How to Switch Careers: The ABCs of Teaching


How to Switch Careers:
The ABCs of Teaching

What you need to know to break into a new industry, land a government job or join a nonprofit.

State and local governments have rarely been so cash-strapped. Layoffs during the current school year have been widespread, and state budget outlooks remain dire. Nonetheless, the Department of Education sees a need for 1.7 million new teachers by 2017 because of retirements and attrition.

You’ll find the most opportunities in math, science, English as a second language and special education, and in schools serving the underprivileged. You’ll need a bachelor’s degree and state certification to teach, but you won’t have to quit your job, go back to school and get an education degree. About one-third of new teachers come via alternative-certification routes; 55% of those are career switchers.

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Such alternative routes aim to put you in the classroom quickly-with a paycheck-typically under the supervision of a mentor as you complete the necessary coursework. You’ll likely have demonstrated mastery of the content you’ll be teaching, oftentimes through an assessment test.

Visit for alternative-certification programs from 831 schools, including online programs. Visit the National Center for Alternative Certification’s Web site at to see the routes in each state to alternative certification-all told, there are 125 such routes among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. You’ll pay anywhere from zero to several thousand dollars to retrain as a teacher-about $5,000 is average, says Emily Feistritzer, NCAC’s founder.


Alternative programs in Texas produce more than half of the state’s teachers, including Sampson Gardner, a former civil-litigation lawyer who now teaches fifth-grade math at Bay City Intermediate School, outside of Houston. Like many career switchers, Gardner believes teaching was always his calling-he just didn’t know it. “As much as I liked being a lawyer, it wasn’t what I was built to do,” says Gardner, 32. “I’m supposed to teach.”His certification came through the iTeach Texas program; the $4,250 cost was deducted from his teaching paycheck over ten months.

Gardner is philosophical about trading his old lifestyle for an educator’s. Recently, he found an old paycheck stub. “They took more out in taxes than my whole check now,” he says.

And yet teaching remains a popular second act. In 2009, some 40,000 people applied for fellowships from the New Teacher Project, designed for high achievers without a background in education. The organization operates fellowship programs in 18 locations nationwide, including New York City, Chicago and Denver.

Under the Troops for Teachers program ( members of the military may be eligible for up to $10,000 toward the cost of obtaining teaching credentials. If you’re one of IBM’s 400,000 employees, check out the company’s pioneering Transition to Teaching program, which provides up to $15,000 for older employees who want an encore career in the classroom. IBM’s efforts are considered a model for helping seasoned workers transition into the 21st-century workforce-where it’s never too late to reinvent yourself.