Q. When should I start my job search if I want to work in August?
A. It can take up to a year to find a teaching job in this economy. Start your search by finding the right websites for the state where you want to teach, and at least one national website that is useful to you. Read a lot of school district websites. Find out what your college career center can offer you, even if you graduated years ago. Start soliciting letters of recommendation. Create a resume, a cover letter and a portfolio. Read at least one book on getting a teaching job. Create a network of friends and colleagues to edit your paperwork and counsel you in your search. Update your professional memberships.
Q. Are there books to read about getting a teaching job?
A. Yes, go to one of the online bookstores (for example, Barnes&Noble.com), and search “teacher job search.” While there are many books about job searching, resume writing and interviewing in general, job searches for teachers are quite different than ones for the business world, and your money will be best spent on a book specifically for teacher jobs. Also, go to http://www.aaee.org/ for their annual publication, “Job Search Handbook for Educators.”
Q. I have stayed home for almost six years with my small children. Does this hurt my chances of re-entering the job market at this time?
A. Employers know that women make up three-fourths of the job market, and that teaching is considered the “family-friendly” profession. As a stay-at-home mom, have you done any work, including volunteer work, that might be added to your new resume? Also, taking some seminars or a class during this time would be a good addition to your resume. You never have to tell employers about family issues, and they can’t ask, but you may have gained some valuable experiences from raising your own children that will make you a better candidate for a job. Spend some time rehearsing how you’ll discuss your time spent out of the workforce and how you’ll reply to questions you may be asked. Having a short list of specific experiences that you can use as examples is always a good idea.
Q. After 15 years in the business world, I went back to college to become a teacher. I’m almost 40, and am concerned that a school will prefer to hire a 22-year-old graduate. What are my chances at getting a job?
A. Many new hires are career changers, and school administrators welcome experts from the business world who can share a variety of experiences with students. Summarize your business experience succinctly on your resume, and be clear about how you have earned full teacher certification before seeking a job. Employers are seeking fully-certified, articulate, candidates who have completed student teaching. Your maturity may work in your favor. Don’t say you are entering the teaching force for an “easier” job that is just 8:00 to 3:00 or for the vacation time!
Q. I worked two years as a new teacher before experiencing a layoff. Because my spouse is employed, and we are fairly new homeowners, I can’t move. What are my options?
A. Have you considered a private school, a library or a community college for part-time work? Can you go back and finish another degree for additional certifications? If you don’t find education related employment, always keep your teacher certification current and maintain professional memberships. These things will help you get a job later.
Q. Should I get my master’s now, or will that make me too expensive and less employable in the future?
A. The majority of teachers now have a master’s degree. School districts must prove that they have highly-qualified teachers, and having a master’s degree, especially one in a subject matter field, may make you more employable. The best advice is to earn your master’s degree when you have the opportunity, as sometimes life’s experiences prevent us from being able to go back to college.
Q. Everyone says that special education teachers are still being hired. I have an endorsement to teach special education, but prefer a job in a regular early elementary classroom. Should I take a job I don’t want to eventually get one that I do want?
A. Only you can answer this question, depending on how badly you need a job and what is available where you live and work. Your resume can state, “Seeking a position in early elementary teaching, K-3. Additional endorsement for special education.” Most schools that hire you will probably place you in a “regular” classroom with inclusion students. District guidelines on how veteran teachers are assigned to classes vary widely, but be sure to read the district’s policies about voluntary and involuntary transfers. You generally have a contract for a district, not one individual school. See your NEA rep with specific questions about assignments after you have worked in a district. The same advice given here also applies to those with ESL, gifted or coaching endorsements.
Q. Do the national websites charge for their services? Are they like “headhunters” in the business world?
A. Many websites offer programs to match candidates to schools with openings. The owners of the site are making money by charging the schools that advertise openings, not by charging the candidates. Read everything on the website before signing up. Remember that not all openings are posted on commercial sites, especially when budgets are tight. Go to state and local district websites and read them frequently—at least once a week.
Q. The teaching jobs that are available seem to have larger class sizes, more preparations and even more extra-duties. Many jobs are in “tough” schools with low-achieving students. If I take one of these jobs, will I be able to eventually work into a better situation?
A. Today’s teachers certainly do have challenges, and the budget constraints have not helped. It is best to view teaching as a public service, and to take on the challenges. Achieving success in any teaching situation is what will help you to get your next teaching position.
Q. I have heard that employers go to Facebook or other sites to find out about the lives of applicants. Can they do this?
A. Yes, employers can, and do, go to these public sites to see if there is anything about you online. Clean up your accounts and remember that everything that is public can be viewed. Be very careful about your postings and those of your friends on your site.
Q. My student teaching was very difficult and my teacher did not rate my performance highly. How can I work around this negative evaluation?
A. Your student teaching evaluation is rarely part of your application or credentials file. You choose the people who serve as your references and you choose the writers of your letters of recommendation. Hopefully, a letter from your college supervisor, and other former college professors, will highlight your strengths. If asked directly why your cooperating teacher did not write a letter, you may say that the assignment was a challenging one, and that your college supervisor’s letter covers your work during that semester. You may want to add a letter from a former employer, possibly from a summer job or an on-campus job. Employers want to know that you are reliable, and those letters will hopefully offset the lack of one from your student teaching experience.
Q. Once I am offered a job, how long will I have to decide if I am going to accept it? I am hoping for an offer from another district, and want to stall the first district as long as possible.
A. While candidates are always worried about not getting jobs, employers are also worried about starting the school year without enough qualified teachers. An employer will probably give you a deadline, 3 to 4 days, and then they will want to hear from you. Some districts mail out letters of intent immediately after offering you the job, and those letters state a date by which you must reply. While a letter of intent is not a contract, it should be considered a legal document.
Q. When interviewing for a position, how much of the contract is negotiable? Could I request a special arrangement if I am in a high needs field, like science? Can I request no extra-curricular duties my first year?
A. Districts have contracts that cover all teachers, and these contracts are negotiated by the teachers’ unions and/or professional associations. These contracts exist to protect teachers. Negotiating individual “deals” is rarely done in teaching. However, you should be given all the information needed to make a decision about accepting a job. You may ask about extra-curricular duties and where you will be teaching (not all new teachers get their own classrooms). Districts have published guidelines about signing bonuses, which are rare, and other incentives for new hires.
Q. What is your best advice on getting a teaching job in today’s market?
A. Start your search early. Make all of your paperwork error free. Use online and professional networks. Practice for your interviews by creating some vignettes that describe your teaching successes. Dress professionally for on-site interviews. Make sure that nothing embarrassing about you is available publicly online.
Q: With so many teachers in my state experiencing layoffs, usually called a RIF, Reduction in Force, do I have any chance at a job next year?
A. The answer is, “It all depends.” Some teachers are re-hired late in the summer by their former employers. Others start a job search in another state, or in an urban area of their state. It is important to remember that being employed as a teacher last year is your number one selling point when you job search for next year. Read the other sections on this site for updating your paperwork and preparing for interviews so that you are ready for the next job opportunity.
Q: I have heard that new graduates are putting video clips of their teaching on personal websites, and directing employers to watch them teach. Should I do this? I am a teacher with a few years of experience who now needs to job search.
A. You have to be careful with this. The privacy rules that schools have may not permit you to video a classroom with students in it. You may be able to make a video showcasing a presentation, or what your classroom looks like, and while showing the room you can explain your management procedures and rules. That might really impress a future employer. Check with your current administration and media specialist about doing this.
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.