Career change @ 40: financial sector to teacher?
October 14, 2010 7:05 PM   Subscribe

Career change @ 40: financial sector to teacher?

I've been in retail banking for over 15 years in various roles, but am getting burned out with the hours and sales pressure and due to multiple mergers, my career has "stalled" over the past 5 years. Since I'm not sure my career path will recover (or if I want it to), I've been considering a career change to teaching.

I have a BA (Mass Media Communications and English), so I've been considering getting a Masters in Education and teaching certificate online while I continue in my current job. So, I'm looking for various pieces of information on this from advice on the best online programs, experiences anyone has had with mid-life career changes, pros/cons of going for elementary versus high school levels, and well, anything else that seems relevant. I realize that salary will be a big reduction and I'm not really concerned about that. Also, I have a toddler and so there is a bit of work/life balance issue here.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I switched from programming to teaching a while back. I love my new career, but there is certainly pressure/stress (I've only worked in urban schools, may be different in the county or whatever).

With a Master's, it's been easy enough for me to move around the system. Co-workers with a bachelors+license have gotten kind of stuck in classrooms that they do not like as much.

I subbed a bunch of schools in my area before picking a grade to focus on. If there is a way for you to get into classrooms, nothing beats the direct experience.
posted by john m at 7:22 PM on October 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

This does not sound like the best fit for you, unless you really, REALLY want to teach. Teaching English is not a low-stress job, and the hours can be very long, no matter where you teach, if you can even find a job. It's rough out there right now.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:27 PM on October 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

Your best bet would be to find a Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program. Have you ever worked with kids? If so, what age groups did you enjoy?

Teaching can be grueling, but also intrinsically rewarding, especially if you have a good support system- partner, family, friends, childcare. Don't, repeat do not, enroll in a for-profit program. There are plenty of programs out there and you'd do better to find one that's local enough for occasional evening or weekend classes. (They call these "blended" classes, primarily online but with IRL meetings a couple of times a semester.

At the very least, you're going to have to do several weeks of student teaching, probably a semester of it, at which point you won't be able to stay in your current job.

Good luck.
posted by mareli at 7:31 PM on October 14, 2010

When I was a teacher, I worked 110-hour weeks. Much of this was because I was a very bad teacher -- but as of now, you can't be certain that you won't also be a very bad teacher who will have to work 110-hour weeks to stay afloat.

Therefore my recommendation is: before you scrap a high-paying 50-hour-per-week career in which you've invested deeply, find a way to spend a lot of time in an actual classroom, so you can learn more about whether you'd in reality find any kind of gratification or lifestyle balance in teaching -- or whether what actually appeals to you is some rose-colored fantasy notion of what teaching must be like.

Consider: if you were a bright and nerdy child (as you must have been, if you like the idea of returning to a schoolhouse), then it's possible that you have zero life experience with lower education among pupils who are ordinary, unbright, and unmotivated.
posted by foursentences at 7:43 PM on October 14, 2010 [7 favorites]

foursentences' comment made me laugh. I, too worked super long weeks when I was a bad teacher first starting out.

Now that I am a better teacher with a few years experience, I am only working maybe 60 hours a week.

Teaching is not something you should get into because you want a more relaxing gig. It is high stress and fast-paced.

That said, I love my job and I come home feeling that I accomplished something important.
posted by mai at 7:53 PM on October 14, 2010

tl;dr answer: Make sure this is what you really want to do. Find a school that you think will get you there if you really want to do this. Talk to them about what will be a good fit. They won't be afraid to steer you somewhere else if another school will be better for what you want.

Now onto the real answer with lots of fun details. I'll apologize now for my region specific answers. But you didn't say where you are. However, I feel like the story can be generalized enough to be useful.

Go sub first, if you can. Then you'll know if you want to teach.

You don't get a Masters in Education, you go for the Master of Arts in Teaching. Unless you're crazy and want to do undergrad again and the go for the masters but I'm assuming you don't want to do that.

Part of what would be a good school would be where you are. A large part actually. Winthrop University, a spit down 77 from Charlotte, is the teaching school for South Carolina. The stuff that they make teachers do is based on what Winthrop does with the students there.

However, they only have an MAT program for Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary. South Carolina recently changed the secondary certification to only cover 9-12 when it used to be 7-12.

The University of South Carolina has an online course. I'm not to sure how good it is, but my wife who graduated from Winthrop with me threw that out as an option. I'm not sure how common this will be, but you do have to go to the campus every so often. So it wouldn't exactly work if you're in California.

I've recently been looking at the College of Charleston because I want to teach middle school. They're in the process of starting a Middle Level MAT program.

There are 2 things you have to figure out before you can really move forward.

1 - The age you want to teach. That's where subbing can help a lot. Spread yourself between age groups and see what the best fit is.

2 - The subject you want to teach. Right now it seems like you'd be set up well for English and that's about it. If you want to teach anything else you'll have to most likely take some classes in that subject. To paraphrase the person I talked to at CofC "We have to make sure you know algebra before we teach you how to teach algebra."

