Guide to getting an associate degree in education
Aspiring preschool teachers usually complete an associate degree in education. While licensed grade and high school teachers are required to complete bachelor’s degrees, owing to the fact that they teach more advanced and structured classes, preschool learning sets the foundation for children’s growth, development, and future schooling. Preschool teachers don’t teach academic subjects. Instead, they focus on the foundational element of early childhood learning – relationships.
Children up to age 5 largely learn about the world through relationships with caregivers, teachers, and friends. The other important components of learning at this stage are play and physical activity. While it may seem like playing peek-a-boo or building a block tower with a 2-year-old are just activities to pass the time and entertain them, almost every activity small children do is ultimately for the purpose of psychomotor development.
For instance, psychologists believe that peek-a-boo is a way that young children begin forming a separate sense of self while maintaining what’s known as object constancy – the ability to maintain an emotional bond with others even through distance and conflicts. This type of learning is deeply connected to attachment styles, which in turns affect relationships and mental health throughout life.
Among other benefits, peek-a-boo also introduces the idea of turn-taking. When a child takes a turn being the one to hide, they also experience the excitement of the game from the opposite perspective, helping with emotional regulation and flexibility. Who knew all that was going on in a simple game of peek-a-boo?
Associate degrees in education are also sought by those wishing to work as grade or high school teaching assistants, or in other supportive classroom roles. Some choose this degree as a stepping stone towards being a licensed elementary of high school teacher, as it’s possible to begin working in the field with an associate degree while finishing further coursework towards a bachelor’s.
Although a 2-year-old’s brain is about 20% smaller than an adult’s, it has 50% more synapses. Because maintaining that many synapses is too energy-intensive, the brain pares back and fine-tunes those connections during early childhood in a process called synaptic pruning.
Associate in education program basics
An associate degree in education provides basic training for entering the education field. It is a good first step towards a teaching career. Many associate degrees in education are focused on pre-kindergarten/preschool early childhood education, since teaching in public schools from kindergarten onwards requires at least a bachelor’s degree in all states. It is also possible to transfer to a 4-year program once you’ve completed an associate degree. If you can arrange for your associate degree credits to be transferred, a 4-year degree can be completed in less time.
What can you do with an associate in education?
An associate degree in education qualifies you for work as a paraeducator in the public school system, in roles such as teaching assistant or teacher’s aide. Working as a teacher in a state-funded or private childcare facility or preschool is the other common career pursued by holders of this degree. Note that some states require a bachelor’s of education, or a general bachelor’s degree, to work as a licensed preschool teacher.
Educational requirements for preschool teachers are highly inconsistent between states and even between different schools. Preschool programs can be funded at the federal, state, or local level, and many set their own requirements. Be sure to explore your state requirements, as well as the requirements of the schools you are interested in working for.
Should you get an associate in education?
If you are interested in being a preschool teacher or paraeducator in the public-school setting, an associate degree in education may be an excellent choice. Be aware that around 71% of teaching aides work in the public elementary and secondary school system, with the rest evenly split between assisting in childcare services and private elementary and secondary schools.
The role of teaching assistants is primarily supportive – helping the teacher with various tasks and classroom management. Preschool teachers often have more authority and responsibility, meaning they usually need to be comfortable with leadership and independence. However, many preschools are organized with a bachelor or master’s-level teacher in charge of a classroom, and associate-level teachers aiding and assisting.
Many of the traits required of teachers are common across teaching roles, including; integrity, self-control, communicativeness, and concern for others. Instructing younger children usually requires patience, as well as a propensity for interacting with pre-verbal and very young children more interested in exploring the world than following guidelines.
The other important consideration when choosing a degree is economic. Below you can view a short-term comparison between the entire associate degree market and an associate in education. It is a snapshot of earnings 2 years after graduation. Keep in mind that things change over years of employment, as experience and expertise grow.
Associate in education
The above table provides a snapshot of earnings 3 years after graduation. We compare the earnings of all bachelor degree recipients to those who graduated from this specific program.
The initial earnings with an associate in education can be discouraging when compared to other associate degrees. While part of the reason behind this is certainly connected to systemic issues such as government under-funding in education and low teacher wages, an associate degree is entry-level training in education (except for preschool teachers). In other fields, such as nursing, web development, or dental hygiene, an associate can be a terminal degree, which is reflected in significantly higher wages.
