Interested in taking up teaching and love working with young children? Early childhood education may be right up your alley. It’s not necessarily an easy path, but it’s incredibly rewarding.
In this guide, we’ll give you what you need to know to embark on a career in early childhood education. We’ll go over what you can expect, what your job prospects are, what you need in terms of training, and where you’re likely to end up teaching.
Parents are starting to realize just how important pre-kindergarten-level education is for the development of their children. They’re increasingly choosing to send their kids to school early to get a head start on their social and educational development.
Early childhood education is undoubtedly a growing field. The stats back this up. In the United States, for example, we’ve seen enrollment rise by a staggering 900% in the past three decades. In the United Kingdom, the government is increasing early education funding in the midst of overall budget cuts.
The takeaway messages for those thinking of a job in early childhood education? The prospects look positive indeed. The need for teachers will not only always be there, but with a growing population and increased awareness, we can only predict an upward trend.
What You Need to Become an Early Childhood Educator
This section is divided into two parts: the character traits you should have to make this career successful (and actually enjoyable!), and the paper qualifications you’ll be expected to have.
1) Paper Credentials
Depending on your location, you’re going to have to obtain the right qualifications before you can start teaching. Every country has its own standards and requirements, but things can get even more specific. In the United States, for instance, each and every state has its own regulations.
Before you start applying or even thinking about this career, find out whether you have the time and money to invest in getting those letters after your name.
If you’re already a teacher and are looking to move to early childhood education, you may want to look into a purpose-built certification or courses available.
Remember, not all courses are created equal, so you want to pick one that mixes the theory with practical work placement, to best get you ready for the challenges ahead. The small print may not tell you it’s necessary, but it will certainly put you a level above other candidates.
2) Your Character
The happiest and most effective teachers all have the right temperament. You need to have a little bit of creativity, a slice of sensitivity, a bit of people skills, and last but not least, a healthy dosage of patience.
We’re not going to sugarcoat things: working with kids is challenging. Yes, it’s rewarding. Yes, kids are cute and when things work, it’s fantastic. But there are two sides to the coin. They can also be cranky, demanding, and they often won’t listen.
You need to be ready to cope with tantrums, arguments, and uncooperative kids (not to mention parents!).
Where Can I Work?
This section is a little challenging, as every country has a different way of doing it. But in terms of broad strokes, these are the institutions you may be able to find employment:
- Preschools. No, it’s not daycare. Preschools are generally private and contrary to basic daycare, preschools provide a formal learning environment for children. Some countries, such as the UK, provide limited free preschool services.
- Kindergartens. Kindergartens are usually part of the state system, with children entering at age five or six.
- Teaching assistant. Some teachers decide to start as an assistant. It provides them with the necessary experience without having the full responsibility of a teacher.
- Private daycare. Some daycare centers add a hefty educational component, almost like a preschool (but not quite!).
What’s It Like to Work with Kids?
We’ve touched upon this a little in the previous section, but we really think it’s worth a deep dive. Working with kids is something that’s different to anything else. And young children require even more special care.
Remember, you’ll be one of the first to interact with a young child. It’s possible that they’ve had very little contact with people outside their own family. You’ll have to be comfortable with the weight of this responsibility. For some, it can be a little too much. But if you’re keen to be an early guide for young children, the rewards are numerous.
You’ll also have to be prepared for different reactions. Some kids will love you from day 1 and consider you as close as their own family. For others, you’re the ‘enemy’, the person that’s taken them away from their home and the familiar.
Having a young child display feelings of dislike towards you may be difficult to take. Teachers will need to know how to respond to these situations.
Educators will also be expected to deliver a varied and rich educational program. You’re not just an academic teacher, but you’ll also be expected to teach kids about social situations, getting along with others, and communicating with those around them.
Kids at this age will learn and behave in wildly different ways. You’ll need to be ready to adapt, give one-to-one attention, and ensure each and every child is developing at their own pace.
Even though the very working with kids is beautiful and rewarding, being an early childhood educator brings many other benefits. Firstly, it can bring benefits to your own family. You will know how to better create a beautiful relationship with your own child. Plus, the daycare or an institution where you’re working might give you a discount for enrolling your children.
Secondly, as an educator, you have plenty of room for your personal growth. For example, if you start as a teaching assistant, you can easily work your way up to becoming a director.
Furthermore, childhood educators get plenty of exercising through their jobs. In order to keep up with your class, you will have to do a lot of lifting, jumping, running and bending. What is more, these exercises will even be necessary sometimes to keep their attention. Plus, you all will be laughing a lot, which definitely contributes to a healthy lifestyle.
Last, but not least, your working hours will be flexible. Many daycares and preschools offer full-time and part-time positions, and you can easily customize your work hours according to the schools needs and goals. So, if you might need some time free during the day, you can easily work with an after-school program. What is more, you can even open your own home-based daycare and have your own working hours.
Obviously, it is safe to say that you can plan your working day with ease, and have some free time on your hands. Not to mention that even the working hours might feel like a day off, since you’ll be having plenty of fun with your class.
Takeaway Message: It’s Worth It!
We’ve not really painted a pretty picture, have we? We’ve told you that you need a bunch of qualifications, that every country/state has its own requirements, that kids are a handful, and that while you’ll probably get a job, it’s not going to be very well-paid.
So why have we made this guide for what seems to be a super challenging job? Because it’s so worth it. Seeing children grow and learn during their most crucial developmental phase is incredibly rewarding. Teaching them something new and seeing them smile as they ‘get it’ is not something you’ll find working for a bank in the city.