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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

April 5, 2018

Teaching & Education

Second acts: Making the shift to teaching.

Susanne York’s first attempt at a college education was almost 35 years ago. She always wanted to earn her degree, but her life took a different path. She married, became a mom, and opened a family business.

Over the years, she earned her pilot’s license, became a SCUBA dive master, a professional artist, a horse trainer, and curator of education at two local zoos. She designed teacher workshops and curriculums for several science museums, and volunteered and coached science Olympiads at her son’s school.


After a series of life-altering events and health issues, York knew it was time to explore new career possibilities. In 2013, she ran across the WGU information packet she had requested. After years of being a student and trainer, she knew she could handle new information—she worried most about finding the time, funding, and energy to complete a degree.

FAFSA made it easy to find the money and WGU was so affordable anyway, the money issue was not a factor,” she said. “The flexibility and competency-based learning were perfect fits for me.”

York says she never considered teaching as a career, but all the clues were there. She loved teaching, and WGU provided the way to make it official. She reviewed course offerings and pursued a degree in Special Education. At the same time, she was hired to teach fifth and sixth grade classes at a private school.

“The headmaster took a chance on me,” said York. “She knew I had written curriculum, that I had a mind for numbers, and I loved kids.”

She continued to work full time while attending school and credits her program mentor’s weekly calls for keeping her focused and motivated throughout the program.

York completed her demonstration teaching, graduated and was hired as a substitute teacher. When the Texas Education Agency approved her credentials, she began teaching special education geometry at her hometown high school. York is now dual-certified in special education and elementary education (SPED) and secondary math and has assumed all resource math classes at her school. She recently enrolled in a master’s program for secondary math education.

“Had I not had the option of a school like WGU, I would never have succeeded,” she said. “At 50, I made a choice to complete my bachelor's degree.”

Her words of advice? “Anyone can reinvent themselves at any age. Education changes that. WGU taught me that I could be an independent, successful, college graduate. Best of all, I am a TEACHER.”

Thinking about making a career change to teaching? Making any change can be scary and exciting and the teaching profession is no different. Here are some things to consider:

  1. Becoming a teacher is something you can do at any age. You can apply the professional and personal experiences acquired over years to the classroom. Students need role models, coaches, advisors, too. Data suggests you can find happiness in bringing your rich experience to the classroom.
  2. Is teaching right for you? If you’ve been out of school for a long time, visit a teaching college or school classroom (with permission), reach out to friends or relatives who teach and ask them what they like or don’t like about teaching. Contact a school and ask to speak to staff.
  3. What aspects of teaching do you like? Think about the reasons you want to switch (more flexibility, need a change of pace, enjoy teaching others, opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life) and whether you have realistic expectations of the job.
  4. Test the waters. Tutor students, volunteer for activities to engage in informal educational settings, visit or shadow a teacher, serve as a substitute teacher. It’s never a bad idea to write a resume for substitute teaching positions that focus on your relevant professional experience. Research teaching keywords and skills when drafting your resume.
  5. You’ll need transferable skills for a successful career in teaching. Do your research. Supply and demand determine what subjects are most needed in a district or state. Search the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Shortage Nationwide Listing for teacher shortage areas by state. You may have an advantage in making the switch, if you’ve already had a career in the field you want to teach.
  6. Teaching can be a challenging and rewarding career. Job openings for teachers are expected to continue to grow. The median pay is around $52,000 per year, and a number of grants, scholarships and loan forgiveness programs exist to help offset tuition costs and student loans.
  7. Online classes and degrees are a great option for working adults, and alternative certification programs can be completed in one or two years.
  8. If you’re working as a paraprofessional or teacher assistant, there are specific pathways to becoming a teacher.
  9. Teaching as a second or third career is becoming more popular. Candidates with a lifetime of professional and personal experience often make excellent teachers.
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