How to Become a Kindergarten Teacher
Becoming a kindergarten teacher is a very promising and appealing career. It has a strong potential for job security and many benefits from educating the minds of the future. Public and private schools employ kindergarten teachers. They regularly work school hours when students are present and use nights and weekends to grade papers and prepare lessons. Most kindergarten teachers have the summers off.
Kindergarten connects early childhood care with elementary school. It is a significant year for students and requires some specialized knowledge from teachers. Kindergarten teachers prepare young students for future education by teaching them fundamental school subjects, including math and reading.
Individuals who are searching for kindergarten teaching jobs should understand that they will have a lot of the same responsibilities as other teachers. However, they will also have many students who are experiencing school for the first time. The ability to teach their students the basic academic skills and classroom etiquette is essential for success of both the teacher and the student. They are in a unique situation to help young minds strengthen critical thinking abilities and develop the capacity to understand complex ideas.
Kindergarten Teacher Responsibilities
A kindergarten teacher establishes the groundwork for a child’s academic career. Kindergarten teaching careers often involve working with a group of students five days a week to oversee them during one of their most impressionable years. Teaching kindergartners daily requires dedication and a love for inspiring each child across an extensive spectrum of personalities and skill levels. The core competencies focus on learning, socializing and discipline, such as:
- Instructing basic academic and social skills based on government-defined standards and set curriculum
- Conferring with administrators, counselors, other teachers and parents to discuss progress and resolve academic or behavioral issues
- Applying instructional materials and teaching methods to meet student needs and interests
- Observing and evaluating performance, providing assistance or guidance when needed
Essential job duties for teaching kindergarten are twofold, and include:
- Social. Kindergarten teachers create a sound framework for lifelong learning and are undeniably some of the most influential teachers that students will meet while attending school. Perceptions and opinions of learning are shaped by what children experience during the early school years. A kindergarten teacher who is a surrogate parent, educator and psychologist can form well adjusted, eager to learn students.
- Academic. Basic academic skills include phonics, letter recognition and phonemic awareness. Kindergarten teachers also help students learn to write and read. They teach basic mathematical concepts, such as simple addition and subtraction, number recognition, measurement, basic fractions, and problem-solving. Students in kindergarten are exposed to arts and humanities, social skills, practical living, science and social studies.
All lessons usually take place in the same classroom, so it is important that kindergarten teachers have the ability to assess the academic and emotional level of each student to set individual and group goals. Exceptions include extracurricular activities such as art class, physical education or a lunch break.
Key Skills and Strengths
The primary responsibility of a kindergarten teacher is to acclimate children to formal education. The best method involves instilling a love of learning that will last a lifetime. Providing an engaging environment that fosters curiosity spurs children to pursue knowledge on their own. The key strengths and required skills of successful kindergarten teachers include:
- Creative and artistic teaching abilities
- Organization and classroom management skills
- Patience, energy and flexibility
- Strong communication skills
- Love for working with small children
Kindergarten teachers should be highly caring individuals who desire to encourage trust and believe in the potential of each child. They should have an ability to engage children while maintaining order and responding to the ever-changing needs of a group of children. The ability to communicate openly and directly with parents is also a requirement.
A bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate are standard entry requirements for teaching kindergarten. The certificate normally qualifies the teacher to teach students between kindergarten and sixth grade. For teachers with an intense passion for teaching kindergarten, it is smart to have coursework and practical experience in early childhood education.
Most kindergarten teachers obtain a bachelor's degree in early childhood development, where they learn curriculum planning, theories of child development, play and learning, and child language acquisition. Individuals planning a public school career must obtain a license from the state's board of education. Typically, a minimum number of continuing education hours for license renewal is required.
A master’s degree in elementary education is a superb opportunity for experienced teachers seeking knowledge enhancement and career potential. It is also excellent for those with a bachelor’s degree in a non-teaching field who want to shift into a career as a kindergarten teacher.
There are many master’s degree programs in either early childhood education or elementary education that cover both the basics and advanced areas of child psychology, teaching methods and language development. There are also many opportunities to add a focus on reading skills, special education, English language learners, or another similar area to an advanced degree.
Those seeking advancement into academic leadership roles can often find kindergarten teacher training or continuing education courses online. In fact, online options provide a scheduling flexibility that can make take courses easier for busy teachers.
A bachelor’s degree is required for kindergarten teachers in the United States, and many states pay higher salaries to teachers who have a master’s degree. Public school teachers need a state certification showing that they are proficient in teaching any elementary school grade, including kindergarten. This is usually accomplished through a mixture of standardized tests, certification classes and a practicum. Each state certification mandates information about what it requires for kindergarten teachers.
While state requirements vary, they all expect completion of an accredited teaching preparation program. Usually, colleges and universities offer these programs as a component of a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program. They also provide assistance in placing students in a classroom as a student teacher, usually for one semester. The requirements for each state differ, but all require the following:
- Bachelor’s degree. While many states differ regarding the major of the degree earned, all states have specific course requirements. For instance, most want to see courses in areas such as childhood development, science, math or educational methods.
- Teacher preparation course. Depending on the state, a teacher preparation course is part of a bachelor’s degree program. Some states allow teachers to complete the program after earning a degree as a continuing education requirement. The program must be state-approved and include a tenure track as a student teacher in a public school.
- Certification examination. Kindergarten teachers must pass an examination covering basic skills to prove that they are competent in the fundamental subjects of science, reading and math.
- Clean criminal record. All people must submit fingerprints to be a certified teacher. Any major criminal violations are usually grounds for disqualification.
Teaching in a private kindergarten does not require a state certification. However, the number of job opportunities is more limited and competitive if you rule out working in the public school system. After students complete the teaching prep courses and earn a state license, they are qualified to find their first job as a kindergarten teacher in a public school.
Areas of Specialization
Kindergarten teachers have many options for specialization. For example, they can undergo supplementary education to teach art, physical education or music. Earning a master’s degree in special education is likely to increase salary potential and enable teachers to work effectively with students who have a variety of learning differences.
Career and Economic Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a 13 percent growth in kindergarten teaching opportunities is anticipated between 2012 and 2022. The growth forecast is due to predicted increases in enrollment and declining student-to-teacher ratios. However, employment growth varies by region. Currently, the average annual salary for kindergarten teachers is about $54,000, with a range between $33,000 and $78,000. Teachers with skills in English as a Second Language (ESL) or graduate degrees in special education have higher salaries and the best job possibilities.
With adequate experience and education, kindergarten teachers may become mentors or lead teachers, responsible for guiding the professional development of new teachers. They may also consider becoming administrators, such as assistant principals and principals. In any case, once a teacher is licensed and completes student teaching, it is time to start looking for a job. The best way to begin is to visit the website for a local school district where listings for open positions at various schools can be found, usually with an online application system.