Teaching as a Midlife Career Move
You've probably sweated through that universal dream yourself--the one where you can't locate your classroom on the day of the final exam because you neglected to set foot in it all semester. When I hit about 45, it developed a twist.
I am walking down a crowded hallway. Suddenly, I realize I am older than all the other students. I hope that cute guy over there doesn't notice I could be his mom.
My updated nightmare became my daily reality last year. Only it's not a nightmare.
Like scores of other middle-aged Americans, I ventured outside my comfort zone and went back to college to train for a new career. Yes, I was one of the oldest people in the classroom. (Three other midlife career-changers kept me company.) One of my fresh-faced classmates blithely informed me she has a teen brother my son's age.
Despite the minor humiliations, major workload, incessant assessments, bouts of impostor syndrome and fuzzy job outlook, I am delighted and proud to call myself a certified teacher after nine months of full-time study.
It all started, of course, with a desire to switch gears from my established vocation as a journalist. Motivation kicked me in the pants when my freelance clients, dinged by the weak economy, slashed their budgets. Yet my daughter marched onward toward college, baby brother on her heels.
Teaching was not an out-of-the-blue brainstorm--I've long yearned to share my passion for the English language in a classroom. I finally decided that 15 years of toiling behind a computer screen in a cluttered home office felt like enough. I was ready to apply mascara every morning and reenter the hubbub.
I sought advice from a friend studying for a credential, as well as from my children's teachers. I made telephone calls and explored my options: a traditional classroom setting at a public university? Or a hybrid of virtual and in-person classes at a less-traditional for-profit college setting?
My research revealed that total tuition costs would be similar for both routes--somewhere in the range of $15,000 in Southern California. Private traditional colleges could cost double that amount. (To explore teaching programs in your area, go to teachers.count.org.) I ultimately decided that, given my propensity for procrastination, I would get the most out of sitting in lectures at prescribed times. I enrolled in the University of California, Irvine, which is close to my home and has a respected teaching program.
As child students do, teaching candidates must take tests at every turn--general knowledge competency, subject competency and more subject competency, CPR, TB, U.S. Constitution, fingerprinting for the state and then again for school districts. Fifty bucks here, 75 there. That aspect of the process gets pretty tedious.
Hands down, earning my credential made for the most unrelenting mission I have ever experienced--compounded by the fact that I continued working to help pay the tab. I wrote research papers until 1 a.m., arose at 6 to student teach, drove 30 minutes each way for three-hour classes four afternoons a week.
I didn't see a single movie or episode of "The Office." When friends invited us for dinner, I'd pop in for a glass of wine and leave my husband behind to solo it. During a quick family trip to Boston, I holed up in the hotel room for eight hours one day composing a course paper that seemed like a dissertation.
Oh, about student teaching: It was the best part of my day. I taught tenth graders in at an urban high school. I was charmed by every one of them.
Now what? In California and other states, the teaching field is flooded with laid-off teachers standing first in line for sporadic openings. Math, science and special education teachers are most in demand, and I'm none of the above.
Somehow I remain optimistic and look forward to having a classroom of my own. Until then, I work almost daily as a substitute. Hundreds of thousands of baby boomer teachers, not all that much older than I, will retire over the next few years. I've been invited to three interviews--for fall positions that each received more than 300 resumes. (You'd think teaching was lucrative and cushy.) Apparently, I'm at least in the running.