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Nature of the Work
(D.O.T. 092.227-018; 355.674-010; 359.677-010, -018, -026)
* About 40 percent of preschool teachers and child-care workers4 times the proportion for all workersare self-employed; most are family daycare providers.
* Turnover is high due to stressful conditions and low pay and benefits.
* While training requirements vary from a high school diploma to a college degree, a high school diploma and little or no experience is usually adequate.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers nurture and teach preschool childrenage 5 or youngerin child care centers, nursery schools, preschools, public schools, and family child care homes. These workers play an important role in a child's development by caring for the child when the parents are at work or away for other reasons. Some parents enroll their children in nursery schools or child-care centers primarily to provide them with the opportunity to interact with other children. In addition to attending to children's basic needs, these workers organize activities that stimulate the children's physical, emotional, intellectual, and social growth. They help children explore their interests, develop their talents and independence, build self-esteem, and learn how to behave with others.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers spend most of their day working with children. However, they do maintain contact with parents or guardians, through daily informal meetings or scheduled conferences, to discuss each child's progress and needs. Many preschool teachers and child-care workers keep records of each child's progress and suggest ways parents can increase their child's learning and development at home. Some preschools and child care centers actively recruit parent volunteers to work with the children and participate in administrative decisions and program planning.
Most preschool teachers and child-care workers perform a combination of basic care and teaching duties. Through many basic care activities, preschool teachers and child-care workers provide opportunities for children to learn. For example, a worker who shows a child how to tie a shoe teaches the child and also provides for that child's basic care needs. Through their experiences in preschool and child-care programs, children learn about trust and gain a sense of security.
Children at this age learn mainly through play. Recognizing the importance of play, preschool teachers and child-care workers build their program around it. They capitalize on children's play to further language development (storytelling and acting games), improve social skills (working together to build a neighborhood in a sandbox), and introduce scientific and mathematical concepts (balancing and counting blocks when building a bridge or mixing colors when painting). (A statement on teacher aideswho assist classroom teachersappears elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Thus, a less structured approach is used to teach preschool children, including small group lessons, one-on-one instruction, and learning through creative activities, such as art, dance, and music. Interaction with peers is an important part of a child's early development. Preschool children are given an opportunity to engage in conversation and discussions, and learn to play and work cooperatively with their classmates. Preschool teachers and child-care workers play a vital role in preparing children to build the skills they will need in elementary school.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers greet children as they arrive, help them remove outer garments, and select an activity of interest. When caring for infants, they feed and change them. To ensure a well-balanced program, preschool teachers and child-care workers prepare daily and long-term schedules of activities. Each day's activities balance individual and group play and quiet and active time. Children are given some freedom to participate in activities in which they are interested.
Helping to keep children healthy is an important part of the job. Preschool teachers and child-care workers serve nutritious meals and snacks and teach good eating habits and personal hygiene. They see to it that children have proper rest periods. They spot children who may not feel well or show signs of emotional or developmental problems and discuss these matters with their supervisor and the child's parents. In some cases, preschool teachers and child-care workers help parents identify programs that will provide basic health services.
Early identification of children with special needs, such as those with behavioral, emotional, physical, or learning disabilities, is important to improve their future learning ability. Special education teachers often work with these preschool children to provide the individual attention they need. (Special education teachers are covered in a separate statement in the Handbook.)
Preschool facilities include private homes, schools, religious institutions, workplaces where employers provide care for employees' children, or private buildings. Individuals who provide care in their own homes are generally called family child care providers. (Child-care workers who work in the child's home are covered in the statement on private household workers found elsewhere in the Handbook.)
Watching children grow, enjoy learning, and gain new skills can be very rewarding. While working with children, preschool teachers and child-care workers often improve the child's communication, learning, and other personal skills. Also, the work is never routine; each day is marked by new activities and challenges. However, child care can be physically and emotionally taxing, as workers constantly stand, walk, bend, stoop, and lift to attend to each child's interests and problems.
To ensure that children receive proper supervision, State regulations require certain ratios of workers to children. The ratio varies with the age of the children. Child development experts generally recommend that a single caregiver be responsible for no more than 3 or 4 infants (less than 1 year old), 5 or 6 toddlers (1 to 2 years old), or 10 preschool-age children (between 2 and 5 years old).
The working hours of preschool teachers and child-care workers vary widely. Child care centers are generally open year round with long hours so that parents can drop off and pick up their children before and after work. Some centers employ full-time and part-time staff with staggered shifts to cover the entire day. Some workers are unable to take regular breaks during the day due to limited staffing. Public and many private preschool programs operate during the typical 9- or 10-month school year, employing both full-time and part-time workers. Many preschool teachers may work extra unpaid hours each week on curriculum planning, parent meetings, and occasional fundraising activities. Family daycare providers have flexible hours and daily routines, but may work long or unusual hours to fit parents' work schedules.
Turnover in this occupation is high. Many preschool teachers and child-care workers suffer burnout due to long hours, low pay and benefits, and stressful conditions.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers held about 1.2 million jobs in 1996. Many worked part time. About 4 out of 10 preschool teachers and child-care workers are self-employed, most of whom are family daycare providers.
Over 50 percent of all salaried preschool teachers and child-care workers are found in child care centers and preschools, and more than 15 percent work for a religious institution. The rest work in other community organizations and in government. Some child care programs are for-profit centers; some are affiliated with a local or national chain. Religious institutions, community agencies, school systems, and State and local governments operate nonprofit programs. A growing number of business firms operate on-site child care centers for the children of their employees.
