7 Signs you should consider pursuing an early childhood education career
You’re one of those people who’s always had a knack for kids. Everything from babysitting in your youth to making silly faces at the kid in front of you at the grocery store more recently prove it. You simply live for the moments when you can make a child belly laugh or teach them a new skill.
Perhaps you’ve started thinking about pursuing a professional path that allows you to work with children. Whether you’re looking to make a transition or you’re starting fresh, you’re now wondering whether you have what it takes to thrive in an early childhood education (ECE) career. ECE programs teach you how to help young children build the foundation they’ll need to be successful in kindergarten and beyond.
We consulted Dr. Julianne Zvalo-Martyn, assistant professor in University of Massachusetts Global’s School of Education, and dug into some additional research to determine what it takes to be successful in an early childhood education career. Read on to see whether you could thrive in this field.
7 Signs you’re a good fit for an early childhood education career
Early childhood educators need to wear a lot of hats. They teach more than just standard subjects. Dr. Zvalo-Martyn explains that ECE teachers should be trained and able to integrate all content areas, including math, science, language and literacy, visual and performing arts, fine and large motor skills, and social sciences.
“But most important is understanding how young children learn and develop, which is significantly different than older children,” she adds. “Effective teachers use this understanding to connect and build relationships with students.”
Curriculum developer and teacher trainer Dr. Laura Colker has conducted a wealth of research on the characteristics of effective early childhood educators. She interviewed a number of ECE professionals to gain their perspectives of the inherent personal characteristics they share. We used her findings, Dr. Zvalo-Martyn’s insight and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine the following seven traits that could help you find success in an early childhood education career.
1. You’re a confident leader
Dr. Zvalo-Martyn notes that teachers in an ECE environment must be confident in their leadership abilities. “It’s very important that teachers are the decision-makers in their classrooms,” she says.
At times, ECE professionals will face difficult situations in which they’ll need to use their leadership skills to motivate, encourage and guide students in the right direction. This requires maturity along with the ability to problem-solve. When conflicts or difficult questions arise in their classrooms, early childhood educators need to handle them in ways that allow students to learn from them.
2. You’re driven to make a difference
Not every day leading an early childhood classroom will be easy. But Dr. Colker’s findings suggest that ECE professionals believe the feeling you’re making a difference can motivate you to persevere, even on the hardest days.
Dr. Zvalo-Martyn emphasizes the importance of teaching with intentionality as an early childhood educator. Heading into each lesson plan with a clear sense of purpose can help you succeed in an ECE environment.
3. You’re creative
Young children in ECE classrooms are often filled with bursts of energy that need harnessing. As an early childhood educator, you’ll need to craft lessons that engage young children, helping them learn with hands-on activities.
Every child comes to a classroom with their own interests, personality, learning style and cultural traditions. It takes creativity both to make learning fun and to teach a range of children from diverse backgrounds with differing levels of ability.
4. You’re patient
Young children are still in the process of learning to self-regulate and manage their emotions. It takes an admirable amount of patience to work in such a rambunctious environment, but it’s the steady structure of a preschool program that can help children with important self-regulation tasks such as listening, following directions, taking turns and focusing on tasks.
As children are learning to focus and pay attention, it's important for ECE professionals to "have a long fuse for exasperation, frustration and anger," Dr. Colker writes. She adds that not every child learns quickly and that some behaviors can challenge even the most effective teacher.
Dr. Zvalo-Martyn notes that a high quality teacher is one who learns to create environments and activities that children willingly engage in. They may even thrive on the excitement of being around the children's exuberance and fun-loving personalities.
5. You have strong interpersonal communication skills
Dr. Zvalo-Martyn says one of the most important qualities good ECE teachers share is the ability to connect with young children and families, helping students learn through relationships. Maintaining an open and encouraging rapport with students and their parents can make all the difference in a child’s experience. It’s also critical for early childhood educators to communicate with their young students in terms they can easily interpret.
ECE teachers will also have ongoing communication with other teachers, with a school’s principal or with a childcare center’s administrative team. They may even be in regular contact with a child’s speech or behavior therapist when applicable. The ability to effectively communicate what’s happening within your classroom, observations you’ve made or needs you might have can be very helpful.
6. You’re adaptable
Organization and time management are crucial in an ECE classroom. But regardless of how organized a teacher is and how well he or she has planned for the day, it’s helpful to remain adaptable. Dr. Colker points out that educators will inevitably have to deal with unexpected turns.
Whether multiple children are late to class one morning, a day’s rain ruins your plan for an outdoor experiment, a fellow teacher is out sick or an evaluator drops by for the day, ECE teachers can be called upon to adjust upcoming projects with little notice.
7. You’re energetic
Toddlers’ emotional highs and lows can ping-pong all over the place. Couple that with their desire to run and jump and climb and crawl, and it’s easy to see how a typical day could leave the average ECE professional exhausted.
You need a certain level of stamina to keep up with your excitable young students. It’s also up to early childhood educators to bring life into their classrooms, creating an enjoyable atmosphere that keeps young students engaged. The happiest students are the ones who feel empowered and excited to take an active part in classroom activities and discussions.
Ready to launch your early childhood education career?
Committing to an early childhood education career means you could help young learners reap long-term benefits, from success in elementary school to potential lifelong earnings. You may even be able to play a part in ensuring those children are less likely to have run-ins with the law as adults.
If you recognize you have these innate qualities effective ECE professionals, you might want to determine how you can make an impact on young students. One of the first steps on your journey is to acquire the education and training that will help you succeed. Head to University of Massachusetts Global’s School of Education page to learn more about your options.
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