A career in Early Childhood Education (ECE) can be ideal for anyone with a natural ability to relate to children. Early childhood educators get to live out their dreams of being a mentor and a positive, lasting influence in a child’s life. They also reap the benefits of a sustainable career in an industry that needs qualified professionals.
As an early childhood educator, there are many careers to consider, and once you know what you want to do, you can use your college degree to lay the groundwork for your future.
What Early Childhood Education Jobs Are Available?
Though much of the U.S. education job market growth can be attributed to online learning and new technologies, according to a 2022 study, some of today’s fastest-growing roles in early childhood education are traditional face-to-face roles in and outside the classroom.
Let’s take a look at five in-demand early childhood education careers:
1. Preschool Teacher
With the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting 15% growth – much faster than average – of preschool teacher openings through 2031, this is an ideal time to consider a role in which you can make a significant impact in the lives of children ages five and younger.
The job of a preschool teacher varies on whether you work at a childcare center or public or private school. Day-to-day responsibilities typically include:
- Teaching basic skills such as identifying colors, shapes, numbers, and letters
- Working with small groups or one-on-one, depending on the subject matter and needs of the children
- Planning and carrying out a curriculum that focuses on different areas of child development
- Organizing activities so children can learn about the world, explore interests and develop skills
- Watching for signs of emotional or developmental problems in each child and bringing them to the attention of the child’s parents
Some states require licensure for preschool teachers, and the BLS reports public school teachers “are generally required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education or a related field.” The degree is important, the agency explains, because an ECE program includes “instruction on children’s development, teaching young children, and observing and documenting children’s progress.”
Though salaries vary depending on where you work, the median annual wage for preschool teachers was $30,210 in May 2021, according to the BLS, the agency that analyzes and reports employment data.
2. Teacher Assistant
Schools have come to rely on having a teacher assistant, as well as a teacher, in many of the classrooms. Many of those teacher assistants, also known as teacher aides, instructional aides, or educational assistants, are transferring to different occupations or leaving the workforce to retire, for example. There’s a demand for new teacher assistants, with employment in the field projected to grow 5% through 2031 – resulting in about 153,700 openings nationwide each year.
The job of a teacher assistant is to work with a licensed teacher to give students additional attention and instruction and typically includes:
- Reviewing lessons or reading with students one-on-one or in small groups
- Following school and class rules to teach students expected behaviors
- Helping teachers with record keeping, such as taking attendance and calculating grades
- Getting equipment or materials ready to help teachers prepare for lessons
- Supervising students outside of the classroom, such as between classes, during lunch and recess, and on field trips, in addition to inside the classroom
Though the BLS finds teacher assistants don’t require licenses, some positions may require CPR and First Aid certifications, and “some teacher assistants have a bachelor’s degree in fields such as education and psychology.”
According to the BLS, the median annual wage for teacher assistants was $29,360 in May 2021.
3. Childcare Worker
Outside of the traditional classroom, the BLS reports that the demand for childcare workers is rising, with as many as 170,100 openings projected annually through 2031.
Childcare workers assist parents – at a home or childcare facility – by caring for preschool-age children who are too young for kindergarten. The job typically includes:
- Supervising and monitoring the safety of children
- Organizing mealtimes and preparing food for children
- Organizing activities or implementing a curriculum that allows children to learn about the world while exploring their interests
- Developing schedules and routines to ensure children have enough physical activity, rest, and playtime
- Watching for signs of emotional or developmental problems in children and discussing with parents or guardians
4. School Counselor
The need for school counselors is surging and is projected to grow by 10% – faster than average – through 2031, according to the BLS. School counselors are needed in both the public and private sectors at K–12 schools, colleges and universities, and career centers.
A school counselor's job is to help students develop academic and social skills and help students plan for post-graduation. Though specific duties of school counselors vary with their students' ages, they typically include:
- Helping students understand and overcome social or behavioral challenges
- Analyzing data to identify factors such as poor attendance that negatively affect academic performance
- Working with students to develop skills that support learning, such as effective time management and study habits
- Collaborating with teachers and families to help students plan academic, career, and social goals
- Meeting with parents or guardians to discuss the child’s unique needs
Your academic path to becoming a counselor will involve first earning your bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree – often in a field such as psychology or counseling. School counselors typically must have a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field and have a state-issued credential. Some employers prefer or require candidates to have classroom teaching experience, or to hold a teaching license prior to being certified, according to the BLS. Most states require a criminal background check as part of the credentialing process.
The median annual wage for school counselors was $60,510 in May 2021, according to the BLS.
5. Camp Counselor
Camp counselors (also known as recreation workers) are employed at childcare facilities in the public sector, or even at private businesses such as gyms. Counselors design and lead activities to help people stay active, improve their fitness, and have fun. The job typically includes:
- Enforcing rules and regulations to maintain discipline and ensure safety
- Organizing, leading, and promoting interest in recreational activities such as arts and crafts, sports, games, camping, music and hobbies
- Assessing the needs and interests of individuals and groups and planning activities accordingly, given what’s available
- Administering first aid according to prescribed procedures
- Completing and maintaining timesheets, attendance forms, and inventory lists
Educational requirements vary for camp counselors, but the BLS reports some positions may require a bachelor’s degree. As with any job, your educational credentials give you a competitive advantage, which may come in handy as employment of recreation workers is projected to grow 10% – faster than average – through 2031.
The median annual wage for recreation workers was $29,680 in May 2021, according to the BLS, though it’s important to remember much of the work is seasonal, such as summer break when many students are out of school.
Five Skills You Need to Succeed in Your ECE Career
Your education is essential to your ECE career success, as employers are looking for graduates with the necessary skills to work and succeed in a fast-changing and sometimes stressful environment. Among the skills necessary to succeed:
1. Critical thinking
You’ll need to exercise good judgment at all times with children, and you may even be asked to make decisions that could impact an individual child, group, or classroom. This is when your critical thinking skills — asking questions, gathering information, reaching a solution or conclusion — will come into play, as you’ll need to make fair and justifiable decisions.
Ask any educator, parent, grandparent, babysitter — anyone who has ever dealt with a young person — and they’ll tell you that patience is paramount. In ECE, you must have patience when working with children — listening to stories, managing conflict, etc. — and adults, including parents, educators, and staff. Being patient will help you become a better listener, a better decision-maker, and a more resilient person.
In ECE, you must learn how to communicate in age-appropriate ways, and you must be able to change your communication style to deal with adults. Educators must often have difficult conversations with parents, so you will need to sharpen your communication skills to be effective and earn their trust.
4. Conflict Management
Not everyone gets along in the classroom, and an important part of ECE is conflict management. You will be asked to resolve issues between children by listening to their problems and coming up with fair decisions. In conflict management, you’ll be sitting down with children, talking through their problems in an age-appropriate manner, and asking them to play a role in the solution.
In a daycare or classroom setting, you’ll need top-notch organizational skills to keep pace. Early childhood educators are required to generate activity and lesson plans, track children’s needs, and develop daily routines. When you’re prepared and organized, you’ll be able to manage your time and the children’s time better and you’ll be a better classroom role model.
Education Is a Growing Sector
As more children enter the classroom and more longtime educators head into retirement, the BLS estimates the number of jobs in education, as well as training and library occupations, will grow by 7% through 2031, with about 929,000 new openings every year due to growth and replacement needs.
An online degree from the University of Arizona Global Campus does not lead to immediate teacher licensure in any state. If you want to become a classroom teacher, contact your state’s education authorities prior to enrolling at the University of Arizona Global Campus to determine what state-specific requirements you must complete before obtaining your teacher’s license.