Many new and current teachers came to the profession as a second career. They take the plunge for many reasons and find themselves in a tough but completely fulfilling job. Some question whether or not it’s a good idea or if they have anything to offer in education, and others are worried about the age gap between them and teachers coming straight from college. On today’s episode, I discuss not only why many teachers make the switch, but I also showcase the advantages that second-career teachers have, as well as how they can be successful in education.

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Today on Episode 72, I’m answering one of the most common requests I get via email – to talk about second-career teachers. For those of you that are THINKING about switching careers or are just starting out as a second-career teacher, this one is for you!

Today I’m really excited to talk to you guys about switching careers to become a teacher. I actually have quite a few of my colleagues that have done this, as well as read about others’ experiences online. So needless to say, I have a LOT to share with you on the topic.

I’ve been on several interview panels, and one of my FAVORITE people to interview are second-career teachers. They come in with such confidence, and they have a more introspective and reflective manner to them. While they’ll still be nervous, I can more easily sense how they’ll be in a classroom because they’re more authentic.

You’d be surprised by how many teachers came from a previous career. I know I was! Since I started teaching when I was 24, I was naive and just assumed that we all followed the same path to becoming a teacher. Boy was I wrong!

If you’re wondering why people would make the switch, here are some reasons I learned. And if you’re someone who DID make the switch, see if YOUR reason falls within these.

Why

  • They truly had a calling that education is where they belonged.
  • They kept hearing that they should become a teacher, so after some hemming and hawing, they did it.
  • They tried subbing and realized they liked it.
  • They worked with kids in some capacity and loved it.
  • They wanted to have a more positive and fulfilling work environment. Many came from corporate or freelance work and wanted something more meaningful.
  • They hated and were bored with their office or corporate job.
  • They wanted to make a difference.
  • They wanted a regular 9-5 job.
  • They wanted to spend more time with their family and have the same schedule.
  • They switched after being laid off or closing a business.

Advantages of being a second-career teacher

People coming in as second-career teachers have a lot of advantages. The biggest one is that they have more life experience, especially if they have their own children. This means that they also have more self-confidence and resilience, and can handle situations with a calmer head. Younger teachers can do well too, but they’re more prone to be overwhelmed, stressed-out, and have anxiety.

You also have more credibility with parents because of your age. They’ll automatically assume that you’ll have more control of the class and that you’ve got it together. You really don’t need to tell them that you’re a first-year teacher, so just go with this!

However, you’ll need to work a little harder to stay current with what your students are into. Having lessons that are relevant and relatable to their lives is important in terms of engagement and classroom management, but it’s still doable.

You have the advantage of also using your experience to show kids the big picture in terms of what they’re learning. Many of them see learning in a bubble where they just do it for the sake of school. Since you’ve gone out and worked “real” jobs, you can relate what they’re doing to that. They often don’t see the point of what they’re learning in class, so you have an advantage there! You honestly have a worldly view that no 20-something can bring to these students.

Someone from a Facebook group summed it up best, “I find that my business experience really helps me in the classroom. Selling ideas is much more fun than selling products, and I think kids appreciate the real-world applications of what I teach them.”

Advice

Try being a substitute teacher first to see if you like it. Many districts don’t require a teaching credential to sub, and it can give a taste of not only whether you want to teach, but which schools you’d want to apply for.

If you’re worried about the pay, remember that we really don’t get summers “off.” These are NOT paid vacations! I work and get paid for 185 days. If you count 106 days for weekends, that means that I’m missing out on 74 days of pay.

But guess what? I have 175 days off. PLUS I get sick and personal leave. I would never, ever trade that in for anything. I consciously take the hit to my paycheck for that time off.

That doesn’t justify the miserable pay we get, but I just wanted to put that into perspective.

If possible, choose a subject that is more in demand. Social studies teachers are a dime a dozen, but the open positions are scarce. Math, science, special ed, and ESL are more in demand, so it’ll be easier to find a job. Keep in mind, however, that you’ll need to teach based on your degree.

Look at teach.org or teachnow.org to find out ways to get certified. There’s not one straight and narrow path to becoming a teacher, so if you truly want to do it, getting a credential might be easier than you think. However, if you do a more fast-paced program, you’ll get less training and will have to figure more out on your own.

Get some training in educational technology. It will make the learning curve less steep if you come in with knowledge about the Google Suite or Microsoft 360 (having knowledge on some of both is always a plus!). You’ll already have to deal with things like classroom management

Double-check the social security situation. Some people had all 40 quarters going into teaching and had to forfeit those for their teaching pension. It’s part of the Windfall Elimination Provision. I’ve actually written to my senators about this because it’s really unfair. Occasionally there’s been buzz about fixing it, but I’ve yet to see any progress.

