Retirees Try Teaching as a Second Career


Retirees Try Teaching as a Second Career

For some seniors, becoming the head of the classroom fulfills a lifelong dream.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally published in the January 2009 issue of Kiplinger's Retirement Report. To subscribe, click here.

Matthew Epstein's mother wanted him to become a teacher, but he chose a legal career instead, in part because of the better pay. For 21 years, he practiced law in Concord, N.H., and spent a dozen years running two nonprofit groups in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Today, Epstein, 60, is fulfilling his mother's dream -- as well as his own. He says math was always his "intellectual passion," and he enjoyed a part-time job as a law-school instructor. In August 2008, Epstein started teaching high school math at a rural charter school in Saxapahaw, N.C. To meet state certification requirements, he took several education courses and refresher math classes.

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Epstein spends seven hours a day in the classroom and several more hours preparing. Reaching struggling children makes the time investment worthwhile. "Breakthroughs are not very dramatic, but rather there are small changes with a lot of backsliding," he says. "In a way, it's most rewarding when a student backslides but then turns it around. I realize we are preparing them for life."


New Routes to the Classroom

Retirees are finding it easier than ever to switch careers to teaching. Every state has alternative certification paths for aspiring public school teachers. About 20% of the 35,000 people who use alternative certification are age 50 and older, according to the National Center for Education Information (, a research group on teacher training.

Alternative certification allows candidates who have a college degree to bypass several years of classroom instruction and six months to a year as a student teacher. Instead, they take several education courses, with some states requiring an apprenticeship as a student teacher. (For requirements in every state, go to the Web site of the University of Kentucky's College of Education at, click "Index" and then "Certification in Other States.")

Brian Salzer, principal of Newton South High School in Massachusetts, trains second-career teachers for the city school system through the Newton Teacher Training Institute. The institute provides a state-approved one-year program. "Older teachers bring expertise from previous careers," he says. "Students see that these teachers have real-world credibility that some students feel career teachers may lack."

James Shelton, 56, came to teaching via the U.S. Navy. After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1974, he became a nuclear submariner and retired as a captain 30 years later. He liked his stints as an instructor at the Navy sub school.


When Shelton left the Navy in 2004, he and his wife moved to the Seattle area, where he had been stationed in the late 1990s. After learning of Washington's alternative certification program, he took education courses at the City University of Seattle.

In 2008, Shelton became a full-time math teacher at a high school in Edmonds. "I like to see the light bulb go off among some of my students," he says. Sometimes, he gives students real-life examples, from his career in the Navy, on how math is used in engineering and physics. Shelton says he spends a "considerable amount of time dealing with students' academic, personal and behavioral problems."

Paula Borgasano, 56, of Woburn, Mass., says she wanted to become a teacher since she was five, but she never completed college. She stayed home with her three children and worked as a medical secretary.

But her dream never died. Borgasano returned to college and got a master's degree in education. For six years, she's been teaching second grade in Lowell. In her class, 60% of the students are Cambodian and 20% are Hispanic.


"I enjoy working with kids and increasing their reading and writing skills," says Borgasano. "At that age, they're like sponges. For them, school is a safe haven, considering Lowell's high crime rate." She's a mentor to many younger teachers, she says, "based on my life's experiences."

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