Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How to Get a Job Teaching

Finding a job teaching is truly one of the most difficult things that I have ever done (three times).  This task is particularly difficult in a saturated field like English or social studies.  Even with years of meritorious achievements, proven student growth, and a record of community contributions, I still feel at times like I am stuck in my current position, but I know that nothing is more difficult than landing the first job.  In this blog post I will offer valuable advice to prospective candidates and particularly student teachers who, after leaving the worst unpaid position in the whole school, are likely to run into a stonewall of opposition in a field where the candidates are so ubiquitous that most administrators don't even have the time or decency to properly reject them.  Pay attention.

  1. Get Certified in an Area of Need: This is the path of least resistance for someone new to the field. As with many other things in our world, the governing forces of supply and demand control the market.  There are more English teachers than math and science teachers because people who are good at math and science become engineers, financial analysts, or something else that pays well; contrarily, people who are talented at reading and discussing literature and history have few viable opportunities to earn a wage besides teaching.  This makes for a large pool of candidates responding to every posted history and English teaching position, and the competition may be overwhelming.  There is much less competition for science, math, and special education teaching positions, and if those don't interest you, there is an emerging need for technology teachers.  If you are reading this blog on the inter-webs, you might just be a good candidate for such a position.  However, getting certified to teach in an area of demand does not guarantee you a job.  Even as a math, special education, science, or technology teacher, administrators won't throw jobs at you.  You'll still have to go through the interview process.  But you'll get more interviews with less effort.  If you're too committed to your course to change it, you'll want to continue reading.

  2. Collect Artifacts: The term "artifacts" refers to student generated work.  Not worksheets, like the valuable reading worksheets offered at ereadingworksheets.com, but authentic student creations (think projects) like colorful handbooks, homemade board games, comic strips, or other work that will reflect your student centered approach.  As a student teacher, you have a fleeting opportunity to collect work like this.  Therefore, you should assign students projects where they have the opportunity to create standards based artifacts.  Select the best examples and tell the respective creators that you are very pleased with their work.  Ask them if you may keep their work to model the assignment to future classes.  This will boost their pride and confidence and you will be able to assemble a quality portfolio.  When I say "portfolio," I'm sure many recent graduates have flashbacks of the tedious, useless portfolio made in college for assessment purposes.  Rather, you should create a new, sleek portfolio containing only items of value: quality artifacts, letters of recommendation, special certifications, and other compelling documents.  This serves two purposes. First, you can show how creative your approaches to teaching are, and it is always more convincing to show than to tell.  Second, it will take the interviewers eyes off of you.  If you are being considered for a teaching job, it is likely that you will be interviewed by more than one person.  While you are making eye contact with one of the interviewers, the others may be burning holes through you trying to figure out if you're too soft, too ignorant, or otherwise incompetent.  What better way to divert their stares than by offering them beautiful, authentic student work at which they can marvel?  This approach will take the focus off of yourself and show them what you can do for their students.  So, if it's not too late, get something tangible out of your strenuous student teaching experience in addition to a couple letters of recommendation: assign your students opportunities to showcase their creativity and collect the best samples.
  3. Distinguish Yourself from Your Rivals: If you've ever been to a teaching job fair, you've probably been greeted by seas of skirts and armies of black suited robots waiting in lines that should have amusement park queues.  As discouraging as the scene may be, you will have a few shimmering opportunities to form memorable connections if your stars align correctly.  Such a connection could lead to an interview, which could lead to a job, which could lead to an exciting career, so help the stars out a bit by making an effort to distinguish yourself from the pack.  Here are a few exemplifying suggestions on how you might distinguish yourself from the others:

    • Wear an original tie or accoutrement: Though the fish tie might be a little much, wearing a tie that expresses some personality will more effectively create attention than the stripe, solid, or checkerboard patterns.  Of course, nobody is going to hire you based on a tie, but an outstanding accoutrement might create an opportunity for you to form a memorable connection in the hard earned moments when you do speak with administrators and recruiters.   

    • Kneel before them: While sitting at eye level with administrators and meeting them as equals is preferable, in my experience, at some teaching job fairs there are no chairs in which you may sit to interview.  In these situations, I suggest that you recognize your position and kneel before the administrators.  Though many people ignore its importance, body language has huge conscious and subconscious ramifications on your interactions.  If you are towering over administrators and bellowing about your perfect attendance all through grade school while showering them with saliva particles, you are mistaking the position for which you are applying.  You are to serve the administrators (and the students of course, but you're not interviewing with students).  Begin your service on the right foot... or knee, in this case.  Sure, you might get a little carpet lint on your suit pants, but the fifty people who interviewed before you will look haughty after you humble yourself before your prospective masters, and you might just score an interview out of the scene. 
    • Show your skills: Convince administrators and recruiters that you'll add value to their school.  Do you know other languages?  Excellent.  Boast of them.  Do you have experience in theater, music, or arts?  That's great.  Passionately speak of your experience and involvement in clubs and organizations.  Use your skills as selling points to establish your character and show the expertise with which you can better serve the children.
  4. Be Aggressive: There is a fine line that runs between pushy and persistent, but in the cases of love and the job hunt, you'll find more success occasionally crossing the line than never approaching it.  Don't let your fear of bothering "them" prevent you from realizing your dreams.  "They" are paid to answer your questions and respond to your queries, so let them do their jobs.  Make them tell you "No." Don't just assume that they mean "No," otherwise it will be "No."  After the first interview, send a follow up letter thanking them for the opportunity.  If they don't callback, call them and ask what the status on the position is.  The prize sometimes goes to the contender who wants it the most.  Be humble and be polite, but be persistent.  Nobody will blame you for trying, and if the job slips through your fingers, at least it won't be because you didn't try to grab it. 

