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Recovering from a RIF to Get Your Next Teaching Job

You have a lot to offer! Use these strategies to use your past experience to find your new job.

Losing your job because of a Reduction in Force and budget cuts can be extremely demoralizing. However, the fact that you HAD a teaching job actually makes you more employable for your next teaching job. Use the following strategies to emphasize your past teaching experience as you job search.

1. Before the current school year ends

  • While still working in your district, meet with your department chair and any administrators who have seen you teach. Ask for letters of recommendation from them, and ask that the letters include specific references to your best teaching moments. It is much more powerful for a future employer to read a letter from someone who has seen you teach than from a former college professor, or a character reference.
  • Clean and sort your teaching materials. Most teachers spend hundreds of dollars of their own money on teaching supplies, and the ones purchased with your money go with you to be used in your next classroom. The same is true about the original plans, units, curriculum maps and learning centers you have created. Take copies of everything, and keep those copies organized for your next classroom.
  • Take pictures of your bulletin boards and learning centers. Put some of these pictures in your portfolio to explain how well organized your past classroom was.
  • Consider having the media specialist in your school help you to make a 10-minute video clip of your teaching. Because of privacy laws, you may not be able to have students in the video, but a short clip of you delivering material might be a nice piece to add to your personal website. You can direct potential employers to view this clip with a line in your cover letter and on your résumé. Again, follow school guidelines for this activity. Learn more about using social media to your advantage.
  • Network with teachers of other grades for their best teaching ideas. You may end up in a new grade and need fresh ideas and materials. Build a library of teaching ideas. If other teachers are throwing away old copies of teaching magazines or materials, add them to your collection.
  • While still teaching, use any extra vacation days or professional days to attend job fairs.
  • Build a network of your current colleagues through social media. Consider a website, LinkedIn or a Facebook group as a support group. At the very least, keep everyone’s contact information. Networking is critically important.
  • Most importantly, keep teaching well. The best recommendation you can get is that even after finding out that you were released, you taught well and helped your current students.

2. After the school year ends

  • Keep your professional memberships current (including the NEA). Use their offerings.
  • Know that job searching is now your job, so plan to spend several hours a day doing online searches, visiting your alma mater’s career center and contacting people.
  • Take any free summer workshops that might be available to you since you worked in a district the past year. Even if the workshop is not exactly a fit for your teaching area, you never know when it will help you. Consider taking low-cost online professional development courses.
  • Complete the required paperwork to be substitute teacher in as many area schools as possible.

3. Paperwork hints for the experienced, newly-RIFed teacher

  • While it is not good to have gaps in your résumé, your time spent as a teacher who was cut due to a RIF is understandable. In your cover letters, and on your résumé, explain that you were released due to a Reduction in Force.
  • While not employed as a teacher, you should do things that will help you grow as a teacher. Examples include: Take coursework, especially in a high-needs field, such as special education, math, science, Spanish or ESL. Take workshops. List all of the professional development activities completed on your résumé.
  •  Be a volunteer. Serving as a classroom volunteer at your child’s school may get you noticed by another administrator. Directing a school play, chaperoning events or serving as a speech contest judge all keep you visible in a school.

4. When you get an interview

  • In any telephone or on-site interview, sell your past teaching experience. Have specific success stories ready to present that illustrate student achievement. Be positive about the teaching profession. Past behavior is the best predictor of future performance. If you are negative in the interview, or relate negative experiences, the employer will see you as negative.
  • Stress your persistence. I recently met an outstanding teacher whose job was cut each of her first 3 years in teaching. She reported that in each interview she had after that, she stressed how much she learned in her one-year positions. She got hired!
  • Do a “show and tell” in your interviews. Your well-organized portfolio should have wonderful examples of your work. Remember that you have more to offer because of your past teaching, even if it was just 1 to 3 years.

5. Other jobs available to you

  • As time wears on without a teaching job, you will be considering other positions. As you conduct a job search, remember that your teaching skills are transferable. Many businesses need people with strong language skills, who can speak and write well. Teachers have these skills.
  • Insurance companies, banks and sales companies hire teachers because they can organize material and explain it well.
  • Stress your organizational and computer skills in an interview for any job. The health profession needs people who can greet patients, keep paperwork organized and be supportive. You can do this.
  • Remember that having a bachelor’s degree makes you more employable than a huge number of people. Your degree indicates your persistence. Being able to conduct research makes you more employable, and you certainly wrote some research papers to earn your college degree.

Final hints:

1. Now is the time to reach out to any and all contacts in education.

2. Read and follow the suggestions for anyone looking for a teaching job, then remember that your experience makes you a stronger candidate.

3. Consider professional help from a life coach or a career counselor.

4. Build a support group for yourself.

5. Don’t give up. You have a lot to offer.

Dr. Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College, northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Her research on the hiring of new teachers has received national recognition. She is the author of “The Definitive Guide to Getting a Teaching Job” and “First Time in the High School Classroom.”

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