How to become a preschool teacher (with tips and steps)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 22 November 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A preschool teacher is a person who works in an early years setting to educate and care for children. There are many preschool settings available, including public and private. By getting involved in this career, you can provide educational activities that help build the foundation for future learners. In this article, we define what a preschool teacher is, explain their primary duties, outline the skill requirements and discuss how to become one.

What is a preschool teacher?

A preschool teacher, also known as an early years or nursery teacher, is a person who works with children before grade school. This refers to children between the ages of two and four. If you are interested in becoming one, it's useful to learn how this job differs from other teaching roles. The job of a nursery teacher is to help prepare young children for primary school by providing them with developmentally appropriate learning and play opportunities to stimulate them.

Besides teaching children the basics of subjects like literacy and maths, nursery teachers also help their students develop social skills by encouraging them to interact with each other during playtime. They provide lots of opportunities for physical activity and teach them about sharing and listening.

Related: 10 teacher career paths: requirements, salaries and duties

Primary duties of a nursery teacher

The overall duty of an early years teacher is to ensure children are ready for primary school. This includes teaching children how to play and interact with others to develop their social skills. Preschool also helps children understand how to behave in a school environment. Other duties can include:

  • planning and preparing activities for the day in line with the curriculum given to them

  • communication with parents to update them on their child's development

  • make sure they feel safe in the new environment away from their parents or guardians

  • teach the children learning through play

  • supervise other members of staff, such as the nursery caretakers and teaching assistants

  • attend meetings and any training days

  • keep up to date with any curriculum changes

Related: 15 jobs in early childhood education (salary and duties)

How to become an early years teacher

If you're interested in becoming a nursery teacher, there are several routes that you can take. Some teachers earn their degrees online or in a traditional classroom setting. Others have studied abroad and received international certification. To build your career as a teacher in a preschool, it's beneficial to consider what type of certification is most suited to your goals:

1. Earn the basic qualifications

The minimum qualification for becoming a nursery teacher is an undergraduate degree in early childhood studies or development. You also require 4-5 GCSEs (grades 9-4) and 2-3 A-Levels. Most jobs require an early year teacher status (EYTS). Although many schools employ teachers who don't hold degrees in childhood studies or development, they prefer those with degrees if possible because of the added expertise they may have.

Most universities offer bachelor's degrees in early childhood education, which combine coursework in child development with practical experience gained during internships and student teaching positions. Besides taking courses on child psychology and curriculum design, students learn how to manage a classroom full of children and engage parents as partners in their children's learning process.

Related: Qualifications to be a teacher (undergrad to leadership)

2. Take an early years teacher training course (EYTS)

If you're in the beginning stages of your career and want to become an early years teacher, sign up for an early year teacher training course. This teaches you how to use the curriculum and helps prepare you for what your job is like once you're working in the classroom. You can then prepare your lessons and activities. It's also beneficial to learn about children's development to adjust lesson plans and activities accordingly. You're also required to pass enhanced background checks, such as a DBS check, to have permission to work with children.

3. Volunteer with children

As you plan your career path for preschool, build your experience working with children. You could do this by volunteering at your local school, church nursery or daycare centre, which is a great way to get experience and make connections if you're not sure exactly where to start. It also helps you get a feel for what it's like to be a teacher in a preschool to see if it's the right job for you.

A good way to volunteer is by visiting local preschools or schools in your area and asking if they require help with anything, from organising the toys in the playroom to helping with classroom activities like art projects or story time. If this isn't possible, there are other ways to volunteer. You could tutor younger kids or practise babysitting children. This gives you valuable insight into what being around children every day might look like for yourself down the road.

Related: How to work in a nursery (plus skills and qualifications)

4. Start as a nursery caretaker or teaching assistant

If you can't secure a job immediately as an early years teacher, consider other roles in the daycare or preschool settings. These positions may pay less but allow you to observe how experienced teachers interact with their students. If possible, talk with the centre manager and ask if they would let you observe some classes during their regular hours so that you can see what goes on in an actual classroom setting. If you build strong relationships, it can also help you when a role opens for a teacher.

5. Provide a strong CV and cover letter

There may be multiple candidates applying for the same role, so aim to make a good and memorable first impression with your CV and cover letter. Ensure your cover letter is well-written and thoughtful and that you address the specific position you are applying for. Include any relevant experience to the role.

Related: How to get teaching experience (plus benefits of doing so)

6. Look in your local area

Search for schools in your city or town and see if they have any openings at the preschool. If not, contact them and ask them if they know of any other nearby schools that might be hiring. Find out more about the school's philosophy and style of learning. These are two things that help determine if it's a good fit for you and how much research goes into finding jobs at this school, plus you can impress people at the school.

7. Gather evidence that you're good at working with children

If you never worked with children before, it can be hard for employers to know what you're like. Employers may request references from people who have witnessed how you behave around children. You could get references from:

  • a nursery manager or owner

  • the staff of a different nursery where you've volunteered

  • your friends and family who have children

  • an employer who's let you work with children in their workplace (even if this was just temporary)

If possible, ask these people to write letters that describe your strengths and weaknesses as an employee or volunteer working with young people and explain why they think this is the right job for you.

Related: 15 jobs in early childhood education (salary and duties)

Skills of an early years teacher

The following are the skills required of an early years teacher:

Patience

Patience is a critical skill to have in the preschool setting. The children you teach are still learning, and they make mistakes. To teach them effectively, it's useful that you remain patient when they are learning new things.

Understanding

Understanding is a powerful skill for any teacher. Understand the needs of your students. Interacting with them regularly helps you learn how children learn and develop, how they learn about the world and how they learn about themselves.

Related: How to become an early years teacher (with skills)

Communication

Communication is a crucial skill for a nursery teacher. Communicate with children, parents and the wider community. Communication skills are the foundation for effective teaching, as they help you build relationships with children and parents. Communication also means talking to colleagues about how your students are doing at school or how you can support them in their development outside of class time.

Leadership

One of the most beneficial skills a nursery teacher can have is leadership. This means you can motivate your class and keep them engaged in learning activities throughout the day. It also means that you can work well with parents, other staff members and administrators at your school. You may lead students into behaviour changes or classroom rules changes and teach them new skills for independent play or group activities.

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