For educators looking to advance their career, one option is to become an early childhood teacher. In the ever-evolving landscape of early childhood education and care, teachers play a critical role.
The role of an early childhood teacher is both challenging and rewarding, offering a unique opportunity to nurture children in their early years. Becoming an early childhood teacher is a common career path for educators that allows you to empower and influence the team to support the best outcomes for children, families and the education and care sector.
Early childhood teacher study requirements
The most common path towards becoming an early childhood teacher is through a relevant university degree. Typically a four-year course, a bachelor’s degree will build on the experience you have working as an educator and equip you with practical skills and knowledge.
Some universities also now offer a graduate diploma in early childhood education. These degrees recognise prior industry experience and/or university education to help fast-track your career as an early childhood teacher (find out more about University of Wollongong’s Bachelor of Education – The Early Years (Accelerated) in our recent Amplify article).
The qualification requirements for early childhood teachers are set by ACECQA. The registration and accreditation requirements do vary from state to state, as these are governed by state-based legislation.
The role of an early childhood teacher
Early childhood teachers are involved in everything from the design of programs to working with families, mentoring educators, supporting the director and supporting the children. They wear many hats but their primary responsibility is to create engaging, inclusive and educational environments for the children.
Responsibilities can be broad and diverse and dependent on the context of the service and community, but the core essence remains nurturing a child’s early learning journey. Across states, the regulatory frameworks and curriculum might differ, but the commitment to fostering early development is a universal thread in the role of an ECT.
How does this differ from other roles within an early childhood context?
- An educational leader has a strategic role, guiding and mentoring other educators in implementing the educational program.
- An educator supports the learning environment, assisting in the delivery of programs under the guidance of an early childhood teacher.
A critical role in the sector
The influence of early childhood teachers extends beyond the classroom. They are pivotal in upholding quality standards in early childhood education, essential for the cognitive and emotional development of children. Their role in crafting learning experiences shapes the foundational years of a child's life.
Early childhood teachers also play a crucial role in supporting other team members and contributing to the leadership and management of the service.
“The early childhood teachers on our team are very much natural leaders,” explains Niki Moodie, Director at The Rumpus Room Chatham Street. “They’re deeply passionate, knowledgeable and always seeking to learn more. They push our team to grow and reflect, and are a wealth of knowledge for our whole team. Other team members go to them for guidance and support, which creates a really beautiful, harmonious culture of mutual respect and gratitude.”
Nadia Latin is an experienced early childhood professional and now a teacher focused academic at Victoria University. She says that early childhood teachers play an important advocacy role within the sector.
“We teach students to continue their advocacy to ensure that our teachers know how to advocate and support children’s needs and rights,” she explains. “That higher level support for children and families has a flow on effect throughout those children’s lives.”
Early childhood teachers share their stories
Every story of becoming an early childhood teacher is as individual as the person telling it. Three accomplished early childhood teachers kindly shared their stories of what inspired them to start the journey and their experiences of working in the sector.
Meg Anastasi: An empowered advocate for the sector
ECT and CELA early education specialist Meg Anastasi says that while it was challenging to work and study for many years as she progressed through her qualifications, it was also beneficial. After completing her Certificate III and then Diploma, she decided to pursue her Bachelor of Early Childhood Teaching because she loved working in the sector.
“When you study while you’re working in the sector, you’re able to put things you’re learning through your degree into practice,” she explains. “My degree made me very much aware of my philosophy and made me a better advocate for the sector.”
Meg admits that while the admin work is greater than you can prepare yourself, the rewards of the role far outweigh the challenges. She says that the key is finding a role at a service with a philosophy that aligns with yours.
“There’s no denying that the sector has workforce shortages,” she adds. “But don’t underestimate the value you can add as an early childhood teacher, both in the classroom and beyond. You become an amazing asset for children and their families.”
Niki Moodie: From early childhood teacher to director
Niki Moodie always knew she wanted to work with children. She landed on a double degree in early childhood and primary education, thinking her path would lead her to primary teaching. After her final early childhood placement, she fell in love with being able to follow children’s interests and the freedom this offered her a teacher. Niki has now transitioned into the role of director.
“This placement showed me what early childhood really could be,” she says. “It helped to shape the teacher I became. I still catch up with my supervising teacher from that placement. She was a phenomenal support and so generous with her time and knowledge.”
Niki is pleased to see more and more collaboration across the sector as teachers support each other and work together to solve mutual challenges. She says the most meaningful piece of advice she’s received in her career is to question everything.
“Question yourself and your practice,” she explains. “Question others. Question policies. Don’t just do something because that’s the way it’s always been done.”
Miquita Clarke: Experienced educator, new teacher
Miquita Clarke worked in the sector for 10 years before she embarked on her Bachelor of Early Childhood Education. She had considered it for some time but was really inspired by the teachers she worked alongside who had embarked on postgraduate studies.
“The other teachers around me had so much knowledge and they were so willing to share it,” she recalls. “I was inspired by that and it got me thinking that I could go to university and further my learning to pass on to others as well.”
Miquita says that the reward of seeing the children develop makes her thankful that she decided to follow the path to becoming a teacher. She now has a new perspective on her work and is always learning through both professional development and bouncing ideas with colleagues.
“You have to love what you do,” she adds. “I couldn’t have done the coursework while also working if I didn’t love it. It becomes a major part of your life so you need to maintain a balance to avoid burnout.”
ACECQA Qualifications for centre-based services with children preschool age or under
ACECQA Early childhood teacher registration and accreditation
Amplify! Solving the puzzle: How to increase the supply of quality ECTs by Professor Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett