A career-change teacher is someone who no longer finds satisfaction in their chosen field and looks to teaching for a more meaningful career. They often want to make a positive impact on the world through teaching. I am a career-change teacher, and so are several of my friends and colleagues. We tell our stories below, but one thing is for certain: we're all happy we made the switch!
From Law Firm to Classroom
I always wanted to be a teacher, but my father said I'd be a "glorified babysitter" and wouldn't be "maximizing my economic potential." He thought I should work in the legal field, so I became a paralegal. I spent 11 years in that field, and while all the overtime I worked meant the pay was great, I felt unfulfilled. I went back to school, and at the age of 36, I accomplished my dream of becoming a teacher.
The switch was a bit of a shock. I certainly was not used to paying for the supplies I needed to do my job. I wasn't used to the endless paperwork, only being able to go to the bathroom at certain times, or needing to eat lunch in just 24 minutes. I miss working in a sleek office — now when I get home, I pull plaster out of my hair because my classroom has a crumbling ceiling. And, of course, I miss that overtime pay. But despite it all, I love teaching. I treasure the opportunity I have to work with my students, who have truly taught me as much as I've taught them.
Further reading: This Book Will Show You How to Change Careers
From High Finance to Physics
Don is a biology teacher at my school who made a career change after spending 25 years working in financial services. When he was laid off after the financial crash, Don received a nice severance package that allowed him to pursue a master's degree in his first love: biology. He volunteered in the education departments at the aquarium and the Museum of Science in Boston. He worked as a substitute teacher before getting hired as a full-time teacher at my high school.
"I have always loved science," Don told me. "In my last years in the world of finance, I was often trying to find a way out—the work was not very satisfying at that point. I have no regrets; I traveled the world on the company's dime, and I got to work with some really intelligent people. But at the end of the day, my heart wasn't in it. I feel really fortunate to be where I am now. I love these kids and am proud of the work we do here."
From Business Owner to "Easiest to Vent To"
Jaime and I have been friends for close to 35 years. He's worked in the business world, service industry, and manufacturing. Then he decided to make a major career change. He called me and asked if he could observe my classes. He knew I was a career changer, too. "When I saw the way she inspired her students, not just academically, but also in life, I knew this was what I wanted to do," Jaime said. "It may be cliché, but being able to make a difference in kids' lives and being a part of their success story has been the most rewarding part of my job."
Jaime is now an English language arts teacher. He enjoys helping his students in the classroom, but he also listens to them and gives them practical advice. "Teaching is one of the hardest jobs I've ever had, but it's definitely the most fulfilling. When a student comes back after graduation, and they tell me that something I said in class, or something I taught them, helped them in some way—that's the big payoff." And Jaime's definitely making a huge difference in his students' lives; he earned the "Teacher Easiest to Vent to" superlative award.
From Health Care to Language Arts
Debby's first career was in health care management, where she was the nonclinical manager for more than 300 inpatient beds. She was responsible for hiring a lot of the staff and loved the fast-paced environment. Later, she managed the largest outpatient primary care practice. After that, Debby spent a decade in the health care/high tech industry at the height of the dot-com boom. Ultimately, she changed careers because her last position was relocated out of state and she wasn't willing to move.
For Debby, many of the "pros" of teaching and the health care world were the same. Both provided a great deal of intellectual challenge and stimulation. In each profession, she felt like she was making a difference because she was helping others. Debby recognized the cons in the health care industry, which included potential job insecurity and layoffs. But she also realizes the challenges of teaching, including too much uncompensated time for work done outside of the classroom. Debby points out that teaching can be considered a "dead-end job on day one, as there are minimal advancement opportunities." Even so, she says she "loves the opportunity to make a small difference in the future of a few students."
Further reading: Changing Careers: What I learned Going Down a New Path
A career-change teacher can bring a great deal of expertise to schools; they're uniquely aware of what makes students truly "career ready." Career-change teachers recognize that teaching isn't easy, and it lacks many of the benefits one finds in other professions. Even so, most agree that as a teacher, you can truly make a positive difference in the world, and that makes it all worthwhile.