What Can I do with an Early Childhood Education Degree

  • September 30, 2015

As America’s education system continues to undergo a period of experimentation and overall change, a huge emphasis has been placed on early childhood education. Most of the emphasis placed on this type of education focuses on getting students into classrooms at an earlier age, boosting their social skills and helping to boost their learning comprehension and test scores once they enter elementary school. With this kind of strong emphasis on the field, many college students are being guided toward early childhood education degrees.

These degrees are quite broad, as well they should be, preparing students for careers as diverse as a preschool teacher, daycare operator, child case worker, and more. For those who simply aren’t sure about what all of their options will be after they’ve earned either a two-year or four-year degree in early childhood education, it’s worth learning more about the job prospects, career opportunities, and even the lifestyle of an early childhood educator.

On-the-Job Salary and Employment Prospects

Those who specialize in early childhood education can expect to enjoy a really healthy job market, with the field growing at a pace of 25 percent per year between 2010 and 2020, according to the United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics. The agency further estimates that more than 113,000 positions in early childhood education careers will be added by the end of the present decade.

The current rate of growth in the profession significantly faster than most other professions in the United States, and it means that most graduates will not find it very hard to secure a successful, long-term job after graduation. The field is a bit mixed in terms of salaries, but graduates can expert to earn healthy wages based on their degree and their wealth of experience in the field.

The median pay for a preschool teacher in 2010 was $25,700 per year, or roughly $12.35 per hour. While some graduates or students may not be impressed with that salary, it’s important to note that the vast majority of preschool teachers work part-time and only educate students during the morning hours. Others work exclusively during late afternoon hours in after-school capacities for busy parents. Given that preschool teachers work just about half of the hours of most normal professions, they pay is quite healthy.

Living the Life: How Early Childhood Educators Go About Their Days

It’s often said that a good teacher never stops working, and that is certainly true of those who are charged with educating young children before elementary school. Early childhood educators are typically employed part-time, which initially sounds like it affords professionals a lot of free tie. The catch, though, is that educators are expected to come up with lesson plans and activities on their own. They spend much of their time at home, or collaborating with co-workers, developing new tasks that combine engaging learning activities with creative and hands-on lessons.

Early childhood educators should therefore be interested not only in very young students and teaching, but also in expressing creativity and conceptualizing lessons in new ways that resonate with young minds. They should be prepared to work in groups with their fellow professionals, as most lessons are “team taught” by multiple educators. Creating collaborative lessons is a big part of this career, just as it is for more traditional educators in elementary and secondary schools.

Because the job is part-time, most early childhood educators choose to explore second jobs in the field of assistant teaching, child case managing or even running their own daycare service. It’s not uncommon for professionals in this field to leave one job and immediately head to another where they work with an entirely new group of students for the rest of their workday.

The Requirements: Educators Need an Education

Though it might seem as if teaching young children could be done by anyone, that’s just not the case. Young children have very specific needs and very unique learning styles that can make them a challenge to educate and relate to. Early childhood education careers typically require at least a two-year degree in the field from a local community college, while the vast majority do require a four-year degree from a university. Most educators can at least secure an assistant teaching position after they’ve obtained a two year degree, which will allow them to get hands-on experience in the field and judge whether or not they’d like to pursue more education related to the profession.

Careers in this field typically do not require a state license, though there have been debates in several states about changing this. Especially as preschool becomes a key part of education reform in the United States, it’s important to keep abreast of new developments and licensure requirements.

Those early childhood educators who wish to transition their career into primary or secondary school teaching will need to take Praxis examinations and pass any requirements needed to obtain a state license in education. Likewise, some careers in social work and child case management do require advance degrees beyond the bachelor’s level.

The Environment: Pre-Schools, Head Start Programs, and More

Unlike educators who teach in primary or secondary schools, early childhood educators will not be working in a public building or following state standards. Instead, pre-schools are typically privately owned and operated, with curriculum and other requirements varying between each school. This inconsistency can sometimes make job hunting a bit more difficult, but it leads to the kind of creative competition that actually improves lessons and greatly benefits students who progress through the program and eventually into elementary school.

Many early childhood educators opt to become part of a more traditional government education program at some point in their careers by joining a Head Start program. The program, which is now roughly a half-century old, has long been used to educate economically disadvantaged children and to prepare them for success later in life. The nurturing environments and creative approach taken to education as part of Head Start is a great way for teachers to burnish their skills and consider whether or not they’d enjoy a career as a kindergarten teacher or a primary school teacher at a higher grade level.

Still other professionals in the field work as daycare owners or child case managers, where management and education must be constantly blended throughout the day. While daycare operators enjoy the perks of being their own bosses and running a self-owned business, those in the case management field get to work with at-risk and disadvantaged children, changing the trajectory of their lives and providing a key form of support.

No matter the eventual career chosen by early childhood education graduates, the environment on the job will be far more creative and interactive than virtually any other profession. Students must be taught in creative ways that blend technology, basic skills, social interaction, behavior, and more. In an environment where most preschools are privatized and competitive, teachers get to be far more experimental and hands-on with curriculum. Best of all, they’re permitted to work with students in a very close and personal way that forms a lifelong passion for learning and is highly rewarding.

With great potential for growth through the end of the decade, at a rate far stronger than many other fields in the United States, the promise of real fulfillment and growth as an early childhood educator is perhaps the biggest reason to opt for a career in the field.

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