Not everyone was born with the innate qualities of a preschool teacher. Unfortunately, not all of the characteristics of a great early childhood education teacher can be learned in an ECE teacher preparation program. For individuals who feel as if they were born to teach young children, it can be reassuring to know exactly what makes a good preschool teacher. Moreover, some of the preschool teacher qualities and skills employers are looking for can be developed with some practice. In this article, we’ll address the ultimate question for students looking into careers in early childhood education: What makes a good preschool teacher?
Of all of the characteristics of great early childhood educators, whether in a school or a child care center, patience is perhaps the most important of them all. As a preschool or kindergarten teacher, you’ll be working directly with children who are still developing the most fundamental skills necessary for learning. This can be challenging, as each child will be developing at their own pace. As an early childhood educator, you are among the first to work with and observe the stages child development. Some of these developmental milestones include fine motor skills like holding a pencil, for instance. Social and emotional development is still a big concern at this age, meaning children may experience separation anxiety when away from their parents for extended periods of time. Or, they may have trouble regulating their emotions when working alongside other youngsters. These are just a few of the challenges little kids experience at school regularly. As their teacher, you’ll be responsible for helping them overcome these significant obstacles while still managing to teach them something in the process. To say this is a difficult and often stressful job is an understatement. Patience in large doses will be beneficial when navigating these well-known ECE challenges.
Regarding the qualities of a good kindergarten teacher or preschool teacher, another essential characteristic is the awareness of just how much influence these educators have on child development. In the early years of school, a child’s sense of self is extremely delicate and, in large part, is shaped around their experiences with their teachers and caregivers. The way a teacher speaks to a child during this delicate developmental age could very well affect them for years, even decades into the future. While a positive experience with a teacher could instill confidence in a little one, negative interactions could do major damage to a child’s self-esteem for the long haul. Few other professions have such an indelible impact as that of an early childhood educator. ECE teachers must know how great an impact they have and are careful to influence the children in their care positively.
Knowing just how much impact you could have on child development, a child’s wellbeing means you must take care to put their best interests at the very top of your priority list when performing your duties as a teacher. It’s not only a professional responsibility; it’s also a moral one. Preschool and kindergarten teachers don’t have the luxury of doing anything less than their best while at work. As they say, “with much power comes much responsibility.” Nowhere is this proverb truer than in the field of early childhood education.
Learning isn’t something that can be forced upon a small child. Instead, it’s something that happens naturally during play and exploration of a child’s environment. That’s why many well-known educators have referred to play as the work of the child. It’s also why creativity is one of the most pertinent characteristics of a great early childhood education teacher. Creativity is necessary for preschool and kindergarten teachers as they develop learning experiences for both engaging and instructive children. Whereas high school teachers may rely on a student’s self-discipline and study skills for mastery of the material, an early childhood educator must create opportunities for a child to engage with learning activities and materials. This can often require trial and error (as each child learns differently) and thinking outside of the box, so to speak.
Passionate About Teaching
Teaching at any level is tough work, and early childhood education presents its unique challenges as well. An intrinsic passion for teaching is one of the necessary qualities of a good preschool teacher because there are times in every teacher’s career when quitting seems like a good idea. Recent reports indicate that up to 44% of new teachers resign within the first five years of beginning their careers in the field. With challenges such as low pay, long hours, budget cuts, crowded classrooms, and more, teaching young learners can seem like an impossible task sometimes. It takes a true passion for teaching little ones to endure the stressors of the job.
Small children aren’t always able to communicate what’s going on with them, so it’s pertinent that early childhood educators are particularly observant. By watching a child in the classroom day after day, observant kindergarten and preschool teachers can pick up on many important clues about the social, emotional, and developmental wellbeing of a youngster. On the other hand, a teacher who doesn’t pay close attention to where a child is in the stages of child development can miss these same clues, and the consequences for the child may be dire. Thus, early childhood educators must have a vested interest in the long-term success and wellbeing of their young students and be observant enough to take action on their behalf when necessary.
A 2015 survey conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) revealed that 89% of those polled recognized compassion as one of the defining characteristics of a great early childhood education teacher. The importance of compassion in an early childhood education setting is two-fold. First, it’s critical that children feel safe and cared for in a school environment. Not only is a child’s level of comfort and security crucial in and of itself, but it’s also a necessary prerequisite to learning. Research supports the idea that students learn best in a non-threatening environment where they feel as if the teacher respects and values them.
Moreover, part of what makes a good preschool teacher is the ability to teach children to behave in a caring and compassionate way towards others. Some may argue that character education is as important as any other academic skill taught in schools since it will leave an undeniable mark on our future as a society. If we want our kids to grow up to be sensitive and empathetic adults, then it’s crucial that we hire teachers who possess these qualities and can act as an example and role model in the classroom.
While good communication skills are essential for almost any professional occupation, they may be vital in early childhood education. Since young children are still learning to communicate themselves, preschool and kindergarten teachers must communicate for them. For example, little ones may struggle to tell their parents about challenges they face at school, so it’s up to early childhood educators to bridge this communication gap between parent and child. Parents of children this age tend to be very involved in their kids’ academics, too, so they will want to stay informed regarding their children’s progress. It falls on the preschool/kindergarten teacher to keep moms and dads abreast of any changes, including developmental gains and setbacks.
