Can You Be a Teacher With A Criminal Record? (Felonies & Misdemeanors)

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You have a criminal record. We aren’t here to judge.

But, if you are interested in teaching domestically or abroad, you’ve probably figured out that your record may be a major obstacle. So, what you are probably wondering is if it is even possible for you to become a teacher.

The short answer is that it depends.

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There are a few factors which must be taken into consideration before you completely discount the possibility. So, let’s take a look at what those factors are so that you can be better informed when it comes time to apply for teaching jobs having a criminal record.

Becoming a Teacher With a Criminal Record: Is it posssible?

Felonies: Crimes Which Disqualify You to Be a Teacher

If your criminal record includes serious, violent crimes or crimes against children of any form, you will not find a job teaching, neither in your home country nor abroad.

Any country where a criminal background check is a requirement for securing employment will not issue you a work visa. If a school requires a background check before being hired, this will be a major red flag and your application will certainly be denied.

These crimes, in the US laws, are classified as felonies: “crimes punishable by a term of imprisonment of one year or more“. (Definition: britannica.com)

These include (not limited to):

  • murder
  • rape, serious sexual assault
  • kidnapping, extortion
  • robbery with violence
  • dealing with class A drugs
  • domestic violence, violence against children or vulnerable person
  • and more

Although the laws of each state and country or the hiring guidelines of schools vary, these crimes will definitely disqualify you from getting a teaching job anywhere.

As a teacher, you have to take care of young ones – and with a serious criminal background, you won’t be considered qualified to take this kind of responsibility.

Misdemeanors: Crimes Which Do Not Necessarily Disqualify You

On the other hand, there are minor crimes, which aren’t an imperative elimination criterion when applying for a teacher job at a school.

By the US law, these type of convictions are classified as misdemeanors: “offenses punishable only by fines or by short terms of imprisonment in local jails“. (Definition: britannica.com)

These include (not limited to):

  • drug possession
  • minor burglary, car or store theft
  • affray
  • drunken driving

The means not that these convictions or misdemeanors doesn’t matter at all. Whether you will be hired as a teacher with that kind of criminal record, is at the discretion of the hiring committee of a school or training center.

They’ll have to decide whether you pose a threat to the students, colleagues, and school property, or not.

For the decision, the history and circumstances of the conviction can matter a lot, as well as how long it is ago. If you hurt someone in an act of self-defense or did something idiotic in your youth, people might more easily “forgive“ you and ignore the incident.

However, this will heavily depend on the specific location and institution where you want to teach, who decides on your application, and how you present yourself.

When you want to teach abroad, whether you have a chance to land a teaching job with a criminal record, depends mainly on one question: Do you need to provide a background check for the visa application, or only with your job application?

More on that later. Now, let’s analyze the steps you can take if you have a criminal record and want to become a teacher.

This article only contains general information, not legal advice. Only a lawyer can advise you, depending on the local laws and your specific situation.

Request a Background Check

The first thing to get out of the way is to figure out what is on your criminal record. You might assume that anything you’ve done in your life for which you were arrested will show up. But, that isn’t always the case. 

For example, if you were arrested for something but never charged or convicted, then there may not be a record. Or, there may be a record for an arrest but not a charge. (Usually, only based on arrests that did not lead to a conviction, employers cannot deny you a job.)

If you have ever been arrested for anything, whether large or small, it is best to conduct a background check on yourself first so that you know what could potentially show up.

Be aware, just because you do an online background check, doesn’t mean you are seeing the full story. To secure a visa in many countries or a job at a school, you will be required to submit a background check from the appropriate government authority, which is typically the national police bureau. 

In the United States, for example, this will be the FBI. These checks will be much more thorough than an online background check. However, they may not include everything such as local misdemeanors. 

It is a good idea to go right to the source instead of using an online check. Figure out which agency in your country you will be required to apply to for your background check, and go ahead and get a copy for yourself first.

If nothing comes up, then obviously you are in the clear, as nothing will show on the copy you send to the immigration office or employer. However, if something does show up, you will have to look at your unique circumstances to see what can be done.

Read how to avoid 6 common mistakes of ESL teachers regarding the background check.

Try to Get Your Record Expunged

Don’t give up hope on teaching abroad just yet. Depending on what it is on your record, you may still have a number of options for clearing it and getting your criminal record cleaned up. 

The first thing that you need to do is to talk to an attorney. Depending on what shows up on your criminal record, you may be eligible to have these records expunged. Only an attorney will be able to advise you on this matter so don’t just rely on online information. (That’s why I won’t go into details here.)

Expungement is not an option in all countries, so you will need to first determine how local laws apply to your circumstances. If you are in the United States, or a country where it is possible to expunge your criminal record, make sure and consult an attorney who specializes in this process to improve your odds of success.

You should know that this process will not be cheap. The total cost for expunging criminal charges can run multiple thousands of dollars per charge. So, if you have multiple charges, it can get costly. It is important you weigh these costs against your long-term plans and potential earnings.

If, for example, you only want to go abroad for a year and your expected salary is only $800 per month, then this may not be worth it. However, if you are a skilled teacher, and you intend to make a long-term teaching career with expectations that you can earn a good salary, the time and expenses of expunging your record may be worth it. 

Teaching in Your Home Country With a Criminal Record

As being said, with minor convictions (misdemeanors) in your criminal record, you can still land a teaching job in a school.

First, inform yourself about the laws applicable in your country or state, and the hiring guidelines and procedures of schools. Check the websites of the department/board of education or the responsible authorities of the local school district.

For example, for the state of New York, USA, the BAR association writes the following in a brochure about employment rights:

New York law makes it illegal for both public and private employers to deny you a job (or fire you from an existing job), […] based solely on your criminal record unless 1) there is a direct relationship between your past conviction(s) and the job you want; or 2) hiring you would involve an unreasonable risk to property or to the safety of others.

BAR association, New York, USA

In this case, a school will have to decide, whether a past conviction of yours is related to a job as a teacher and involves risk to your surrounding. So, if you have been charged for drunken driving once, years ago, there might be a good chance that this won’t lock you out from getting a teacher’s job.

To keep this chance, be open about your past and never lie during the whole application and interview process. When the truth comes out later, you can and will be instantly fired for that reason.

Teaching Abroad With a Criminal Record

Same here: All hope isn’t lost yet, you can’t get your criminal record “cleaned“. Depending on what your charges are, you may still be able to find a job teaching English abroad in certain countries.

Most likely, you will be required to submit a criminal background check at some point in the process of securing employment abroad. 

The differences will be in who is looking at that criminal background check and what it’s for.

If it is a background check to secure a visa, then there is likely to be very little leeway given by the government of that country if something shows up. To be clear: A criminal record will lock out from teaching abroad in all the higher-paying countries, no matter how minor the recorded convictions are.

On the other hand, if it is a background check being requested only by the school, they may give more leniency depending on what the charge is.

So, if you have a charge for drunken driving, and you are applying for a job in a country that does not require you to submit a criminal background check to secure a visa, you may be okay. The school may choose to overlook the charge and provide you with a job depending on how desperate they are to hire teachers. 

It should be noted that countries that do not require a criminal background check to secure a work visa will usually be at the lower end of the pay scale for ESL teaching. These include, for example: Mexico, Costa Rica, Colombia, or Cambodia.

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