Not everyone was born with the innate qualities of a preschool teacher. And not all the characteristics of a great early childhood education teacher can be learned in an ECE teacher preparation program. For individuals who feel they were born to teach young children, it can be reassuring to know exactly what makes an excellent early childhood educator. Moreover, some preschool teacher qualities and skills employers seek can be developed with practice. In this article, we’ll address the ultimate question for students looking into careers in early childhood ed. That is, besides a can-do attitude, what makes great early childhood educators? You can find great early childhood accelerated online master’s in education programs in this article.
Of all the characteristics of effective early childhood teachers, whether in a school or a child care center, having a patient nature is perhaps the most important. As a preschool or kindergarten teacher, you’ll be working directly with children who are still developing the fundamental skills necessary for learning, including social skills. This can be challenging, as children learn and develop at their own pace. And they have short attention spans and little self-control at this age.
As an early childhood educator, you are among the first to work with and observe the stages of a child’s 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 for most children at this age. This means 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. And you’ll also need to teach them something in the process. That often means making learning fun. To say this is a complex and often a stressful job is an understatement. It will not be uncommon for you to have a tiring day as an early childhood educator. Patience in large doses will be beneficial when navigating these well-known ECE challenges.
Another essential characteristic is the awareness of how much influence an early childhood educator has on child development. In the early school years, a child’s sense of self is extremely delicate. And in large part, it is shaped around their experiences with their teachers and caregivers. How a teacher speaks to a child during this delicate developmental age could affect them for years, even decades into the future. For example, a positive experience with a good teacher could instill confidence in a little one. Likewise, negative interactions could significantly damage a child’s self-esteem in 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 carefully influence the children in their care positively.
Preschool teachers need to know how much impact they could have on child development. They must take care to put the child’s best interests at the very top of their priority list when performing their 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 more accurate than in the field of ECE.
Learning isn’t something that can be forced upon a small child. Instead, it happens naturally during play and exploration of a child’s environment. That’s why many well-known educators have referred to play as the child’s work. It’s also why creativity is one of the most pertinent characteristics of a great early childhood educator. Creativity is necessary for preschool and kindergarten teachers. This is because they must develop learning experiences for both engaging and instructing children. High school teachers may rely on a student’s self-discipline and study skills for mastery of the material. But an early childhood educator must create opportunities for young learners to engage with learning activities and materials. This often requires trial and error (as each child learns differently) and thinking outside the box.
Passionate About Teaching
Teaching at any level is tough work, and early childhood presents its unique challenges. An intrinsic passion for teaching is one of the necessary qualities of a good preschool teacher. This is because there are times in every teacher’s career when quitting seems like a good idea. Recent reports show that up to 44% of new teachers resign within the first five years of beginning their careers in the field. Challenges of teaching include low pay, long hours, budget cuts, crowded classrooms, and more. All this can make 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. That’s why 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. These can provide information about the social, emotional, and developmental well-being of a youngster. A teacher who doesn’t pay close attention to where a child is in the stages of child development can miss these same clues. The consequences of this for the child may be dire. Thus, early childhood educators must have a vested interest in the long-term success and well-being of their young students. They must also be observant enough to take action on their behalf when necessary.
A 2015 survey was conducted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Eighty-nine percent of those polled recognized compassion as one of the defining characteristics of a great early childhood 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 comfort level and security crucial in and of itself, but it’s also a prerequisite to learning. Research supports the idea that students learn best in a non-threatening environment, one 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. Some may argue that character education is as important as any other academic skill taught in schools. That’s because 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 have these qualities. That way, they can act as an example and a role model in the classroom.
Good communication skills are essential for almost any professional occupation. But they may be vital for teaching children of this age. Young children are still learning to communicate themselves. Often, preschool and kindergarten teachers must communicate for them. For example, little ones may struggle to tell their parents about the challenges they face at school. In this case, it’s up to early childhood educators to bridge this communication gap between parent and child. Thus, you’ll need to be a great communicator.
Parents of children this age tend to be very involved in their kids’ academics, too. That means they will want to stay informed about their children’s progress. It falls on the preschool/kindergarten teacher to keep moms and dads abreast of any changes. This includes any developmental gains and setbacks as well as behavioral issues.
Another characteristic of a good early childhood teacher is the ability to “code-switch.” Code-switching is a linguistic concept. It 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. For instance, they must transition from talking to other teachers, administrators, and parents to communicating with young children. This transition may occur many times during the workday.
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. This is so that they can keep up with the children they supervise. This could mean chasing after a little one who is testing boundaries on the playground, for instance. Or, it could mean bending over to pick up an unwell child. Also, preschool/kindergarten teachers are on their feet for most of the day. 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 these physical duties can take a toll on the body. Thus, being fit helps teachers keep up. It’s a definite 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. That’s because lesson plans, grade reports, and attendance charts are a reality, no matter the age of the children. Organizational skills may be particularly beneficial in an early childhood educational environment. This is due to the potential chaos that can ensue when dozens of preschool-aged children are grouped in a classroom. A well-organized teacher can ensure things go smoothly in the classroom. This includes 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. That’s 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. Simultaneously, they must also meet specific academic standards established by the school or state where 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. 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. Some teachers may also engage in fundraising to provide materials to their students.
Formal ECE Training
Early childhood educators talk about how they were born to teach. And there are many characteristics (some of which we’ve highlighted above) that are innate qualities of a good kindergarten teacher/preschool teacher. But that doesn’t mean that these natural-born teachers are prepared to provide a positive learning environment without any formal training. On the contrary, early childhood teacher preparation programs are indispensable in equipping 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. Some of these include:
- family and community relationships
- diversity in the classroom
- evidence-based instructional methods
Moreover, these programs give students invaluable experience teaching in an actual 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. This is because they provide the chance to apply skills learned in the classroom to a real-world learning environment with actual students and instructional materials.
It’s imperative 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. Instructors and caregivers must stay abreast of these developments in the field. Thus, professional development often makes a good preschool teacher remain the best teacher they can be year after year.
Many schools mandate a certain number of development hours per year. But preschool and kindergarten teachers will often have additional opportunities beyond this requirement. Our advice? Take advantage of every chance you get to participate in a professional opportunity. Go to every workshop, conference, or program that you can. These may seem like distractions from your planning time or all-too-infrequent breaks from the classroom. But 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 with your 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 influential people in our society. Their reach and impact are immeasurable as year after year they shape not only the lives of the little kids 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. Some preschool teacher qualities and skills 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 Early
- Thomas 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
- Highest Paying Early Childhood Education Jobs
- 7 Main Challenges An Early Childhood Education Teacher Will Face