Monday, May 30, 2011

Dear Teachers (who are currently looking for a job)

I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. I’ve filled out the online applications, I’ve been to the cow-herding experience called a job fair and I’ve seen the important month of September roll around and been without a teaching job.

Finding a teaching job is not easy. The screening process and online applications make it near-impossible to get a face to face interview. There’s rarely any feedback from these online applications and there is no reliable source available for teaching jobs online so you have to resort to checking individual school websites.

So how do you get through this process, into the front door and in front of kids so you can actually show people that you can teach and get that gig? Now I’ve got no magical answers but I do have some tips that got me my first three jobs in education and have helped me end up in a dream-job.

  • Don’t close doors before you get to the interview: If you are certified to teach K-5 apply to EVERY single job opening you find that includes those grades. If you are a music teacher that only specializes in choir, apply to orchestra and band jobs as well. Don’t limit yourself before you get into the door. If you think you are only able to teach specific grade  you may be right, but getting a gig in an area that is not your specific strength can lead to success and also can be a stepping stone to a position you really love. I never thought I would teach elementary school but after not finding any high school position, all I could find was an elementary gig and it ended up opening a whole new world of education that I now love.
  • Work In A School: A couple years ago when September came and I didn’t have a teaching job I took a job as an assistant teacher. I was a 1 to 1 aid assisting a student with special needs. Was this a step down for a high school band teacher with a master’s degree. Kind of, but it got me into a fantastic district and gained some valuable experiences and connections helped me get to my current job. Whether it’s being an assistant, substitute, secretary, or lunch room supervisor, get into a school. Being in a school around kids and teachers will continue to strengthen your teaching even if you aren’t actually teaching.  Being part of a school community is an important way to make connections and creates  a foothold to work your way into a more preferred position.
  • Use your connection: If you send in a resume to my school and walked in the door and asked to speak with a principal, you probably won’t get past the security desk. If you called me up, chatted on the phone and I felt you were someone who could add something to my school I could walk you right in and introduce you to not only the principal but other teachers and move you passed the initial screening interview. Btw, if you are looking for teaching gig in the Chicagoland area, let me know (  I got my first job through one of my professors and if it wasn’t for an amazing reference call from one of my colleagues I wouldn’t have gotten my current job. Talk to people, let people know at every party you go to and every social event you attend that you are looking for a teaching job. Having an in, knowing someone on the inside is critical. Yes, you can get a job without any connections but in my experiences it’s the people who know people who get the good gigs.
  • Treat finding a job as a job: If you’re not spending 10 hours a week looking for jobs, filling out applications and calling people, you’re not working hard enough. This isn’t a fill out one job application a week and wait by the phone process. This is a fill our ten applications a week, drive to schools, bang on doors, call up everyone you know on the planet kind of process. No one is going to give you a job, you have to earn it.
Is there a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone looking for a teaching job? No, just like how everyone who wants to be a rock star can’t be one. But if being a teacher is that important to you, I believe you can make it happen. You may have to move to a smaller town, be underemployed and do work that you never imagined yourself enjoying but it can happen.

One last thing to think about: Why do you want to be a teacher?  Are the tribulations and frustrations of finding a job worth working with often aggravating and exhausting future generations?  If not, that's okay.  there's plenty of other fields that welcome people with educational backgrounds.

If it is, go for it. Don't give up.  Somewhere there's a school that needs you and a classroom of students yearning to be taught by someone just like you.

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