How to pick an associate in education program
Accreditation refers to a degree meeting national academic standards and being officially designated as such. Enrolling in an accredited program qualifies students for federal financial aid and future licensure, while also assuring future employers that graduates have the skills and training needed to practice with their degree.
Look for schools with regional accreditation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and approved by the relevant state board of education. Other accrediting bodies for teacher preparation programs include:
- Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
- Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)
- American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)
Even if your initial plan is to work in a private school setting and you do not think you will pursue a bachelor of education and full teaching license, attending an accredited school ensures you leave the door open for changing your mind in the future.
Can you get an associate in education online?
Associate’s in education
The above table shows the percentage of programs available either completely in person or fully online. Figures that do not add up to 100% indicate the existence of hybrid programs.
Fully online associate degrees in education are about as common as other online associate degrees. However, a significantly larger proportion of campus associate degrees in education programs are taught without any online components, compared to other in-person associate degrees. Part of the explanation could be that fully online programs are newer, whereas some of the more established programs have not begun offering optional online components.
How much does an associate in education cost?
Some of the most expensive associate degrees in education are in Virginia, where earnings are also below the national average, at $15,695. Earnings are similarly low in Mississippi, but with far more affordable programs available. Programs in California are more affordable, but still more expensive than most other states. However, earnings are about equal to the national average.
Rhode Island offers very affordable programs, with significantly higher salaries than the national average, at $27,874.
See above how cost and earnings vary depending on the type of institution. Payback refers to how many years it takes students to cover the median costs while earning the median salary. Payback is calculated by subtracting the median earnings of a high school graduate from the median earnings related to this degree.
Associate degrees in education obtained at public colleges are significantly more affordable than private colleges, while leading to only slightly lower earnings.
Financial aid and scholarships for education majors
As with most degree programs, the first steps in applying for most types of aid involve filling out the FAFSA form on the Federal Student Aid website. Arrange a meeting with the student financial aid service at your chosen college to uncover options that are provided by the school, or that you may be unaware of.
What to expect from an associate in education program
The coursework in a 2-year associate degree in education introduces the educational, social, and developmental aspects of teaching. It can equip you with the foundational knowledge needed for introductory careers in the education or child development field.
What are the admission requirements for an associate in education?
Common admission requirements for an associate in education include a high school diploma or GED and a copy of your official identification. When you apply at a community college, applications are often processed quickly. If applying to an associate program at the university level, there may be additional requirements. Your transcripts, with a minimum GPA of 2.0, standardized test scores like the ACT or SAT, letters of recommendation, and personal statement are generally required.
How long does it take to get an associate in education?
An associate degree in education takes about 2 years to complete.
Teacher’s assistant licensure or preschool teacher licensure
To work in most public schools and state-funded preschools, licensure or a permit are required for both teacher’s aides and preschool teachers. Requirements vary substantially between states, and even between different types of institutions and childcare programs in the same state. It is important to check your state’s specific requirements when choosing a degree.
What types of courses are there in an associate in education?
This course examines changes the education system has undergone throughout history including government involvement, law, and historical trends. It covers issues facing all levels of education, major controversies in contemporary education, and how historical events have impacted teaching and learning.
A course in observation and assessment covers the behind-the-scenes work teachers do to ensure their students are receiving the most from their lessons. Different observation techniques are introduced – and followed by lessons that teach students when to use them, and how to assess the data collected to adapt future lessons for optimum student achievement.
The importance of good nutrition, safety procedures in a classroom, and overall health are imperative to know when working in the education field. Teachers and early years educators are trained in basic understanding of the benefits of good health, safety, and nutrition on development.
Especially if you are interested in pursuing a career in the preschool setting, an infant and toddler course is essential. This course focuses on development in the first 2 years of life, which is when the brain and body undergo many dramatic developmental changes. You will learn about milestones, developmentally appropriate practices, and healthy learning environments.
A vital part of any education program is the fieldwork component. This pairs classroom knowledge with hands-on experience. At the associate level, this will typically involve classroom observations of licensed teachers. The observation hours, locations, and requirements are usually determined by the professor.
Certificate opportunities at the associate level
Students who want to expand their knowledge about a particular area in education may be interested in certificate programs. There are several certificates available to students at the associate level which can better prepare them for employment opportunities.
