Are you planning to switch careers to teaching? Navigating this career change can be challenging—especially if you don’t have related experience. However, a successful transition is possible if you are willing to conduct research, ask for professional advice, and reflect on your personal and professional goals.
If you’re ready to start the process of considering a career change to education, here’s a closer look at how you can determine whether this career is right for you.
A desire to make an impact is another common reason to switch careers to teaching. Educators shape learning environments, and their support and dedication can leave a lasting impression on students and their families. That’s why teaching often appeals to people who had positive educational experiences in the past. This often results from uplifting mentorship or having children who greatly benefitted from compassionate teachers.
Another common reason people make this career change is the need to make an impact. “From my experience, a lot of our career changers come from the corporate world,” says Priscilla Boerger, program director of Regis College’s Master’s in Teaching Special Education. “They just want to do something that's more meaningful.”
However, not all prospective teachers should consider special education without a better understanding of the personality it takes to succeed in this field. According to Boerger, some of these characteristics include:
These traits are particularly important because many classroom disruptions in special education require more time and effort to diffuse and eventually solve. “We look for these things because we want the students and teachers in the classrooms to be successful,” continues Boerger.
If you are confident in this career change considering these common reasons and personality traits of successful special education teachers, here’s an overview of the steps you need to take to change careers.
Switching careers to teaching takes time and commitment, but the high demand for passionate educators has led to more flexibility in pursuing this career path. In the aftermath of the pandemic, aspiring teachers have even more options to leverage their existing degrees and experience to effectively transition into education.
Here are the most common steps career changers should take to start teaching.
Consider who and what you want to teach, and then find out the state requirements for your desired role. For example, special education teachers have to develop more advanced support and assessment skills that might require a specialized undergraduate degree—depending on the state. The grades and subjects you plan to teach also determine which exams you must pass for certification. Preschool, K-12, and high school grade levels all have their own requirements because students have different developmental benchmarks at various ages.
Simply knowing the subject material isn’t enough though. Teachers have to be excellent at:
These skills can help teachers assess student needs and ensure they receive the right support. “You can be book smart, but until you actually see how it's done right, it is more challenging,” says Boerger. In this case, talking to current teachers or observing a classroom is a great way for you to understand what it really takes to succeed in the role.
Do you have transferable skills, relevant professional experience, or previous education that would be beneficial for a teaching career? Even if a radical career change is your goal, you’re more likely to find teaching rewarding if you can draw upon your knowledge and feel confident in the classroom. Having a relevant degree or past teaching experience may also shorten your path to becoming an educator.
Get teaching experience under your belt as soon as possible, whether it’s tutoring, internships, or volunteer work. “We get our students out into classrooms early to start observing,” Boerger explains. “In both undergrad and special ed, they have to do pre-practicum hours where they go in and observe,” Boerger explains. “Those hours are attached to certain courses.” Exposing yourself to a real-world teaching environment will help you decide if this career is truly a good fit. And, as you progress in your education, on-the-job training allows you to apply what you’re learning in real time.
Look for job openings for teaching assistants or substitute teachers. College career centers or departmental advisors often advertise these opportunities. For instance, Regis’ Center for Internships and Career Development provides career counseling and guides students to beneficial development programs, such as internships and entry-level jobs in public schools, private schools, summer programs, and government agencies.
Networking allows you to tap into the diverse experiences of fellow educators to improve your classroom management skills. As a teacher, you’ll interact with students of varying abilities and personality types, as well as parents and administrators. When you encounter new situations or unexpected challenges, consulting educators who have dealt with similar issues is the best way to find resources and strategies that work for you.
Having a network is also important during your job search. Teachers who have already completed degree programs and have classroom experience can offer advice and mentoring or inform you of career opportunities in their schools.
Completing a state-approved teacher education program is a requirement for all prospective public school teachers. However, prerequisites vary based on your:
Therefore, it’s crucial to develop clear goals to ensure the program you choose aligns with your experience and needs. “You should look at different programs. Even though they all lead to the same license, they're different,” says Boerger. “Consider how they offer the courses. Are they online, hybrid, on campus? You have to find a program that really will fit your lifestyle.”
In most cases, you don’t need a bachelor’s degree in education to pursue teaching, but you may need to major in the content area you intend to teach. Some states don’t expect a graduate degree at all, while others—like Massachusetts—require new teachers to earn a master’s degree within five years of beginning their teaching career.
Passing your state’s licensing exams, such as Praxis or the National Evaluation Series, is the next step to teaching in public schools. Licensing exams cover core skills and subjects teachers should know, including:
For example, Massachusetts teachers have to pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) to earn the Academic PreK-12 License. Depending on the grade level and subject you want to teach, you will have to complete additional certification exams as well.
Keep in mind that all states have alternative certification paths that satisfy a different set of requirements for licensure. While this alternative license was an initiative to combat teacher shortages, it has allowed prospective educators to demonstrate their competency and start teaching sooner than they would otherwise. Typically, provisional licenses aren’t renewable and have to be converted to a higher-level license within a specific time period.
Once you satisfy the education and certification requirements, the only thing left to do is apply to open jobs. For public schools, the easiest way to find job openings is by visiting the school district websites for areas you’re considering. For private or parochial schools, it’s common for state agencies to have a list of independent school job openings.
Reputable teacher education programs may also assist you in finding a job after graduation since they have relationships with local schools. A major benefit of student teaching or substitute teaching is the opportunity to get hired in a school where you’ve already worked and have a support system.
A career in teaching can provide profound personal satisfaction, but it’s crucial to choose a teacher education program that prepares you for certification and gives you a strong professional foundation. Regis College's Master's in Teaching Special Education is specifically tailored for individuals in secondary and higher education, providing a comprehensive program that equips professionals with the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in the classroom.
“Our instructors are either currently or have been classroom teachers. So, they're bringing both experience and knowledge. They're not just sharing textbook information and PowerPoints,” says Boerger. “There are really good conversations happening in our classrooms, and I think that's important.” If you’re interested in learning more about the program, consider contacting an admission counselor to find out what options are available to you.