By Susan Ott
If you want to become a kindergarten teacher, it can be hard to decide which bachelor’s degree to earn to get you there. A bachelor’s in early childhood education or a degree in elementary education can qualify you to teach kindergarten. But each may lead you into different teaching environments, with different potential salaries and different opportunities for advancement. Here’s an overview that can help you decide which of these two teaching degrees will help you meet your needs as you work on your qualifications to teach kindergarten.
Early Childhood Education Degree
Most bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education qualify you to teach and care for children from infancy or toddlerhood through kindergarten, and, in some cases, as high as third grade. Many states offer early childhood licensure, although it is not required to teach in most preschools. Licensure is, however, essential to teach in a public school setting, and some states may require elementary education licensure on top of that. This degree has a more narrow focus than an elementary ed. degree, in that it’s specifically tailored to learn about the educational and developmental needs of preschool-aged children.
If you earn this degree, you’ll learn about developing children’s minds through art, music, storytelling and the basic building blocks of academia: numbers, letters, colors and shapes. This degree is great for teachers who love the preschool setting and want to specifically focus their energies on the kindergarten classroom and curriculum. Instead of teaching the more rigid academics of older elementary grades, teaching kindergarten in many ways bridges the gap between preschool and elementary school and provides an important foundation for each student’s future learning attitudes and experiences.
Elementary Education Degree
Earning an elementary education bachelor’s degree will qualify you to teach grades kindergarten through sixth grade, and in some cases, through eighth grade. In order to teach in most schools, especially public schools, elementary education licensure is also required. This degree has a much broader scope than a degree in early childhood education, since teaching methods and techniques vary greatly amongst the grades you’ll be qualified to teach. So in addition to learning how to teach younger children like kindergarteners, you’ll also be learning how to teach a variety of subjects to older grades (up through middle school, in some cases) as well.
If you choose an elementary education degree, you’ll have to learn how to teach subjects like science, math, history and English in addition to methods of teaching younger children. While this makes you more versatile, you won’t be focusing only on the preschool/kindergarten-specific pedagogy, even though it may be your top interest. Instead of just learning about methods of teaching preschool children, your training will include teaching five-year-olds through twelve-year-olds, in most cases. You may also have to accept that you may not get a student teaching placement within kindergarten, and your first job could be teaching another grade as well. However, this degree could make finding a job easier, as it covers twice as many grades as an early childhood education degree.
Many early childhood education majors teach kindergarten in a preschool setting that includes a preschool and a kindergarten, but no higher grades. It is possible to teach kindergarten in a public elementary school with an early childhood degree (with licensure). But in today’s climate of budget cutbacks in the educational system, this is becoming less of a reality, since teachers are frequently moved around from grade to grade to accommodate a shrinking workforce. So if you love the specific environment of a preschool, a degree in early childhood education is best. If, however, you like the idea of being in an elementary school setting and don’t mind the possibility of teaching grades other than kindergarten, then a degree in elementary education would be a better choice.
Salary & Benefits
According to recent labor statistics, preschool teachers make, on average, two- to four-thousand dollars less per year than public school kindergarten teachers. Beyond that, preschool teachers’ benefits vary greatly, since many preschools are private. Teaching at a very prestigious private preschool could earn you a good salary and benefits, but these positions are not as numerous as public teaching positions. Public school teachers tend to have much more solid benefit packages. From healthcare to an attractive retirement package, becoming a public school kindergarten teacher has many “perks” which are worth considering as you choose a career path.
Teaching within a preschool can be a wonderful, rewarding career, but for most kindergarten teachers within a preschool setting, there is little room for job advancement. Unless you move up to the director or head of the preschool, most teachers there simply remain teachers for the duration of their careers. If you choose to earn a master’s in education, you can transition to a higher position in an elementary school as a specialist or administrator. But just having a bachelor’s in early childhood education does limit your job advancement potential a bit more.
By contrast, when teaching in an elementary school, your varied experience, along with getting a master’s degree, will qualify you to become a specialist or administrator within the elementary grades. And since you’re already familiar with your school and district, it may be easier for you to find a new job, since you know the people who work there and are usually aware of job openings before they become public knowledge. Because your degree covers more grades and subjects, you are many times qualified to move into other positions, such as a reading teacher or learning support person within the elementary grades.