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Talking About Second Careers in Education

If you missed the live online chat with Jane and her guests, Elizabeth Foster and Anthony Tata, you can catch the conversation here.

Today's participants:

Jane Pauley, AARP's "Your Life Calling" Ambassador

Elizabeth Foster, Director of Strategic Initiatives, National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future

Anthony Tata, Chief Operating Officer, Washington, D.C., Public Schools

Online visitors to

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Jane Pauley: Welcome everyone! Thanks for joining us this afternoon. I hope you found our Today show segment this morning featuring retired Army Brig. Gen. Anthony Tata as inspiring as I do. At first blush, Tony’s “second act” as the chief operating officer of the D.C. Public School system might seem a bit unpredictable. However, given that both his parents are retired educators and he has a strong desire to continuing serving his country, it doesn’t surprise me! I think many people in mid-life think about doing something in the field of education.

My guest this afternoon is Elizabeth Foster, the director of strategic initiatives for the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. She's here to tell us that baby boomers are needed in our schools but not necessarily as classroom teachers. Good afternoon, Elizabeth. Thanks for joining us. We're also joined by Anthony Tata, the subject of today's "Your Life Calling" segment.

Elizabeth Foster:  Thank you for hosting this important discussion.

Pauley: I'd like to get things kicked off with a question to Anthony Tata. As we noted in today's segment, you're a fellow of the Broad Superintendents Academy. How important has your nine months of training from the Broad Superintendents Academy been to your current career?

Anthony J. Tata: Good morning Jane and team. By seeking and participating in education training I've been able to identify the relevant skill sets from my previous career and hone them for use in my new career. The training has helped me reorient my focus on my new mission, identify existing talents and learn new information. It helps me make the best possible impact.

Foster: I would add that training is a critical component for anyone switching careers to work in education. Some schools and districts have mid-career programs, and community colleges are great resources as well. Individuals need training in classroom management, pedagogy, working with teams, and with students with special needs. Even the most brilliant scientist might need some help conveying science to a student.

Tata: The Broad Academy is a highly competitive program, and they finance both the executive-level  Superintendents Academy and the Residency Program, which focuses on mid careerists.

Comment from Dominique: How ready are we to begin a meaningful third chapter of our lives? On the eve of my 60th birthday, I'm looking for meaningful opportunities to serve my community. As a former teacher and holder of a master's degree in education in counseling, I'm looking for guidance in getting started. I live in Scottsdale, and since we moved here from Canada 15 years ago I've been active on numerous school committees, including site-based as well as much volunteering while my children were in school. Any suggestions would be welcomed.

Foster: What a great resource for your local schools you could be! Contact your local school about mentoring and tutoring opportunities, coaching roles, project-based learning teams or content specialist positions.

Pauley: Elizabeth, we're getting an awful lot of great questions that indicate people are looking for creative ways to be involved in schools that aren't necessarily at the blackboard, standing where the teacher stands. Could you elaborate on some of the other kinds of roles that people can play either in full-time careers, part-time jobs or as volunteers?

Foster: I'm so glad you asked about new roles in schools. Schools and districts are increasingly creating flexible roles for boomers to contribute. The strategy we are piloting is one in which boomers work in learning teams with teachers, so they work part-time during the school years and contribute what the teachers say they need.

Comment from Bob K.: I'm currently active in the Army, ready to retire and interested in teaching high school math, but the Troops to Teachers program seems to be a bit restrictive. Are there any other programs you would recommend?

Tata: There is so much happening in education reform right now, and training is critical. The complexity of how we educate children has grown significantly as the focus shifts from classrooms to educating individual children. If someone with a background in education wants to return to the field, there are multiple venues, such as Teach for America, applying with local public school districts, applying to charter schools, or seeking employment in a central office. Someone with significant experience could even become a Master Educator, a position that's in high demand nowadays.

Foster: Bob, Troops to Teachers is a great program, and there are many other programs for mid-careerists, such as The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, Serve America grants for mid-career changers, and also many alternative licensure programs through the state departments of education (especially in math). Check out for a great profile on a retired military person who's working to develop innovative school programs in South Carolina.

