A rewarding career in early childhood education awaits you

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By Erin Eagan

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Early ed student from WITC

Courtesy of Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College

The first eight years of a child’s life are the most important for brain development. Along with parents and caregivers, child care workers and early childhood educators are crucial to this cognitive development. They help ensure children are equipped with the necessary skills for future success.

Are you someone who loves spending time with young children? Can you see yourself as being a strong influence in their growth? If so, a career in early education or child care may be calling your name.

How to get started
All 16 of Wisconsin’s technical colleges offer an associate degree program in Early Childhood Education. In the associate degree program, students learn how to implement developmentally appropriate activities for children aged infant through eight years old that stimulate physical, emotional, intellectual and social growth. “The Early Childhood Education program offers students a variety of learning methods and delivery methods,” says Christina Cook, Early Childhood Ed Instructor at Gateway Technical College. “When students enroll, they’ll be taking a variety of courses that will focus on the best practices of teaching and learning and appropriate interventions, with hands-on opportunities to implement the appropriate practices.”

For students who are not ready to jump in full time, the colleges also offer many other shorter-term technical diplomas and certificate programs in Early Childhood Development and Services. “Credentials are shorter-term, credit-based trainings with a specific area of focus,” says Joan Hader, Associate Dean, Education & Human Services, Waukesha County Technical College. “Students can specialize in infant/toddler care, preschool-aged children, leadership, child care administration or supporting children with differing learning needs among others. In many cases, credentials 'connect,' or pathway, into the larger early childhood associate degree. This makes it easy for a student to start slow, but continue on for more education if they want to.”

Students who do wish to continue their education and advance their career path can transfer to another college to earn a bachelor’s degree and beyond. Each of the 16 technical colleges has program-to-program transfer agreements in place with four-year public and private colleges and universities to make this process as seamless as possible.

Those who do continue on for advanced degrees in Early Childhood Education could go on to:

  • Own or manage a child care center
  • Instruct future early childhood educators
  • Teach early childhood special education
  • Become and early childhood education specialist

To help ease the financial burden of tuition and other fees, there are scholarships and financial aid opportunities available. The T.E.A.C.H. Scholarship Program, funded through the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (WDCF), offers qualifying students a major portion of tuition and book costs, plus a travel stipend and a bonus coupon upon completion. T.E.A.C.H. Scholarships can be used for the Early Childhood Education associate degree or any of the credentials. Check with a representative from your local technical college to see what all of your options are.

A career in high demand
In the next decade, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that over 165,000 jobs will open up for early childhood education teachers. This would be a 7-10 percent job growth rate, slightly higher than the national average for other fields. With a wave of new job openings, you could be a highly sought-after candidate.

As an added incentive and to help reduce industry turnover, WDCF is also rewarding child care professionals and early childhood educators. The REWARD Wisconsin Stipend Program is for workers who have reached specified educational levels and stay in the field. In the last fiscal year, REWARD supported 2,375 individuals with wage stipends that average $540 per year.

“Research ties the physical development of the brain to early experiences that children have with their environment, including people in their environment,” adds Hader. “This means that what we, as early care and education providers do, matters — it matters very much!”