The Pool of Potential (Second-Career) Teachers

New reports identify lots of interest in the field -- alongside concerns about money matters -- and a need to customize certification programs for adult students.
September 10, 2008

A new survey finds a large pool of potential teachers among college-educated adults -- 42 percent said they would consider entering the field. Those in engineering, science and information technology are "somewhat more likely" to consider teaching, and those who have a postgraduate degree, have attended selective colleges, and report having higher-than-average grades are also disproportionately represented in the potential teacher pool.

“Two-thirds of them say there’s already been a point in their lives when they considered becoming a teacher, so for most of them this is not a brand-new idea,” said Geoff Garin, president of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which conducted the survey on “Teaching as a Second Career” on behalf of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. The survey is based on interviews with 2,292 college-educated adults aged 24 to 60.

“They are articulate about the reasons why they would consider teaching. And it really comes down to three things,” Garin said: the perceptions that teaching meshes with their goals to find personally rewarding careers, contribute to society, and balance work and family responsibilities. “We also know what would be holding them back from becoming teachers, and it really comes down to one word: money.”

The intractable issue of low teacher pay aside, the foundation also released a synthesis of research on mid-career and second-career teachers, and offers recommendations for improving their recruitment and preparation. Recommendations include expanding short-term opportunities for potential teachers to explore the field, through part-time positions in schools, for instance, before committing to changing their careers, and also tailoring certification and mentoring programs to meet adult students' needs.

"In many ways, the most striking feature of programs for new teachers who have entered the profession at mid-career or later is their lack of difference from more traditional teacher preparation programs for college students and recent graduates," the research synthesis states. "Indeed, some programs admit as much, noting that they have simply collapsed set college coursework into a shortened period of time. One program noted that it had taken '39 semester hours of coursework required in our undergraduate professional preparation program and compact[ed] into 24 semester hours.' "

The survey attempted to pinpoint characteristics of teacher preparation and licensure programs that are appealing to potential career changers. For instance, 68 percent say that the location of the program is very important. Another 65 percent say that the inclusion of clinical training in real classrooms, with experienced teachers, is very important; 63 percent say that it’s very important that training programs be tailored for adults with working experience; and 56 percent say the same regarding the availability of ongoing mentoring and support in the first years in the classroom.

Smaller but significant proportions of respondents rate the program's academic reputation (53 percent) and the availability of health insurance during training (45 percent) as very important. (Among potential teachers with incomes below $75,000, however, 60 percent rate health insurance coverage as very important.)

“A shortcoming of many of our traditional programs and many of our alternate route programs is that they don’t provide the single most important thing that teachers need to teach, which is a year-long process of being in the classroom of an expert mentor teacher who really knows how to teach,” Linda Darling-Hammond, a professor of education at Stanford University, said during a Tuesday conference call detailing the survey results.

“We need to build up the internship or residency experience that you see in medicine,” she continued. Darling-Hammond, whose name has been surfacing in conversations about what education policy might look like in a Barack Obama administration, referenced the Democratic presidential candidate’s proposal to create more teacher presidency programs, echoed Tuesday during his speech on “A 21st Century Education” in Ohio.


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