Comment from Jeff: I am a 61-year-old sales executive and my job was recently eliminated. I've repeatedly been told by people that I'd be a great teacher. My wife is an educator and whenever I bring up the topic of teaching, she tells me that I don't have the credentials. My forty years’ experience coaching sales people and inspiring customers to action makes me feel as if I indeed am qualified to teach interpersonal skills and sales training. I think a community college would be great. I have a bachelor's degree in business. What credentials do I need to make this a reality?

Foster: Schools are increasingly realizing that they need to do things differently because more than half of the current teaching workforce is approaching retirement.

Pauley: Hi, Jeff. You have a lot of experience that could make a great teacher. But I think you'd agree that a teacher with a lot of experience might have a successful career in your field too, but would probably need some special training to be optimally effective. It's my totally civilian opinion that we underestimate what it takes to be a professional in the classroom and that those of us who would like to teach should expect to sit in a classroom somewhere and be taught classroom management, curriculum development, etc.

Foster: Regarding the credentials question, you may want to find out if you actually want to teach. Having other people tell you that you would make a good teacher does not give you much support once you're working in a school. There may be other roles for you to help in education; teaching is not the only role for boomers. Explore other opportunities: helping local schools manage their budgets, acting as a COO, raising funds, etc. Often—as we saw in the example of General Tata –schools need consulting help with purchasing, financial management, teaching communication and team-building skills.

Tata: Jeff and Bob are exactly the types of folks we are looking for. They are motivated and want to make the transition. This is where training comes into the picture. Classroom management, data and accountability, and other skill sets are keys to becoming an effective teacher. Different programs help train this. The Troops to Teacher program offsets costs of obtaining certification and in some states has priority placement. Teach for America and other programs offer these training opportunities as well.

Pauley: Elizabeth, does Teach for America have a program that would be available to people in mid-career or at the end of a first career?

Foster: Teach for America has a program specifically for mid-career switchers called the "Teaching Fellows." It is worth a look, but for more sustained and supportive training, it's a good idea to find a residency program in which you are matched with an experienced teacher as a mentor and get guided classroom experience as well as training and coursework.

Tata: Jane, this is exactly why you're doing this show. Teach for America and other such programs do focus on younger teachers directly out of college, but there is a huge capacity of talented, passionate individuals who want to begin their second act in education that could help us solve many of the issues we face in education today.

Comment from Bob K.: Thanks for your suggestions. I will research the programs you listed.

Comment from Pam S.: A person with a bachelor’s degree in any field is qualified to substitute teach. This is a good way to see if teaching is a career you would like. I did this and was offered a permanent job, providing that I acquired my teaching credentials within one year.

Pauley: I wonder if we have some conflicting values here. On one hand, reinvention experts all agree that trying out a career first is the smart first step. On the other hand, the idea of sampling a career at the expense of a classroom full of children who will not get that day of education back might not be in their best interests. How do we resolve this values conflict?

Foster: Subbing can be a good way to get your feet wet if you're thinking of pursuing teaching as a career. But it's very important to remember that the larger issue is that the chronic teacher turnover problem creates the need for the subs. This costs the country $7 billion a year and greatly hinders students’ ability to learn and make progress, especially in high-need, high-poverty schools.

Comment from Andrea G.: Teachers are now needed more as learning facilitators than conveyors of specific information. What is missing from our educational system is helping youngsters to see themselves more dimensionally. They need more guidance to help them interpret the fast changing world and to perceive where they can fit. As elders, we tend to have sharper "big picture skills" to offer.

Pauley:  I have a question for Elizabeth: Is Andrea describing an actual job? Do school systems employ such people?

Foster: Teachers are increasingly becoming learning facilitators and new roles are emerging, but the schools need to do more to facilitate this flexibility. There is the traditional role of the guidance counselor—for which you would need additional training and a degree—but schools like New Tech High, Inside-Out Centers for Learning in South Carolina, and others focus on the skills that prepare students for success in life.

Pauley: How do you train for a role such as the one you describe? I'm a good advice-giver. That doesn't make me qualified to have an office at any school in the country today. What kind of training would make me an effective counselor in a school?

