How to Get Back Into a Teaching Career After a Break

Teacher in classroom with students using computers

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Whether you left the profession to care for your children or took a break to pursue other career options, returning to teaching can be more challenging than going back to work in other fields.

How hard is it to go back to work? A lot depends on where you were when you left, and what you’ve done since then. Depending on where you’re teaching and what kind of teaching job you’re looking for, you may need to update your certification or learn new skills.

Make a Plan for Your Return

The first thing to decide when you return to teaching is where you want to teach. If you’re targeting a private school instead of a public school, for example, you might find that you have less work to do in terms of updating your certifications.

There are, of course, pros and cons to teaching in both settings. Public schools tend to pay more, but teachers we spoke with said that private schools may be less likely to require “teaching to the test” in the age of Common Core. In any case, it’s essential to know what employers will be looking for, before you start job searching, and make a plan to upskill yourself as required.

Update Your Teaching Certifications

Depending on your state and a prospective employer—and whether you let prior teaching certification lapse—you may need to re-certify in order to return to the classroom. Your State Department of Education can tell you the requirements for teachers in your area. To find yours, see the U.S. Department of Education website. Look beyond state requirements when updating your resume and consider the skills you need, and what prospective employers want. For example, you may be required to get CPR or first aid training or an updated TB test.

Be Ready for Things to Be Different

“One of the biggest challenges was having to adjust my expectations,” said one pre-K readiness teacher in North Carolina, who returned to teaching after 20 years as a stay-at-home mom and consultant. “Children are very different today than they were in 1988 when I first started teaching. There are quite a few little humans out there who now seem to be in charge of their household, and the parents seem to accept and encourage this. Screen time and the apparent lack of parental interaction with their children also is a huge concern.”

Be prepared for new technology, both in terms of what you’ll use to engage with your students … and what will keep your students from engaging with you.

What kind of technology are we talking about? Everything from white noise to help students concentrate on digital worksheets and video tutorials. Be prepared to answer interview questions about the current use of technology in the classroom, your classroom management style, and other typical teacher interview questions.

And, of course, you should be prepared to set some ground rules about phone and tablet use in the classroom.

Look at Your Own Social Media

Returning teachers must be prepared to start over in terms of building a reputation within the school community. That means, in part, making sure there’s nothing on their social media that would give anyone pause, meaning students, parents, colleagues, and administrators.

Posts that might seem innocent—a picture of you enjoying an after-work glass of wine with friends, a strongly worded but otherwise PG political view or personal opinion—can get you fired or dropped from contention for jobs. The best practice is to maintain separate professional or personal accounts or lock down your social media altogether.

Getting Back Into Teaching Work

When it comes time to start looking for jobs, substitute teaching can offer a way to transition back into the classroom, offering returning teachers a way to gain recent experience and thus overcome resume gaps that might give employers pause.

“I think subbing is one of the best and easiest ways to get back into teaching, and helps the school staff become familiar with your work before you apply for a position,” said the pre-K readiness teacher, who currently works at the private preschool that her children attended, and where she once worked as a sub.

Not sure where to find substitute teaching work? Your professional network can help. Look for connections as close to home, whether it’s through your prior employer or your children’s school, and ask your contacts for leads. 

Other options including picking up some online gigs to get started, or jumping right back into the workforce and starting a search for a full-time teaching job, once you've updated your credentials, planned your return to work and prepared for a successful job search.