From Cubicle to Classroom
Sitting at your desk at your corporate job, have you ever wished you were back at school? If so, why not consider teaching?
Becoming a teacher as an encore career is more accessible than ever before. Most states now offer alternative teacher certification programs that assist experienced workers who want to become teachers without following the traditional route of obtaining four-year degrees, according to the National Center for Alternative Certification. Some corporations are making the transition easier, as well: IBM's Transition to Teaching program, for instance, offers former employees incentives to become teachers in an effort to address the shortage of qualified math and science teachers.
For many who have made the switch, teaching offers a welcome change of pace and a feeling of satisfaction. But in the current economy, teaching jobs aren't always easy to find. Here are the stories of three encore career teachers who found teaching jobs in different ways.
1. The volunteer-turned-teacher method.When she went to college in the mid-1980s, Linda Rummell, 45, considered majoring in education. But she changed her mind and earned her first degree in journalism and communications. After graduating, she worked in marketing until deciding to stay home with her children. Once her kids started school, Rummell became an active volunteer and substitute teacher at their Montessori school. Eventually, through connections she developed doing volunteer work, she took a job as a teacher's aide. "That's when I decided I would like to have my own classroom," she says. "So I decided to go back to school."
Rummell took two years to earn her master's degree, including teacher certification, and two more years to earn certification in gifted education, a field that wasn't overcrowded. Now, Rummell is in her fourth year as a gifted specialist at Liberty Park Middle School in Vestavia Hills, Ala., and she says the switch to a career in education has been a perfect fit. "The greatest rewards are working with the students and being able to incorporate things I loved about my old job into my new job," she says.
Her advice for others considering a switch to teaching: "Check out how many jobs are available in the teaching field you are interested in first," she says. "In some fields, it can be hard to find a job." Rummell says she thinks her experience and relationships forged as a parent volunteer helped her secure a teaching job.
2. The supportive employer method. Dan Fullerton's first career was working as a microelectric engineer and engineering manager. As an engineer, he was asked to teach a course as an adjunct instructor at a local university, and that became a regular night job. "I loved teaching but found after awhile that as a university professor I didn't get to interact with the students as much as I would like, and we didn't have the time to dive into exploration projects outside the standard curriculum," he says. "A friend who had recently made the switch from engineering to high school teacher mentioned how he loved working with the kids at a level in which he had more time to do exactly those things."
To become a full-time teacher, Fullerton knew he needed the support of his current employer, so he was "open and honest" from the beginning and explained how supporting his goals could be mutually beneficial. "My employer realized that eventually I would leave to become a teacher, but we came to the joint conclusion that [allowing me to continue working while pursuing teacher certification] would ensure a smooth transition, close out a number of projects, and set my department up for success in my eventual absence."
While working full time, Fullerton completed his secondary education coursework at night. His employer allowed him an educational leave of absence to do his student teaching, with a few conditions. After completing certification, Fullerton continued to work as an engineer until he secured a teaching job several months later.
Now, Fullerton works as a physics teacher at a public high school in Rochester, N.Y. "I took a huge cut in pay, but I'm the happiest I've ever been professionally, I love my job, and I'm looking forward to teaching for the rest of my life," he says.
Fullerton recommends shadowing another teacher to get a feel for the job before making a midlife career change to education. "I thought when I left industry, I'd have fewer hours and summers off to spend with my family," he says. "Instead, I actually put in more hours and probably work harder in the summer than I do during the school year. But I've also found that I greatly enjoy all those hours I put in, I look forward to going to work in the morning, and though the highs are high and the lows are low, I truly believe I have the best job in the world."
3. The private school method. After several years of wearing a suit and tie to his marketing job, Glenn Adamec decided the corporate world wasn't for him. "I had always enjoyed working with kids, teaching and coaching sports, so I followed my passion instead of my wallet," he says.
With nothing else lined up, Adamec quit his job and started substitute teaching to pay the bills. While volunteer coaching a little league team, Adamec learned about a nearby Catholic school that was looking for a physical education teacher. That conversation led to his first full-time teaching job.
Because it was a private school, Adamec wasn't required to have a state teacher's license. That first year, he took night courses and earned his Catholic School Teacher's License. For the next three years, he continued to take courses at night to earn teacher certification while teaching at the Catholic school. After completing his certification, Adamec took at job at an independent school in Fairfax County, Va., where he teaches PE and coaches high school sports.
While Adamec admits his financial situation would be different if he'd continued his career in marketing, "the rewards of teaching are numerous," he says. "Helping kids achieve more than they ever thought they could is probably the number one reward."
Making the Switch
If you're considering a career change to teaching, check out these resources:
- The National Association for Alternative Certification offers a list of alternative certification and licensing programs, organized by state.
- The Newton Teacher Residency is a one-year mentorship program in Newtonville, Mass.; it's an example of a school district that offers alternative licensing programs. Check with your local school district to find out what's available.
- The National Center for Education Statistics offers a wealth of research data, such as what types of teachers are most needed and average salaries of teachers in various regions and subjects. This is a good resource if you're trying to decide whether teaching is right for you or what field of teaching to pursue.
Read more: Teaching as a Midlife Career Move
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