Tata: I think it's important to note that school systems across the country are trying to implement stringent teacher evaluations to identify excellent teachers and those who are not performing. These tools allow principals and superintendents to make personnel decisions more rapidly and ensure that children have the highest quality teachers in their classrooms.

Foster:  I am not an expert on school counselors, but one of the successful guidance roles we have seen is a project advisor, who brings students to their place of work and talks to them about the skills they need to learn in school that will help them become successfully employed. Training in this case would include courses in adolescent development, teaching techniques, and learning styles.

Comment from Chris W.: I am a 59-year-old IT professional with 20+ years IT experience, plus almost 20 years in logistics, classroom instructor, quality, and factory floor management. But I have no degree. I'm willing to take additional training but reluctant to tackle a four-year degree. What opportunities exist for highly qualified people with no pedigree?

Foster: You might be interested in Civic Ventures' "Next Chapter Initiative" in which community colleges offer programs to guide mid-career switchers into education.

Tata: Information Technology skills are one of the most valued skill sets in school districts right now because of the rapidly changing nature of IT. Hiring practices will vary from district to district, but I will take a highly qualified technician who doesn't have a college degree over someone with a degree but no technical skills any day. If you were a job applicant in this district, I would be looking for you to demonstrate your understanding of data warehousing, information systems, dash boarding, and infrastructure into the classroom. Also, if you have any experience in instructional technology that would be an added benefit.

Comment from Pam S.: Chronic teacher turnover is a HUGE problem! I was 40 (second career) when I acquired my teaching credentials. I taught for six years and quit. The "eye of the educational hurricane" in my opinion goes far beyond the classroom, teacher, administration and community. The first educators are the parents and for the most part they have relinquished their responsibility to the "system." Very few parents are involved, and they do not set high expectations for their children’s education.

Foster: Parent and community involvement is a major issue, but schools are just as responsible for the disconnect as families are. Schools often exclude working parents, single parents, and parents who can't be at the school at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday. It sounds like with your understanding of both sides you could be a good parent-teacher liaison and figure out ways to reach out to uninvolved parents and create a stronger school-family-community alliance. Teachers and schools need to engage with parents in order to find out exactly what their expectations are for their kids. In many cases parents have very high expectations but don't know how to communicate with the teachers (or are intimidated by the school environment, especially in urban communities). Just something to consider as you build your new alliances.

Pauley: Pam, we love your question. I think you and I are on the same page.

Foster: Let's not forget that boomer teachers as coaches, mentors, content advisors, data analysts, etc. often take on part-time roles in schools. These are existing roles for veteran teachers that require a limited amount (40 to 60 hours) of training and practice before they "downshift" into a more flexible role. The Milwaukee Teacher Education Center is a great model of this working well with schools and especially with new teachers who thrive with the additional support.

Comment from Pam S.: Elizabeth, point well taken. I look forward to a new career at 53. I just graduated from the community college with a degree in physical therapy. Third time is a charm for me! I look forward to working one-on-one with special needs children.

Comment from Linda: Can you tell us a little more about New Tech High and Inside-Out Centers?

Foster: New Tech Highs develop their curriculum and lessons around technology projects. They started in Indiana but are expanding across the country. They have their own teacher training program and support system but they are public schools, often creating new classrooms with flexible walls, focus on computer literacy and presentation. They're great places for boomers with content knowledge in math, science, and technology to contribute.

Comment from Pam M.: Hi Jane. What a breath of fresh air it was to see you on the Today show once again and especially timely for me. In short, I excelled in academics and athletics in both high school and college and carried that winning combination into corporate America, working in sales and marketing for several Fortune 500 companies. The problem was for me—and as your report shared, is for many—I always felt I was living someone else’s dream for me and listening to a general consensus of what would deem me a “success.” Recently, I had a health-related wake-up call that has only reinforced my gut feeling that I know I can make a difference and be happier utilizing my God-given talents toward helping others. That’s where I need some advice. I’ve been concerned for quite awhile about the inactivity of our youth, from as early as grade school, and the rapid rise of child obesity across our country. At 49, and still in very good shape, I would love to be able to work in a program, such as Mrs. Obama’s movement to get kids moving, where I could share my enthusiasm about the importance of physical activity and the lifelong benefits that result. Although I don’t expect a “corporate” salary, I still need to pay the bills. I have never written to a celebrity in my entire life, so please know how important this is to me. Having grown up with you on our kitchen TV I know I can count on you for some good advice.