Subbing can help with that too, but probably not as much since you most likely won't be doing much teaching. It will also expose you to almost every kind of student.

Just remember that teaching isn't a 7-3 or 7-4 job. When my wife was being a long term sub last year she got up at 5 and didn't get home until around 5 every day during the week. That's a 60 hour week right there. And she did more work when she got home. Plus she didn't do everything a real teacher did in the classroom because she wasn't in her own classroom.

When you know what you want, find a school that has an MAT program. Go talk to someone in there about what you need to do to get in and what you want to do with the degree. They won't be afraid to send you somewhere else if the school won't be a good fit. Especially if they don't have the degree you want.

Here's the other thing about teaching, especially middle school and up. Once you have something planned, you can save it for later. It might take a few hours to make some posters that first year. But if you save them right you don't have to make them ever again. Instant reduction in workload. Can't complain about that. But you do need to get through the first year or two without all of that stuff already done from the past.
posted by theichibun at 8:03 PM on October 14, 2010

I've been a prof for 10 years and the only reason I would suggest teaching is if you LOVED IT. Now, it's possible you will. Honestly you don't know if you want to teach UNTIL YOU TEACH.Lots of people I went to grad school with thought they wanted to teach until they had to deal with real flesh and blood students. That was the end of the teaching dream for them, for me, it was the beginning. I'm totally with foursentences on spending time in a classroom with kids perhaps as a volunteer or an aide.

If you're hellbent on teaching, I would suggest you look into emergency certification. Many states desperate for teachers (including the one I live in) offer this option. With an emergency cert, you wouldn't have to spend a lot of money on a degree for a job you're not sure you want.
posted by miss-lapin at 10:38 PM on October 14, 2010

Teacher here. I'd definitely get in some classrooms before you decide to proceed. I wouldn't only volunteer, though; the time you're there is too short to get a sense of the whole day. If possible, you should substitute teacher for a bit at different levels to see how you like it.

If you decide it's for you, next check with your state's certification board. Here in Massachusetts if you have an undergraduate degree you can get Preliminary certification and a waiver to teach while you get your Master's degree (it's good for 2 years). It may be the same where you are.

Something to consider if you can't get a teaching job but still want to go for it is to get a job as a paraeducator (tutor, instructional assistant, etc.); you work hands-on with the kids but there's less responsibility and there's no take home work. It's a foot in the door.

You can simultaneously take your classes to become fully certified. You'll have to take your state's standardized teaching tests (here in Massachusetts most people fail at least one of the required tests multiple times before passing which can delay certification for up to a year or more), and most states require the Praxis tests, which are also very challenging. It will be an exhausting process if you're a first year teacher and also going to grad school. You'll be working from 7am to probably 9 or 10 pm daily.

One last practicality: most district's pay is based on experience in that district combined with your level of education and it can be *very* hard to get hired with a Master's and no teaching experience because you cost too much and have no track record. So there's that to consider.
posted by dzaz at 2:24 AM on October 15, 2010

**One more thing: if you're passionate about teaching, then it's the greatest job ever. Seriously. Do it.

Unfortunately, I've worked over the years with mid-40's career transitioning people who thought teaching would be much less stressful than their corporate gigs (leave at 3! summers off!), and when they realized that balancing the needs of many kids at all different levels, from all different backgrounds, with state standards you have to address, assessments you have to teach to, endless committees and meetings, incredible backstabbing politics, having to appease administration and parents, having to control some very wild children, dealing with undiagnosed disabilities, etc., they lost it and went back to the corporate world.

Teaching isn't a relaxing getaway from the real world; I worked in TV and radio for years before teaching, and it's much more challenging. Much more fulfilling, but not in any way an easy gig.
posted by dzaz at 2:33 AM on October 15, 2010

This is the part of every teaching-transition thread where I come in and point out that the job market is absolutely shitty for teachers these days, with states and local communities in extreme financial distress. Our public school district cut 700 positions last year - my daughter's high school classes have 40+ kids in them - and next year is supposed to be when we go "off the cliff" after Federal stimulus funds stop. Teachers in our state also haven't had a raise in three years and are looking at probably three more. Yours might be a situation where the job you have, however imperfect, is better than the job you'll lose as soon as you get it (if you can get it at all).
posted by Sweetie Darling at 3:01 AM on October 15, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sweetie Darling: "This is the part of every teaching-transition thread where I come in and point out that the job market is absolutely shitty for teachers these days, with states and local communities in extreme financial distress."

This. And people are considered too expensive with a Master's and little to no experience.
posted by dzaz at 3:21 AM on October 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Agreed. Teacher in nyc writing in to say that your first few years of teaching are HARD- as in extremely time-consuming, stressfully, outside-life-wreckingly difficult. And that's assuming you get a job with the current hiring freezes. In the long run I can see it would be nice to have a schedule that matched your child's...but in the short-term it is no easy transition/escape. At all!! But then, I am reading all of these threads about money and making life-changes as I am scared to make a change take my 2 cents for what it's worth.
posted by bquarters at 2:46 PM on October 27, 2010

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