Two students walking

How To Make A Successful Career Change To Teaching


While some people decide at young ages that they are destined to become educators, others take the scenic route to the head of the classroom. If you’re considering a career change to teaching after years or even decades in a different profession, you’re in luck.  

There are several resources to help adult students return to school to become a teacher. And the nationwide shortage of teachers means job prospects could be promising. Read along for expert tips on how to make a career change to teaching — and why your detour may actually be an advantage in your future position. 

Why career changers make great educators

“It is really common for people to feel called to become a teacher later in life,” says Kristin Cook, Ph.D., associate dean and associate professor of Science Education at Bellarmine University. Dr. Cook has taught and worked with hundreds of educators throughout her career. She shares that many people change careers because they felt underwhelmed with their impacts on society at their former jobs. 

“Students coming into teaching with prior work experience have a huge advantage,” Dr. Cook believes. “They get what is going on in the field and add valuable, real-world context to the classroom.”  

She goes on to say that career changers also add value in the following ways:  

  • Bringing the content to life with a fresh and unique perspective 

  • Connecting with resources outside the classroom 

  • Using their network to enlist guest speakers 

  • Planning relevant field trips 

  • Maintaining a mature and professional demeanor 

"Students coming into teaching with prior work experience have a huge advantage."


4 expert tips for becoming a second-career teacher 

Now that you recognize the value your experience can bring to a classroom, it’s time to let go of any concerns that may be keeping you from your dream. Consider the following advice as you pursue a career change to teaching. 

Talk it out with other teachers 

First things first, start talking to current educators to get an insider’s perspective on the profession. There are approximately 3.7 million teachers in the United States, so chances are you already know one or several. You may be surprised to learn what a day in the life of a teacher is really like.  

Not sure how to begin the conversation? Try asking some of these questions: 

  • How did you get started in education?  

  • What was your university experience like?  

  • What do wish you would have known before you started teaching?  

  • Why did you choose the age group/subject you did? 

  • What is your favorite age to work with and why?  

Get into the classroom 

It’s vital to gain experience working with children in a learning environment, even if you are already a parent or caretaker. Spending all day with a classroom of students is much different dynamic compared to taking care of your own children. There are many ways to go about this, and it’s valuable to get diverse perspectives to help inform your choices.  

Signing up to become a substitute teacher in your school district is an excellent way to test the waters. Every state has different requirements, so you’ll have to research your local school district or board of education.  

If substituting isn’t feasible for you, try collaborating with a local public school, and ask to shadow a teacher or sit in on a few classes. You can also work closely with youth as a mentor, coach, or volunteer.  

Check out sports and extracurricular clubs, and ask if they need advisors. Try to acquire experience with a variety of age levels if possible. Teachers of all kinds are in demand, so it’s up to you to decide what suits you best.  

Reflect on your motivations, passions, and goals  

Deciding to become a second-career teacher could be one of the most rewarding and life-changing choices of your life. Before committing to such a significant change, you should take time for introspection.  

Consider the thought starters below to help guide you: 

  • Why do you want to become a teacher?  

  • What subjects/topics are you passionate about?  

  • Do your interests cluster around one particular area of study, or are you more of a generalist? 

  • What have your past experiences in education been like?  

  • Do you prefer working with younger children, adolescents, or young adults?  

  • Have you ever worked closely with young people as a teacher, camp counselor, tutor, coach, mentor, etc.? How would you reflect on that experience? 

  • Would you prefer working in an urban, suburban, or rural environment? 

Explore training options 

Going back to school is a big investment of time and resources. Many career changers have families or other priorities and can’t take time off work, which means a flexible program is a must.  

A Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree is designed specifically for individuals who already have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution. Programs vary widely from school to school, making it crucial to do your research and find one that suits your lifestyle.  

The Bellarmine University MAT program, for example, is structured in a way that’s ideal for those making a career change to teaching. The accelerated, cohort-based program meets one evening a week and a handful of Saturdays per semester.  

This schedule makes it possible to earn your degree while continuing to work up until the final semester, which is spent student teaching. And if you’re worried about walking away from your job before having another lined up, rest assured: 97 percent of Bellarmine MAT grads are successfully employed the year after they complete the program. 

Now is the time for your career change to teaching 

As you can see, it’s never too late to launch a meaningful career in the classroom. Now that you understand the value you could bring to students as a second-career teacher, there’s no use in waiting any longer. 

Learn more about the value of an MAT degree in our article “7 Things You’ll Gain from Earning a Master of Arts in Teaching.”   

Ready to take the next step? Visit the Bellarmine University MAT program page


About Bellarmine University

Bellarmine University is a vibrant community of educational excellence and ethical awareness that consistently ranks among the nation’s best colleges and universities. Our students pursue an education based in the liberal arts – and in the distinguished, inclusive Catholic tradition of educational excellence, the oldest and most rewarding in the western world. It is a lifelong education, worthy of the university’s namesake, Saint Robert Bellarmine, and of his invitation to each of us to learn and live In Veritatis Amore – in the love of all that is beautiful, true and good in life.