I am currently a junior at a mid-tier college and am doing reasonably well in my math major, but not quite as well as I suspect necessary to get into well respected PhD programs as is my dream. I've been receiving a healthy mix of A's and B's among my math courses and as far as research is concerned, am only going to participate in one low caliber REU this upcoming summer. As such, I would like to explore high school teaching opportunities in case I don't get into (and funding for) a good PhD program.

As I have had my eye set on graduate school, I haven't done anything to prepare to become a teacher. I am majoring in pure mathematics and have only taken one education course. My schedule next year is tight so I wouldn't have time to take any more than one education course as an undergraduate.

What can I do set up as a reasonable back up plan in teaching? Please note that I would be looking to teach in public or private schools in New Jersey and that I don't have very much money so would be unable to pay for another few years of tuition to get a masters degree right off the bat.

I would very much appreciate any advice -- this is something I haven't ever looked into so I don't know what sort of certifications etc someone in my position would need to acquire.

  • $\begingroup$ I don't know the conditions in New Jersey, but in many places in the U.S. there is a great demand for substitute teaching. Besides having a pulse, there are qualifications, but if you were an above average student considering an advanced degree, I don't think the qualifications will be a serious obstacle. The pay rate is not as good as you could get tutoring, so be sure to do your research on that option, including talking to those who have gone down that path. Gerhard "May Do That Path Myself" Paseman, 2015.02.26 $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 19:55
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    $\begingroup$ Highschool teaching experience actually helps your appeal to teaching jobs at colleges later. The time is not wasted. I had a friend who taught in highschool before returning to earn his PhD, that guy had schools fighting over him when time came to look for a job. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 26, 2015 at 23:50
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    $\begingroup$ Closely related: Devising backup plan to become HS teacher as a late undergrad $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 14:22

1 Answer 1


tl;dr do a ton of research first before making any decisions

IMHO, you shouldn't just whimsically pursue teaching as a "backup plan" if your current plan doesn't work out. Teaching is A TON of work from planning, grading, teaching, tutoring, after-school activities, etc. and if you don't have a true passion for teaching and the discipline and persistence it requires, you will almost assuredly leave the profession within a few years and be right back where you started (upwards of half of all teachers leave within five years of becoming teachers). I am not trying to turn you off from teaching by any means, I am just trying to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Even if you have the required courses and know the material, there is still a certification process which takes time and money and usually requires you to apply and be accepted to a university that has been OKed by New Jersey to certify new teachers (more info here). Once you do become a teacher, the pay is almost certainly much less than you will deserve for the amount of work you will be putting in and you will likely continue to be shafted by your state's and the federal government.

I would seriously suggest to do a lot of research into teaching certifications for your state and the various programs that are available before making any decisions. If you are serious, i would suggest contacting a high school in your area, explain your situation, and see if they will let you shadow/observe for a day. This should give you a snapshot of what teachers are expected to do each and everyday. If you like what you see and think that teaching is for you, the most well-known program would be Teach For America, which places you in a city of their choosing, gives you an emergency cert, and drops you in a classroom with only six weeks of actual training. However, there are many other programs, usually through universities that offer varying levels of support and instruction to get you prepared to be a teacher, most of which cost money. The Federal Government does understand the position most teachers are in (broke, underfunded, under resourced) and as such usually offer pretty generous loans that can help pay for the various costs of certification. There are also programs for loan forgiveness where you can essentially not have to pay your loan if you teach for X amount of years after your loan matures.

I really don't want to sound negative, it is great that you are considering teaching! Its an amazing profession and so rewarding and fun. It is a lot of work, but it is a truly selfless act and I hope that after doing some research you still are interested :)

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    $\begingroup$ I second what celeriko is saying about early burnout: the statistic of half of all teachers leaving in five years is one I've heard before, including from a high school math teacher I know who did the job for about 30 years. I don't think you should consider high school teaching as a back-up plan without looking very carefully into it. I suggest you look into becoming an actuary. It pays very well and always ranks high on job satisfaction surveys. There is a series of exams you need to take to become fully licensed, but insurance companies let actuaries study for the exams on the job. $\endgroup$
    – KCd
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ yes, actuary is a great career for a math major, it pays well, it looks great for future jobs, and its very possible to "climb the ladder" as they say. The exams are difficult but as @KCd said most companies will actually pay for you to study and take the test. It is also a great opening into the financial sector if that floats your boat $\endgroup$
    – celeriko
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ Agree with this. Teaching is rewarding but it's not for everyone . Try to get some experience observing lessons or helping out to get a feel for whether it's right for you. Good luck. $\endgroup$
    – Karl
    Commented Feb 27, 2015 at 19:09

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