Becoming a teacher in the Clark Country School District
January 16, 2017 8:47 PM   Subscribe

My mother is currently considering becoming a teacher in the Clark Country School District under this Nevada Teachers program, is this program a workable career launcher for an older woman?

My mother is divorced and in her mid fifties in the Vegas area and currently the caregiver of my disabled sister. She was a homemaker for about 25 years before the divorce but has been doing her best to scrabble back into the workforce through sheer force of will. She's trying to figure out a future path because her current job doing administrative work in a charter school pays quite little (much less than a beginning teacher's salary) and won't be changing, and being a teacher would at least let her keep benefits. She has a bachelor's from way back, I believe in social work.

Do people know about this program and if it's workable as a career change? What would the risks/rewards be? How bad IS teaching in CCSD; the stories she hears have held her back for a couple years pursuing this path. She worries about her age and stamina learning to manage a classroom and coursework. However, she's very experienced in both managing children and other coordinative skills from her long history of callings/positions at church (primary teacher, primary president, relief society counselor, sunday school teacher) so I don't think she's starting from ground zero.

She's asking me for advice but I don't feel qualified to give it since I'm in such a different life stage, so any general advice about being an older single woman trying to make it is very welcome. She doesn't like the idea of risks, but if she tried and failed something, I would be able to take both her and my sister in, so the situation isn't entirely sink or swim.
posted by foxfirefey to Work & Money (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
However, she's very experienced in both managing children and other coordinative skills from her long history of callings/positions at church (primary teacher, primary president, relief society counselor, sunday school teacher) so I don't think she's starting from ground zero.

Speaking as a former Mormon kid and current public school teacher: teaching small groups of Mormon kids from very structured homes from a very structured lesson book is enough different from the day to day life of a public school teacher that I would not assume it will give her a useful leg up.

It sounds like she has had her life upended- that's painful and I am sure it has been hard. My advice would be the same as for any other person thinking about a career in teaching: try subbing, especially long-term subbing if it is possible without a credential, in the types of schools where she is likely to be hired AND ask around to see if it is possible to shadow a teacher in the type of school environment she'd end up with for a couple days. Also: any paraprofessional job that would get her in the classroom in a high-needs public school would probably pay equivalently to her administrative gig and give her a better idea of what she'd be in for.

Further advice: looking quickly at that program it seems as though it is more or less entirely online and that you are placed in a classroom before you are fully certified and mentored as you go along. That is...tough, especially for learning management skills. One of the nice things about a real student teaching experience in a standard program is getting a lot of time to observe your master teacher work and getting immediate feedback after lessons. In a program like this she'd be a lot more on her own and that can make it a lot harder to succeed (and have the connections/experience to be hired).

How physically active is she? Teaching is more physically demanding than people assume, especially in the lower grades, especially for folks new to it. Would standing most of the day be a concern for her?

Questions I would ask the program: can they refer her to a few people in her demographic at various points in the program to talk to (especially folks in the coursework phase, in the first-year/non-credentialed phase and in the fully launched teacher phase).? What is their placement rate into full time jobs? What is the rate that folks they place in full-time leave those jobs? What are the types of schools they place teachers in?
posted by charmedimsure at 10:11 PM on January 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

Studies suggest that middle-aged women who have either worked in corporate America or have raised their own children are uniquely successful as "second-career" teachers, especially in so-called high-need schools. (They tend not to have savior complexes, they have a lot of soft people skills, they're accustomed to repetitive and often tedious work, and they're emotionally mature and stable which helps a lot with kids in general, when you're not reactive to them acting out.) However, they also tend to have more trouble getting hired than 23-year-old college grads, because the traditional pipeline is larger and there's unconscious bias and a lot of districts aren't up on the education HR best practices.

But she has a better-than-average chance of being good at the classroom management stuff and high-need kid stuff she's worried about. Although the same studies tell us middle-aged second-career female teachers spend the most time doubting their own abilities while younger and/or male-er teachers blithely assume it will all go well. She's more likely to feel anxious about failing, but more likely to succeed, than other demographic groups entering teaching.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:07 AM on January 17, 2017 [9 favorites]

I'm a decade or so older than your mom. I have degrees and certification to teach and I have taught in teacher education programs.

I just glanced at the site and this jumped out at me: "No need for a traditional 4-yea your teachers degree." Looks kinda scammy to me. Your mother would be better off looking for an MAT (masters in the art of teaching) program. Or looking into other alternative certification options listed in this official Nevada government page.

I know from experience that there is a lot of age discrimination out there, even in the schools. Teaching in the public schools is incredibly challenging physically, emotionally, socially. I would personally advise her against it. However, since she does have experience taking care of your sister she might consider getting certified for some level of special education- these vary from state to state. She might be excellent at working with children who have severe handicaps. There is a nationwide shortage of special education teachers.

