There’s no correct answer to the question “What age can you become a teacher?” because teaching is gratifying at every age. Unlike professions that require getting an early start to rise competitively up the ranks, teaching is accessible to almost everyone at most every stage of life. According to Teacherpensions.org, about half of new teachers take on a full-time job at 22 or 23 after receiving a bachelor’s degree and completing a student teaching program. Twenty percent start teaching in their late 20s, 16 percent begin in their 30s, and nine percent enter the field after 40.
There are several teacher preparation pathways catering to aspiring teachers at different stages of life. Residency programs such as the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency give future teachers – both recent college graduates and career changers from other fields – opportunities to explore teaching, learn pedagogical and instructional skills, and obtain a master’s degree all at once. Everyone can bring something unique to the classroom, provided they have the right training.
Can you be too old to teach?
The short answer is no. Teaching takes focus, dedication, and a degree of stamina, but some teaching jobs take more energy than others – particularly jobs in early childhood education or physical education. What’s paramount across classroom settings is meeting the needs of students. Data makes it clear that teachers can continue to work well beyond age 55. Indeed, the wisdom and experience that comes with age is a benefit, not a disqualifier, for educators.
The National Center for Education Statistics reports that most US public school teachers are about 42 years old. Only 15 percent of public school teachers are younger than 30, and just over 28 percent are older than 50. In other countries, teachers tend to be older. In Austria, for instance, 39 percent of K-12 teachers are 50 or older, and in Greece, 52 percent are older than 50.
Many teachers continue to teach effectively into their 60s and 70s. If you feel you’re up to the job, there’s no reason not to follow this career path.
The benefits of starting teaching in your early 20s
Many people pursue teacher training during or right after college, even without a bachelor’s degree in education. Starting early means you can get through the lower-paying years before financial concerns – like a family or a mortgage – become too pressing. You can start building seniority early and accrue more annual salary increases. Plus, if you are teaching within the public school system and work long enough to meet the minimum service requirements, you may reach full retirement early enough to have a second career while receiving a pension.
There are less quantifiable benefits, as well. Building a career in your 20s leaves plenty of time for deep-dive professional development. High school teachers in their 20s may find they relate more easily to their students. Young teachers in elementary education bring energy and creativity to the position. And younger teachers working with undergraduate credentials have more time to pursue master’s degrees in teaching.
The benefits of starting teaching in your 30s
Becoming a certified teacher in your 30s means bringing a more grounded, experienced, and mature mindset to the position than you might have right out of undergrad. You join a cohort of people your age. Fifty-seven percent of public school teachers in the US are between 30 and 49 years old, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). You probably also have accrued more transferable skills related to time management, communication, teamwork, and prioritization. And yet you still have enough time to be eligible for retirement and full benefits when you reach your 60s.
If you begin teaching in your 30s, there’s a good chance you’re a career changer. Making the decision to move into teaching after doing something else means you probably have very clear professional goals. You likely also have expertise and training in a specific subject area such as mathematics, English, or science. If you have a master’s degree in your discipline, you may be automatically slotted into a higher salary tier after getting your teaching license, even if you don’t have teaching experience.
There are various pathways into the profession for those exploring teaching as an encore career, including residencies such as the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency program. People in the program come from diverse professional and academic backgrounds. One notable program alumni was a successful NFL cornerback before becoming a middle school math teacher.
The benefits of starting teaching in your 40s
People who decide to become teachers in their 40s are often inspired by their desire to make a difference. That was the case for NYU Steinhardt Teaching Residency alumni Katie Miller, who worked with adults with traumatic brain injuries, taught Head Start, and worked for a GED prep program before becoming a special education teacher. Miller said that waiting until later in life to become a teacher was ideal because it meant she understood where her skills were most useful. “It’s really interesting to consider if I had gone into teaching after receiving my bachelor of arts,” she said. “I would have ended up in a suburban school, and I would have hated every single day.”
