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Making Education Your Encore Career

Decades ago, you couldn't wait to get out of school. Here's how you can work your way back in.

It's typically a given that age brings experience. But it's a frequent frustration that experience isn't always enough to land a job. That's often the case for older workers who want to pursue teaching as a later-in-life career.

Policies about who is qualified to teach vary greatly by state, municipality, school district, teachers union, and even school. Public schools often have stricter requirements than private schools do, which in turn will have differing criteria depending upon whether they're secular or religious, or in some other way specialized. It isn't uncommon for a 22-year-old college graduate who majored in education to be considered more qualified for a teaching job than a 50-year-old who has some sort of graduate degree on top of work, coaching, and public speaking experience. The deciding factor: The new college grad has official teaching and education credentials, and the “reinventor” doesn't.

"Many school systems remain tied to the model of a single, stand-alone teacher in the classroom and a pathway that marches teachers toward retirement," writes Elizabeth Foster of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future in a new report about encore careers in education for baby boomers. "Changing demographics, combined with current federal support and funding for innovation in education, gives us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to develop a successful workforce that blends veterans and apprentices, full-time employees and consultants, and a diversity of skills and experiences."

There are ways to make education a later-in-life career, both with and without pursuing additional education.

1. Teaching: If you want to be a classroom teacher, start by learning about the requirements of the districts or schools where you might want to work. (Since economic woes are causing many districts to lay off teachers and staff, you may also want to assess the school system's hiring ability.) Private schools generally have more flexibility than public schools do about what certifications and licenses a teacher must have, but the compensation offered by private schools is often less generous than the income and benefits available through public school employment.

If you know you’ll need to earn a teaching certificate, the website All Education Schools provides information specific to the subjects you want to teach as well as links that can help to get you on the track to certification.

Some states offer so-called "alternate route" programs to expedite the certification process for people who have college degrees but don't possess professional experience in education. The website The Apple provides information about taking such routes.

2. Substitute Teaching:
Amazingly enough, many school districts require little more from a substitute teaching applicant than a high school degree and a clean criminal record. On the plus side, with such minimal requirements as a standard, people who have higher-level degrees, work experience, and skills can stand out among the pack when seeking these types of teaching jobs. Doing good work as a substitute could lead to better substitute assignments and even assistance or encouragement in pursuing more formal teaching positions.

3. Teaching as an Adjunct Instructor: Community colleges offer great teaching opportunities for encore careerists, especially for those who have a career-oriented subject specialty that can be taught as a semester-long course. Another benefit: Teaching an occasional course is a way to both use and expand upon your skills without having to make too intense a commitment.

4. School Administration: Encore careerists who don't have and don't want to acquire classroom teaching experience can use their experience in a behind-the-scenes capacity, such as in finance, management, and administrative support. Openings for these types of jobs are typically listed in the employment section of a school system's website. The website has information about both teaching and nonteaching job openings in education.

Retired Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata (see "A Soldier's New Mission") trained for his career transformation at The Broad Superintendents Academy, which is unique in that the program seeks out career reinventors who have the talent and drive for turning around troubled urban school districts. Other nonteaching jobs that schools can use second careerists for include community liaisons, program managers, event planners, fundraisers, grant writers, and volunteer coordinators.

5. Become an Educational Aide, Tutor, or Specialist: The credentialing requirements for teaching assistants and other types of in-school tutors are typically less stringent than what is required of a full-fledged teacher. These types of positions can help you develop a specialty, such as in reading, math, or special education. Similarly, you can gain teaching experience—or simply even do a good deed—by becoming a literacy volunteer or an ESL (English as a second language) instructor. To learn how to help in your area, go to (formerly Literacy Volunteers of America) or do an Internet search specific to your location.

Another route to take is one in which you zero in on your talents and offer just those services. If you were a soccer star in college, offer to coach a school soccer team. If you're an artist or a writer or have stellar foreign language skills, offer to teach a lesson or assist a general education teacher. If you're a scientist or computer programmer, you can pursue becoming a project coordinator (such as for a school's science fair) or a content or curriculum advisor.

Volunteering or working part-time are ways in which you can gain experience and show potential employers what you can do—as you decide whether a later-in-life career in education is really for you.

Tools for Aspiring Teachers

The following organizations and websites are useful resources for pursuing a later-in-life education career.

American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence: A non-partisan non-profit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to recruiting, preparing, certifying and supporting teachers.

Encore Careers: This organization has lots of information about career reinvention, including a useful article called "Speeding Certification for Enclore Teachers."

National Education Association: The NEA teachers union has extensive, state-specific information about teaching as well as articles about issues that impact education.

National Retired Teachers Association: Did you know that AARP was created by a teacher? NRTA, which is part of AARP, has programs and information for age-50+ people who have a passion for learning and want to share their talents with others.

Troops to Teachers: Information geared specifically to how members of the armed forces can pursue teaching as a second career.

U.S. Department of Education: Check out information about the "Transition to Teaching" program and a publication called "Innovations in Education: Alternative Routes to Teacher Certifications."

Other useful resources and organizations include Teach for America, the federal government's Learn and Serve America program and The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation.

Recommendations can also be found in "Talking About Second Careers in Education," which is a transcript of Jane Pauley's live online chat with guests Anthony Tata, chief operating officer of D.C. Public Schools, and Elizabeth Foster of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future.

Additional reporting by Robin D. Cochran and Lindsay Zoldaz