So, you want to work with kids. Nanny, camp counselor, school nurse, teacher, daycare provider, babysitter, librarian, child psychologist, youth counselor … Well, there are lots of jobs that will let you fulfill your desire to work with kids. But maybe you just know you should be a preschool teacher, or maybe you’re interested because you realize that preschool is a pretty important step for kids.
If working with kids as a preschool teacher is your dream job, there are some things you should know first. We got the inside scoop from two experts on what becoming a preschool teacher is really like. Hint: It’s not all reading and art projects!
Before becoming a preschool teacher, I wish I knew …
1. Be prepared for anything
If you’re not good with surprises or the occasional deviation from your plans … well, you should reconsider becoming a preschool teacher. Yes, working with kids often means fun and excitement, but it also means skinned knees, a sick tummy and unpleasant encounters with parents.
“A preschool teacher wears many different hats and you never know which one you will be wearing, or how many you'll be wearing, each day,” says Tracy Yarke, preschool teacher and adjunct instructor for the School of Education at Rasmussen College.
2. Have more lesson plans than you think you’ll need
When you’re just getting your footing as a preschool teacher it might be tempting to simply prepare a few things and make everything else up as you go along, but that’s not a good idea.
“You come in to the classroom expecting to need very little [subject matter] prepared in advance, but the kids absorb so much and learn so fast that you need to be prepared well in advance of each day,” says Daniel Boruchowitz, Kiddie Academy’s 2013 Teacher of the Year.
3. Each child is an individual
Although you’ll be teaching to a classroom full of kids, don’t forget that you need to focus on each one as individuals as well. Preschoolers follow their own development patterns. Knowing a child’s learning style, family life, culture and personality means you’ll be able to meet their needs better, Yarke says.
4. Don’t wear valuable clothes
If you’ve worked with children before you probably already know high heels will quickly become uncomfortable and the classroom is certainly no place for that little black cocktail dress. But as a preschool teacher you need to view clothes in terms of value as well, and consider if you want to wear something outside of the classroom or in it—because you might not be able to do both.
This tip might seem like a no-brainer on cooking or finger painting days, but Boruchowitz says it applies every single day. “You'd be surprised the stains and marks that you get just from basic classroom activities,” he says.
5. What you learn in school might not seem to work right away
As you earn your early childhood education (ECE) degree you’ll learn a number of theories and concepts that you can apply once you’re in the classroom. Strike that—you absolutely should use those theories and concepts.
“We are shaping young minds, which is an awesome responsibility, so we need to know what we are doing,” Yarke says.
Of course, that’s not to say that it always works. Yarke says theory you learn in the classroom will indeed work, if you do it correctly.
6. Professionalism is crucial
As happens with many jobs, some people will have no idea how hard you work as a preschool teacher. One common stereotype is that preschool teachers are just glorified babysitters, Yarke says. It’s something you’ll have to be prepared for so you can always let your professionalism shine through.
“We are real teachers and must act, dress, plan and communicate as professionals,” Yarke says.
7. Witnessing curiosity & excitement never gets old
Whether it’s rambunctious greetings in the mornings or the proud look on a child’s face after he mastered that new skill, every preschool teacher has a favorite part of the job. For Yarke, it’s seeing the children curious and excited when they’re playing and learning.
“Their eyes and face light up and in those moments I feel as if I am instilling in them a love of learning,” she says. A close second? Yarke also enjoys hugs and hand-drawn pictures.
Is becoming a preschool teacher right for you?
You’ve just read some pros and cons from real teachers in real classrooms. Their tips and tricks will help you be prepared for what will happen once you step into that classroom for the first time and see 15-20 pairs of eyes staring back at you. Did the babysitter stereotype or unknown surprises turn you away? Or have you been drawn in by the thought of a child’s curiosity and excitement?
If becoming a preschool teacher is in your future, you’ll want to know how to get there. Where Education Begins: Your Guide to Becoming a Preschool Teacher can walk you through the education and skills you’ll need. If you’re still interested in ECE but want to explore careers other than being a preschool teacher, check out The Best Early Childhood Education Jobs for All Degree Holders.