Preschool Teacher Trade Secrets

I worked in the preschool and child care industry for many years. Although typically regulated by the state, no preschool or child care center is perfect. The things that I have seen over the years have often made my head spin. You trust that your child's preschool or child care setting is safe, legal, and focused on your child, but unfortunately that is not always the case. Here are some of the more "troubling" things I saw during my 15 years working in the field.

Not All Care is Created Equal

In many states, preschool teachers must have certain qualifications to work alone with children. These qualifications are usually verified by the school's director or lead administrator. However, in a bind and in desperate need for a teacher, directors have been known to cut corners. Over the years I have had the "pleasure" of taking over five preschool and child care centers when the prior director was dismissed or resigned. In all five cases, I had at least one teacher that was not legally qualified to work alone with children. In some instances, the teachers had less than half of the required course work completed and in one case, the teacher didn't have any of the required course work (she was dismissed immediately). Parents trust that they are leaving their child with someone that is qualified, however there aren't any required documents that preschool teachers must provide to prove they are qualified. In one case, I found out my own one-year-old son was being supervised by a young lady who was not only missing more than half of the required course work, but had failed the courses she had taken. Tip: Ask what courses your caregiver has completed and, if appropriate, ask to see state licensing documents which show that the person's records have been reviewed by a community care licensing representative from the state. This insures the caregiver is adequately qualified to work with your child.

Preschool Teacher Overview

Job Outlook

Preschool teachers held 457,200 jobs in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Due to high turnover rate, employment opportunities for preschool teachers are expected to be excellent.

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$23,870: Average annual salary of computer software engineers according to the May 2009 BLS report.

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Your Supplies May Get Used by Other Children

If you have a child in diapers, you may want to keep careful track of your supplies. I have seen diapers, wipes and creams that belong to one child get used for other children. Although this is not usually company policy, it does happen. Tip: Keep track of your supplies. As inconvenient as it may be to bring them in weekly, it makes it much easier to track how much is being used.

Check Them Out

In many cases, you can contact your state licensing department and request a background, incident and reporting history for the child care or preschool that you are considering. You just might even discover some interesting facts about the school. Once, when applying for a job as the director of a preschool, I found out from my state licensing office that the following incidents had recently occurred at the school: a child had been bitten by a classroom's pet rat and had to be taken to the hospital for treatment; a teacher had been terminated for slapping a child across the face; parents had reported that they entered a classroom to find their children unattended; and a 3-year-old child had escaped the building and was later found at the gas station across the street. Needless to say, if I was a parent, I would never put my child in that school.


Little hands are busy and covered in germs. Toys are put into kids' mouths and are handled by tiny fingers that have been in noses and other parts of the body. Germs pass easily from child to child and children get sick. Although teachers are often diligent about keeping their classrooms clean and all schools have policies and procedures for cleaning, this is often not enough. Children under five don't always (if ever) cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze, may forget to wash their hands after using the restroom, and sometimes drink from classmates' cups. Also, parents have a tendency to drop their children off at school when they are sick because they don't have back-up care. Some parents even go to extreme lengths to avoid having to take the day off to keep their kids at home. I once had a parent dye her child's hair blonde in an attempt to remedy a horrible case of head lice so her child could go to school.

The Money

Schools and care centers have to make a profit too. They have budgets and enrollment quotas to meet just like other businesses. Just because we're dealing with cute little kids doesn't mean you won't get sent to collections or charged late fees. Part of my daily job was chasing down parents that owed money. Sometimes I even had to suspend a child from school because his parents were behind in payments. Parents were also charged full or partial tuition to "hold their spots" in classrooms that were not even close to being full to enable the administrators to take the summer off or go on vacation over the holidays.

Teachers Are Under-Paid

Would you work alone in a classroom for eight hours with 12 two-year-olds all potty training for $8.00 an hour? Many teachers are paid well under what you might expect. Although you're paying $169 a week for your child to be in Miss Mary's class along with 11 other children (that's $7,436 in tuition a month to the school) your child's teacher is still only making $8.00 an hour. That means before taxes, insurance costs, 401K and whatever else is taken out of the teacher's salary, she makes $1,280 a month or $15,360 a year.

There are a lot of schools out there that are wonderful, but not many are perfect. Do your homework and don't simply "trust" that everything is on the up and up when selecting care. Most schools truly have your child's best interest at heart -- but it's up to you to gather as much information as possible so you can make an educated decision before you enroll.

Next:Confessions of an Elementary School Teacher

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