How to Become a Kindergarten Teacher

Introduction

Kindergarten typically marks the beginning of a student’s formal schooling. For this reason, kindergarten teachers play an especially important role in young people’s lives. They guide students through the fundamental aspects of phonics and counting, as well as teach important social behaviors, from group cooperation to individual hygiene. For children who have not already attended a preschool, their kindergarten teacher may be the first person outside of their close family with whom they develop a sustained relationship. Keep reading to learn how to become a kindergarten teacher and obtain a full-time kindergarten teaching position.

What is kindergarten?

Kindergartens were introduced by German early childhood educator Friedrich Wilhelm Froebel in 1837. Froebel envisioned his kindergarten—in literal English, “children’s garden”—as a space where children, ages four to six, would be sheltered from the outside world, yet nurtured through a combination of play, games, toys, and socialization.

Despite its early implementation, however, kindergarten did not readily become a requirement across the nation. For example, the state of Mississippi did not offer public kindergarten until 1986, and it is still only mandatory in some U.S. States. Also, while full-day kindergarten is the norm in some districts, it is not uncommon to see certain districts offer kindergarten solely on a half-day basis.

Research strongly suggests, however, that the long-term benefits of mandatory full-day kindergarten are worth the investment. The National Education Association emphasizes that studies consistently show that students enrolled in full-day kindergarten programs display significantly higher levels of math and reading readiness than students enrolled in half-day programs or not enrolled at all. 

How do I become a kindergarten teacher?

Kindergarten teachers may appear to have a lot in common with preschool teachers, and in some instances, these jobs are categorized together (by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). However, their job descriptions differ, and so does the training. Whereas some individuals can accept a preschool teacher position with a high school diploma and a certificate, kindergarten teachers must complete an undergraduate education to qualify for a position.Children in elementary school on the workshop with their teacher

Unlike most preschool teachers, kindergarten teachers have completed college-level courses that focus on child development or early childhood education, in addition to standard education courses in subjects that include educational psychology, linguistic theory, digital technologies, curriculum planning, and assessment practices.

Kindergarten teachers in the public school system must earn at least a bachelor’s degree.

The majority of prospective kindergarten teachers obtain a degree in Child Development, Elementary Education and/or Early Childhood Education. Some form of state-issued certification or license is also required of kindergarten teachers, where the license or certificate should be specific to the education of students on the elementary school level. These credentials signify that a teacher is able to teach multiple subjects.

How to become a licensed kindergarten teacher differs from state to state, but generally the process includes the following steps:

