10 Steps to Making a Career Change To Teaching

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, teaching as a second career is so common that there are entire teaching certification programs designed specifically for your 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 University of Massachusetts Global.

“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.”

10 Steps to Transition to Teaching

Transitioning careers can be an incredibly rewarding decision. It allows you to make a profound impact on the lives of young learners while bringing fresh perspectives and experiences to the classroom. However, making this transition requires careful planning and dedication. Consider the following advice on how to make a career change to teaching.

1. Reflect On Your Motivation

Before embarking on a career switch to teaching, it's crucial to reflect on your motivations and goals. Teaching is not just a job; it's often a calling. Ask yourself:

  • Why do I want to become a teacher?
  • What aspects of teaching interest me the most (e.g., subject, age group, teaching style)?
  • What unique skills and experiences can I bring to the classroom?

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 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 did you enjoy, what did you detest, and how would you have done it differently if you were the teacher? Consider the times you’ve worked with children, adolescents, and young adults.

“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."

2. Spend Time in the Classroom

If you’re considering teaching as a second career 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 theater, sports, knowledge bowl, etc.
  • Become a substitute teacher.
  • Volunteer or work as a teacher’s aide.

3. 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:

  • Early childhood education (ages 3-4): Early childhood educators, also known as Pre-K teachers, create a stimulating and supportive environment to prepare children for their educational journey. Their focus spans social and emotional development, fostering vital skills like cooperation, empathy, and expression. Language, communication, motor skills, and early literacy are at the core of curriculum for this age group. Teachers utilize storytelling and games to encourage writing, problem solving, language acquisition, and a love for reading.
  • 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 to prepare students for the “single-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.
  • 4. Research Educational Requirements

    If you’re serious about going back to school for a career in teaching, 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 dedicated time, resources, and effort.

    The path to transition to teaching varies depending on your location, your previous education history, and the age level of you wish to teach. Here are the general steps needed for a second career teacher:

  • Bachelor's Degree: Most teaching positions require at least a bachelor's degree in teaching. If your current degree isn't in education, don't worry; many programs offer pathways to teaching for those making a career switch.
  • Teacher Credentials: In order to teach in the state of California, you will need to obtain the proper credentials. This typically involves completing educator preparation programs and passing exams. Many programs offer flexible options for working professionals.
  • Master's Degree: Consider pursuing a master's degree in education program to enhance your qualifications and open up additional career opportunities. 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.

    UMass Global offers five different MAT programs where you can earn your master’s degree along with a specific California Teaching Credential, such as a Multiple Subject Credential (for elementary schools), a Single Subject Credential (for middle or high schools), or a Preliminary ECSE Credential (early childhood special education). This is a great way for individuals in California looking to transition to teaching, as you can earn a teaching master’s along with the credentials you need to actually be cleared to teach. Our MAT programs include:

  • MA in Teaching, Elementary Education with 2042 Multiple Subject Credential 
  • MA in Teaching, Preliminary ECSE Credential 
  • MA in Teaching, Preliminary Education Specialist with Extensive Support Needs Credential 
  • MA in Teaching, Preliminary Education Specialist with Mild to Moderate Support Needs Credential 
  • MA in Teaching, Secondary Education with 2042 Single Subject Credential 

    Our programs focus 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.

    5. Focus on Networking and Professional Development

    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.

    Building a network within the education field is also pivotal for success as a second-career teacher. Attend educational conferences, join teacher organizations, and engage with educators in your community. Networking can provide valuable mentorship, job leads, and a deeper understanding of the teaching profession. Outside of engaging with teachers in your local community, attend conferences and join larger educator organizations.

    6. Prepare Your Resume and Cover Letter

    As a seasoned professional transitioning into teaching, it's essential to highlight transferable skills and experiences that demonstrate your adaptability and passion for education. Begin your resume with a compelling summary that conveys your career switch and your dedication to fostering student growth. Emphasize any relevant certifications, such as teaching credentials or specialized training, while also showcasing your prior work experiences that bring unique perspectives and real-world knowledge into the classroom.

    In your cover letter, articulate your motivation for choosing a second career in teaching, emphasizing your commitment to creating a supportive and engaging learning environment. Tailoring your application materials to the specific school or district you're interested in will further demonstrate your genuine interest in the position, setting you on a promising path towards a fulfilling second career in education.

    7. Search for Jobs and Prepare for Interviews

    Begin your job search by exploring online job boards, school district websites, and local educational institutions. This is also a great time to utilize your new educator network for promising leads, and to get your resume prioritized in the application pool.

    To prepare for interviews, start by researching the school or district thoroughly to understand its values, mission, and educational philosophy. Practice answering common teaching-related interview questions and be ready to share specific examples that showcase your ability to connect with students, manage classrooms effectively, and contribute to a positive school culture.

    Additionally, be prepared to discuss your genuine enthusiasm for teaching and your eagerness to embark on this new chapter, conveying your dedication to making a meaningful impact on students' lives as a second-career teacher.

    8. Remain Patient

    A career change to teaching can come with unique challenges. Finding the right job opportunity, adapting to a new work environment, and building relationships with students and colleagues may take time. It's about recognizing that each student is unique and may require different approaches to learning and support.

    Patience also involves being empathetic and maintaining a calm demeanor when faced with challenges, whether it's handling school leadership issues or helping struggling students. The learning curve may be steep, but the journey will be rewarding when you see your students reach their goals and thrive in and outside of the classroom.

    9. Enroll In Continuing Education

    Courses Continuing education courses for teaching are a vital component of your development journey. These courses provide the opportunity to stay up to date with the latest teaching methods, technologies, and educational trends. Continuing education courses also enable teachers to adapt to the changing needs of diverse student populations and stay attuned to best practices in education.

    Whether it's exploring innovative techniques or gaining a deeper understanding of educational psychology, these courses empower teachers to continuously improve their skills, ultimately benefiting coworkers and students in the ever-evolving landscape of education.

    10. Consider Specialization

    Considering specialization as a second-career teacher is a strategic choice that can greatly enhance your impact in the classroom. As you gain experience and confidence in your new teaching role, you may find areas of education that particularly resonate with you, whether it's special education, English as a Second Language (ESL), STEM, or a specific subject.

    Specializing allows you to deepen your expertise in a specific area, better cater to the unique needs of student populations you enjoy working with the most, and potentially open up new career opportunities within education. It also demonstrates your commitment to ongoing professional development and can make you a sought-after expert in your chosen field.

    Make a Difference in the Classroom — Teaching Degree Programs at UMass Global

    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 the University of Massachusetts Global's Teaching Programs now.

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