  5. Use Your Telephone: With the convenience of electronic communication, many job seekers are solely using email to contact administrators.  But while digital communications continue to replace the analog technologies of yesteryear, something is lost in the transition.  Do not underestimate the power of a phone conversation.  There is some intangible human quality realized in voice communication that is not expressed in blocks of text.  Years of spam 419 scam emails have conditioned people to be suspicious of unsolicited messages.  Such feelings may lead an administrator to not read past the subject line of your cut-and-paste email contact.  Contrarily, if you manage to get him or her on the phone, his or her ears will be open.  While an email may forever go unread, a hand delivered envelope demands some level of physical attention.  However, all of this does not mean that you should be a Luddite.  In fact, if you have not already done so... 
  6. Upgrade Your Contact: Include a phone number, email, and web address on your resume.  Direct the recruiter's attention to the web address.  Don't have a website?  With a content management system like Wordpress, making a website is easy.  Though you might need some help with the installation, you can make a professional looking website in a weekend.  But if you want to invest even less than that, start a free blog here and slap some information about yourself on it.  Sure, your blog will be on a subdomain of blogger.com (like this post), but many administrators probably don't understand the difference between a domain and a subdomain.  They will probably never visit the page anyway, but having a web address on your resume will make you look techie.  Just in case they do visit, however, you'll want to have some content on your page.  At the bare minimum, include all of your contact information and links to your resume, but while you're at it, throw some online reading tests up there by cutting-and-pasting the HTML code for super-tech points. 

  7. Open up Your Options: As you worked through your education courses in college, you probably imagined an ideal teaching situation.  Perhaps you wanted to teach at the school from where you graduated, or one within one hundred miles of there.  While some people manage to find their way into their ideal position, for each who gains admittance twenty are barred entry.  If you find yourself on the outside of the wall, fear not; the world is big.  Each filter that you remove from your job search will produce new opportunities.  Perhaps you never imagined working in a remote rural school district for $26,000 a year, a catholic school for less, or a poorly performing urban school where violence has a daily presence. Well, consider it.  Consider private schools, public schools, charter schools, and out of state schools.  If you're willing to chase it, you might catch it.  Each stipulation that you impose against your options limits your opportunities and opportunities flee with time.

  8. Apply Where Vacancies Have Not Been Posted: If you passively wait for job opportunities to be posted, you may miss out on unpublished positions with lower competition that spring up at random.  Perhaps these administrators don't want to wade through piles of resumes and streams of unfamiliar faces.  But for whatever reason, many job opportunities go unpublished.  Therefore, sending your resume to every school within your target area can't hurt if you have the stamps.  In the spring of 2006 I sent resume packages (each containing a cover letter, resume, and three letters of recommendation) to almost every high school in Chicago (about 90 packages).  I was given three interviews for my efforts.  Though these interviews did not convert into employment, none of the positions were ever posted online.  These were opportunities that I discovered because I blindly applied.  If you throw enough mud against the wall, some of it is going to stick.

  9. Survey Your Friends and Family: While it's nice to imagine a world where jobs are awarded to the most qualified candidates, often this is not the case.  Sometimes, and perhaps more often than sometimes, it's about who you know.  Therefore, much can be gained by networking within your social circle.  Every time you have a discussion with someone you know that extends as far as "How are you?" mention that you have recently graduated and are looking for a job teaching.  You might think that since these people are not in education, they have not connections with educators, but more likely than not, the person with whom you are communicating has a person in their family who is involved in education.  If they mention that their sister is a teacher, or that their dad's friend is an administrator, go out of your way to give them your resume.  While most of these connections won't be able to get you a job because the school won't be hiring, or because your resume will never arrive at the target destination, your connections are too valuable to ignore.  A good connection will get your resume on top of the pile at least. 

  10. Look Past the Last Day: As the summer wears on and the interviews dry up, you might lose your spirit.  Maybe you'll look into a master's program or consider a career change, but do not give up until you can truly go on no longer.  Though most schools hire in the spring and early summer, many poorly run schools don't satisfy their hiring needs until the final days before the school year and sometimes as much as two weeks after the school year has begun.  Even during the year, life happens.  People's plans change and opportunities arise overnight.  If after all of this you want to continue the job hunt, start substitute teaching and continue your job search internally. 
Finding a teaching job is not an easy thing for most people to do.  The competition is plentiful but the positions do exist.  I hope that these secrets that I've shared with you will help you realize your dreams and make the world a better place.  

    No comments:

    Post a Comment