Five Biggest Roadblocks to Transitioning into TeachingCathy Vandewater | Community Manager and Senior Editor, Teach.com
Take teaching; the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics indicate that a growing number of teachers aren’t entering the classroom straight from college. Instead, they are transitioning into teaching after pursuing careers elsewhere. Yet, as many educators will attest to, teaching is no “fallback” career. Just the path to becoming a teacher is challenging, with potential roadblocks in the form of qualifications, licensing, job-hunting and more.
For university administrators who work with non-traditional students, it is especially important to be aware of the difficulties that face these aspiring educators so that you can better ensure that those students make it from your classrooms to their classrooms. Below are five of the biggest roadblocks that teachers face on their way to their new careers, as well as suggestions for how administrators can make that journey a little less bumpy.
Roadblock 1: Don’t have the right education
Previous careers tend to come with their own educational qualifications, which aspiring teachers may fear will not translate into their new positions in the classroom—but this may not be the case. According to Teach.com, most states only require educators to hold a bachelor’s degree. If this degree is in education, all the better. Our aspiring teacher should be able to move onto the mandatory testing phase of certification (see roadblock number two). But if that bachelor’s degree isn’t in education, it’s not necessarily the end of the road. Many positions, especially in secondary education, require applicants to demonstrate content knowledge in the subject they’re looking to teach, and a bachelor’s degree qualifies nicely.
Should your students fret about how their prior education will fit into their new careers as teachers, make sure they’re aware of their options. Chances are that the job they’re leaving behind is still shaping the type of teacher they’d like to be, such as with the lawyer who leaves the courtroom to teach civics or the pharmaceutical researcher who leaves the lab to teach chemistry. In such cases, professional experience is a valuable asset, not a liability. And even for those looking to make a dramatic turn—say, the police officer who wants to become a kindergarten teacher—there’s always the option of starting from a fresh slate, like with a Master of Arts in Teaching, which offers both a pedagogic foundation as well as the necessary qualifications. Aspiring educators who’ve already earned their master’s may want to consider pursuing a Doctorate of Education to open up opportunities in administration, organizational change, edtech or curriculum planning.
Roadblock 2: Confused by the certification process
Teacher certification in the United States is extremely fractured, with each state government dictating local criteria through its own department of education. This hodgepodge of requirements is further complicated by those departments’ typically archaic websites and byzantine processes. The results are enough to drive anyone mad.
Thankfully, there are some resources to help. Teacher Certification Map is a state-by-state guide to the licensing process for educators across the country. It helpfully breaks down the criteria necessary to become a teacher in each state, from prerequisite coursework to educational requirements to standardized testing to application materials. Additionally, there is the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification’s Interstate Agreement, which allows teachers certified in one state to work in another (provided those states are signatories of the agreement). Make sure that your aspiring teachers are aware of both of these resources to spare them some major headaches.
Roadblock 3: Can’t afford or find time for teacher education programs
While understanding the process of becoming a teacher may be a challenge in itself, the real difficulty remains going through that process. Teacher education programs require both time and money, which tend to be in short supply.
There are a variety of ways to approach these challenges. For aspiring educators in financial straits, the United States Department of Education provides federal student aid, as well as a Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program; state departments of education may also be sources of aid. For those looking to teach, but currently saddled with professional or personal obligations, non-traditional education programs could make the most sense. Many well respected universities are now offering online Master of Arts in Teaching programs that allow students to earn their degrees on their own time and without relocating. If earning a paycheck while training is a concern, teachers-to-be may also want to consider alternative certification programs, like Teach for America, which focus on giving educators the tools they need to succeed while they’re actively working in the classroom. Financial burdens and demands on our time abound, but university administrators can help relieve these weights by ensuring students take full advantage of the assistance and opportunities available.
Roadblock 4: Challenged by changing standards
Common core curriculum, teacher evaluations, charter schools—a whirlwind of reform is changing education in the United States, including how teachers are trained and the conditions in which they work. The specifics seem to vary with each election, so it’s no wonder that aspiring educators are nervous about their prospects of weathering the storm. Even veteran teachers have come to resent the ceaseless reforms, with 58 percent of educators recently surveyed by Education Week saying they’ve experienced too much change.
While university administrators can admittedly do little to ensure that these changes are for the best, they can help their students stay in the know. Local school boards and teachers’ unions are perhaps the best outlets to turn to for details about coming reforms. Encourage teachers-in-training to make contact early and to keep in touch to stay abreast of the new policies and practices that may affect their careers.
Roadblock 5: Can’t find a position!
In perhaps the most frustrating of all roadblocks, once aspiring educators have doggedly met the challenges of earning their qualifications and securing their credentials, they can be blindsided by the lack of available teaching positions. Unfortunately, reverberations in the economy have in the past forced cash-strapped states and municipal governments to tighten their belts, leading to budget cuts that reduced public school jobs from 2008 to 2014, according to The New York Times. Fortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment of primary and secondary school teachers has been growing since 2016 and will do so through 2026.
University administrators can help newly minted educators who are having difficulty finding teaching positions in a number of ways. From Monster to Indeed, there has been a proliferation of job-hunting websites that may help. The US Department of Education also hosts promising resources, including a search engine for local schools. As previously mentioned, local school boards and teachers’ unions may also hold valuable insight. Lastly, if your universities doesn’t already have relationships with nearby schools where it places teachers for the student-teaching portion of their training, building those connections could be the surest way of ensuring your graduates are ending up where they should be: right back in the classroom—their classroom.
Advice for Success
Although the list of roadblocks to transitioning into teaching may be long and intimidating (the above is, unfortunately, only a small sample), there are substantial ways that university administrators can help students navigate their career paths. Step one is understanding the difficulties they face. The above doesn’t apply to all educators everywhere, especially as school systems are shaped so much by local circumstances.
Talk to your prospective students about their worries, your current students about their challenges, and recent graduates about their hardships. You’re sure to get an earful, but you can’t maneuver around roadblocks if you don’t know where they are.
Author Perspective: Analyst