Tata: Pam, congratulations on a successful career. If you think about the impact you made in your first career, just think of the impact you will make doing something you actually love and feel called to do. Plus you will feel tremendous personal satisfaction fulfilling your life’s calling. I would recommend getting involved in a school food service program initially. Here in D.C. Public Schools we are taking the First Lady's guidance and attempting to make in an impact on obesity in all 127 of our schools by changing the menus, adding farm-to-school initiatives, and increasing whole grains, among other things.

Foster: Inside-Out Centers for Learning in South Carolina are pilot schools that create strong collaborations with their communities. Services for boomers and others in the community are co-located at the schools, as are health and dental services, counseling programs, drug-free training, etc. There are only two in South Carolina but they are very strong, despite the terrible budget hits they've taken lately, and their goal is to expand throughout the state and beyond.

Comment from Sharon S.: Anthony, your idea is very sensible, and yet as administrators we're bound by many certification issues that prevent us hiring great people like Chris. This a great place to start reforming systems for the benefit of children.

Pauley: Is certification something different than getting a four-year degree? Maybe Chris does need certification but doesn't need a four-year degree. How might he get such certification, Anthony?

Tata: Certainly certifications are important. If someone has been in the IT industry for some time, we will be looking for how serious he or she is about the trade with skill sets such as MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator), CISSP, which is a security certification, A+ (all tech support folks tend to have this), and Project Management Professional (PMP). Again, I will look for these certifications before a four-year degree, as they are indicators of lifelong learning and seriousness about one's profession.

Foster: Most schools and districts require a bachelor's degree for a certification. This has historically been a gatekeeping measure, but your question indicates how it may be out of date. Local LEAs can be flexible to some degree, so you should explore locally. The IT experience can also be valuable in other ways—for the administration, for instance.

The larger point is great. It is really time to start reforming the school system to benefit children's learning. The outdated model of a single teacher standing up in front of all the students and expected to manage the myriad information sources and resources is not working—and doesn't allow schools to take advantage of the millions of talented boomers eager to contribute to student learning (NASA scientists, retiring engineers).

Comment from Cal H: I think it's important to note that each state makes its own decisions on teacher preparation. Some states are leading the way in alternative licensure, such as California and Florida. But even these programs understandably require at least a bachelor's degree. A fantastic program that allows candidates to have some time in the classroom before committing to teaching is the EnCorps Teacher Program out of California. And Virginia's community college system offers a very flexible training, including night, weekend, and online coursework, which does take into account a person's previous education.

Foster: Cal, you are right about certification varying by state, but it is important to remember that the quality of programs also varies. Both programs you mention are strong. Boomers should investigate the success of placing teachers and of those teachers staying in the profession. We need to increase our focus on preparing teachers well and thoroughly as well as quickly and flexibly. It does not help the profession or the students if mid-career changers leave as frequently as all new teachers. We lose a third of new teachers in the first three years.

Pauley: The Broad program that you went through, Anthony, was very selective. The higher our standards, the more being an educator is a professional calling. What are the programs that are the most demanding of people, not necessarily the easiest to get into, but the ones that will make me a true professional in the field?

Tata: The higher our standards for gaining entry into the education profession, the better our student achievement will be. We have programs such as the Broad Superintendents Academy that has 650 applicants and selects 10 to 15 fellows and the Broad Residency program with similar recruitment numbers. School districts across the country are raising standards and increasing evaluation metrics on teachers and administrators, which truly makes education a profession and/or a calling with an increased body of standards that serves a purpose beyond one's self.

Pauley: Well it looks like we've run over our time limit by 15 minutes. So many great questions and comments! Thank you so much for participating as part of our “Your Life Calling” series on NBC's Today show and here on Elizabeth and Anthony, thanks so much for your contributions. I hope you enjoyed being here as much as I have.

Catch me again June 8 on the Today show, where I’ll be bringing you another great story about someone who is hearing his or her life calling in a new and different way. Stay tuned to for more resources and inspiring stories on reinvention. See you next time!