Teachers who work with children until they- the teachers- are 70 or older are very very rare and most of them have taught for decades.
posted by mareli at 7:23 AM on January 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Not quite the same, but a friend in her mid-40s just did it the old-fashioned way!
posted by crankyrogalsky at 10:11 AM on January 17, 2017

Your mother might want to check out this handy website that gives forecasts on jobs. And here are some Nevada resources she can check out.
posted by mareli at 12:03 PM on January 17, 2017

I can't speak to teaching in the US or in that district. But I did an early childhood education course in Australia and many of my classmates were in your mother's age group and with similar backgrounds. They were really well suited to teaching and had great outcomes. They were much more confident than our younger recent school leaver classmates. So I agree with Eyebrows McGee's post.

That said, it is exhausting. I have chronic health conditions that exacerbate my fatigue and I just couldn't do it. Maybe I would have been better in the long term (doing prac teaching during leave from a regular job was pretty intense) but I didn't have the energy to stick it out. I was doing pracs in preschools up to grade 3.
posted by kitten magic at 1:57 PM on January 17, 2017

In general, I would advise extreme skepticism and a lot of research for anyone thinking about becoming a classroom teacher. With your mom's age in particular, I do not recommend it.

Classroom teaching is insanely demanding, both physically, emotionally and in any other metric you can imagine, and pay and benefits are not great. It's especially challenging your first year, and I would argue that it takes at least five years before you feel like you really know what you're doing. Does she want to invest that much time and effort into becoming sort of good at something she will sweat blood to do? Your mom is likely to get sick very often, to be on her feet all day with limited bathroom or food breaks, and to experience extreme stress levels. It is hard to take time off because you always have to worry about calling out and writing sub plans. She would be putting in a LOT of unpaid hours outside of contract time - easily 20 hours per week when she first gets started. I also agree with charmedimsure that managing small groups of well-behaved children in a religious environment is not at all like being in the general classroom. In fact, everything charmedimsure says is quality advice.

If your mom is determined to become a teacher, she should look into a Master of Arts in Teaching program that will get her certified to teaching something K-12 (not just a general elementary ed or secondary ed certification), such as reading, math or ESOL (English to Speakers of Other Languages). That would give her the flexibility to teach middle or high school one subject to multiple classes instead of elementary ed, which I would argue is the most demanding and least-respected path she could take. Although, if she taught at the elementary level as a specialist, she'd be doing a lot of small groups and one-on-one without being responsible for teaching whole classes. Special ed certification is always in demand, and it is a noble job, but incredibly demanding. It takes a special kind of person to walk that road.

Your mom should also find out what the retirement benefit guidelines are for her district. It may be that she can earn a benefit with 10 years of service OR reaching 70 years of age (or something along those lines). That may help her decide if the time she'd put into the system would be worth it.

TL;DR: Don't do it. Your mom would probably be happier and healthier (and get paid more) doing almost anything else with her life.
posted by the thought-fox at 2:13 PM on January 17, 2017

Thank you everyone for your consideration and advice! Follow up/additional background info:

* CCSD has been struggling to overcome a teacher shortage, though the gap has been closing. These alternative licensing programs are part of that effort and heavily marketed, so she hears about them a lot working in admin/support staff in the charter school, even if she's probably not the target market. Her current job is the most stable, best/reliable paying work she has had since the divorce, the first one with any benefits whatsoever, but she can't quite stay entirely afloat with it. A new teacher makes almost fifty percent more in salary. There are even new teacher signing bonuses. That's a powerful temptation to have waved in front of you.

* I apologize if I gave the impression that my mother's church experiences were immediately translateable to teaching; I know they are not! But just knowing that she has done some work managing/disciplining groups of children not her own and having to come up with lesson plans given specific materials and trying to impart them to bored children and adults (who, granted, never get tested on retention) makes me hope she would at least finding the work in line with latent abilities, and would be able to come up to speed more easily than, say, a freshly minuted person in their 20s without these experiences.

* I think the physical aspect could be a huge concern for her; I am glad this has been brought up, as I did not think about it. She does have some physical limitations stamina-wise (a back that can be sensitive to strain; bursitis in her shoulders; aching feet; general fatigue from being older and weightly; needs bathroom breaks). This is especially true because I know she would be aiming at elementary education as she likes working with that age best. This is the biggest mark in the no column, I think she would indeed drive herself to sickness/exhaustion trying to teach an normal elementary class. Her drive to push through discomfort to herself in order to do what she thinks is necessary has harmed her before.

* Another issue I can think of is how my sister can unexpectedly end up in the hospital; it hasn't happened much in the past year since a surgery, but recently it happened again and I think the resulting bills are driving my mother's current nervous musings of trying to get some reliable job that pays more with benefits. But it might be difficult or impossible for her as a teacher to take enough time off for my sister's various medical appointments (not super frequently, but not uncommon). This go around I have offered to take over my sister's care, whether permanently or temporarily, though I don't think she'll allow herself to take me up on it.

* The traditional teacher pipeline would probably be tricky for her, for the very reason that it's a longer length of time without pay or benefits while she has a dependent, while taking on additional debt for something that might not pan out. This more slap dash sink or swim program has very little up front cost, since they take their cut on the back end once a teacher is employed.

