Whether you've been bringing up a family, trying your hand at business, or travelling the world, returning to teaching after a break can be daunting.
"When I thought about it I dismissed the idea as too scary," says Charlotte Russell, a former primary teacher who has spent the past 15 years working as a fitness instructor and private tutor, and raising two children. "I'd lost confidence. I was out of touch on the curriculum and felt I'd forgotten how to handle a class."
A Return to Teaching course, funded by the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA), which allowed her to brush up old skills and develop new ones, has given her the confidence to try again. "It made me realise how much I had to offer," she says. "And also how much I'd missed teaching."
The courses include a series of workshops and a 10-day school placement, and are open to anyone with qualified teacher status who's been out of teaching for a year or more. There are also bursaries of up to #163;1,500.
But if you don't fancy the course, or there's nothing in your area, there are still things you can do to sharpen up, such as buying yourself a few days' continuing professional development, updating your technology or supply teaching.
Most agencies will take you on if you've been out of teaching for less than five years. More than that, and they'll probably insist on a refresher course.
It certainly makes sense to do all you can to give yourself an edge, because returners often find the job market difficult. An average of 10,000 teachers come back to the profession each year but the longer you've been out, the harder it can be to get back in.
To win over the doubters, you'll need to fine-tune your job applications. But it's more a question of attitude than anything else. Never leave an unexplained gap on your CV and always give your reasons for leaving teaching, your reasons for going back, and a thorough account of what you've been doing in between. Remember - whatever you've been up to, it's likely that at least some of your new skills will be transferable.
"Raising two young children has taught me to manage my time and prioritise different tasks," says Nasreen Hassam, who left teaching two and half years ago, but plans to return next year.
So make your case with confidence, and don't feel inferior just because you've done other things. "You might be competing for jobs against teachers with 30 years' continuous experience," says John Novak of course provider thelea.com.
"But in reality those people may simply have had the same year's experience 30 times. Returners often apologise for having been out of the profession, when what they should really be doing is celebrating their new skills and experiences."
Things to think about
- Keep up to date with new initiatives by reading publications and websites.
- References are key. If you've lost touch with old colleagues, then a Return To Teaching course may be the best way to secure a reference. See www.tda.gov.ukreturners for more details.
- When applying for jobs, outline a five or 10-year career plan. Heads may be concerned that you'll come back for a year or two then leave again.
- If you're struggling to get interviews, target the job market outside the peak period of JanuaryFebruary. Look out for last-minute posts covering illness or maternity.