“When I was in high school, I made a really stupid mistake. I went to a party and all my friends were drinking, so I did, too. I had a curfew, and I knew that my parents would worry if I didn’t get home on time, so I drove – even though I shouldn’t have. I hit a car, and the investigating officer smelled alcohol on my breath. The bottom line is that I was charged with a DUI. It’s a felony in our state. My dream, since I was in third grade, was to be a teacher. Is there any way I can still get a teaching license? I’ve learned my lesson the hard way, and I know I’d be a great teacher.”
Recently I heard this story from a client, tears streaming down her cheeks. In Career Services, an unsettling trend is the increase in number of students who have committed felonies, but who desperately want to become teachers. Fingerprinting and criminal background checks ensure that felony convictions will be disclosed before a prospective teacher even gets to the classroom. The reality is that the path from felony to teacher licensure is likely to be steep. If you are someone who finds him/herself in this unfortunate circumstance, what can you do?
• Confer with your College of Education adviser to learn about program/university policies. Disclose your conviction before you invest hours in a program that you will be unable to complete.
• Research your State Board of Education’s regulations regarding felony convictions and teacher licensure. Some states prohibit any convicted felon from being licensed, whereas others base the decision on the type of felony committed.
• Be prepared to relocate to another state with less stringent regulations if you are determined to teach. Check individual State Board of Education websites to determine parameters.
• Talk frankly and honestly about the lessons you have learned. If you are able to be licensed, some district applications will give you the opportunity to discuss the circumstances of your conviction.
• Consult an attorney for valuable legal advice regarding your rights. Remember that there is a difference between an arrest and a conviction.
• Investigate alternative career options. Your heart may be in teaching, yet this may not be a realistic possibility. Talk with a Career Services counselor to determine what careers employ the same talents and skills (skill sets) required of a teacher. It’s hard to forsake an aspiration, but in a tight teaching market where districts have many candidate choices, being a convicted felon is likely to jeopardize your chances of being chosen.
It can be devastating to face the fact that a mistake that you made years ago might determine the course of your life. High school students are often oblivious to the long-term effects of their actions; in addition, many have already paid a huge financial and emotional price for their transgressions.
If this has been your experience, how have you handled it? I recommend that you gather all the facts that you can, then make the most informed decisions possible. Remember…there are plenty of people out there who are willing to help you.
--Dr. Dawn S. Jones,
Online Education Adviser,
Northern Illinois University, on behalf of AAEE