When you choose teaching as your profession, one of the first decisions you must make is the students you'd love most to teach. If you've always had a special place in your heart for younger children, this narrows your choice down to two basic options: early childhood education and elementary education. What's the difference in terms of these two groups from a teaching perspective?

Age of the Student

One of the most notable differences between teaching early childhood education and elementary education is the age of the student.

Students within an early childhood education program or setting are preschool age and younger, while elementary education students are typically somewhere between kindergarten and fifth or sixth grade.

It is partially because of this age difference that different skills are required to teach the two demographics. What skills are those?

Skills Required to Teach

As an early childhood education teacher, it helps to first have a lot of patience. Kids this age tend to have a short attention span and may need more than a few reminders of what you want them to do.

Classroom-related skills for this age student also include knowing how to create effective lesson plans, recordkeeping, and having a certain level of knowledge in child care and development. Having a basic level of education in music and psychology are also helpful.

Elementary education, on the other hand, requires a slightly different skillset. In addition to being able to develop lessons and curriculum, you also need to be proficient in decision-making and collaboration. Community relations skills are also helpful, as is being good with math.

Where You're Likely to Work

There are also differences in where you'll likely work depending on which option you choose.

For example, if you decide that early education is the right career path for you, you may find yourself working in a preschool, after-school program, or daycare center.

Conversely, should you choose elementary education instead, your day will generally be spent within a private or public school setting.

Median Annual Salary

Another difference between teaching early childhood education and elementary education is median salary.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), early education teachers—which it categorizes as preschool teachers—earn an average annual wage of $29,780 per year. On the other front, the median salary for kindergarten and elementary school teachers is $57,980 annually.

Why such a difference?

Minimum Educational Requirements

Part of the discrepancy in pay is likely due to the fact that each of these teaching roles has different minimum educational requirements.

The BLS shares that the typical entry-level education for a preschool teacher is an associate degree whereas kindergarten and elementary school teachers are generally required to have a bachelor's degree.

The BLS adds that median weekly earnings can be dramatically impacted based on educational attainment. For example, the average weekly wage by someone with an associate degree is $836 per week. Earn your bachelor's degree and that rate increases to $1,173 per week. Obtain your master's degree and your pay will likely go up even more, or to $1,401 per week.

Future Job Outlook

The average growth rate for all occupations within the U.S. between 2018 and 2028 is roughly 5 percent, according to the BLS. Yet, the growth rate for kindergarten and elementary education teachers during this same timeframe is slightly lower at 3 percent.

On the other hand, if you decide that early childhood education is the right career track for you, jobs are expected to be a bit more lucrative in the upcoming years, as is represented by a 7 percent job growth rate.

While this may make you want to go with early education, mainly because there will be more job openings, keep in mind that, though the growth rate is lower for elementary education, there are also more total jobs in this particular field.

This means that, even with a slower growth rate, there are expected to be 53,100 more jobs added in elementary education between now and 2028, with 36,900 positions likely to be added in early childhood education.

Which Is Best for You?

Knowing all of this information can help you decide which path is best for you. Regardless of which one you decide, Saint Leo University offers a couple of degree programs that can help you achieve your goals.

These include earning your Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies with a specialization in Early Childhood Development and Education or going for your Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education.

And if you're still unsure which is best for you, let us know. We're more than happy to provide you more information so you can make the right choice for your career, increasing the likelihood that you'll be satisfied with your decision, whatever that may be.