An early childhood education (ECE) specialist is a position that requires a teaching license, a master’s degree and current employment in the field of early childhood education. While many ECE specialists work as teachers within the classroom, some work in upper-level administration at elementary schools. ECE specialists get to choose which work environment best suits their wants and needs, making it an attractive career for many teachers.
ECE specialists who choose a career in the classroom focus primarily on assisting pre-kindergarten students with achieving developmental milestones appropriate to their age. Academic lessons like pre-literacy and pre-math are important, but many would argue that the more central goal is to help children learn basic skills (such as self-care and hygiene) and how to conduct themselves socially.
An ECE specialist may decide that a career outside the classroom, perhaps as an administrator, is more attractive. Administrators must collaborate closely with parents, caregivers and other teachers in conjunction with students.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that ECE specialists who choose to become preschool teachers or directors will see jobs increase 17 percent by 2022, which is higher than the average for all occupations. ECE specialists working as administrators at elementary schools will see 6 percent career growth in the coming years.
Because there are so many career paths an ECE specialist can pursue, individual salaries will vary greatly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, preschool teachers earn a median salary of $27,130. Childcare workers earn a median salary of $19,510, but preschool and childcare directors make about $44,000. On another positive note, an ECE specialist who works for a school may earn a higher salary because of having an advanced degree. Geographic location, a candidate’s job experience and school funding all come in to play when determining salary.
In addition to earning a master’s degree and holding a teacher’s license, ECE specialists must also complete a minimum of 30 hours of coursework. This additional time will depend largely on the field they wish to pursue and individual professional goals, but state requirements must also be taken into consideration.
One measure ECE specialists can take to help prepare themselves for their careers is to earn a nationally recognized certification in advance. Candidates would do well to verify requirements and/or preferred certifications with any potential employer. An additional step would be to check with local accreditation agencies for current requirements.
Two common certifications are:
• Child Development Associate (CDA), from the Council for Professional Recognition
• Child Care Professional (CCP), from National Early Childhood Program Accreditation
A successful ECE specialist must possess a number of important traits, but the following skills are especially key:
• Patience: The ability to adapt to work easily with people who have different personalities, backgrounds, cultures, lifestyles and learning styles — simultaneously — is critical.
• Strong interpersonal skills.
• Communication: It’s very important that an ECE specialist clearly and concisely convey needs and requirements. This communication will occur with students, special education teachers, teacher assistants, parents and administrators. Strong public speaking skills are also a plus.
• Ability to work independently, be flexible and change course with ease.
• Creativity: It is crucial to knowing how to make the curriculum engaging and how to adapt to varying styles of learning among students.