Second Career Teachers

Teaching like many social vocations, such as becoming a police officer or a firefighter, often has its ambitions deeply rooted in our first career aspirations, when little children are asked “what do you want to be when you grow up?” many answer “a teacher”.

Often that’s due to a great teacher inspiring them to enter the profession without which, there would be no other professions. After all, a life without education is a life without options.

However, a growing number of new teacher recruits are not new grads fresh out of university, without much practical childcare or life experience behind them. A new wave of teachers are second career teachers, those later in life who decide after a career in industry, business, or a range of other professions that their true calling is in helping others to reach their full potential.

There are a lot of benefits to being young when embarking on a career in the classroom, you certainly need energy, a joy for life, resilience, positivity and some degree of idealism, to cope with government directives, paperwork demands, administrative deadlines and unruly students. But there is also a lot to be said for teachers who enter the classroom after spending some time pursuing other careers.

In fact, The Telegraph boldly states that the best teachers are over 50 years of age.

For some returning to the classroom was inevitable, and was preceded by a career elsewhere simply due to the relatively low wages teaching offers, as Julie, aged 46, a teacher from New Jersey states:

“I rebelled against the idea of becoming a teacher because it’s what everyone always said I should do. I ended up working in marketing for 15 years but I found myself daydreaming about being a teacher more and more. I was turned off by the salary too, especially because it was much less than most of my friends were making.”

After years spent making more money but feeling unfulfilled, she returned to school, became certified as a teacher and has been teaching now for two years.

“It’s every bit as affirming as I knew it would be. The classroom is where I am meant to be- it’s my home”.

New teachers with experience in other careers bring with them transferrable skills that can benefit their students and schools. Because of this, second career teachers entering the profession often progress to positions of leadership quickly, resulting in increased responsibility, status and remuneration.

Often new young teachers complain that they don’t feel respected by parents, especially if they are younger than them and don’t have children of their own. In this respect teachers entering the profession later in life have an easier transition, their experience in the working world, including often having grown children of their own affords some level of respect and admiration from parents and colleagues.

Second career teachers should remember:

Stay humble.

Teaching is a career of lifelong learning for you and your students. You have much to offer but must keep up to date on research, take advice from experienced educators, remain curious and maintain an open and evolving sense of self improvement.

Your skills are transferrable. 

The knowledge and expertise you have developed in industry can benefit your students and inform your practice. Obviously connections can be made if you have worked in a field that directly relates to an academic subject, for example an former Engineer teaching Science. But even career choices that don’t seem at first glance to have much in common with a future in Education can offer skills and experiences that enrich your classroom.

For instance, former managers will find they already have people skills and understand meeting project deadlines, addressing groups of students will come easy to those who are well versed in public speaking through leading team meetings and making presentations. Identifying those transferrable skills you currently possess and have developed over your career can make the transition from the boardroom to the classroom all the more seamless.

It’s never too late.

Wherever you are in your career or whatever life stage you are at, if you have the drive and will to improve opportunities for the students in your care then it’s the perfect time to teach. If you are undecided on whether teaching is the (second) career for you, try taking this free online test.

For more information on ways you can break into teaching as a second career see alternative certification programs available at many training facilities.

Fiona Tapp, is a Freelance Writer, Educator and Mom. An Expert in the field of Pedagogy, a teacher of 13 years and Master’s Degree holder in Education. Take a look at her website or blog to connect.

Harvard University

Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning


Higher Education Teaching Certificate

Deepen your understanding of higher-order teaching practices and broaden your skill set while creating a unique and inclusive strategy for your specific context.