Woodrow Wilson News & Publications
WHAT THE RESEARCH TELLS US ABOUT CAREER CHANGERS
The research synthesis, Encore Performances, identifies seven key themes from its analysis of research on midcareer and second career teachers. This synthesis is a separate study from the survey findings and draws from a broader range of published research in the field.
- Career Changers Are Not a Monolithic Group. They come into classrooms at different stages of their careers –as delayed entrants, candidates aged 24 to 29, who did not enter teaching immediately after college but who did not pursue another career; midcareer teachers, who did pursue another career and are in their 30s, 40s or even 50s; and second-career teachers, who pursued another career and are considering teaching as a second or encore career. Policies should take into account the different needs of these three groups of teachers.
- Not All Career Changers Are Content Experts. The assumption that all midcareer and second-career candidates come to teaching with strong content knowledge and skills from the workplace might be overstated. Likewise, the assumption that these candidates lack any experience in classrooms may also be misleading; many have been substitute teachers or teachers’ aides.
- Strengths and Weaknesses of Prior Work Backgrounds. Prior work experience, such as knowledge of organizations, management skills, and time-management expertise, experience in working in teams, and motivational skills, could be extremely useful for teaching. Yet other experiences and abilities can clash with the skills and dispositions needed for teaching. Midcareer teachers can also be discouraged by the conditions in schools, as well as the school bureaucracy and perceived lack of autonomy.
- Difficulty Tailoring Preparation to Older Entrants’ Needs. More help and support might be needed to bridge the world of work outside of education and the world of classrooms, children, and schools. Teacher educators need to clarify what aspects of candidates’ prior work experiences could be relevant and useful in teaching, and to make explicit for career changers the differences between their prior professional cultures and the cultures of schools.
- Personal Stresses on Career Changers. Career changers can find teaching highly stressful. The new position can raise questions regarding their efficacy and potential to succeed in their new workplaces. These concerns argue for more robust preparation and support. Financial concerns are also a persistent cause of stress.
- Uniqueness of Labor Markets. Labor markets may differ significantly across districts and geographies. New York, for example, is among the states with the youngest entering teachers, and it consistently hires about 10,000 teachers a year. But other states have a substantial number of older candidates in their alternative pathways. Teacher selection, recruitment, and preparation programs must take into account variations in labor markets.
- More Research Needed. There is often more rhetoric than research on career changers and the programs designed to recruit and prepare them. Key questions—about who these older entering teachers are, how many are being recruited, what qualifications they bring into teaching—remain woefully under-examined. The field of teacher preparation needs more research to examine and adapt the nature of these programs, their relationship to the needs and qualifications of career changers, and the most effective structures and designs for learning.