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With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Response: Career-Changers Are ‘Attractive Teaching Candidates’

By Larry Ferlazzo — June 14, 2017 14 min read
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(This is the last post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new “question-of-the-week” is:

What are the steps a person should take if they are thinking about making a mid-career change into the teaching profession?

In Part One, guest responses came from Gladis Kersaint, Denisse R. Thompson, Jeri Asaro, Val Brown, Pia Wong, Megan Allen and Anne Jenks. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Gladis, Denisse, and Jeri on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

In today’s post, Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin, Marcy Webb, Otis Kriegel, Peter P. Leibman, and Karla St. John contribute their thoughts. I’ve also included several comments from readers.

Response From Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin

Dr. Jenny Grant Rankin is the author of “Engaging & Challenging Gifted Students: Tips for Supporting Extraordinary Minds in Your Classroom,” published by ASCD. This award-winning educator teaches the PostDoc Masterclass at University of Cambridge after a K-12 career as teacher, administrator, and chief education & research officer:

A full 85 percent of teachers became teachers because they wanted to make a difference in children’s lives (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, 2014). Those who make a mid-career jump into the teaching profession are likely even more aware than their younger colleagues of the low pay and hard knocks teachers endure, yet they still want to follow this noble calling. Such a move takes great character and guts, yet should be done cautiously. The better prepared this new teacher is, the better his or her odds of success.

1. Know (as Well as You Can) What You’re Getting Into

There’s a certain safety when we watch a movie like Stand and Deliver, Freedom Writers, or Dead Poets Society, because we anticipate the teacher will touch troubled students’ lives in a memorable way. Hollywood magic makes such an outcome guaranteed. Yet the profession itself can often be far more daunting.

Anyone who wants to become a teacher should spend a day shadowing a teacher and find a veteran teacher who will speak frankly about the job and its demands. The older we are the more we tend to have serious responsibilities (kids, spouse, mortgage, caregiving, etc.), and leaving the financial security of one profession for another known for its high burnout and turnover rates is a serious matter. If someone sees a clear snapshot of the job in all its glory and challenges, and then still wants to be a teacher, this person begins the journey from a better position.

2. Forget How You Were Taught

Because teachers are required to have high school and college educations, school “worked” for them enough for them to stick it out and graduate. Thus many teachers enter the profession eager to do for students what was done for them. Yet if teachers deliver the same type of instruction they received, they are failing their students. (1) So many more developments have been made since the teacher was in school, and teachers must adhere to the best practices to which research has alerted us. (2) Students are living in a world far different than the world teachers grew up in (technology, pace, expectations, peer influences, threats, etc.), and teachers must prepare students for a future that hasn’t even happened yet. Students need to learn to innovate, collaborate with diverse cultures, use the latest technology, and more to have the best chance at career success. Thus teachers must foster these future-ready skills in their classrooms.

3. Learn the Practice

I considered calling this step “Get Credentialed,” but this step means so much more than that. Many teacher preparation programs are far behind changing classroom needs. They are often designed by academics who have never actually been K-12 classroom teachers, and they often involve a course list that fails to address newer aspects of the job (e.g., data-informed decision-making, edtech integration, etc.). Before making a mid-career jump, a hopeful teacher will need a credential commensurate with state requirements, but will likely also need to supplement this education with his or her own learning. Free online conferences like K-12 Online Conference, Twitter chats like #edchat, magazines, books, and conversations with teachers are all great ways to learn the practice. Student teaching and volunteering at after-school tutoring stations (anything that has you working directly with kids) is also pivotal.


If you do all this and you remain determined to make a mid-career change into the teaching profession, congratulations: you have the heart it takes to do the world’s most important job.

Response Form Marcy Webb

Marcy Webb is a secondary school Spanish teacher, workshop presenter, and writer:

  • Gather as much information as possible about teaching as a career—the rewards as well as the challenges. The Internet has made conducting such research very easy.

  • Research the current state of education and teaching in the United States. It is important to have a good understanding of the teaching profession beyond the classroom, as those issues will impact you and your students in direct and indirect ways.

