Growing Ranks of Encore Teachers Give Schools a Boost

Boomers train to be EnCorps Teachers in California.

Teaching is emerging as the encore career of choice, as career switchers flock to teacher training programs around the country.

The surge of interest is being driven by both passion and practicality, say program managers who are trying to respond to the increased demand from people eager to get into the classroom. The chronic teacher shortage, particularly in math, science, special education and inner-city schools, makes education seem like a safe long-term choice in a tumultuous economy, despite budget cuts and even layoffs in many school districts. Experts anticipate as many as 1.5 million teaching vacancies over the next decade.

"Our program is growing exponentially," says Rebecca Waters, who manages the Virginia Community College System's career-switcher program. It trained 76 new teachers this spring, compared to 61 last year and 50 in 2007. "I personally have spoken with more and more people over the last few weeks who report having been laid off from their jobs and are exploring their options with us."

Collin College, near Dallas, has fielded 900 inquiries about its fast-track teacher preparation programs – twice as many as last year.

The EnCorps Teachers initiative expects to place more than 150 new math and science teachers in California classrooms during the 2009-10 school year. EnCorps has received more than 1,000 inquiries in the past three months.

"We are targeting boomers and retirees," says Jennifer Anastasoff, CEO of EnCorps, which was launched in 2007 by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sherry Lansing, former chair of Paramount Pictures. "There are programs like Teach for America for new graduates, The New Teacher Project for midcareer folks, and alternative certification programs bubbling up around the country, but nothing that brings it all together for retirees the way that EnCorps strives to."

EnCorps is hosting an open house in Los Angeles on June 5. Anastasoff says would-be teachers can start as volunteers to refamiliarize themselves with the classroom, try substitute teaching or jump right into the program, which can fast-track them into the classroom in six to nine months.

Another route into the classroom is the nonprofit Citizen Schools, which places "Citizen Teachers" in 10-week apprenticeships in public middle-school classrooms. It serves 4,400 youths at 44 sites in seven states with 3,500 volunteers, 120 paid fellows and 230 paid team leaders.

The organization is seeing twice as much interest in its paid positions this year, compared to last year, says Emily McCann, president of the organization. Many of the candidates are career-switchers seeking to transition from the corporate world, she says. “And we’re just starting to recruit for next year, so we’ll probably get a lot more.” It didn't hurt when the White House cited Citizen Schools as as an example of “innovative, promising ideas that are transforming communities."

Teaching, as well as working with children and youth, were near the top of the list of most desired encore careers in last year's MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Encore Career Survey. Another survey, Teaching as a Second Career, found that 42 percent of college-educated Americans aged 24 to 60 would consider becoming a teacher.

That survey found that potential teachers consider teaching personally rewarding and a chance to make a difference, but that the field's low pay is a major obstacle. The American Federation of Teachers reported the average beginning salary for teachers in 2004-05, the most recent data available, was $31,753.

Nearly all states offer alternative teacher certification programs for people who have bachelor's degrees in the subject they will teach, but lack the required courses for certification. In some states, a provisional license allows second career teachers to begin teaching immediately. Because of teacher shortages in some areas and subject matters, many states are extending temporary emergency licenses to prospective teachers who hold bachelor's degrees.

The career-switching boomers are hitting the classroom just as other members of their generation are leaving. The National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future (NCTAF) and other organizations are sounding the alarm about an anticipated teacher shortage. NCTAF estimates that one-third of our most accomplished educators will retire in the next four years – 100,000 during the 2010-11 year alone.