by Fahima Haque, August 2010
Even if you didn’t get certified in college, it’s never too late to become a teacher! Thinking about becoming a teacher? Whether you’re a current or recent undergrad, or have several years of work experience, there are many different programs to help interested candidates enter teaching.
Teach for America (TFA) is the nation’s first organization dedicated to providing equal education opportunities for children across the country. The rolling-style admissions process is extensive and competitive: the primary application starts by submitting a resume, letter of intent and other personal information. There’s also a phone and in-person interview if you make it past the first step. The only prerequisites for TFA is having a bachelor’s degree, a 2.5 cumulative GPA and U.S. citizenship, so interested applicants with a non-education background are encouraged to apply.
For Erin Liedell, 22, who has completed one year of her TFA commitment in Charlotte, NC, she decided to go into teaching after an informational session.
“I studied graphic design in college and knew it wasn't what I wanted to do. There was just a lot about it I didn't like, and I felt like what I was doing and producing didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. I applied because I really wanted the opportunity to help give low-income students the same education as their higher-income peers, and because I felt like I could really contribute to the movement and be a great teacher,” she said.
While Erin has expressed her intention in remaining in the classroom long after her two-year commitment, other TFA members are using the introduction to teaching as a springboard for entering the general field of education. Kelli Whalen, 22, just completed “Institute” (TFA’s five-week training program) and will begin teaching in Prince George’s County, Maryland later this month. Her ultimate goal is to use her TFA skills in a broader sense.
“I don’t think I want to stay in the classroom forever, but I’m interested in the administrative side of things, maybe for a charter school system like KIPP [Knowledge is Power Program],” Kelli said.
Obtaining a master's in education is not a prerequisite for becoming a teacher. To become a primary or secondary education teacher, in other words teaching from K-12, only a B.A. degree is necessary. However, licensure is needed to teach and varies state to state, and many states now require the receipt of a master’s degree within the first five years of teaching. In addition, even in states that do not have this requirement, many districts compensate teachers with an advanced degree more highly than those without. So if you’re thinking about transitioning from another career into teaching, but are concerned about a drop in income, it may make sense to get a part-time master’s in education during your “first” career.
Of course, if you want to become a post-secondary education teacher, or a teacher at the four-year college and university level, a master’s (at least) is required, with a doctoral degree often preferred.
There are two notable teaching fellowship programs that are particularly popular amongst career changers: The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation's teaching fellowships in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, and the teaching fellowships offered by programs run in over 20 cities nationwide by The New Teacher Project.
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation recruits prospective teachers with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics background and affords its fellows the opportunity to obtain a master’s in education concurrently with their three years of service. Woodrow Wilson teaching fellows differ from other programs in that it is a three-year commitment with a stipend of $30,000 annually (unlike TFA corps members who earn salaries ranging from $27K - $47K) and work with a specific university (such as Purdue) and a school in either an urban or rural area.
Stephen Pugsley, a 2010 fellow who is about to start his master’s program, just completed his initial eight-week training program at Indiana's Ball State University. He graduated from Purdue University in 1981 with a degree in chemical engineering. After spending more than 20 years as an engineer, Stephen fell into teaching because of a few factors.
“In central Indiana [the automotive industry] basically collapsed. In order to continue, I was faced with having to make a move to Detroit or something similar and I really didn’t want to do that. I felt a calling to go into teaching, so when my last job in automotive went away, I decided to try substitute teaching and tested the waters. Once I did that I really enjoyed it. I built a great rapport with the kids; it was what I wanted to do,” he said.
Beverly Sanford, Vice President of Communications for the Foundation, explains the goals of this program:
“We’re not just recruiting people, our overall intent is to strengthen teacher preparation. Our model is much more like medical school: take some classes and then learn in a hospital."
Because of their heavy interest in math and science, the fellows work closely with faculty from the partnered universities to build specific content knowledge on what’s the best way to teach this kind of chemistry or physics to high school students.
In fact, the program’s intensity and dedication to taking their fellows out of the classroom and understanding their students and the low-income communities they serve has won recognition by President Obama earlier this year in January.
“The president has placed a program educate to innovate, particularly emphasizes, intensive focus on math and science teachers, it’s a real issue nationwide.”
While Stephen does agree that the experience has been challenging, he also has greatly enjoyed it thus far.
“It was a really good, diverse group; we ranged from those of us in our 50s to a handful of fellows in their 40s and a few fellows in their 30s and several just out of college. Our group really came together, maybe because of the intensity of the experience. I think we utilized each other’s strengths. Those of us with more life experience versus those with more recent academic experience came across those spans of ages and we brought our particular strengths as a cohesive group.”
The New Teacher Project (TNTP), in contrast, is a two year commitment whose fellows receive a modest stipend during their full-time six-week summer training institute, and then receive the regular starting teacher salary for the district in which their teaching (approximately $34K - $45K). Like TFA, TNTP – whose programs include New York City Teaching Fellows, Philadelphia Teaching Fellows, and Chicago Teaching Fellows – is extremely competitive (in 2009, only 9.7% of applicants were accepted). One unique aspect of TNTP, notes Elizabeth Vidyarthi, their Marketing and Communications Manager, is that they are also the teacher certification provider in six states and D.C. “This means TNTP delivers the coursework that leads to certification, rather than local universities.”
So whether you’re a recent graduate or have been in industry for decades, there are different ways to explore whether teaching might be a good career for you.