How to Balance a Job While Learning to be a Teacher
Just because I decided to change careers and become a teacher didn’t mean I could do it right away. It would take at least two years for me to complete a graduate teaching program, and I couldn’t afford to not work in the meantime.
Without my degree and teaching license, I wouldn’t be eligible for a full-time teaching job, and assistant positions paid only about a quarter of what I earned in my full-time publishing job. I decided to keep my gig in publishing while I worked toward my degree and a new job as a teacher.
Going to school and working full time can be difficult regardless of what you’re studying, but I discovered a few things along the way that helped me make it through.
Enroll in online teaching courses
In my experience, online courses have been the easiest way to manage working full time while enrolled in a teacher preparation program. When I first began looking at educator programs in my area, I was disheartened to learn that most only offered courses during the day. For a career changer working full time, this obviously wouldn’t do.
I ended up enrolling at a local university that offers online and hybrid courses as part of its teaching programs. This allowed me to log on early in the morning before work — when I feel like I’m the most productive — to submit assignments, participate in discussion boards, and get class updates. I felt like I could easily connect with my classmates and professor without having to be somewhere at a specific time.
Take advantage of extra time
Master’s degree classes, regardless of the program, tend to come with a lot of reading. As a career changer with no real experience in the classroom, I found my assigned readings incredibly helpful so I didn’t like to skimp on them. That said, depending on the course you’re enrolled in, you could easily end up with a lot of reading.
To keep up with reading assignments, I took advantage of any extra time in my day. I always had a textbook in my car, and research articles and a highlighter in my purse. When I was on my lunch break, waiting in the doctor’s office, or stuck in a long line at the grocery store, I’d pull out a reading. You’d be surprised how much extra time you have during the day and how much you can get done if you’re prepared to use it.
Make connections between school and work
If you’re giving up a career in one industry to become a teacher, chances are you feel really passionate about teaching. As a result, what you do all day in your full-time job can seem pretty boring, and it’s easy to get discouraged. Once I decided to become a teacher, it’s all that I wanted to do, and my classes and observation hours made me even more eager to get into the classroom full time.
I learned to compensate by applying what I learned in my teaching program to my job. It may seem like your current job and teaching are worlds apart, but a lot of the guiding principles of teaching can be applied elsewhere. For example, learning about how to differentiate instruction to accommodate different styles of learning helped me to better manage a team of five very different personalities.
Be upfront about what you’re doing
When I started taking classes, I was really nervous about people finding out. There’s really no reason to enroll in a teacher licensure program unless you plan to teach one day, and I was worried that I would be passed over for opportunities at work if people knew that I didn’t see myself there for the long haul.
After one semester, I realized I couldn’t keep school a secret. I was taking advantage of a tuition reimbursement program offered by my employer, and my boss had to sign off on my classes. I also had to leave work early once a week to get to my school on time for an in-person class. I didn’t want to lie to people, and avoiding questions about the kind of classes I was taking was becoming difficult to avoid.
At the end of the day, hiding my desire to teach became too cumbersome. I can’t say for sure that I didn’t miss out on promotions or new positions as a result of being so open, but that doesn’t really matter because I know I would have eventually left that position to teach. Being straightforward with my boss and co-workers made me feel better and helped me to concentrate on my real goals.
Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.