When you hear the phrase new teacher, what image pops into your mind? A fresh-faced, young co-ed with stars in their eyes and the energy of a puppy? While it is true that more than 60 percent of new teachers enter the field via traditional, college campus-based undergraduate programs, there has been a growing trend of mature adults entering teaching as a second career. We talked to four teachers who came to the teaching profession later in life about the pros and cons of being an “old” new teacher.
It’s never too late.
Vikki C. first started dreaming of becoming a teacher when she was 12. However, as life sometimes has a way of doing, her path to her dream took a circuitous route. She worked in business for 19 years, followed by a lengthy stint as a stay-at-home mom. Finally, she went back to college at the age of 48. After graduating, she become a first-year teacher at 51.
When Beth Q. was an undergraduate, she fell in love with the little ones at her part-time job at a preschool and stayed on as an aide and then teacher. After starting her family, she returned to the preschool office and volunteered at her kids’ school. Finally, 30 years later she went back to school for her teaching credential. “56 [years old] with my first classroom!” she exclaims, “I’m so glad I didn’t talk myself out of getting my credential because I was ‘too old.'”
Anne W. spent years working as a landscape architect, business owner, and government employee before entering the field of education. She feels that her life experience only makes her a more valuable addition to the profession.
For Kara S., the third time was the charm for becoming a teacher. After turning down a spot in a graduate school program right out of undergrad in favor of working for a few years, she tried again eight years later but found juggling a newborn and an intense graduate program too demanding. She waited until her youngest child went to kindergarten to go back to school full time and finally got her credentials at age 43. “I had to wait for the right time in my life,” she tells us. “I knew I didn’t want to be a teacher unless I was able to commit to being a great teacher.”
Pro: Real-life experience is invaluable.
The greatest advantage of entering teaching as a second career is the diversity and richness of life experience that people bring with them. “I understand how the world outside of education really works,” Vikki C. tells us. “I understand the skills that students need to be successful in the business world and am able to teach those skills to them now. Deadlines for homework equate to deadlines for a project at work. Being at school and being there on time equates to being at work and being there on time. Group work in class equates to teamwork in the business world. Everyone has a boss, and you must do the things they ask you to do even if you don’t want to—same with school and teachers.”
Pro: Second-career teachers bring an innovative approach.
Being a late entry can be a plus, especially if you’ve acquired a savvy viewpoint of the field. “Coming to teaching from another field,” Anne W. shares, “gives me a unique perspective on the teaching profession and a big intolerance for we’ve-always-done-it-that-way thinking. I was trained to be a problem-solver and to analyze thoroughly before taking a particular path. That kind of thinking allows me to think outside the norm, which the profession needs.”
Pro: Experience on the other side of the system provides insight.
Having raised her own children, Vikki C. tells us, gives her an advantage that young people right out of school might not have. “I understand the difference between kids going through a phase and something that might be more than that.” Understanding child development based on your own growing up or academic learning is not quite the same as raising your own children. It’s also easier to understand and work with parents when you are one yourself.
Pro: Second-career teachers possess a mature perspective on life.
“I know not to sweat the small stuff. I’ve lived through good presidents and bad presidents; a great economy and a bad one; and many, many changes in society. I believe that gives me wisdom in helping students become critical thinkers and think for themselves instead of listening to the commentator of the day,” shares Vikki C.
Con: Teaching, especially the first few years, takes a tremendous amount of energy.
One of the negatives of entering teaching later in life can be the reality of the physical and emotional demands of the job. Anne W. tells us, “People outside of the profession have no idea how consuming teaching is. My first year, I worked 80 hours a week from August to February before throwing in the towel and saying I can’t keep up. No one told me I didn’t have to do it all. In fact, I asked my principal what the most important thing to accomplish was, and she said, ‘Everything!’”
Con: Being a newbie can be hard for “old” new teachers.
Being scrutinized by overzealous administrators, most likely many years your junior, can be a hard pill to swallow. Not to mention overcoming the awkwardness of being a newbie for the first time in many years.
“In all honesty,” Vikki C. tells us, “it has not been easy for me. At my age , most teachers are winding down their careers and looking at retirement. I am a third-year teacher and still learning! I just don’t suffer fools or ridiculousness for others like I did when I was younger.”
Pro and Con: People make assumptions based on appearance, and that can affect their expectations.
This can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your situation. Just because you look like a veteran doesn’t mean you have the experience of a veteran. As Kara S. tells us, “It sometimes feels like the expectations are higher for more mature people who become first-year teachers. People look at us, and we look like veteran teachers. A lot of people assume that we know everything a veteran teacher knows, and we don’t get the guidance we need.”
On the other hand, some people have years of valuable experience, just not as a certified teacher. “Probably one of the hardest parts of my job is that my team members, who know that this is my first classroom, also act like it’s my first time with kids,” says Beth Q. “Uh no, I have decades of experience with kids, many of them spent with challenging kids.”
Vikki C. shares another perspective. “Now that I am teaching, I think my age has been an advantage,” she says. “People automatically assume that, because I am older, I have been teaching for 30 years and are less likely to question me or my authority. This has been a plus.”
Entering teaching as a second career has its benefits and risks, like any other change. But for many people, it is a longing of the heart they feel they must follow. Although the demands are significant, for some people, being an “old” new teacher is a leap of faith they are willing to take. As Beth Q. heartwarmingly puts it, “The best part of the job, of course, is the kids. They make me laugh and laugh every day.”
What are your thoughts on teaching as a second career? If you’re thinking about it, we’d love for you to join our WeAreTeachers Chat group on Facebook. WeAreTeachers Chat is a place to post questions, share a laugh or an idea, and connect with new teacher friends.