How To Get Into Teaching as a Second Career

Smiling male teacher standing in front of elementary classroom

If you're seeking greater fulfillment in your career, it may be time for a change. You may find teaching as a second career to be meaningful because it may allow you to have a positive impact on the lives of your students. Before making a decision about your career, it’s important to do your due diligence first. Research the career pathway and understand how to become a teacher as a second career before deciding whether it’s right for you.

In This Article:

Is Becoming a Teacher Later in Life Right for You?

Going back to school to become a teacher is a journey that shouldn’t be undertaken on a whim. Take the time to thoughtfully reflect upon your motivation. 

Teaching as a second career may be right for you if: 

  • You’re genuinely passionate about education and the effect it can have on a person’s life.
  • You care deeply about children and adolescents and want the opportunity to be a positive and meaningful influence on them.
  • You want a service-minded career that lets you give back to your community.
  • You understand that teaching is inherently challenging (from managing misbehaving students to spending late nights grading assignments), but you’re willing and eager to tackle those challenges.

Look for Experiences That Can Help You Make a Decision

Even if you do strongly feel that you’ve got what it takes to be an effective educator, it can be helpful to experience the field firsthand before making your final decision. One of the best ways to discover for yourself what it’s like to be a teacher is to spend some time in a classroom. You could arrange an interview with a teacher who can share their insights and answer your questions.

Other ways to gain practical experience that can inform your decision may include:

  • Volunteering or working part time as a tutor or teacher’s aide in a local school or community center
  • Volunteering with a student mentorship program in your community
  • Serving as a coach for school sports teams or extracurricular clubs, such as the drama club
  • Teaching free or low-cost continuing education courses at your local community center (these types of classes may be academic in nature, such as writing workshops for adults, but they may also be centered on hobbies — or virtually any other topic)
  • Becoming a substitute teacher (in accordance with your state’s requirements)

How To Become a Teacher as a Second Career

If you’ve decided that becoming a teacher later in life (or changing professions) is the right choice for you, it may be because you value education and understand the positive impact it can have on a child’s future. In order to become an educator, however, it’s likely that you’ll need to go back to school yourself. Let’s take a closer look at the pathway you may follow to transition into a new field.

Decide Which Age Group You’d Like To Teach

You might already know which age group you’d like to teach — but if not, it’s a good idea to spend some time in thoughtful reflection. Do you enjoy teaching younger children, or would you prefer teaching at the high school level? This is a decision only you can make. Practical experience may help you make your decision. Everything taught in each grade level is based on the state’s standards, so determine what state you intend to teach and follow their guidelines.

You might decide to pursue a career as one of the following:

  • Early childhood educators: These teachers use a variety of creative techniques, like storytelling and games, to build both pre-academic skills and life skills, as well as to nurture character development. This is the age when children work toward developing a foundation of empathy, self-expression, cooperation and emotional awareness.
  • Elementary school educators: Elementary school teachers usually teach a variety of subjects to just one class.
  • Middle school educators: Middle school educators are typically specialists, who often teach just one or two subjects to rotating classes. Middle school teachers work with kids who may experience socioemotional challenges as they enter their adolescent years.
  • High school educators: High school teachers also typically specialize in just one or (sometimes) two subjects. They not only focus on helping students achieve academic progress, but also help them prepare for life after high school.

Research State Requirements for Teachers

Once you decide which type of teacher you’d like to be, you’ll need to figure out which qualifications you’ll need. Your state may issue a teaching license or certification (the terminology is interchangeable and varies by state). Each state establishes its own requirements, but all of them require public school teachers to obtain a license or certification.1

In general, you can expect to need the following (at minimum):1

  • A bachelor’s degree that meets the minimum GPA requirements and is in a relevant subject area
  • Supervised field experience hours (practicum/field experience)
  • Successful completion of a background check
  • Successful completion of a certification/licensure exam

If you already have a bachelor’s degree but it is not an education degree — or does not satisfy your state’s education requirements for any other reason — there may be alternative routes to licensure. For example, you may be able to complete a master’s degree that leads to initial teacher licensure.1

You should be aware that most teachers must complete continuing education or professional development courses to periodically renew their license. In some states, teachers must earn a master’s degree within a certain period of time after beginning to work as a teacher.1

Plan on Going Back to School To Be a Teacher

If you don’t yet have a bachelor’s degree, then heading back to school may need to be your first step in your transition to teaching. Look for an accredited degree program that will allow you to meet the licensure requirements for teaching in your state. You may also have the option to earn a bachelor’s degree in a specific specialization, such as special education.

In addition to general education courses, you can expect to take courses in subjects such as:

  • The social, emotional, linguistic, cognitive and physical development of children and adolescents
  • Instructional methods and classroom best practices
  • Instructional planning and student assessment methods
  • Optimal design for learning environments
  • Special education and English language immersion for ESL students
  • Subject-area classes (e.g., history, English and mathematics)

Transition to Teaching With Classroom Experience

All states require teaching license applicants to demonstrate student teaching experience.1 Consequently, degree programs that lead to licensure also include a student teaching or practicum/field experience component, which you will take after completing all other coursework. Typically, you’ll first need to pass subject-area exams and clear a background check.

During a student teaching program, you will likely be placed in a classroom that corresponds to your chosen age group and subject area. At first, you’ll observe and provide some assistance as your mentor teacher plans lessons, teaches and grades assignments. With time, you will gradually take on more responsibility until you have successfully taught the class yourself under the supervision of a certified teacher.

Apply for Licensure or Certification

The final step toward becoming a teacher later in life is to apply for your teaching license or certification. Be sure to carefully read the application instruction procedures for the state where you plan to teach. In general, you can expect to submit documents proving your qualifications, such as your official transcripts, verification of student teaching experience and exam score report.

When you’re ready for your second act, Grand Canyon University is here to help you get started. The College of Education offers a wide range of education degrees to aspiring teachers at the baccalaureate and graduate levels, including the Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education degree program, which leads to initial teacher licensure. Fill out the form on this page to learn more. 

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2024, April 17). How To Become a Kindergarten or Elementary School Teacher. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved May 15, 2024.

Approved by the dean of the College of Education on June 18, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.