Stay up-to-date on the latest research and initiatives. This is not only important for your teaching but also for the interview. Expect to hear a lot of jargon during that interview, and if you look like a deer in headlights, it won’t bode well for you.

Lean in on your experiences in other careers – they are strengths in your classroom. As much as possible, use the knowledge you have learned in your first career and apply it to teaching. You probably have problem-solving skills that are key to the job. Your confidence as an older adult also helps in the classroom since the students will see you more as an authority figure rather than their peer. 

There’s a good chance that you experienced success from your previous career. Switching to teaching will be hard, and it’ll be a while before you feel like you’re good at it and get the results you want. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a chance to grow! I honestly felt this way when I was trying to start a business that failed fantastically!

In most other careers, professionals understand the importance of how all jobs in a workplace fit together. The same goes for the people in your school. Make friends with the counselors, support staff, office staff, and custodians. When everyone works together and RESPECTS one another, they are more fulfilled and find a more harmonious workplace. I’ve seen some younger teachers who treat custodians as beneath them. Then they wonder why they had to wait 20 minutes for some vomit to be cleaned up.

Have a sense of humility. While you have life experience, there’s still a lot you don’t know and can’t assume. Seek advice from more experienced teachers, even if they’re younger than you. You benefit in no way by having too much pride, and in the end, your students lose out.

You’ll be climbing the ladder again from the bottom and work your way up. If you’re genuinely open to suggestions, are positive, and proactive, it won’t take you long to gain the respect you deserve. But be aware that some people will assume that you don’t need the same graces and chances as a younger first-year teacher. If your mantra is, “I’m still learning, but I got it now,” you’ll be fine.

Find a mentor who can teach you the ins and outs of the school. Even something as simple as knowing how to call in a sub or what to bring to a staff meeting is important. It helps if this person is in your department, but even if they’re not, they can make your life easier and decrease any embarrassing situations.

Especially ask about how other teachers maintain a work/life balance. You’ve probably heard that most teachers struggle with this, especially their first few years. We can be overzealous with our goal to save the world, and we forget about ourselves and our family in the process. This is especially true if you left your previous career for MORE time!

Be prepared to be TIRED. Teaching is like herding cats. I’m not even exaggerating – it has been harder and harder to stay energized the older I get. It can be like popcorn in your classroom with voices and hands in the air. At the end of the day, your body will be angry and want to collapse and do nothing!

2 comments on TnT 72 The many advantages of being a second-career teacher

  1. Larry Hiemenz says:

    First let me say your podcast has been a godsend. I taught part-time at a private school last school year and would listen to you on my drive in. There was always something I could use in each episode.

    Teaching is my “encore” career, so not only am I older than a new teacher, but I’m probably older than the typical second career teacher. My parents taught and discouraged me from entering the profession, but after retiring from a long career in IT I’m able to hopefully, fulfill my destiny. I’m fortunate to be entering a content area that is in high demand – Computer Science. I would like to add a few comments to what you addressed above.

    Substitute teaching is a reasonable way of both getting your foot in the door and seeing the current environment that students are learning. Subs are also in high demand (at least in my area), but even more poorly paid than full-time teachers. Teachers do so much more than subs are called on to do. If you don’t care for subbing (I know I don’t), don’t necessarily throw in the towel. Be aware that having and planning your own class adds another dimension to the experience than just being in someone else’s class for a day or a week. I gained a lot of experience and insight by volunteering in a school. Also, don’t discount the experience you may have gained coaching sports, debate, drama, Scouts, 4H, etc. If you are looking to break into a competitive content area like Social Studies, this is something else you can bring to the table.

    Check with your local and/or state education boards about certification requirements. Almost every state has some kind of testing requirements in core(reading, writing, math), content and pedagogy. Some education schools require that you pass some tests before you are even allowed in the program. You want to get as much out of way sooner rather than later. You don’t want to have a job offer hang on being able to pass a Praxis test.

    Sitting at a desk for x number of years won’t prepare you for how physically demanding teaching is. I thought I was in shape, but I would come home after a full day volunteering in a high school classroom exhausted (and hungry!). My mentor teacher says that it takes her a couple weeks to get back her “teacher legs” at the beginning of the school year. And this is high school — I can’t imagine the energy and stamina needed for elementary school.

    I’ve accepted a full-time teaching position in a public high school. This will be my first year teaching full-time. I look forward to listening to the podcast on my drive to school this coming year. Good luck to all my fellow second career teachers!

    1. Kim Lepre says:

      Thank you SO MUCH Larry for your thoughtful comment! And I really appreciate you adding your recent insight to what I’ve shared – I know a lot of aspiring second-career teachers will appreciate it.

      Please feel free to email me at kim@teachersneedteachers.com and share your journey. I’m excited to hear about what this school year brings you!

      -Kim

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