(BPT) - At age 62, Sandy Weber became unemployed when her customer service job was eliminated during the COVID pandemic. A friend encouraged her to give substitute teaching a try. "I didn’t realize I could work in a classroom without a teaching background,” Weber said. “It was the best decision I’ve made in years.”
U.S. workers faced unprecedented challenges this past year. Millions of Americans lost their jobs, were forced out of the labor force to care for dependents or resigned to re-evaluate what kind of career they really want. About 7.5 million workers quit their jobs in April and May, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those who have lost, have left or are thinking of leaving their job might want to consider a career in the classroom.
Schools and daycares everywhere need new talent, as a record number of educators are among those who have left their jobs to care for their own children or choose early retirement. While this puts the education system under pressure, it presents an ideal opportunity for career changers wanting to make a difference in children’s lives.
"Because of this pandemic, people have had time to reassess what’s really important to them," said Nicola Soares, president of Kelly Education. "The need for a career change, plus the desire to find greater purpose and flexibility are driving workers to seek meaningful employment in schools."
Launching a fulfilling education career is easier than you might think. There are many ways to begin, even without teaching credentials. Schools are welcoming more candidates with diverse backgrounds, perspectives and work experiences than ever before. Weber was able to transfer her customer service skills to managing the classroom.
Options for starting a new position in the classroom
Here are four opportunities that could lead to a lifetime career.
1. Substitute teachers
Every school district needs hundreds of substitute teachers during a normal school year. Post-pandemic, that number is even higher. Credentials for substitutes vary by state, so job seekers should check their state’s department of education or local school district website. Pay varies according to levels of education and experience and can range anywhere from $100 to $200 a day.
Even with virtual schooling, there is a strong demand for paraeducators across all grade levels. Also known as paraprofessionals, they often work with children who have special needs by providing support to students in and out of the classroom. Successful paraeducators are those who are team players, have good communication skills and are knowledgeable about children.
The ongoing need for learning recovery from the pandemic is creating a surge in demand for tutors. Pay ranges from $20 to $50 an hour for math and science tutors. Tutoring is a great option for people with a variety of professional experiences and allows for flexibility with scheduling (more evening and weekend hours).
4. Early childhood educators
Working with infants and young children is fun and creative. While early childhood teacher positions may require certifications (varying by state), assistant, substitute or aide roles are accessible in these settings, offering steady part-time or full-time work with infants, toddlers and preschoolers.
How to get started
Many positions demand a high school diploma or G.E.D., but any work environment featuring children will also require a background check. Employers provide information about the vetting process or may arrange it for candidates.
Here are two resources to get started:
KellyEducation.com connects job seekers with classroom positions primarily in the Northeast, Southeast and Southwest, offering full-time opportunities and flexible schedules in early childhood settings and Pre-K-12th grade. Kelly Education also assists with alternative pathways to a long-term career in education, and hours worked in the classroom can be included toward future certification or degree programs.
In the western U.S., TeachersOnCall.com is a service that hires substitute teachers, paraeducators, tutors and early childhood education staff. Job seekers can choose their grade level, schools and days they want to work.
"Making a career change to help out in schools has been really satisfying," said Weber. "And I feel like I'm making a difference.