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Preschool teachers.


In the words of the proverb, as the twig is bent, so grows the tree. This is why preschool teachers, who work mainly with 3- and 4-year-olds, play an important role--perhaps second only to that of the parents--in shaping the kind of adult a child will become. They help children develop physical skills, self-reliance, self-confidence, and proper personal habits. They also help children explore their interests, develop their talents, and learn how to behave with others.

Nature of the Work

Preschool teachers must work in two different worlds, the child's and the parent's. At the same time that they create a safe, comfortable environment in which children can learn through play, they must also keep records of each child's progress and discuss the children's progress and needs regularly with the parents.

In order to ensure a well-balanced program, preschool teachers prepare daily and long-term schedules of class activities. Fach day's activities must balance individual and group play, quiet time and vigorous physical activity. Recognizing the importance of play, preschool teachers build their program around it. They capitalize on children's play to further language development (story telling and acting games), improve social skills (working together to build a neigh borhood in a sandbox), and introduce scientific concepts (balancing blocks when building a bridge or mixing colors when painting). Activities must also be scheduled that encourage independence and build self-confidence by teaching the children how to dress themselves; take care of their personal hygiene; prepare, serve, and clean up after snacks or meals; and return toys or equipment to the proper place. Preschool teachers help children with these activities, but they must constantly reevaluate the amount of assistance that they give a child. Preschool teachers individualize their planning and activities as much as possible.

Besides planning and supervising the children's activities, preschool teachers must also confer with parents and, frequently, plan and direct the work of aides or assistants. Parents may also seek advice from the teacher concerning parenting in general or an individual child's situation. Teachers may visit the children's homes, especially before a child enters the program, so that the children will be more at ease in their new surroundings.

Preschool teachers must also cope with unforeseen schedule changes, treat children for minor injuries, and immediately notify the parents in the case of a serious injury or health problem. They may transport children to and from the day-care center or nursery.

Working Conditions and Earnings

Preschool teachers work in a veriety of settings. A day-care center or nursery school may be in a small house with little equipment or in a specially constructed building with a spacious playground. Preschool programs operated by school systems are primarily housed in elementary school buildings, but they are often located in junior or senior high school facilities. Programs operated by other organizations may be located in religious centers, community centers, housing projects, places where parents work, or even large mobile trailers.

The work can be physically and emotionally taxing, as teachers constantly move about the classroom to attend to each child's interests and problems. Children must be constantly supervised and frequently assisted; disruptive children may need special attention; and children with special needs such as injuries or handicaps may require additional assistance during the day. Nevertheless, watching children enjoy learning and gain new skills can be very rewarding.

Because the teacher's constant attention is required, classes are usually small. Generally classes of 2- and 3-year-olds have one teacher for every six children and classes of 4- and 5-year-olds have one teacher for every nine children. Larger classes usually require the presence of at least one other adult--a parent, another teacher, a teacher's aide, a childcare worker--or a high school or college student.

The working hours of preschool teachers very widely. Year-round, full-time employment with longer than average workdays is often required by private day-care centers. Work during the regular school hours for a 10-month year is more usual among teachers in public school preschool programs. Part-time employment is common, particularly in the private sector. Some preschool teachers start earlier in the morning or finish later in the day than is usual for other teachers.

Most full-time preschool teachers earned between $7,000 and $17,000 annually in 1985, the most recent year for which data are available. Earnings usually increase with experience and education.

Preschool teachers in private day-care centers and nursery schools are much more numerous and generally earn less than those in public schools. Preschool teachers in public school systems have salary schedules closely approximating those of kindergarten and elementary school teachers, whose salaries averaged $24,762 in 1985-86. Their earnings vary substantially by school district.

Qualifications and Advancement

The training and qualifications required of preschool teachers vary by employment setting. In general, however, teachers must understand the stages of development through which all children pass, because children learn best when the school program matches their abilities. Experience or training in arts, crafts, and sports is helpful in directing recreational activities; and knowledge of first aid may also be useful.

Preschool teachers should be mature, patient, understanding, articulate, flexible, quick to take the initiative, and decisive. Interpersonal skills, such as the ability to establish rapport with children having different personalities, backgrounds, and levels of development, are very important, as is the ability to explain a child's progress and problems clearly.