The training and qualifications required of preschool teachers and child-care workers vary widely. Each State has its own licensing requirements that regulate caregiver training, ranging from a high school diploma, to community college courses, to a college degree in child development or early childhood education. Some States require continuing education for workers in this field. However, most State requirements are minimal. Formal education requirements in some private preschools and child care centers are often lower than in public programs since they are not bound by State requirements. Often, child-care workers can obtain employment with a high school diploma and little or no experience.
Some States prefer preschool teachers and child-care workers to have a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential, which is offered by the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition. The CDA credential is recognized as a qualification for teachers and directors in 46 States and the District of Columbia. To be eligible, applicants must have 120 hours of training, a high school diploma, and 480 hours of experience. If applicants lack the required experience, they may participate in a 1-year child development training program. Those who meet eligibility requirements must also demonstrate their knowledge and skills to a team of child-care professionals from the Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition. Applicants whose skills meet certain nationally recognized standards receive the CDA credential.
Some employers may not require a CDA credential, but may require secondary or postsecondary courses in child development and early childhood education, and possibly work experience in a child-care setting. Other schools require their own specialized training. For example, Montessori preschool teachers must complete an additional year of training after receiving their bachelor's degree in early childhood education or a related field. Public schools typically require a bachelor's degree and State teacher certification. Teacher training programs include a variety of liberal arts courses, courses in child development, student teaching, and prescribed professional courses, including instruction in teaching gifted, disadvantaged, and other children with special needs.
Preschool teachers and child-care workers must be enthusiastic and constantly alert, anticipate and prevent problems, deal with disruptive children, and provide fair but firm discipline. They must communicate effectively with the children and their parents, as well as other teachers and child-care workers. Workers should be mature, patient, understanding, and articulate, and have energy and physical stamina. Skills in music, art, drama, and storytelling are also important. Those who work for themselves must have business sense and management abilities.
Opportunities for advancement are limited in this occupation. However, as preschool teachers and child-care workers gain experience, some may advance to supervisory or administrative positions in large child-care centers or preschools. Often these positions require additional training, such as a bachelor's or master's degree. Other workers move on to work in resource and referral agencies, consulting with parents on available child services. Some workers become involved in policy or advocacy work related to child care and early childhood education. With a bachelor's degree, preschool teachers may become certified to teach in public schools at the kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school levels. Some workers set up their own child-care businesses.
Employment of preschool teachers and child-care workers is projected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2006. In addition, many preschool teachers and child-care workers leave the occupation each year for otheroften better payingjobs, family responsibilities, or other reasons. High turnover, combined with rapid job growth, is expected to create many openings for preschool teachers and child-care workers. Qualified persons who are interested in this work should have little trouble finding and keeping a job.
Although the number of children under 5 years of age is expected to decline slightly through the year 2006, the proportion of youngsters in child care and preschool should increase, keeping demand high for preschool teachers and child-care workers. Women between the ages of 20 and 44 have been joining the labor force in growing numbers. Moreover, women are returning to work sooner after childbirth. As more mothers of preschool and school-age children enter the work force, the need for child care will grow. Many parents will continue to turn to formal child-care arrangements because they find it too difficult to set up a satisfactory arrangement with a relative, babysitter, or live-in worker, or because they prefer a more structured learning and social environment. Additionally, many employers are increasing child-care benefits to their employees in the form of direct child-care assistancesuch as vouchers and subsidies for community child care centersmore flexible work schedules, and on-site child care facilities, thus making child care more affordable and convenient for many parents.
Recently enacted welfare reform legislation requiring more mothers of young children to work may also spur demand for child-care workers as parents seek suitable child care for children previously cared for at home. These women may turn to lower-cost child care, such as family child care homes, rather than child care centers or nursery schools.
Pay depends on the employer and educational attainment of the worker. Although the pay is generally very low, more education means higher earnings in some cases.
In 1996, median weekly earnings of full-time, salaried child-care workers were $250. The middle 50 percent of child-care workers earned between $190 and $310. The top 10 percent earned at least $390; the bottom 10 percent earned less than $140.
Preschool teachers in public schools who have State teacher certification generally have salaries and benefits comparable to kindergarten and elementary school teachers. According to the National Education Association, public elementary school teachers earned an estimated average salary of $37,300 in the 1995-96 school year. (A statement on kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school teachers is found elsewhere in the Handbook.) Preschool teachers in privately funded child care centers generally earn much lower salaries than other comparably educated workers.
Earnings of self-employed child-care workers vary depending on the hours worked, number and ages of the children, and the location.
Benefits vary, but are minimal for most preschool and child-care workers. Many employers offer free or discounted child care to employees. Some offer a full benefits package, including health insurance and paid vacations, but others offer no benefits at all. Some employers offer seminars and workshops to help workers improve upon or learn new skills. A few are willing to cover the cost of courses taken at community colleges or technical schools. Nonprofit and religiously-affiliated centers often pay higher wages and offer more generous benefits than independent for-profit centers.
Child-care work requires patience; creativity; an ability to nurture, motivate, teach, and influence children; and leadership, organizational, and administrative abilities. Others who work with children and need these aptitudes include teacher aides, children's tutors, kindergarten and elementary school teachers, early childhood program directors, and child psychologists.
For information on careers in educating children and issues affecting preschool teachers and child-care workers, contact:
National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1509 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036.
Association for Childhood Education International, 11501 Georgia Ave., Suite 315, Wheaton, MD 20902-1924.
For eligibility requirements and a description of the Child Development Associate credential, write to:
Council for Early Childhood Professional Recognition, 2460 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20009.
For information on salaries and efforts to improve compensation in child care, contact:
National Center for the Early Childhood Work Force, 733 15th St. NW., Suite 1037, Washington, DC 20005.
State Departments of Human Services or Social Services can supply State regulations and training requirements for child-care workers.
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