Become a Kindergarten Teacher

A Kindergarten Teacher Career Guide

Kindergarten Teachers Career Guide

The importance placed upon early childhood education has increased over the last decade. Major studies commissioned by the U.S. government and other agencies on the development of reading and writing in young children have shown that reading and writing development need to begin in preschool, with kindergarten having the important milestones of children acquiring all of their alphabet letter knowledge and beginning reading and real writing. This is also one of the most important stages to help young children in the development of acceptable social skills, among other core social competencies. "Social competence refers to the social, emotional, and cognitive skills and behaviors that children need for successful social adaptation." Health of Children

Overview and Job Duties

Other important educational research has shown that primary school classes need to expose their students to much more informational text than in the past in order to expand children's knowledge base in their early formative years. In the past, the emphasis in primary education was on fictional texts almost to the exclusion of informational materials.

For these reasons, there is an increased emphasis upon the skill level of kindergarten teachers in preparing their students for the rigors of the primary curriculum. Thus, kindergarten has far less emphasis on nap time and finger painting than was true in the past. Instead, kindergarten teachers need to be able to provide vibrant and exuberant lessons that turn emergent readers into readers who excel and move students from scribbles on a page to writing with the alphabet and whole words. Teachers also need to provide lessons about history and science topics. Learning in a kindergarten classroom today is serious business that is made to feel like play and is hands-on.

What Will You Do as a Kindergarten Teacher?

Kindergarten teachers need to be patient but exuberant. They will work to advance children in their care to full knowledge of letter and word concepts and knowledge of the alphabet in terms of reading and writing. They will read to their students daily and help students learn to read and write on their own as well.

Kindergarten teachers are responsible for creating lessons that teach the students hands-on, applied, real world science and create a space for inquiry as well as learning through the use of engaging informational texts.

In kindergarten, you’ll teach basic skills, such as color concepts, telling time, and concepts of money. This is also where students begin to learn about mathematics and how to interact with one another in a responsible and caring manner, as a part of a community of learners.

Teachers are responsible for maintaining order and safety in the classroom. They are responsible to keeping parents apprised of their child's progress in class and helping parents become partners in their child's learning.

Teachers must attend on-going training and meetings with administration and colleagues.

Common Degree Requirements

In every state, kindergarten teaching candidates need a bachelor's degree. The suggested major is Early Childhood Education (ECE). Most private schools also require a bachelor's degree.

After one's bachelor's program, teaching candidates will need to enter a licensed teacher preparation program that will include classwork as well as a student teaching internship in which the teaching candidate will be given greater and greater responsibility until they are the teacher in charge of the classroom for several weeks. The teaching internship is also a graded portion of one's teacher preparation program and is supervised by an experienced teacher who conducts regular observations of the teaching candidate in the classroom.

It is essential that prospective kindergarten teachers choose a teaching preparation program that is licensed in the state in which they have chosen to teach and that they enter an elementary education teacher preparation program, as opposed to a secondary teacher preparation program. A secondary program prepares the student to teach high school rather than elementary school or kindergarten.

Prospective kindergarten teachers who already have another bachelor's degree in a subject other than ECE can still become a kindergarten teacher if they take a master's program in ECE. Those programs allow teachers to take the subject matter classes they missed in college and also complete their teacher preparation program, including the student teaching internship.

Exams and Licensure

In addition to having one's bachelor's in ECE (or master's in ECE) and having completed one's teacher preparation program and internship, a prospective kindergarten teacher will need to pass some tests and possibly take a few more classes (depending upon the state), before they can submit all of their paperwork to their state licensing board and receive their teaching credential. The tests vary by state. Often, though, they require a test of basic knowledge that demonstrates the teaching candidate is educated, such as demonstrating basic mathematics, science, and reading skill. The other test that may be required is to show knowledge of your subject matter. In the case of kindergarten teachers, that is a test of understanding concepts in early childhood education.

The national tests are called the PRAXIS exams and they have a comprehensive set of tests that cover everything from pre-k on. However, a few states have dropped the PRAXIS and created their own tests, so moving from state to state as a teacher will be extra complicated if you live in or move to one of these states.

Kindergarten Teacher Career and Salaries

Average salaries for all elementary teachers vary widely by state (by $24,000 annually between the states with the highest and lowest paid teachers). The average salary for a kindergarten teacher in the United States is $54,550. California, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts have some of the highest average teacher salaries in the nations, while South Dakota, Mississippi, Alabama, and Arizona have some of the lowest average teacher salaries.

Some small-town school districts in isolated areas of the country have lower than average salaries. In order to combat this, some states have set a minimum salary for teachers.

Teachers’ salaries in the public-school sector rise with additional years of experience and additional education, such as graduate level courses and master's degrees.

Career & Salary Chart

Occupation Average Salary
Head-Start Worker $35,000
Kindergarten Assistant Teacher $22,700
Kindergarten Teacher $40,300
Kindergarten Teacher Special Education $46,000
Kindergarten School Director $40,600

Future Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts that the need for kindergarten teachers will experience moderate growth of a 6% increase for the next several years.

High profile strikes in a few states, such as Arizona and Oklahoma, have underscored the need for increased pay for teachers and smaller class sizes, since teacher pay in those states does not match the pay of other similarly educated professionals in other fields. In fact, teacher pay is about 60% of the pay of other similarly educated professionals in the U.S.

The Great Recession has also had a powerful impact on per-pupil spending on education in the United States. 36 states spend less per pupil on education than they did before the recession. This is the opposite of the trend in other westernized countries that have actually increased per pupil spending on education in the same time frame. This has led to increased class sizes in many areas of the country.

Job Duties of a Kindergarten Teacher

  • Ensure that all students are at least meeting the state standards at their grade level

  • Create engaging, hands-on learning experiences that move all students in class to meet the state standards

  • Maintain an orderly, but engaging learning environment in which all students feel safe and cared for

  • Maintain accurate records of student learning

  • Maintain and disseminate grading information that helps parents understand their child's progress towards meeting state curricular standards

  • Work with parents as a learning partner

  • Work as a team with other colleagues and administrators in order to maintain a high level of learning school wide

  • Engage in regular training in order to constantly improve one's skills

Useful Skills and Certifications

  • Classroom management skills – If the classroom is not a safe and respectful environment, children are not learning.
  • Grouping techniques – A successful kindergarten teacher will need to learn how to move his or her students through different grouping configurations throughout the day, such as whole class, small groups, and center work that is conducted while the teacher works with individuals or small groups.
  • Differentiation techniques – Since students will be at different ability levels, teachers must adapt their instruction to meet the needs of all learners in the classroom.
  • Student development – A full understanding of how students develop as readers and writers and how to move students to their next level.
  • Brain development – A full understanding of how the brain works and how to create an optimal learning environment.

Please note: These skills are required for all teachers to be fully competent. Teachers do not always learn these skills in their teacher preparation program, so they must learn these skills through continued learning, reading, and working with mentor teachers. Having a great mentor teacher is key to one's success and survival as a first-year teacher!

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