Head Start served roughly 1,142,000 children age 5 and under during the 2011-12 school year alone, according to the U.S. Office of the Administration for Children and Families. Primarily serving the educational and developmental needs of low-income children, Head Start is a place where early childhood educators can make a major impact. If you're considering a career with Head Start, you'll need a minimum of a technical or post-secondary degree before you start teaching in most centers.
Not every Head Start center is the same, making it tricky to gauge how long you will have to go to school in order to teach in one. Depending on the state and the school itself, you may need to have a specific amount of education or degree under your belt in order to apply for a job. Likewise, the type of organization or institution that administers the Head Start program may have their own guidelines for hiring teachers. Head Start funds, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, go to public schools, public agencies and non-profits. This means that a public school in Florida's program may have slightly different teacher requirements than a community action's Head Start in Virginia.
While there are variations among Head Start teacher requirements, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Administration for Children and Families does set their expected professional competencies for teachers, under the Improving Head Start for School Readiness Act. For example, under the 2007 act, there is an expectation that at least half of all Head Start teachers have a bachelor's degree or higher in early childhood education or a related field.
To work in a Head Start that requires a bachelor's level education means that you will have to go to school for at least four years. Most undergrad early childhood education, child development and related degrees take four or more years of classes and practical experience. For example, the Miami Dade College School of Education's bachelor's of science in early childhood education gives pre-professional students the knowledge to teach in a Head Start center as well as offering a teacher certification option. Potential Head Start teachers who also want to receive their state teaching license must take a certification program that also includes practical or student teaching credits working in a classroom. This is typically part of the four-tear course of study, and will not add extra time.
While a bachelor's, or higher, is preferable for a Head Start teacher, you can still work in these types of centers with a lower degree. If you are looking for a slimmer time commitment, you can opt for an associate's degree or a Child Development Association -- or CDA -- credential. An associate's degree is typically a two-year program. Although some associate's may include practical experience working with children, you can't earn a state teacher's certification with this below-bachelor's degree. A CDA is a professional credential, not certification, that requires 120 hours of early childhood education-related classes at a college, community college or professional education organization. Additionally, CDAs must have at least 480 hours of prior experience working with children in a day care or school type of setting.
- Office of the Administration for Children and Families: Head Start Program Facts Fiscal Year 2012
- National Association for the Education of Young Children: Head Start
- Miami Dade College School of Education: Early Childhood Education
- Council for Professional Recognition: CDA Credentialing: A Self-Paced and Candidate Driven Professional Development Process
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