Infant and toddler certificate
Infants and toddlers require special attention. Therefore, some employers require the completion of an infant and toddler certificate for employment. These programs cover socialization, developmentally appropriate lessons and environments, and curriculum design. In addition, students learn about current and historical theoretical approaches to early childhood practices, and how to become early childhood advocates.
Associate teacher certificate
The completion of this certificate assures employers that the student meets the requirements for employment in a private or publicly funded childcare program. It focuses on the knowledge and training needed to work with infants to school-aged children, and includes an introduction to principles, observation procedures, and documentation practices.
Master teacher certificate
This certification qualifies you to be a master teacher or a supervising teacher in early care and education programs. It will cover topics like child and adolescent development, outside influences on development, observation, assessment, curriculum development, diversity in education, and children with special needs.
In many states, an associate in education is sufficient for becoming a preschool teacher. The first 5 years of life are full of wonder, growth, and magic. A preschool teacher aims to harness their students’ wild imaginations and give them an engaging and fun education. Preschools can be private or state funded. Because of research in the last 20 years outlining the importance of early years education, large companies like Google, Nike, and Facebook now offer on-site childcare for their employees. This gives preschool teachers more flexibility in terms of where they can work and who they work for.
District of Columbia
When juggling lesson plans, teacher conferences, and meetings, teachers often need additional help in the classrooms. Teaching assistants help licensed teachers grade papers, give instructions, answer students’ questions, and prepare lessons. They may also be asked to aid students who need additional help, manage classroom behavior, assist with planning activities, and complete records.
District of Columbia
To the uninitiated, toddler temper tantrums may seem bizarre and even horrifying. These displays are not just for show or to get attention. Researchers have found that small children feel emotions in a more whole-body way. They also don’t yet understand that emotions are fleeting and flexible. Part of a preschool teacher’s job is helping young children better understand and manage their emotions.
There are several paths to a teaching career, but an associate in education may be one of the shortest. While this degree does not quality you for licensure as K-12 teacher, it does open the doors to paraeducational roles. For those wishing to become K-12 teachers, a bachelor’s of education is the next logical step after an associate degree.
If you’re interested in a career as a preschool teacher, an associate in education is the minimum requirement in most states. In states that require a bachelor’s, an associate can be completed first, followed by work as an assistant or in childcare while you finish further schooling. Employment of preschool teachers is projected to grow by 18% from 2020 to 2030, which is almost double the average for all occupations. Although preschool teachers do not earn high salaries, they are almost always in high demand.
Should I get an associate or bachelor’s of education?
It’s good to think of an associate in education as a steppingstone, with the bachelor’s being the next potential step. If you are interested in teaching older children in the public school system, a bachelor’s of education may be the better choice. If you would like to try your hand at teaching before deciding, an associate degree could offer the opportunity to assist at a public school or work in childcare before you commit to a 4-year degree.
Is it easy to transfer from an associate degree to a bachelor’s of education?
Approximately 25% percent of all community college students eventually transfer to a 4-year program. Colleges sometimes have articulation agreements with other institutions to make credit transfer easier. Even if agreements are in place, you will likely still need to meet admission criteria to enter the bachelor’s program of your choice.
Is an associate degree enough to teach?
An associate degree in education is not enough to become a licensed teacher at the grade school or high school level. The minimum requirement for licensure as a full teacher in all states is a bachelor’s degree. An associate degree is sufficient for becoming a preschool teacher in some states, and in many non-government-funded childcare settings. For many people, an associate’s degree is a starting rather than finishing point that helps kick-start a teaching career.
Do teacher’s assistants get paid in the summer?
In most settings, teaching aides and assistants are paid according to an hourly wage, meaning they do not receive a salary when schools are not in session.
National Education Association (NEA)
The NEA provides information for teachers regarding salaries and benefits, workplace inclusivity, and provides members with access to a resource library. They advocate for educators, communities, families, and children to ensure the availability of quality educational programs and policies.
U.S. Department of Education
This government website provides information on financial aid, student loans, laws, and guidance. They also provide data about education-related research for users to learn current information about policies and procedures related to education.
Association of American Educators
With 3 million members, the Association of American Educators is the largest professional organization in the United States that is committed to education. AAE works from preschool to graduate programs at the university level to ensure teachers are prepared to teach in public schools.