in the field for these positions.

Careers: A Look at the Most Common Career Pursuits of ECE Graduates

Those who successfully obtain their undergraduate degree in early childhood education have several career options open to them, with a good balance of both public teaching positions and private institutions. Among the options that will be available for pursuit upon graduation and optional certification:

– Kindergarten or elementary school teaching positions
– Head Start teaching or leadership positions
– Pre-school education jobs
– Daycare education and management positions
– Nannying and private daycare services
– Curriculum specialist
– Child development educator or specialist

Each career choice comes with its own strengths and weaknesses in terms of actually securing a position, especially in light of recent state cutbacks to public education funding in almost all 50 states. Even so, a growing market for pre-school educators and early childhood professionals easily offsets public education concerns. In addition, many ECE graduates are primarily interested in working outside the public school system and they simply don’t consider this to be a setback or a detraction from their overall career goals.

A Day on the Job: What Early Childhood Education Looks Like

Those who pursue a career in childhood education likely do so because they already know they have a strong way of relating to young children and conveying new concepts to them. That’s exactly what this position requires, with a large number of illustrative lessons and hands-on teaching methods that help students learn how to count, how to identify shapes, and how to use the creative process to produce artwork and other projects throughout the day.

Early childhood educators will use tools like pictures, books, movies, websites, and interactive computer games or board games to accomplish their goals. They’ll use these as instructional tools, blending fun with education in a way that entertains their young audience and captivates their notoriously short attention spans.

When they’re not engaging in active education and mental stimulation with their young students, early childhood education professionals will work to develop curriculum and instruction materials. They’ll also ensure a structured day from start to finish, clearly delineating lessons, integrating lunchtime, and even working to include a structured naptime for young learners. Their guidance and pursuit of structure in the classroom will be essential to maintaining an active learning environment that stays productive and on-task.

Job Outlook and Salary Information for the Early Childhood Educator

As mentioned earlier, the early childhood education field is actually growing faster than average in the United States due to a renewed focus on the importance of pre-school education and Head Start programs. Overall, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates that the field will grow by a whopping 25 percent through the end of the decade, which places it significantly above the average occupational growth in the country for all professions combined.

The early childhood education professional in today’s job market can expect a starting salary of about $25,700. Those who pursue leadership positions within daycares, pre-schools and similar environments, can expect a salary that starts considerably higher. Those professionals will typically earn about $42,500 per year on average.

For those who major in early childhood education but pursue a career in the public school system, teaching either kindergarten or one of the higher grades in an elementary school, salaries do start a bit higher. Nationwide, the median pay for an elementary school teacher in the United States stood at $51,380 per year in 2010. That’s roughly double the salary of a daycare or pre-school employee, which might be a compelling reason to consider this option as a concentration. Job growth in this sector of the economy is not nearly as robust, however, with expected growth of just 17 percent through the end of the decade. That’s about average for all professions combined in the United States, but it could lead to a very tough and competitive market in many states after graduation.

Career Growth Follows Population Growth: Where ECE Graduates Stand a Chance

The demand for pre-school professionals is growing in all 50 states, at a roughly equal pace. For those aspiring to an elementary school teaching position, however, growth is not nearly as uniform or robust. Generally, early childhood educators should follow the numbers when seeking employment. States that are growing more quickly in total population will offer more job opportunities for entry-level candidates. Currently, that includes states like Texas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Arizona, and California.

Furthermore, states that have committed to more robust funding of such programs also are more attractive to graduates. This includes Oklahoma, where pre-school education is required. Other states, like New Jersey, New York, Maryland and California, offer more robust education funding that allows a larger number of positions to be created each year for pre-school and elementary teaching positions at public schools and elsewhere.

An Encouraging Market for Early Childhood Educators

Despite uneven funding and employment prospects across all 50 states, early childhood education graduates still face a job market that is average or significantly above average in terms of growth and full-time employment prospects. That’s good news, and most people in other majors would certainly greet it with open arms. With plenty of concentrations and many career avenues to pursue, early childhood education is a really great choice for those who relate well with children and have a passion for teaching.