  • Talk with current teachers—in public, private, independent and charter schools, in order to get a better sense of different types of schools and teaching environments. If one is on a social networking site, such as Twitter, for example, letting your PLN (Professional Learning Network) know you are interested in a teaching career, and would like to collect advice from them, can be very beneficial for a prospective teacher.

  • Talk to students about what they find rewarding and not-so-rewarding about school and their learning experiences. Talking with students is not only fun, but is also enlightening. And, students typically are very honest.

  • Decide what you want to teach, and at which level(s) and/or grade(s).

  • Investigate the certification requirements in the state in which you are residing, or, hope to reside—including coursework and tests—as well as alternate route to certification programs. If one has the time and financial resources, an alternate route program may be the best and fastest avenue to entering the teaching profession.

  • Investigate mentoring programs that are offered in your state and/or school district. Mentoring is crucial during the first two years of a new teacher’s career.

  • Enroll in coursework, and receive hands-on experience, with the following: curriculum planning, classroom management, child and adolescent psychology, special education, and diversity and inclusion in the classroom. Effective classroom management strategies and techniques will prevent you from losing your teacher mind during your first year.

Response From Otis Kriegel

Otis Kriegel is the author of “Starting School Right: How do I plan for a successful first week in my classroom?(ASCD). Kriegel has taught elementary and middle school students for 15 years. He has taught in dual language (Spanish/English and German/English), monolingual, and integrated coteaching classrooms. Connect with him on Twitter @mynameisotis:

Everybody loves to teach something to someone. Whether it is how to perfectly cut an onion or change a flat tire, teaching someone can be gratifying, exciting and really fun. But this doesn’t mean all of those people want to be classroom teachers or would be good at it.

If you think you want to change your career to become a teacher, here are a few things to do before you commit. It is a lot different teaching a class of 30+ kids than teaching your niece to tie her shoe.

Observe the class or age level you want to teach

There is nothing better than to see with your own eyes what the classroom looks like, how it functions and the work that goes into making it that way. For example, if you want to teach elementary school, sit in on a few different classes at various schools. How does it feel? Can you picture yourself doing that?

Follow a friend

If you have a friend who is a teacher, shadow him or her for a few days and experience the reality. Many people entering the profession think that teaching is just about the kids. I tell people new to the career, “If you don’t like working with both kids and adults—the entire family—then teaching is not for you. Plus, there is far more to the job than just working in the classroom such as communicating with parents, curriculum meetings, planning with colleagues, random paperwork and lots more.”

Don’t base your decision on Hollywood

And do not be swayed by the “teaching movies” where the teacher is some sort of hero. Teachers are heroes in real life, not in the Hollywood version of what they do.

A mid-career change into the teaching profession can be exciting, and some of the skills needed for a previous career, whether it was as a banker, a landscape architect, or a bus driver, can be parlayed into becoming an effective teacher. But also consider the challenges and the wide scope of skills needed to do the job. It is incredible work, but think about it carefully. It isn’t for everybody.

Response From Peter P. Leibman

Peter P. Leibman Ed.D, is author of Launch a Teaching Career: Secrets for Aspiring Teachers, associate professor and supervisor of student teachers at St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights where graduates are securing teaching positions in record numbers. Dr. Leibman has served as principal K-12, director of planning in central office, and president of the Principals’ Association on Long Island in an extensive career:

A career changer is an attractive teaching candidate for a number of reasons and in order to transition to teaching effectively a number of factors must be considered:

• What is your motivation? Some reasons for changing careers are more predictive of success and the best reason is that you sincerely want to help young people.

• How do you know that teaching is right for you? Begin by assessing your teaching potential. Match your skills with the characteristics of effective teachers. In order to determine the appropriate skill set consider the characteristics of the very best teachers that you have encountered. If you do not have any prior teaching experience consider the skills you do have that allowed you to be successful in your current field which will foreshadow teaching success.