Among the characteristics of a great early childhood education teacher related to communication is the ability to “code-switch.” Code-switching is a linguistic concept that refers to one’s ability to switch back and forth between dialects depending on the social context. This is a necessary skill for early childhood educators as they must transition from talking to colleagues, administrators, and parents to communicating with young children numerous times over the duration of their workdays.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists physical stamina as one of the characteristics of a great preschool teacher, and if you’ve ever cared for young children (even for a few moments!), you no doubt understand why. Early childhood educators need to be in relatively good physical shape so that they can keep up with the children they’re tasked with supervising. This could mean chasing after a little one who is testing boundaries on the playground or bending over to pick up a child who is unwell, for instance. In addition, preschool/kindergarten teachers are on their feet for a good part of the day as they perform tasks in the classroom, walk children to lunch and extracurriculars, and make sure their students find their way home at the end of the school day. All of these physical duties can take a toll on the body, so being fit is a plus when it comes to early elementary and preschool teacher qualities and skills.
Another of the characteristics of a great early childhood education teacher noted by the BLS is organization. Actually, this is a skill necessary for teachers of any grade level because lesson plans, grade reports, and attendance charts are a reality, no matter the age of the children. Organizational skills may be beneficial in an early childhood educational environment because of the potential chaos that can ensue when dozens of preschool-aged children are grouped in a classroom. The more organized the teacher is in such a setting, the more smoothly things will go in the classroom, including lesson plans, transitions, and classroom procedures.
An organized environment is not just beneficial for teachers, though. Many children perform better in classrooms that are calm and free of clutter. This is especially true for youngsters with emotional or behavioral disorders and conditions that cause them to become overstimulated. Those with sensory processing issues, for instance, may be particularly vulnerable to overstimulation in a crowded or cluttered learning environment.
The BLS points out that resourcefulness is another of the qualities of a good kindergarten teacher. This ingenuity is fundamental in preschool and early elementary settings because children at this age are developing at different rates. It is the job of early childhood educators to accommodate any developmental differences within the classroom while also meeting certain academic standards established by the school or state in which they work. This can be a daunting task, but it’s a little more manageable when you have the ability to develop original ideas and come up with solutions on the fly.
Resourcefulness is also part of what makes a good preschool teacher or kindergarten teacher because the unfortunate reality is that many schools in the United States are underfunded. Too often, early childhood educators must rely on their own resourcefulness to make up for the lack of resources provided by their school or district. This can sometimes mean creating their own learning materials or fundraising to provide materials to their students.
Formal ECE Training
You’ll hear early childhood educators talk about how they were born to teach. And while there are many characteristics (some of which we’ve highlighted above) that are innate qualities of a good kindergarten teacher/preschool teacher, that doesn’t mean that these natural-born teachers are prepared to command a classroom without any formal training. On the contrary, early childhood teacher preparation programs are indispensable in their ability to equip teachers for the many demands of the job. A high-quality preschool or kindergarten education program provides students with high-level instruction in complex areas of early childhood education such as family and community relationships, addressing diversity in the classroom, and evidence-based instructional methods. Moreover, these programs give students invaluable experience teaching in a real classroom setting through student teaching experiences and practicums. For many prospective teachers, these experiential learning opportunities prove to be the most beneficial aspect of an early childhood education teacher preparation program since they provide the chance to apply skills learned in the classroom to a real-world learning environment with actual students and instructional materials.
Even after being hired on at a school or other early childhood education facility, it’s important that preschool and kindergarten teachers keep their skills well-honed. That’s because new research and trends in early childhood ed are constantly being unveiled, and instructors and caregivers must stay abreast of these developments in the field. Thus, professional development often makes a good preschool teacher remain a good preschool teacher year after year.
Many schools require a certain number of professional development hours per year, but preschool and kindergarten teachers will often have additional opportunities beyond this minimum requirement. Our advice? Take advantage of every chance you get to participate in a professional development workshop, conference, or program. While they may seem like distractions from your planning time or all-too-infrequent breaks from the classroom, they often pay off big when you return to your students bearing new ideas and learning strategies!
If you’re actively trying to develop preschool teacher qualities and skills, many organizations can help in terms of this professional development. Some of the most popular professional associations in the field of early childhood education include:
- National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)
- National Association for Family Child Care (NAFCC)
- Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)
- Association for Childhood Education International (ACEI)
Early childhood educators are some of the most important people in our society. Their reach and impact are immeasurable as year after year they shape not only the lives of children in their care but the very world we live in. It takes a special kind of person to work in the demanding field of early childhood education. While some of the preschool teacher qualities and skills we’ve addressed in this article can be learned or developed with practice, others are more fixed and depend on the individual’s personality, traits, and values. If you feel you have these innate qualities, and you also have the drive to complete a formal teacher preparation program in early childhood ed, then you may be an ideal candidate for the challenging and rewarding career of a preschool or kindergarten teacher!
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Preschool Teachers
- Britannica: Code-Switching
- The Century Foundation: U.S. Schools Underfunded by Nearly $150 Billion Annually
- Child Mind Institute: How Sensory Processing Issues Affect Kids in School
- NAEYC: Early Childhood Educators- Advancing the Profession
- Rewire.org: Why New Teachers are Burning Out EarlyThomas B. Fordham Institute: Children Learn Best When They Feel Safe and Valued
- Education Degree Rankings
- Top 50 Online Colleges for Early Childhood Education (Bachelor’s)
- Master’s in Early Childhood Education Online: Top 25 Values
- Top 40 Accelerated Online Master’s in Education Programs
- Highest Paying Early Childhood Education Jobs
- 7 Main Challenges An Early Childhood Education Teacher Will Face