Training requirements to work in private day-care centers and nursery schools vary because State regulations differ so much. With some exceptions, the minimum requirement is an associate of arts degree in a field such as human services; however, employers prefer a bachelor of arts degree in education or a field related to childcare such as human development or home economics. Experience as a teacher's assistant or childcare worker greatly enhances one's employment opportunities.

Most regulated and licensed programs require that preschool teachers be certified before or shortly after assuming their duties. Certification usually requires a specified combination of education and experience including the completion of an accredited preschool teaching program. Certification is granted by the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, a subsidiary of the National Association for the Education of Young Children; the American Montessori Institute, an affiliate of the North American Montessori Teacher's Association; and the American Montessori Society.

In public school systems, preschool teachers must be certified by their State--usually the State board of education, the State superintendent of education, or a certification authority. Although certification requirements vary, a bachelor's degree--preferably in early childhood education or childhood development--from an institution with an approved teacher education program is always required. Individual States may have health, citizenship, character, and other requirements. Many States have reciprocity agreements that allow teachers certified in one State to become certified in another.

Teacher training programs include a variety of liberal arts courses, student teaching, and prescribed professional courses, including instruction in teaching gifted, disadvantaged, and other children with special needs.

Preschool teachers in public school systems may advance to supervisory, administrative, or specialized positions--such as curriculum development specialist. Generally, this requires substantial experience, an advanced degree in education or a related discipline such as psychology or human development, and additional certification.

Preschool teachers in private nursery schools and day-care centers may become early childhood specialists or directors. Substantial experience and an advanced degree in early childhood education or a related field are helpful for advancement. Some become consultants; others, with the necessary capital and business ability, become owner-operators.

Employment and Outlook

Preschool teachers numbered approximately 278,000 in 1984. Private day-care preschool programs--including those operated by religious organizations --employed more than 7 out of every 10 preschool teachers. Public preschool programs employed the remainder.

Privately operated preschool programs are found in every State; more than one-fourth of the States have such programs in their public school systems.

Employment of preschool teachers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the mid-1990's. Most job openings will result from the need to replace experienced preschool teachers who retire, transfer to other occupations, assume full-time household duties, return to school, or leave the labor force for other reasons.

Preschool teachers will be needed as the numbers of preschool children increase and more mothers enter the labor force. More States are requiring the establishment of preschool programs in their public school systems, and many local school districts are expanding existing programs. The number of day-care centers with preschool programs for disadvantaged, gifted, and other children with special problems or characteristics also is increasing.

Experienced preschool teachers with a bachelor's degree and certification will have the best prospects for better paying, full-time jobs. Candidates with an associate of arts degree will have less favorable opportunities, while those with no postsecondary education may require substantial experience as a teacher's assistant before obtaining a full-time job. Preschool teaching should offer ample opportunities for part-time employment.

Related Occupations

Workers in other occupations concerned with child care, training, and education include childcare workers-- who are primarily concerned with the basic care of children--child welfare workers, early childhood specialists, family day-care providers, governesses, nannies, pediatric nurses, and playground attendants.

Sources of Additional Information

Information about teaching careers in private nursery schools and day-care centers, certification requirements, and accrediting institutions is available from the following organizations:

National Association for the Education of Young Children

1834 Connecticut Avenue NW.

Washington, DC 20009.

North American Montessori Teacher's Association

2859 Scarsborough Road

Cleveland Heights, OH 44118.

American Montessori Society

Suite 203

150 Fifth Avenue

New York, NY 10011.

Information about prekindergarten teaching careers and certification requirements in public school systems is available from local school systems and State departments of education.

A list of colleges and universities accredited for teacher education can be obtained from the following organization:

National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Suite 202

1919 Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Washington, DC 20006.

Information about preschool teaching careers involving children with special abilities, handicaps, or disadvantages is available from the following organizations:

National Association for Gifted Children

4175 Lovell Road

Suite 140

Circle Pines, MN 55014.

Council for Exceptional Children

1920 Association Drive

Reston, VA 22091.

Head Start Program

Administration for Children, Youth, and Families

P.O. Box 1182

Washington, DC 20013
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Author:Gartaganis, Arthur
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Jun 22, 1987
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