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Nontraditional Candidates—What You Need to Know

Okay, so you're not 22 anymore, your hair may be thinning or graying or missing, you've got a couple of extra pounds where they shouldn't be, and you've been "around the block" a couple of times. You've had a job (or several jobs), you've had a child (or several children), and you've had a wrinkle (or several wrinkles) sneak into your facial features. You're mature, traveled, and sophisticated. You pay a mortgage, wash stacks of dirty dishes, shuffle kids between soccer practice and Scouts, do endless loads of laundry, fall asleep in front of the TV, and can't even remember the last time you had a "night out."

You're a nontraditional student!

Colleges of education (mine included) are seeing an influx of nontraditional students enter their classrooms. (The latest government figures indicate that about 36 percent of all college students are nontraditional students.) These are people who are looking for a second career, those who left college to raise a family and now want to get back into the work force, individuals who were laid off from other jobs and are now looking for something a little more meaningful in life, and working mothers whose kids are now in school and who want some career satisfaction and a couple of extra dollars in the family treasury. These are people who are older, wiser, and more experienced than the typical college student. Have I described you well?

Nontraditional students often have a different set of fears and apprehensions about interviews than "average" college students. They often feel that their age is an impediment to getting hired. Well, let's set the record straight on that! In my conversations with administrators around the country, my surveys of professional interviewers, and my own experiences in working with nontraditional students for more than a quarter-century, there are three critical points that give you, the non- traditional student, a distinct advantage in the hiring process.

Your age is an asset! Let me repeat that—your age is an asset! Because you have a couple of extra years under your belt, you also have more life experiences. In all likelihood you've traveled to other parts of the country or to foreign countries, you've read a wide array of books, visited a wide array of art galleries and museums, and enjoyed a wide array of restaurants. You've conversed with people from many cultures, many lands, many religions, and many beliefs—in short, you've seen life outside your community. Numerous principals have told me that all those experiences are what they want in a classroom—whether that classroom is an elementary one or a secondary one. All those experiences make you a more well-rounded individual and a much stronger teacher.


"Experience is the best teacher! I'll always take experience over a GPA."

You also have roots! In all likelihood, you have been living in proximity to the college or in the same neighborhood for several years. And, in all likelihood, you are planning to stay there for several years in the future. You have, most likely, established connections through your local church, temple, or synagogue; formed lasting friendships with people in one or more volunteer agencies; socialized with the parents of your children's friends; or made social connections with people in a former job or your own neighborhood. There's a good chance you're not planning to run off to Las Vegas with some "hunky" construction worker or join a commune of post-modern environmentalists in northern California. The fact that you have roots means you're going to stay around for a while, definitely a major advantage in the eyes of any school principal.

You know kids. You may have your own family. You've raised one or more kids—you've fed them at 2:00 in the morning; changed their diapers; got them their first pair of shoes; carpooled them to Little League; patched up their scrapes and bruises; shuttled them to an endless succession of athletic events, band practices, and pajama parties; and helped them chase snowflakes on the first snowfall of winter. You've comforted them when they were down and cheered them when they won a third-place ribbon in the Parade of Pets in second grade. You're a parent, and you know kids! You know how kids operate, how they behave, and how they learn. You've had on-the-job training with children that cannot be duplicated by any college of education. You've been there and done that! Any principal (worth his or her salt) will tell you that that experience is priceless—absolutely priceless—for a future teacher.


Please don't think for a minute—or even a second—that you are coming into a teacher interview with a set of deficits. You are coming in with two or three unique characteristics not possessed by the average candidate. These are advantages of the first order. These are assets any school would welcome. These are invaluable!

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