How to Become a Child Development Teacher


Child development is a field of study concerned with the growth and wellbeing of children and young adults. Child development studies programs take on many forms, and in some cases, the subject is taught under other names, such as family studies, or offered as a concentration within education, social work, or psychology programs.  Most individuals are hired to teach child development to students at the college or university level with varying qualifications that range from holding a bachelor’s degree and having relevant work experience, to earning a Ph.D. in child development studies or a related discipline.

How can I teach child development at the elementary, middle, or high school level?

Although some high schools offer courses that include career-related curricula connected to the child development field, there are no opportunities to exclusively teach child development at elementary, middle school and high schools in the U.S.

Instead, educators with an interest in teaching child development classes to high school students may elect to teach courses that offer college credit to secondary school students. For example, the Colorado Community College (CCC) System has a career and technical education program that includes a Child Development course for high school students. The course lasts for one semester, and touches upon the responsibilities and challenges associated with parenting.

The CCC course is also geared towards young students who may like to pursue a career as a teacher, day care provider, nurse or doctor. It also fits in with a postsecondary curriculum for future sociology, psychology and human development majors.

To qualify to teach a community college course for high school students, one must note the following:

  • Earn at least a bachelor’s degree in child development or a related field to teach at some schools; although having a master’s degree is typically a requirement
  • Demonstrate work experience or competency to teach child development at a community college, such as serving as a teacher assistant or having published research
  • Certification is not required by state law to teach at a community college, but becoming certified increases job prospects for those who do not have teaching experience

How can I become a college child development professor?

Child development professors belong to a category of educators often associated with psychology, as educators with a background in child development may teach courses on developmental psychology, cognitive processes, as well as psychological counseling.

To teach child development courses at a two-year college, community college or junior college, most job candidates must fulfill the following educational requirements:shutterstock_136284758

  • A bachelor’s degree in child development, early childhood education or similar fields and a master’s in educational psychology (or similar degree); or a bachelor’s degree and a specialization in child development, social work, and similar fields such as special education, psychology, and family life studies.
  • A master’s degree in child development, early childhood education, human development, family and consumer studies with a specialization in child development or early childhood.
  • Teaching experience in the area of early childhood education, or have professional experience in an early care and education program involving interaction with staff and working directly with children.

Most college-level child development teachers work in programs that lead to a Child Development Associate (CDA) certification. The CDA certificate is the most common certification for preschool teachers. CDA certificate programs require candidates to complete a combination of coursework and supervised fieldwork. For this reason, child development teachers at the college level are expected to hold a combination of formal educational credentials and work experience within the child development field. In addition to having a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree related to the field, candidates for college positions must also have substantial experience working with children in a preschool or elementary school setting, or community organization.

How can I become a university child development professor?

University child development professors must hold a Ph.D. in child development or a related discipline, such as social work or education. Qualified applicants have typically completed several years of graduate coursework; written and passed one or more field exams demonstrating their expertise on subjects, such as infant development, early childhood education or parenting; and have written and defended a dissertation on a topic related to child development.

As a child development professor at a university, a person can expect to teach courses to students at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels, and to engage in research on child development issues. Like other university professors, child development professors are expected to publish their research findings in journals in the field, such as Child: Care, Health and Development or Early Childhood Education Journal, as well as present their research at annual conferences, such as those held by the Society for Research in Child Development.

Oftentimes, child development professors may choose to teach courses to students pursuing a degree with a focus on conducting research upon graduation, while others teach students with a more professional focus. Individuals aspiring to become preschool teachers or elementary school teachers generally take a class taught by a child development professor as one of their program requirements to earn a degree, such as a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Education.

Child development professors are expected to participate in the governance of their programs by regularly serving on committees. They may also serve as academic advisors and supervise graduate students as they take classes to major in child development.

Many professors engage in child development research, in addition to teaching courses. For instance, child development faculty at Michigan State University often collaborate with the teaching faculty at the MSU Child Development Laboratories to explore and participate in research related to scholarly themes, such as Language and Literacy Development in Early Childhood, and Social Emotional Health and Well-Being in Infancy and Early Childhood.

What is the job outlook for child development teachers?

Overall, increased enrollment in degree programs geared towards educating the next generation of child care specialists, early childhood teachers and elementary school teachers contribute to the need to hire professors specializing in child development.

Child development professors and teachers play an important role in educating the professionals who go on to affect the lives of young children. According to Massachusetts Early Education for All, 85 percent of who an adult becomes (including their personality, intellect and social skills) is developed by age five. Therefore, child development educators help aspiring teachers and other child-related professionals understand the way a child thinks, grows and learns.

Since child development is a field that falls under the umbrella of psychology, occupation-related statistics (as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – BLS) are measured by analyzing the job outlook for postsecondary psychology teachers. The overall field is projected to grow by 14 percent, with 6,800 job openings surfacing from 2012 to 2022. Postsecondary educators in general are reported to exhibit 19 percent job growth during this same time period. The exact number of employment opportunities expected to become available for professors who teach child development is not listed exclusively by the BLS.

Job candidates are also needed to accommodate openings left behind by retired educators. Those without an advanced degree (such as a Ph.D.) may find more job prospects than those with a doctorate degree, as more schools are opting to hire more affordable adjunct professors and part-time lecturers. Therefore, competition to obtain the tenure-track positions that offer optimum job security (and desired by Ph.D.-prepared professors) is extremely high.

What is the compensation for child development teachers?

According to the BLS, the mean salaries paid to postsecondary teachers in general are higher than the national average for all professions, earning $74,040 in 2014. Postsecondary teachers associated with the psychology field earned a mean salary of $76,390 in 2014.

The American Psychological Association (APA) keeps track of the salaries of professionals related to the field, according to years of experience and rank. For instance, professors possessing an advanced degree and having more years of experiences are paid handsomely within the field. The APA identified full-time professors with a doctoral degree teaching graduate students as having earned a mean salary of $80,440 with less than three years of experience for the 2013/2014 academic year, while a professor with 12 or more years of experience earned a mean salary of $94,458, with the highest-paid educators earning $120,053 or more. New graduates and educators with less than three years of experience often do not obtain full-time positions, and instead, work as an assistant or associate professor that earns an average of $56,369 to $65,436 annually.

The APA also noted that geographic location has an effect on the overall salaries of professors. Educators with a doctoral degree, who were employed full-time at a school in the Mid-Atlantic, were noted as earning the highest salaries – an average of $150,545 annually. Top earners in the region were also found at private universities; they brought home $217,345 or more.

In conclusion, taking a child development course is often a requirement for teachers and education professionals planning on working with young students, such as preschoolers and elementary school-aged children. The highest-paying job opportunities are found at the university level, where professors are most often required to possess a Ph.D. A bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in child development (or a related field) qualifies teachers to assume positions at junior- and community colleges.

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