By Susan Ott
Gone are the days when preschool consisted of songs, stories & juice in a church basement. Today, early childhood education is a growing and serious business, and many schools are looking for highly qualified teachers to run their pre-kindergarten programs. 28 states now actually require state-funded preschool teachers to have specialized training.
American preschools run the gamut from exclusively private to state-run. But across the spectrum, more and more of them are seeking out candidates with a masters in early childhood education, both to boost their school credentials and provide a high-quality preschool experience for kids. If your goal is to become a lead teacher or director of a good preschool, this degree is designed to help you accomplish that.
What You’ll Study For This Degree
A masters in early childhood education is similar to some other postgraduate teaching degrees, but focused on a younger age group (birth through ages 5 or 8, depending on the program). You’ll study the unique developmental milestones and needs of preschoolers. At these ages, children change quickly from year to year, and there is a wide range of “normal.” To prepare you to deal with that, your training will give you a foundation in the wide-ranging needs of preschoolers through lessons, activities, stories, songs and play. You’ll also learn how to accurately assess students in this age group and prepare them for kindergarten — a major goal of both teachers and parents of pre-k children.
Beyond learning about the social and psychological needs of preschoolers, you’ll have advanced training in how to manage a preschool classroom, plan lessons, create age-appropriate activities and even interact with parents (as well as how to use parents as a resource). Many programs will also familiarize you with common preschool and early elementary standards, which are helpful for both teachers and directors of education programs to know.
Certain MS programs in Early Childhood allow you to specialize in either teaching or administration, while others offer a broader approach that prepare you equally for either type of position. If you have a clear goal in this regard, you’ll want to make sure to choose a masters in early childhood education that’s designed to help you reach it.
After graduation, you will also have the option to obtain early childhood education licensure, which certifies you to teach birth through third grade. Just like K-12 teacher licensure, this is not an official part of your masters program. It is earned by taking a series of tests administered by your state. There are small pre-school programs that hire non-licensed teachers. But having licensure will qualify you to teach in any private or state-funded preschool in the state where you obtain your license, which is generally necessary to open up the higher quality and higher paying job opportunities in this specialty.
What Specific Jobs Can Your Earn With This Degree?
Technically, graduates with a masters and licensure in early childhood education are qualified in many states to teach children from birth through the third grade (although some masters degree programs focus only on the pre-kindergarten years). It used to be relatively easy for a teacher with an early childhood masters to get a job teaching in at least the first three grades of elementary school. But recent budget cuts across the country have made this tougher. Most elementary school administrators now hire teachers with elementary licensure (K-8th grade), since this gives them the latitude to move teachers around to all the various grades depending on need. The “net net,” as they say, is that you should only go for an early childhood degree if you feel pretty sure that you want to teach preschool, become a preschool director or seek some other type of position in a pre-k setting.
Early childhood programs that might hire you vary from state-funded “head start” programs to private religious and secular schools. Some daycare and childcare centers also look for people with this advanced degree to be teachers or administrators.
This degree is designed to make you a good candidate for a head teaching position in any age group from birth to pre-k or as a director or administrator of an early childhood school or pre-k program.
As with just about all levels of teaching, the preschool teacher plans lessons and teach children each day, while directors and administrators are responsible for all of the teachers and caregivers at the school—making sure they are doing their jobs correctly and that the school itself is meeting all standards. Either type of position can be rewarding, but they require very different responsibilities.
Schools that offer a masters in early childhood education may call their courses by slightly different names. However, the courses below comprise the core of topics you’ll cover in this type of degree program. Be sure to check your school’s course catalogue for more specifics, such as exact course names and numbers, as well as credit hours earned for each.
- Intro to Early Childhood Education
- Child Psychology
- Behavior and Classroom Management
- Models, Theories and Instructional Strategies
- Early Childhood Growth and Development
- Methods of Teaching in Early Childhood
- Language and Literacy Development
- Families, Society and Schools