Planning Ahead: 4 Steps to an Early Childhood Education Career

Good early childhood educators have a heaping dose of stamina, zen-like patience and a natural love for young children. Truly great early childhood educators have all that plus the right training. Precisely what that training entails varies by job title, location and employer, but even schools that do not require formal education tend to prefer candidates with a beefier resume. Ready to get started? Let these four steps guide you toward the teaching career of your dreams.

1. Get some work experience.

Before investing in any type of formal education it is always helpful to know that your chosen career path is really for you; doubly so when said path ends with a classroom of rambunctious kiddos. Consider finding a position at a local daycare or preschool that does not require previous experience, certification or training, perhaps as an assistant or teacher's aide. This time is valuable not just as a means for self-evaluation, but for your future resume, too. Some schools may even be willing to contribute to your education, especially private specialty programs.

2. Become certified.

If you want a taste of teaching without investing years toward earning a full-fledged degree, a certificate is an excellent place to start. While a certificate cannot land you a position with a public elementary school, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that it is a preferred and sometimes required credential for many preschool educators. Consider earning a nationally recognized certificate, like the Child Development Associate, CDA, or the Child Care Professional, CPP, depending on your goals. Both require you to have a high school diploma and some experience in the field. You must also periodically pursue continuing education classes.

3. Earn your degree.

If you want to teach at a public elementary school, you will need to earn at least a bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related field. Even if you want to teach at the preschool level, earning a degree will give you an edge over the competition or open doors to highly coveted positions or directorships. If that isn't enough to convince you to pursue a degree, know that the BLS reports that both advancement and earning potential tends to grow with higher education. Not too shabby, eh? Online early childhood education programs are a convenient way to earn your degree while garnering valuable field experience (see step 1).

4. Get licensed.

If you want to teach at a preschool, you will probably not be required to pursue licensure unless a particular method demands it, such as within the Montessori curriculum. Those who want to teach elementary age children, however, must do so. According to the BLS, future teachers must earn a bachelor's degree and, typically, complete a stint as a student teacher before becoming licensed. Contact your state's Department of Education to research additional requirements.

Get Schooled (in the Best Way Possible)

Deciding to go to school to become an early childhood educator is a life-changing event, but it is only the first step toward landing the gig of your dreams; finding the right training program for you is the next. It is important to find a program that suits your goals and learning style (not to mention your budget). We recommend researching a number of campus-based and online early childhood education degrees before settling down.

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