“Application – pen” by Flazingo Photos is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
I’ll take any and all advice connected to finding a first teaching job for a person who is older and career switching. I’m in my late 40s, male, and am now student teaching; I will be officially “on the market” in January 2016. Both my work experience and my degrees prior to earning my teaching certificate are in the same content area for which I’m getting certified. My student teaching experience will have covered both high school and middle school.
Some are telling me that my chances of landing a job could be better if I concentrate on middle school because I’m older and a guy. I start my student teaching experience at a middle school soon, and I’m hoping it goes well. That being said, I find myself more naturally interested in high school. Maybe this will change. I do plan on making myself available as a substitute teacher in the district I’m student teaching in now, but I’m looking for advice on securing a full-time teaching job.
I think you’d be surprised by the number of teachers who entered the profession as a second career, and even more surprised by the number of administrators who do not see extra “life experience” as a liability. To begin the discussion of how to best approach your quest for a teaching job, I offer the advice of two administrators and one second-career teacher.
Insights from Administrators
Earlier this year, I interviewed five administrators to gather job interview advice for teachers. In one of these conversations, middle school principal Penny Sturtevant talked specifically about a second-career applicant who presented their late entry into the field as a plus: “They talked about the enthusiasm they were bringing that a beginner would bring, but they had that experience of someone who had been in the field,” Sturtevant said. “And I thought that was a great line, that I’m getting the best of both worlds, experience and newbie enthusiasm in one person. So if that fits anyone’s bill, I’d take that to the table, because I thought, wow, that’s not something everybody can do.”
Dennis Schug, Principal at Hampton Bays Middle School in Hampton Bays, New York, advises second-career applicants to demonstrate two key skills: (1) the real-world experience they can bring to the classroom, and (2) their expertise, however new it may be, in quality instruction.
“The world is in desperate need of teachers with a vision and skill-set that transcends the classroom walls and the courage to share it,” he says. “Second-career teachers have the potential to add a truly diverse approach to teaching and learning. Think about the premise of Genius Hour. Second-career teachers understand the world needs problem-solvers.
“The challenge I’d expect would be for that person to skillfully balance being a learning specialist as much as, if not more than, being a content specialist; to demonstrate an appreciation for standards and for learning targets. Second-career teachers understand the authentic application of learning that has typically not happened in the traditional school setting. So to me, this means they’re not going to just “stand and deliver.” They have a better understanding of motivation, project-based learning, and arriving at outcomes that demonstrate high-quality work. They could even design meaningful lessons and units in partnership with businesses and companies.” If you can demonstrate this kind of instructional philosophy, your late entry into the profession will more likely be seen as an advantage.
Schug also noted the value of experience with technology, and how this can set one candidate apart from others: “If someone can hand in a digital portfolio, it would stand out as a showcase, setting it apart from the pile of papers. If a 21st century applicant is applying to a 21st century school, then the school leaders who are screening these materials would scoop this right up.” [To learn more about creating a digital portfolio, see this excellent Edutopia piece by Edwige Simon: Do I Need a Digital Teaching Portfolio?]
Advice from a Teacher Who’s Been There
Jay Thompson, a high school English teacher in Licking, Missouri, was hired for his first teaching job at age 45. His advice for getting the job offer?
“Two things,” he says. “First, recognize that whatever else you have done is not even remotely the same as teaching. Humility goes a long way. You are crossing a bridge into a world you don’t know and it’s going to be different on the other side.” Demonstrating that awareness in an interview shows future employers that you’re willing to learn and grow, and it may assuage concerns they have about an older candidate not being teachable.
“But not too much humility,” Thompson is quick to add. “After all, we bring the kinds of real-world skills that schools are trying to develop in their students. So the second thing is this: Bring to bear and take full advantage of all of the previous experiences that brought you to teaching, because they will impact the lives of students in the classroom, they will impact your pedagogy, they will impact everything you do in terms of building relationships, making connections from classroom content and standards to real-world practices. I have leveraged that myself to great advantage. In my own job interview, I emphasized the idea that I know what the real world is like. As a high school English teacher, I can authentically bear witness to the relevance of what we do in the classroom to the corporate world. I was a regional sales manager, covering nineteen states for a nationwide company providing services to major Fortune 500 clients. I know what the 21st century skill demands are. And if you have a track record of real-world experience, you can back up that kind of a statement with concrete examples.”
And Now a Word from Everyone Else…
The posts on this site are made richer and more valuable every day by the people who take time to add their expertise in the comments. So let’s hear your advice! If you are an administrator, tell us what qualities you look for in a second-career teacher, and what these candidates need to focus on. If you yourself are a second-career teacher, talk about what you feel was instrumental in getting hired. Thanks for your help! ♥