  1. Earn an Undergraduate Degree: Elementary or early childhood education degree programs often include the study of basic math, reading and writing, as well as touch upon coursework related to children’s literature and art. The curriculum also aims to equip prospective kindergarten teachers with skills that allow them to effectively teach in multicultural classrooms; integrate emerging technology; and provide efficient education to students with special needs.
  1. Complete a Teacher Preparation Program: Undergraduate students also complete an accredited teacher preparation program, which typically involves one to two semesters of student teaching within a classroom setting. During this time, experienced educators provide mentorship to prospective teachers, who learn how to manage a classroom, create effective lesson plans, evaluate students, and exercise proper communication skills with parents and students. The teacher-mentors also assess prospective teachers, and provide their school with an evaluation of their performance in the classroom.
  1. Pass Exams: Kindergarten teachers must also pass state-issued exams for becoming a general elementary school teacher. These examinations test the general skills of an individual, as well as subject matter competency. Many states rely on the Praxis tests, or Pre-Professional Skills Test (PPST), as a national standard for assessing the qualifications of a prospective kindergarten teacher, which include the following:
  • Praxis® Core Academic Skills for Educators: The exam tests an applicant’s teaching knowledge and understanding of reading, mathematics and writing, as well as subject-specific topics geared towards students on the K-6 level.
  • Praxis® Subject Assessments: Teachers take these tests (formally referred to as the Praxis II tests) to demonstrate their aptitude regarding more specific subcategories of teaching, such as counseling or special needs education.
  1. Apply for Licensure: Upon successful completion of coursework, a teacher preparation program, the student teaching experience and required exams, a prospective kindergarten teacher must apply for licensure in the state for which they intend to obtain employment – if they plan on teaching in a public school. While state licensure is required to work in all U.S. public schools, it is not a necessary requirement for all private schools.
  1. Earn Optional Certification: Licensed teachers may also opt to earn certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which oversees voluntary certification that is recognized by every state. Kindergarten teachers may become certified in several disciplines, such as reading, art or library media. A teacher must have at least a bachelor’s degree and three years of classroom experience in a state-approved learning institution before qualifying to earn this credential.
  1. Earn an Optional Advanced Degree: Teachers with a master’s degree in Elementary Education or Early Childhood Education qualify for higher-paying jobs and positions with a higher level of responsibility. This type of degree is often pursued by those who possess an undergraduate degree in a non-teaching field and have an interest in becoming a kindergarten teacher; and experienced educators looking to evolve within his or her career. Graduate-level studies cover the basics, as well as include conducting research and touch upon advanced subjects – from language development to child psychology. During this time, a teacher may also opt to concentrate on a specific field of study, such as special education or English language-learners.
  1. Professional Development Training & Continuing Education Credits: Depending on their place of employment, kindergarten teachers are required to undergo professional development training as a way to keep their skills and knowledge up-to-date. Additionally, states require public school teachers to pursue continuing education in order to maintain his or her licensure.

What can I expect as a kindergarten teacher?

Attending their first official year of school (as required by the government), the typical age of kindergarten students are in the 5 to 6-years-old range. Teachers will encounter a range of personalities and quirks with various levels of apprehension, sensitivity, and enthusiasm. Kindergarten teachers use their training and education to help students cultivate the appropriate foundation needed to develop lifelong learning skills.

In many respects, modern kindergartens look much like those envisioned by Froebel in the early nineteenth century, and so do their teachers. Blocks, tablets, geometric shapes, and natural objects are still present in most kindergarten classrooms, and as in the past, most kindergarten teachers are still female. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2012, 98.1 percent of preschool and kindergarten teachers were women.

A kindergarten teacher’s duties typically include planning lessons that touch upon the following:

  • math, such as number recognition and counting
  • letter recognition, phonics, writing and reading
  • play and hands-on education
  • awareness of science and nature
  • evaluating students’ abilities through their development
  • administering and grading regular assignments
  • developing and enforcing classroom rules
  • participating in the broader life of the school – such as serving as a recess monitor or overseeing the orderliness of onsite activities, like school concerts and assemblies.

In contrast to teachers who work with somewhat older students, kindergarten teachers can also expect to deal with some of the physical challenges that preschool teachers often face. These challenges/duties include helping students with jacket zippers and shoelaces, cleaning up unexpected spills, dealing with embarrassing ‘accidents,’ temper tantrums, and occasionally finding students who have drifted off to sleep in a corner.

Kindergarten teachers are primarily employed at elementary schools, which typically involve one of the following three primary work settings:

Public School: Free to attend and governed by the U.S. Department of Education, state board of education and the local school district, a public school receives funding from the state and federal government. The school environment is generally comprised of students representing a diverse range of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Kindergarten teachers seeking employment in a public school submit an application to the district. All teachers must be licensed to teach in public school.

Private School: Since private schools do not receive public funding, teachers may encounter a more flexible curriculum. Private organizations and a school board make decisions regarding the way a private school operates. Thriving on tuition fees and alumni donations, the student population at a private school tends to be rather homogenous. Prospective kindergarten teachers contact private schools directly to inquire and apply for job positions. While most private schools require teachers to have a license, some hire educators without licensure.