Feeling genuinely called to the profession – especially after trying something else – is one signifier of a good teacher. If you’re starting a second career after a successful first career, you can share insights and experiences with your students but still work long enough to retire with substantial benefits.
Starting in your 40s doesn’t mean starting alone. The median age of public school teachers in the US is 41, according to the NCES. Having a family can make working with students easier – especially if you have experience with a specific age group. Teachers over 40 may also find that they don’t have to work as hard as teachers in their 20s to gain the respect of students.
The benefits of starting teaching when you’re 50+
It can be daunting to consider making a significant life change after age 50 but also entirely doable. There are no mandatory retirement ages in teaching. You can teach as long as you continue to provide students with an effective education.
If you are financially stable and no longer providing for children, you may be in a better financial position than teachers starting in their 20s with college debt. You have the freedom to take a job you truly love and can retire with benefits at age 60 with as few as five years of service in some states.
Even if you don’t have classroom experience, you have a lifetime of skills, knowledge, and expertise. If your professional background was in STEM, many school districts are in dire need of teachers with your experience and skills.
Earning teaching credentials without an education degree
The US is currently experiencing a significant teacher shortage – particularly for qualified special education teachers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment for elementary and middle school teachers will each grow by about four percent over the next decade and high school teachers by five percent. There will likely be more open teaching positions than qualified candidates in many districts.
There are several avenues into the profession for those without education degrees. You can go back to school to earn a master’s in teaching or education or enroll in a teacher preparation program at a university, through a private company, or via a nonprofit. You can also enroll in a program that offers the best of both options, such as NYU’s one-year Teacher Residency program. The Teacher Residency program prepares students for the realities of the classroom, combining course work with hands-on practice, and confers a master of arts in teaching.
Earn your credentials in one year in the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency program
Choosing the NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency gives you the opportunity to enter the classroom immediately. You can qualify for the program if you have a bachelor’s degree with 18 to 30 credits in English, history/social studies, math, or science. You must also live within commuting distance of partner school locations in New York City, NY; Albany, NY; Syracuse, NY; San Francisco, CA; Danbury, CT; Palm Beach County, FL; or Washington, DC. GRE or MAT scores are no longer a required element of the Teacher Residency application.
The program utilizes a “gradual release model” in which residents gradually take on more responsibility throughout their student teaching experience and under the guidance of a mentor. Frank Pignatosi, visiting assistant professor at NYU Steinhardt and a residency director in the School’s Teacher Residency program, describes this instructional strategy as a “controlled fall,” adding: “With a steady progression of preparation designed to build and scaffold skills, ‘sink or swim’ is completely off the table.”
Depending on your interests and undergraduate major, you can choose between the Inclusive Childhood Education degree or the Secondary Education degree pathways. In both, you receive an immersive in-classroom experience during the day at a public or charter school. In the evenings, you move through a 10-to-12 module master of arts in teaching curriculum delivered via asynchronous content and two online synchronous classes per week. In the Inclusive Childhood Education curriculum, course work asks and answers questions such as “How can I build a class community?” and “How can I teach history, civic engagement, and global awareness for all learners?” In the Secondary Education curriculum, residents choose a subject area and explore topics such as how to integrate reading and writing instruction into lesson planning and the fundamentals of curriculum planning and development for students with disabilities.
The simplest answer to the question ‘What age can you become a teacher?’ is “Any,” but the ideal pathway into the profession may change based on whether you start early in your career or later. If getting into the classroom as soon as possible is a top priority, a teacher residency program can help you become a teacher faster. NYU Steinhardt offers a first-class, immersive higher education experience in schools with the greatest need. The parallel structure of the residency and academic work lets you apply what you learn in your courses immediately in real-life classroom situations – and leverage your own life experience in the process.
Ready to launch the next phase of your career? Contact an NYU Steinhardt Teacher Residency enrollment advisor or visit the program website to learn more about the application process.