How to Become a Teacher If You’re Switching Career Paths

For most of us, either teachers, parents, or students, the school year has already started! I know I’m happy to be back in person, as I’m sure most parents and students are, as well.

The start of this year came with excitement, but also some nerves for me. I’m going into my fourth year of teaching, but I started this year at a brand new school with a brand new set of students and incoming freshmen. Yikes!

Normally, I start the school year with a student survey so I can get to know my students right away and start building positive relationships with them. Since I am brand new to the school, I decided to add a question on the survey where students could ask me anything. Yes, anything!

Some students asked me basic questions like what my favorite color is, if I have any pets, and where I grew up… But I was shocked by how many students asked me how and why I got into teaching. It made me reflect on my experience completing my teacher training, getting certified, and finding my first teaching job because I didn’t start my journey in education in a traditional way — I went back to school and started all over in my mid-twenties!

Why did I do this? After undergrad, I was on a career path that didn’t align my English degree at all and, in my opinion, wasn’t fulfilling or rewarding. I felt stuck in this field that I kind of fell into unwillingly and knew that I wouldn’t be happy if I did this for the rest of my life.

At this point in my young adult life, I began to reflect on what I wanted to do and what I thought my life’s purpose was. My thoughts were flooded with memories of growing up idolizing my teachers and really respecting them for not only being great teachers, but for helping me grow into a well-rounded person. I wanted to do that for future generations; I wanted to be that inspiration!

Feeling the same way? I’m going to share my journey of going back to school in order to fulfill my dreams of being a high school teacher, the research I put into finding a program, and the steps I took after graduating to attain licensure. My experience switching into education applies to research and licensure done in the United States, so if you’re thinking about going into education in another country, a lot of what I have to share may not apply to you and you may have to do additional research.

1. Look up your state’s requirements for licensure.

In order to do this, you’ll need to go on your state’s Board of Education website to get all of the details, but most states (if not all) require testing of various kinds, a college degree in education, completion of a student teaching internship, and/or completion of the edTPA.

Every state is different, as well as different grade levels sometimes have different requirements for licensure, so it’s important to check these requirements so there isn’t any confusion as you begin your journey in education.

2. Research programs that fit your needs.

If you have a high school diploma and nothing higher, you’re in luck because all you need to find is a bachelor’s program in education that best fits you and your needs. Luckily for you, you won’t have a hard time finding a program as it’s offered at every university in the United States. Keep in mind that some universities have better education programs than others, so that might be something to consider in your search.

If you’re like me and you already have a bachelor’s degree, then you can either enroll in a bachelor’s program if you’re making the switch from a completely different field (like accounting, criminal justice, etc.) or enroll in a master’s program if you have a liberal arts degree (like English, history, etc.).

I’m not sure if this applies to master’s programs for elementary education, but those with liberal arts degrees should be able to apply for a secondary education (middle or high school) master’s program. If you have questions about requirements and whether or not you’re eligible to apply for a master’s program, contact the university’s admissions department.

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3. Apply, apply, apply!

Application processes can be so long and tedious, but I do recommend applying to multiple schools. Like bachelor’s programs, master’s programs can deny your admission, so it’s important to keep your options open.

What will you need to apply for a bachelor’s program? Your high school transcript, proof of completion, letters of recommendation from teachers, and/or a college essay or personal statement. Not all universities require these, but it’s important to know what may or may not be required at the specific universities you plan to apply to.

What will you need to apply for a master’s program? College transcripts, a bachelor’s degree, a passing score on the GRE, a resume and cover letter, and/or professional references. Luckily, some programs (like mine) don’t require applicants to take the GRE, but some do. Again, the admissions department will be able to brief you on all requirements, including whether the GRE is required or not.

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You’ve been accepted! Now what?

  • Complete any entrance exams or other state-required tests. For Illinois specifically, which is where I’m licensed, I had to have passed the Basic Skills/TAP test (or have gotten a certain score on the ACT or SAT) and passed an English language arts content-area test. For a master’s program, you will need to complete these tests as soon as possible, but if you’re in a bachelor’s program, your professors will give you a timeline of when to complete.
  • Meet with your advisor. They will have all of the information on curriculum and class schedules and deficiency courses (applies to master’s programs only), but they’re also available as a mentor.
  • Prepare for your first day. Enroll in your required classes, buy regular school supplies (notebooks, folders, pens/pencils), make sure you have a reliable laptop (I did not and had to purchase a new one in the middle of my program), and purchase or rent assigned textbooks (I purchased mine used and kept them because I still refer to some of the information in them today).

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What can you expect in an education program?

Expect to complete 20-40% of your teacher training in a classroom with a professor and 60-80% out in the field, so make sure you have a reliable form of transportation to get you to class and to the various schools you’ll be observing in. You’ll be observing highly-qualified teachers in your specifically chosen age group, but also in other grade levels to understand adolescent development and to observe best practices among different age groups. You’ll meet together with your classmates and your professors to share what you’re noticing about these teachers’ practices and what makes them effective.

Expect to write A LOT. Along with your clinical observations comes case studies you’ll need to complete on specific, anonymous students regarding different types of learners you could potentially have in your classroom (such as English language learners and diverse learners).

Expect to spend 6 months to a year completing a student teaching internship where you will be the leader in the classroom and you’ll get to practice effective teaching strategies you’ve observed in the field and learned about in class. You’ll work with a cooperating teacher and university sponsor that will guide you and give you constructive feedback throughout your experience.

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Can I work while completing an education program?

If you ask an admissions representative this question, they’ll most likely say that it’s not recommended that you work while completing an education program. However, some of us need to work in order to survive financially. I worked part-time throughout my program (yes, even while student teaching) in order to pay for it because I still had student loans from undergrad that I was paying off. Although it was stressful, I managed to complete my program with an almost perfect GPA.

A majority of my colleagues in the program took out extra student loans in order to pay for school and survive financially so they wouldn’t have to work while working towards their degree. The choice is up to you, but if you do plan to work while going to school, time management, organization, and a planner are necessary skills and things you’ll need on hand!

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You’ve finished your program and graduated! What comes next?

  • Complete and submit your edTPA. Some states require it while other states don’t, and states that do require it have different passing scores (so do your research!). If your state requires this for licensure, you’ll work on your edTPA portfolio throughout your student teaching internship and with the help of your university sponsor, so have no fear! When I had to completed and submitted my edTPA, the passing score in Illinois was a 35/75.
  • Apply for licensure. You should be able to do this directly on your state’s Board of Education website once your university has submitted all of the necessary requirements to prove that you’ve completed the program.
  • Start looking for open teaching jobs! Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end and now it’s time to start your search. If you’re looking to work in a specific district, check their website for open positions that match your type of license and endorsements. You can also find open teaching positions on job boards such as Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and LinkedIn.

Have unanswered questions? Comment below and I’ll try to answer them to the best of my ability!

Thanks for reading!

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