• Speak with people who are living the life of “teacher” and learn the rewards, obstacles, salary, retirement plan, and schedule of this professional. In this vein, visit local schools and ask to meet with career switchers on staff.

• Determine if the transition is financially viable keeping in mind that your schedule requires 180 days of teaching and there are opportunities to supplement your salary by coaching a sport, moderating an activity or tutoring and teaching summer school. Be certain to consider opportunities in charter, independent and private schools in addition to public school positions.

• Consider your support system. As you go through the teacher certification process your focus and responsibilities will shift and when you get the job no doubt your salary will drop. Can you count on family to encourage you? Your goal of becoming a teacher will be easier with encouragement from significant others and those you respect.

• Lastly, if you have the proper motivation, temperament and skills, the salary is viable and you have the positive support from family consider the certification process. Contact your state education department to learn of specific requirements in your jurisdiction. Contact local college education departments and speak with administrative assistants or professors. Go to recruiting new teachers (www.rnt.org) a valuable resource providing guidance and also go to the National Center for Alternative Certification (www.teach-now.org) where you can order a 346-page resource guide, a state-by-state analysis of alternative teacher certifications. And, of course, develop your network and do not be reluctant to ask for assistance. Keep in mind that with half of the teaching population (baby boomers) retiring in the next few years there will be a teacher shortage. Positions in math, science, computers, ESL, bilingual education and counseling will be in demand.

Response From Karla St. John

Karla St. John is a Business and Science teacher for Waukee Schools in Waukee, Iowa:

So, you’re thinking about making a career change to teaching? I actually did this 10 years ago at the age of 40. While my undergraduate degree was in Science Education, it had been 17 years since my student teaching experience. Education had changed a bit! Here is my list of things I wish I had done or known about to better prepare me for entering the classroom.

Read educational literature. There are four books that immediately come to mind: “First Days of School: How to Be an Effective Teacher” by Harry Wong & Rosemary Wong; “Fair Isn’t Always Equal” by Rick Wormeli; “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck and “Learning By Doing” by Rick DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker and Thomas Many.

Ask your local administrators and teachers what they are reading in their schools for topics that are essential to your community.

Join a Professional Learning Community. Check out social media sites—especially Twitter. What are educators talking about? What are they sharing? How can you join in on the conversation? A couple of hashtags to check out: #edchat and #edcamp.

Consult with a Financial Planner. I cut my salary in half when I moved from the corporate world to teaching. Yet, my benefit package cost twice as much. It’s important to not put yourself in a financial position that will distract you from doing what’s important - teaching.

Be comfortable with being uncomfortable. You will be uncomfortable. A LOT. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how to handle everything that will come your way. Here’s what I do know: You won’t know everything. A 25-year-old in their second year of teaching will know more than you. You can learn from them. Try new approaches. Learn to laugh at yourself. Forgive yourself.

Use your resources. School is not the same now as when you were there. Get into as many classrooms as you can and observe. Beg, borrow and steal ideas and resources from your co-workers. Use what you know—your experiences and connections.

Leave your ego at the door. Remember, it’s what’s best for kids, not you.

Responses From Readers

Education Realist:

I switched to teaching as a second or third career (mid-40s). Age discrimination is real past the age of 40. It will be harder to find jobs. I’ve always found jobs, but it was very stressful for me for several years until I found a place and settled down. I’m a math teacher, so that always played in my favor. There’s a huge teaching shortage now, so that should help.

I still think it’s a great career move, and I love teaching. But I would not advise spending a ton of money on the credential. I’d also think twice about getting a credential in elementary school or history, two areas that generally have more teachers than needed.

Thanks to Jenny, March, Otis, Peter and Karla, and to readers, for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for this weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

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This Year’s Most Popular Q & A Posts!

Classroom Management Advice

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Implementing The Common Core

Race & Gender Challenges

Best Ways To Begin & End The School Year

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Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

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Parent Engagement In Schools

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Student Assessment

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Professional Development

Teacher Leadership

Administrator Leadership

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