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Tips for Becoming a Teacher in Your Second Career

If you want to switch fields and get into education, you might want to start by enrolling in an alternative certification program

By Victoria Bennett | March 28, 2013

Many people over 50 are intrigued with the idea of switching fields to become a teacher. They want to give back to society by sharing their knowledge and experience and become positive role models to young people.
 
Fortunately, age doesn’t determine who gets hired in this profession. Instead, the subject you want to teach, your state’s teacher certification rules and your commitment to making the switch are the key factors.  
 
To see whether teaching would be a good career choice for you, I recommend taking the free online quiz, Should You Become a Teacher?
 
(MORE: Career Shift: From Radical to Corporate Suit to English Teacher)
 
Where the Jobs Are

These days, math, science and special education teachers are especially in demand. So are foreign language and technical education teachers who prepare students to work in such fields as health, business and hospitality.
 
Finding work as an elementary school teacher can be more challenging, but there’s sometimes a pressing need to find people willing to do the job in districts with low-income students.
 
You can find out where there are teacher shortages in your state by checking out the U.S. Department of Education’s nationwide listing. The most recent breakdown came out in April 2012, so a new version will be published soon.
 
To learn about the teacher certification requirements where you live, visit the Together We Teach site, which has links to every state’s education department.
 
Second-Career Teaching Programs
 
One good way to become a teacher in midlife is by enrolling in a college's alternative certification program; I’m an adviser at one.
 
Alternative certification, which began in the mid-1980s, is a non-traditional way to get into teaching and it’s specifically designed for career changers who didn’t major in education when they went to college. You can find alternative certification programs at colleges in most states.
 
Classes are online and in person. Where I work, alternative certification students prefer the online classes because they suit the schedule of working adults. Our program requires three semesters of coursework and passing three state exams.
 
The specific application rules for each program vary from state to state, but you’ll need to have at least a bachelor’s degree to enroll.
 
Check out the National Center for Alternative Certification website to see if there are programs where you live.

After getting certified, there’s no guarantee you’ll be hired, of course. But I can tell you that many of the graduates over 50 where I work have had success, particularly after we’ve helped them tweak their resumés and practice interview questions. Often, they’ve landed fascinating jobs.

One former nurse is now teaching in a hospital homebound program, offering individual and small group instruction to middle and high school students who are ill and can’t attend school.

Another graduate teaches in the Catholic school her grandchildren attend. Here’s the bonus: The grandkids pay reduced tuition because their grandmother works there.
 
Getting a Job Without Certification
 
There are a few ways to become a teacher without going through the certification process.
 
(MORE: Learn About Teaching as a Second Career)

A number of private schools don't require state licensure, for example. And some private companies hire non-certified teachers to tutor in public schools. Nonprofits may have jobs to teach such specialties as English as a second language or career development.
 
If you’re adventurous, countries like China, Japan and Korea need teachers to teach English to their citizens. Private companies that supply these countries with teachers offer their own training and most don’t require certification.
 
Learning What Teaching Is Like
 
Before going back to school, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with what it means to be a teacher these days so you'll know what to expect.
 
If you have a friend or relative who is in the profession, ask about setting up a classroom visit. Otherwise, you might contact a local school administrator to see if you could shadow a teacher. Private and charter schools often serve a special student population, like the academically talented or kids with specific disabilities, so you may want to reach out to one of them.
 
Alternatively, you could become a school volunteer. This will let you observe teachers while helping out.
 
(MORE: The 7 Top Websites for Nonprofit Jobs)
 
If you do get the job, I hope you will love it, even if the hours are long and the pay isn’t great. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “I really believe that teachers are the heroes of our society.” I agree.

Victoria Bennett has been a career counselor, college instructor and academic adviser. In recent years she has worked in education, helping career changers become teachers. 

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