* Additionally, I wonder if it would be very difficult for her to even get any student loan financing for the more traditional path. The check fraud and tax evasion my father accomplished pre-divorce (without her participation) left her with very bad credit; she even spent some time unbanked before she found a credit union willing to work with her. I think the situation has improved steadily since then (I think she can now use automatic ATMs and normal debit cards again!) but there's an looming IRS court case she has little control over since she doesn't know much about the details and my father won't give her enough information to know what's likely to happen. I worry that in the worst case, her wages will be garnished down to the poverty rate, as the IRS isn't limited in what it can take, the only guidelines are the minimum it can leave. For all I know the obscene amount owed to the IRS (more money than my mother will make in total for her remaining life) could ensure that my mother would never again be able to earn over X dollars, likely an amount smaller than what she makes now, in which case I'm not sure what the point of all this sweat and effort would be if it all ends up amounting to the same income.

* I think it would be a similar problem with substitute teaching to start out with: leaping from a stable income to an unpredictable, smaller income that goes away in the summer, and no health benefits.

* Something special education like people are saying could be very good? My mother spent a few years home schooling my disabled sister (who among her medical problems has learning disabilities and even at an adult age operates more on a middle school level) when she started to fall behind in public middle school, if I remember correctly she was even mainstreamed back into classes later in high school and managed to squeak through graduation and now takes a community college courses here and there online. Small and one on one environments would hopefully let her not be all day on her feet. The question would be how to even get there: what sort of certification would work for her? Does it still mean college she can't afford to attend because she'd have to quit her job for a lengthy period?

* Trying to look at support staff jobs in her district and they pretty much look commiserate with her current rate of pay, so I don't think there's any silver bullet there. She's a very good typist but can struggle with new computer tasks.

The suckiest part of all of this is overall, my mother actually likes her current job. Not everything that happens there or how it operates sometimes (watching nepotistically hired nephews pay to screw around galls her), not the tasks particularly, but she has coworkers that she really likes and she goes there and gets things done. Part of her worry about trying to get a new job that pays more is ending up in an unpleasant working environment. She's a good steady disciplined worker who just wants to make enough to get by. She is grateful for my support but feels guilty and has a hard time asking for as much as she needs.
posted by foxfirefey at 1:47 AM on January 18, 2017

At least for the moment (until the new regime butchers things) special education is one of the higher demand positions. It looks like it's one of the ones the alternative path covers.

I am doing a program like this myself, in a different state. The age range in my cohort was huge. It skewed young but there was a solid 40+ cohort that also includes 50+. I don't know about 60+ but I wouldn't be surprised.

In my program, the demands for the preservice training were arduous (long hours and demanding) and unforgiving (enforced rule about absences, with no compassion for circumstances). It gets better after but you're right that teaching, especially early career, does not accommodate a flexible schedule well. If your mother wants to do this, she'll definitely need to arrange for significant help and suppor for her caregiver responsibilitiest, possibly eventually designating some of her salary increase for that.

In my program, we have a lot of choice about what school we end up at (i.e. We are on our own for job hunting). Some people definitely ended up in toxic work environments. Whether she'll be able to avoid that or not will depend on the way the program works and potentially her tolerance for risk for holding out for a better fit.

One person I knew who was in a somewhat similar position to your mom ended up training for medical billing and it's worked out VERY well for her. It has a lot more options and flexibility schedule wise, much less physically demanding, and they're letting her cut down but keep working past retirement. Is there a job market for that where your mom lives?

I like my career change a lot but there was less opportunity cost for me than it sounds like for your mom. If sounds to me like if she found the right setting in the right school environment, it might work out great for her. On the other hand, if she isn't lucky time the first time, it may be harder on her to stick it out at one or two wrong fits before she finds the right one. (At least in my district, changing schools mid school year is almost impossible), if the program even allows that.

If the way that hiring in Nevada works would allow her to do this backwards, ie to find the job before she applies for the license, maybe she could do the research and networking now, the job hunt, and only jump ship if she does find that right school.

To be honest, if she's not even motivated enough to do her own preliminary research about things like special Ed certification, this might not be for her. In my experience, the certification path as well as the job itself require a ton of tedious hoop jumping.
posted by Salamandrous at 12:49 PM on January 18, 2017

It sounds like your mom may want to stay put in her current job but look for things to supplement her income. Medical billing/coding? Become a licensed daycare provider and take in a couple of kids a few days a week? Tutoring? Breaking into teaching requires a HUGE investment in every way imaginable, for very uncertain payoff. Although the starting salary of a teacher may seem large compared to what she's currently making, it's probably half to a third of what a teacher SHOULD be making if they were fairly paid for the actual amount of work put in...and that's just to start with! Salary growth over time is generally quite flat, but the amount of work you put in rarely shrinks, although it may change form.
posted by the thought-fox at 6:05 PM on January 18, 2017

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