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How Long Do You Have to Go to School to Be a Head Start Teacher?

by Susan Revermann

Head Start is a federally funded program designed to provide health, education, social services and parent-community involvement services for 3- to 5-year-old children in low-income families. If you want to be an important part of this program, you can become a Head Start teacher. You can qualify to become a teacher with various levels of education and experience, each with its own length of study and time of completion.

Child Development Associate

The Child Development Associate credential or an equivalent state-awarded certificate can help you meet the minimum requirement to become a Head Start teacher. To receive a CDA, you must successfully complete a CDA assessment, in which you must provide documentation of all training and experience you have in the early childhood field. You must provide evidence that you are at least 18 years old, hold a high school diploma or GED certificate, have 480 hours of experience working with children in the last five years and have completed 120 hours of formal childcare education in last five years.

Associate Degree

You can obtain an associate degree in your efforts to become a Head Start teacher. Choose classes that are related to early childhood education. To receive an associate degree, most educational institutions require you to obtain 90 credits, although it may vary slightly between institutions. The average full-time student completes this in about two years; for part-time students it will take longer. Also gaining first-hand experience working with children will help increase your changes of getting hired as a Head Start teacher.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in a field relating to early childhood education is desirable and is starting to become the average level of education among Head Start professionals. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, it takes the average full-time student four to five years to complete a bachelor’s degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, you can enroll in and complete a Teach for America program and take an early childhood content exam like the Praxis II to demonstrate your knowledge in this area.

Advanced Degree

The more education that you complete beyond your bachelor degree will increase your chances of obtaining a Head Start teacher position. You can obtain a master's degree in early childhood education or a related field. If you have a bachelor’s degree already, obtaining a master’s degree will take you an additional one to three years of full-time study, depending on the college and program you choose. Advanced certificates are also included in this category, and these usually take less time than a master’s degree.

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