Charter School: Possessing more flexibility than a public school, a charter school is an independent public school that does not charge tuition. Each school has its own mission, curriculum, and objectives that are submitted to the state or district as a type of ‘contract.’ Charter schools typically have smaller class sizes than traditional public school classrooms.

What is the career outlook for a kindergarten teacher?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a projected 13% growth rate in the kindergarten-teaching field (with the exception of special education teachers), is expected to take place from 2012 to 2022. The increased demand for kindergarten teachers is primarily linked to a soaring population of children entering elementary school, and more schools moving towards providing an educational environment that offers lower student–teacher ratios.

Despite a growing overall need to hire kindergarten teachers to accommodate an increasing population of elementary school-aged children, the following range of factors will also ultimately affect the availability of jobs on a state-by-state basis:

  • Location: Job prospects for kindergarten teachers vary according to the specific demand from various states, cities, regions and school districts. For example, open positions in the South and West are expected to rise in response to the rapid enrollment growth for these regions. School enrollment is projected to remain steady in the Midwest, whereas the BLS reports an anticipated decline in open positions in the Northeast.
  • Budget: State and local government budgets determine an area’s ability to hire and maintain their current roster of kindergarten teachers. In times of budget deficits, some regions are forced to lay off employees, including teachers in elementary schools.
  • School Setting: School environment plays a role in the availability of jobs, as the demand for new teacher hires is greater in urban and rural school districts than in suburban school districts.
  • Surplus of Teachers: While a significant number of teachers are expected to reach the age of retirement by 2022, job openings for new educators will become available. However, if an area already has an excess of teachers trained to teach kindergarten, it limits the job opportunities that new teachers will encounter.

While the overall demand for kindergarten teachers varies by region, there are various criteria which lead potential employers to view an individual as a more desirable job candidate. Teachers with skills and experience in English as a Second Language (ESL) studies, or who are bi-lingual, are needed to educate the United States’ increasingly diverse student population. An increased call for teachers trained to address the needs of students with special needs places educators with training in the field at an advantage when applying for jobs.

The above education specialties are currently in short supply; therefore, kindergarten teachers with training and certification to fill associated positions can find work in nearly every region. Teachers with a graduate-level teaching degree also encounter increased job opportunities, and qualify for positions with a higher level of responsibility.

What is the average salary of a kindergarten teacher?

In 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median salary for a kindergarten teacher was $50,600 (nearly $20,000 more than the average salary reported for a preschool teacher). The majority of kindergarten teachers earning this salary work at public elementary and secondary schools.

Although the state of California employs the most kindergarten teachers in the U.S., they are not the highest-paying state for the occupation. Those who are employed in the following states are reported to make the most money: Connecticut ($70,480), New York ($66,990), Alaska ($66,380), Massachusetts ($65,650), and Rhode Island ($64,290).

In addition to geographic location, other factors that can affect the salary of a kindergarten teacher include:

  • Kindergarten teachers in the public school system typically earn a higher average salary than most private school positions.
  • Private schools may offer teachers reduced- or free tuition for their children as a form of added compensation.
  • Teachers qualify for higher-paying positions when they possess unique qualifications, such as special education training, an advanced degree, or a counseling background.
  • Compensation also tends to increase for educators with elevated years of experience.

Kindergarten teachers also enjoy the typical benefits offered to those in the teaching profession. In most districts, these may include extended health benefits, employer retirement contributions, and the ability to work from September to June, and have summers off.

In conclusion, becoming a kindergarten teacher means entering an area of education that deals with a significant transitional period in the lives of many young children. Kids belonging to this age group primarily learn new skills and fundamentals in reading, writing and math through free play and structured activities. Kindergarten teachers are hired to oversee classrooms with students often filled with a high level of curiosity and enthusiasm. In addition to providing a comfortable, welcoming school atmosphere, kindergarten teachers generally spend their days introducing students to basic literacy and math-related concepts. Now that you understand how to become a kindergarten teacher, explore our licensing and school pages to learn more about where you can acquired the credentials needed to launch your career.

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