While there are many requirements for a career in education, a common question from many would-be teachers who’ve learned lessons in the school of hard knocks is “can I become a teacher if I have a criminal record?” A teaching career can be a path to a professional salary, and to personal fulfillment. Many teachers shape the lives of generations of students,helping them succeed academically and helping lay the foundation to the rest of their lives, and potential teachers who’ve strayed off the straight and narrow may look to the field as a route to personal redemption.
Unfortunately, it’s not always an easy path.
Barriers To Entry
The first hurdle to getting into teaching with a criminal record is the nature of your crime. The regulations vary substantially from state to state, but there are consistent crimes that, no matter what, will keep you out of the teaching profession: murder, arson, rape, sex crimes with a minor, kidnapping, extortion and domestic violence. These, the basic list of major felonies, will always keep you from teaching, and there is no remediation process. The statutes in Ohio are typical.
While a record for other criminal behavior may not absolutely bar you from getting a teaching career, every state in the United States has a procedure for doing criminal background checks on prospective teachers and other state employees. The New York Bar Association provides a set of guidelines that apply in that state, and can be used as a guideline for what your rights are with a criminal record. The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse provides similar guidance. In general, your path to getting a teaching career depends on your honesty. No matter how tempting it is to lie by omission, you will lose any credibility when your background is discovered, and since they’ll run your Social Security Number against a national database, you’re going to be outed eventually. Instead, be up front about it. Be willing to explain your circumstances.
Sealing Your Record
If your criminal record happened when you were a minor, there’s a good chance that it has already been sealed. This can be a great boon for someone who has served time past their juvenile records and wants to get into teaching. Other offenses that were committed as an adult can be expunged as well. Each state has a different procedure for expunging and clearing your record. When the record is cleared, all convictions and charges are removed from your court record. To be expunged, the crime cannot be any of the major felonies, or any crime that puts you on a sex offender registry, such as rape or gross sexual imposition. Any crime that merits a mandatory prison sentence will not be expungable, and you won’t be able to get your record cleared until after a certain period of time has passed. For misdemeanors this is usually a year or two, and for felonies, it can vary from three to five years, depending on the state in question. Record erasing is also a one-time deal; you only get to do it once in your employment and court-related history.
In conclusion, yes, under the right circumstances, you can become a teacher if you have a criminal record. You’ll need to focus on the laws and regulations pertaining to your state, and as with anything dealing with the court system, you’ll want to bring this up with legal counsel before proceeding. Teaching can be an important and fulfilling job, but it is not without its conflicts. For a glimpse into some of the contentious aspects of teaching, check out 30 Most Controversial Education Practices in U.S. History.