Teaching as a Second Career: Translating Your Skills and Experience to the Classroom
by Heather Maietta
Educators who began their careers doing something entirely different are often among the best teachers. These seasoned professionals bring a wealth of diverse work experience that lends itself to creative problem-solving and excellent communication skills. According to the American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence, 34 percent of teachers are career changers. Many students benefit from the enthusiasm and positive learning environment that second-career educators offer the classroom.
It’s also an excellent time to make a career switch to teaching. Turnover rates are exceptionally high, meaning most teachers are relatively unexperienced. According to research by Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, the “churn” of new and departing teachers means that the need for dedicated teachers is great. Schools need highly effective teachers who are passionate about supporting the learning of a growing and diverse student population. If this sounds like you, becoming a teacher later in life could be the perfect career path.
Once you’ve researched your state’s education and credential requirements, it’s time to prepare yourself for the process of transitioning careers. You may also be wondering how to create a resume that translates your non-teaching experiences and skills to the classroom (our Resume Templates can help you in that department).
Here’s how to make a career change to teaching and parlaying your previous skills and experience.
1. Identify the why
You’re going to face questions like “what drew you to teaching?” several times during the interview process, so be sure to have a well-polished answer ready, both for cover letters and interviews. Your answer should highlight your passion for teaching and build on your skills and experience. Here’s a sample answer that accomplishes those goals:
I’ve always enjoyed creating a comfortable and inclusive environment where every person feels welcome. In my previous position as team leader, I managed a group of 20 counselors responsible for coordinating day trips for underprivileged youth. My role was to ensure that the counselors felt prepared, supported, knowledgeable and confident. My goal is to bring these skills to the classroom.
2. Find a mentor early
Being the new kid on the block comes with its benefits, and one of them is that more experienced teachers are often willing to lend a helping hand. Take advantage of this support early and often. Having a mentor at the beginning of your teaching career will lessen the burden and isolation of your change and will give you someone to share wins and losses with, as well as ask questions. A good mentor acts as a valuable resource when you have unfamiliar industry questions or the unanticipated workplace culture challenges that often come from entering a new industry.
3. Use your experiences to your advantage
Smart administrators hire experienced teachers with diverse backgrounds in business and industry. They understand that these professionals have real-world perspective that will be valuable to today’s students as they explore their own interests and career paths. Use your cover letter to explain what your experiences have taught you, even if they don’t seem directly applicable to the subject you’re hoping to teach. (You can review our effective Cover Letter Samples for inspiration).
Don’t leave it up to the hiring committee to translate your past work experience into the perfect classroom position ― you need to take charge of convincing them that you’re the best teacher for the job. Here is how to do it:
- Highlight your skills
t’s not too glamorous, but a good portion of being a successful teacher is mastering classroom management. As an educator, you won’t be able to get your students to learn if you’re unable to employ sound classroom management strategies. Here’s where your life experience is so helpful to the teaching profession.Your experiences give you the confidence, maturity and wisdom that will make you an excellent leader in the classroom. In your cover letter, highlight skills that second-career teachers often possess, including problem solving, conflict resolution, flexibility and initiative.
- Show your facilitation skills
Teaching involves facilitation skills. A facilitator constantly listens to and engages the students, pivoting content and conversation, as needed, to help the group understand a lesson or topic. Teachers with strong facilitation skills work to create an environment conducive to learning by modifying curriculum and shifting discussion mid-stream to accommodate the audience.
- Exude positivity
Carol Dweck’s research around fixed vs. growth mindset has led teachers and curriculum designers around the world to incorporate her ideas into their practice. Teaching students how to identify their character strengths is possible with positive thinking and encouragement. Students feel supported when they are introduced to these new and unfamiliar practices if they see their teacher leading the positivity charge.
Young people need role models, advisors and coaches, not just imparters of knowledge. That means you can apply your knowledge to students of all ages. Becoming a teacher is an excellent second career, and it’s something you can do at almost any age.
If you’re hoping to take the leap into a career in teaching, you’ll need application materials that shows you have the experiences and skills to be successful in the classroom. Turn to our Resume Builder and Cover Letter Templates for step-by-step guidance in creating an application that highlights your strengths.