Retirees in the Classroom?

With their years of experience, baby boomers who transition into teaching as a second career have so much to offer their students.

Boomers back to work, in a new profession: “That combination of life experience and a professional career together can really be beneficial to teaching.” (Photo: 4nitsirk/Creative Commons via flickr)

Their reasons for wanting to teach are as diverse as their professional backgrounds. They are retired engineers, Army lieutenants, business executives, and public servants who choose to spend their golden years making a difference in the lives of children.

Some want a new challenge, a chance to contribute, or a way to stay active. Others need to supplement their retirement income. Many always thought they’d be good at teaching if given the chance to try.

Judy Goggin is a Vice President at Civic Ventures, a research organization and think tank dedicated to engaging boomers in the vital work of social change. As the number of retiring baby boomers increases, so does the cohort of wannabe educators looking for a second—or even third—career.

In a recent interview with TakePart, she suggested that with all 50 states now offering alternative pathways to certification, there’s never been a better time for experienced professionals with bachelor’s degrees to transition into the classroom.

“Some people might think that there aren’t very many teaching jobs these days because there are cuts going on everywhere,” she began. “But you can’t make a broad statement that there are no teaching jobs, because there are some really high-demand areas of teaching where schools just can’t find enough good candidates to fill those slots.”

For the past four years, Civic Ventures led the Encore College Initiative, which gave $25,000 grants to 40 community colleges interested in creating innovative pathways for boomers to pursue encore careers.

...there are some really high-demand areas of teaching where schools just can’t find enough good candidates to fill those slots.

Several of the participating colleges piloted programs that helped retired professionals become certified teachers. Goggin said the programs “narrowed their focus to recruiting and training teachers in the high-demand areas like math, science, ESL, and special education.”

For example, the EducateVA program at Virginia Community Colleges attracted boomers with college degrees into its Career Switchers program, where they were fast-tracked into teaching positions in critical subject areas. 

One of their graduates, Wylie Schwieder, was a highly successful corporate manager who helped start CarMax, the used car superstore. As he approached age 50, Schwieder started looking for a more fulfilling career, and decided to transition into the classroom.

He now teaches algebra and pre-calculus at Henrico High School in Richmond, Virginia. For Schwieder, the challenge of his new career, and the positive impact he makes in the lives of teens, more than compensates for his significant salary reduction. “I want to help kids learn to love math as much as I do,” he explained.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 440,000 new elementary and secondary teachers will be needed by the end of the decade. Goggin suggested that schools should welcome the opportunity to fill their open teaching positions with retired professionals. 

“They bring a certain amount of life experience and maturity to a classroom setting,” she said. “That combination of life experience and a professional career together can really be beneficial to teaching. In fact, we have school districts across the board saying that too. They really value the experience these individuals bring in terms of their life skills and their attitude toward education.”

The story of Paul Rigel is a perfect example. At age 56, after working as an associate pastor for 25 years, Rigel got laid off.

With bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology, a master's in religion, and a seminary degree, Rigel was eager to continue contributing to his Florida community.

He enrolled in Polk State College’s eight-month teacher certification program for people over 50. As one of Civic Ventures’ Encore Colleges, Polk State added individual mentoring, computer training, peer support programs, and math instruction for plus-50 adults to their existing K-12 alternative teacher certification program.

Rigel was thrilled to be hired as a middle school teacher in the Lake Wales Charter School District. He especially enjoyed teaching sustainable agriculture. “I wanted to give back to kids who didn’t get what I’d gotten,” he explained. “The kids plant from seeds, grow food, then cook it. It’s a pure joy.”

For more information about alternative pathways to teaching, check out Teach.gov. An initiative of the U.S. Department of Education, the site lists each state’s alternative certification programs, facts about financial aid, school districts, licensing, and certification—not to mention hundreds of job openings in elementary and secondary schools nationwide.

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