5 steps to making a career change to teaching
There are hundreds of anecdotes that prove one supportive teacher can make all the difference in a child’s life. Even if you didn’t have that experience growing up, you can still become that teacher for future generations. If your current job leaves you uninspired and unmotivated, now may be the time to switch to education.
In fact, second-career teachers are so common that there are entire teaching certification programs designed specifically for their needs. Teachers who come from other professions might even have an advantage over less-experienced educators, according to Dr. Alan Enomoto, Ed.D. associate dean at Brandman University.
“Second-career teachers bring a wealth of experience and background into the classroom — much more than a 22-year-old,” Dr. Enomoto shares. “They are able to draw on real life to engage students, and that enthusiasm makes education come alive.”
How to start your second career as a teacher
Transitioning careers can feel daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Consider the following advice on how to make a career change to teaching.
1. Spend time in the classroom
If you’re considering becoming a teacher and haven’t spent much time working with students recently or at all, that should make you pause. “The biggest mistake aspiring educators make is to go into the profession and have no idea what the job actually entails,” Dr. Enomoto cautions. “If you’ve never observed a classroom prior to your first teaching, that’s a problem.”
He recommends finding opportunities to get involved in schools or education-related activities. Consider the following examples:
- Work with a local public school to sit in on and observe a class
- Volunteer as a tutor or mentor
- Tap into your interests, and become a coach for extracurricular clubs or organizations, like drama or theatre, sports, knowledge bowl, etc.
- Become a substitute teacher
2. Consider what age level you’d prefer teaching
Logging classroom hours not only helps you understand the daily job expectations, but it’s also helpful in determining what age of students you want to work with. As children develop and mature into adolescents, their needs and behaviors change, meaning you might find your skills and temperament better suited to a particular grade level.
Here are some insights to consider:
- Elementary school (ages 5–10): These teachers are expert generalists and typically teach multiple subjects to one class. The curriculum often includes social studies, language arts, math, science, and reading. Elementary teachers are expected to be energetic, hands-on and creative.
- Middle school (ages 11–13): The curriculum at this level starts to change formats in order to prepare students for the “separate-subject model” of high school, which means instructors often teach only one or two subject areas. At these ages, children are entering adolescence, confronting challenges and changing on many levels. Working in middle school requires an adaptable teacher who can empathize with kids who may act like elementary students one day and high schoolers the next.
- High school (ages 14–18): High school teachers specialize in one area of study and teach those subjects to multiple classes. They’re also responsible for helping prepare adolescents to enter the “real world” as young adults. Whereas elementary school teachers are generalists, high school teachers are typically subject matter experts. This is a great option for second-career teachers who are passionate about a particular topic and have prior career experiences.
3. Connect with current teachers
Another way to gain insight into teaching is to go directly to the source. Connecting with teachers who are currently in the classroom can be very helpful in understanding the reality of the profession.
Find out why they chose to become teachers and the pros and cons of the profession. Ask them about the things they wish someone had told them before joining the field. Inquire about their favorite parts of the job and the most challenging parts. This is a great way to gain a realistic portrayal of what a career change to teaching could look like for you.
4. Find out what motivates you
Dr. Enomoto has taught and worked with hundreds of second-career teachers who went back to school looking for something more. He recalls several attorneys he’s taught over the years who told a similar version of the same story: They were good students in high school who went on to a prestigious universities and law schools, but when they started practicing, they felt something was missing.
"They realized that what they liked best about law was studying it in law school and became disillusioned once they started their practice" Dr. Enomoto shares. "They want to transition to a career where they feel they can make a meaningful impact on the lives of children."
Before you decide to become a teacher, take some time to reflect on your motivations. Think back to your own education experience — what you enjoyed, and how you would have improved it. Consider the times you’ve worked with children, adolescents and young adults.
Start to ponder what your ideal teaching scenario would be. Would you prefer teaching several different subjects or focusing in on a particular area of study? Do you see yourself teaching in an urban, suburban or rural area? Finding the right fit is an important piece of living out your passion.
“One big thing I always tell people is to make sure you’re transitioning into this career for the right reasons. Teaching is a calling, but it’s also a responsibility,” Dr. Enomoto advises. "If your heart is not in it, you'll be doing a great disservice to the students in your classroom."
5. Start researching education options
If you’re serious about going back to school to become a teacher, you’ll want to research training options carefully. Adult students often work full time while raising families, and not every program is created with these factors in mind. Getting your teaching credential is a life-changing decision that will require significant time, resources and effort.
A Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree is an excellent option for those who already hold a bachelor’s degree. It is designed specifically for mature students who are making a career change to teaching.
Brandman University’s MAT program combines an Elementary, Secondary or Preliminary Education Specialist license with a master’s degree. The program focuses on the use of technology in the classroom and the development of 21st-century skills. Advanced courses in research, learning theory and curriculum design prepare candidates to engage in systematic inquiry into their own teachings and enhance their abilities to make sound pedagogical decisions.
As an MAT student at Brandman University, you will also learn to:
- Use theories of learning and brain research to enhance teaching and student learning
- Differentiate instruction based on the needs of students
- Utilize a variety of assessment data to inform instruction
- Evaluate curriculum design and curricular decisions as they relate to meeting the diverse needs of students
- Apply subject-matter skills in authentic settings, and continually reflect on and evaluate the effects of decisions
- Create an action research proposal that seeks to solve a personal educational dilemma
Make a difference in the classroom
If your current job no longer excites you, and you’re interested in pursuing an enriching career in education, there’s no reason to wait. Making a career change to teaching is possible, and it can provide you with the fulfilling role you’re looking for.
“I can’t think of anything more gratifying than teaching,” Dr. Enomoto shares. “Once you close the door to the classroom and start teaching, it’s all on you. It’s satisfying and fun to share what you love with students and motivate them to be the best version of themselves.”
If you’re ready to take the next step in becoming a second-career teacher, check out Brandman University's Teaching Programs now.
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