10 Things They Don’t Tell You about Finding Your First Teaching Position
Congratulations on graduating you teacher/educator! Wrapping up your student teaching and walking across that stage is a validation of four long years of work. Now all that’s left is to find your first teaching job.
1.) You will not have a job in May. Breathe.
Especially if you’re not math, science, or SPED expect not to have a job in May. This can be an incredibly scary and daunting position to be headed towards, but it is also completely normal. Schools do not even start thinking about the next school year until late June/early July. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t even start your search until then, but don’t panic until August 1st. Perhaps you’re a self-driven “go-getter” who just knows in your heart you’re going to be one of the few with a job. That’s great, be determined, but know that the system you’re headed towards does not really reward go-getters, and often you’ll feel like you’re constantly speeding up to a red light. The people who are graduating with a job are either: student teaching at a school that has an opening, their CT is head of the department, or they return to the high school they themselves attended. There is nothing wrong with using connections, but if you’re not in the one of the above three categories, it is a tough process to get your foot in the door. Thousands of teachers just like you go through this process every year. Breathe, and you will be fine.
2.) There will be peaks and valleys
There will be days that you are nailing it; there will be days where you are wallowing in self-pity on the carpet blubbering about how you’re un-hirable (and maybe un-lovable) and should crawl under a rock and die. As with any job search, the journey is a long one and is filled with peaks and valleys. This is something that your education prep courses notoriously under-prepared you for. To start with, they do not give you a real scope of just how much time the search itself is going to take you and the courses, (no matter how many resume building classes you attend) can’t prepare you for how personal it feels when you never get a call back, or a reply email. The valleys are so long and so deep and the peaks are so short that you may accidentally trip over one on the way to another valley. You present the best version of yourself for so long and seem to still face rejection at every corner. There will be days where you get that email or a principal will leave a voicemail and you will feel as if you have vanquished a monster every time. Those are glorious times in the kingdom. Know this: it is not personal, there is nothing wrong with you, keep up the good fight.
3.) Take Sundays for you
Obviously being determined is important and you want to start early and have your application materials (resume, letters of rec…etc) as soon as you can get them together. However, nothing ever gets accomplished on a Sunday. It’s rare for any principals to be in their office, district offices certainly aren’t open, and everything shuts down on a Sunday. In the mad, stressful search that is finding your first teaching position, take Sundays for you. Go to the movies, hang out with friends, go swimming. Whatever the case may be you will never get anything accomplished on a Sunday, so you might as well take the day to unwind and enjoy what little of a summer you have. A lot of your search is going to be about balance and not stressing yourself out into a panic. Taking one day a week is a very manageable way to organize your time and make sure you’re not going to get burned out too early.
4.) Everyone’s a critic
Teaching is a unique profession in the sense that everyone around you, teachers or not, will think they know how to do it and will give you advice on your job search. Random people will ask “well, did you call any principals yet?” and you’re supposed to act shocked at this revelation that is going to single-handedly turn your career around. Your friends and family will mean well, which it makes it very difficult to get upset with them when they turn to you in May wondering why you haven’t found work. You have done your research; you know when districts start hiring or when they have career fairs…etc, just hold your head up high. It’s difficult when you feel you’re doing every little thing you can to find a job and your family and friends are breathing down your neck and offering patronizing advice like “make sure you have extra copies of your resume.” Extra copies? WHAT? Slow down, let me get a pen, I want to get all of this written down! The best advice is to smile and nod and don’t let their ignorance of our profession get under your skin.
5.) Learn to love the hoops
Contrary to what movies (and your family) will tell you, teaching is not a one “30-minute-interview-handshake” sort of thing anymore (see #2). A very plausible scenario: you to attend a career fair and give a 5-minute meet and greet, to which they will schedule another follow-up interview (usually lasting about 30-40 minutes) after that interview you would make it to the second round, which is a 20 minute teaching demonstration lesson, followed by an hour-long debrief on your lesson’s strengths and weaknesses. Finally they’d narrow it down to two candidates, and you would have to interview an additional time for the position, then wait a week and a half while the principal/admin team makes their decision for which you have a 50/50 shot at. That is roughly 4-5 hoops to jump through. Urban districts, rural districts, and every district in between have a lengthy screening process that, (unless you’re in one of the three categories mentioned in #1) will take some time to complete. There is no way around this process, and the only way to win the game is to play it. You will have to love the process, because if you don’t life will become a meaningless abyss and you’ll end up like one of those teaching majors who take some desk job somewhere and convince themselves they’re happier not being in a classroom. Stick with it! It is what everyone else is doing and you will make it out alive.
6.) There aren’t always right answers
So congrats, you landed the interview! That is a feat in and of itself because principals and assistant principals have to sort through so many different resumes and qualified applications that making the cut that first time is a success. When looking for your first teaching job out of college, it is hard to get out of that “right/wrong, black/white, yes/no” mentality. In your education classes there were right or wrong answers. However, in interviews with principals (especially the earlier ones) they are just looking for how you think or how you shape your ideas/philosophy over time. Answer the questions as succinctly and honestly as you can. Sometimes they may ask a question you know nothing about, such as a specific theory or score-reporting software. In these cases, just admit you’re unfamiliar with whatever concept they are asking you about, but are willing to do some independent research. Hundreds of applicants will be b.s.-ing answers all day to their faces, and most principals will thank you for your honesty. Get out of that “right/wrong” dichotomy because it’s going to put a lot more stress on you when speaking with the principal. There is, of course, the possibility that whomever is interviewing you will hate all your answers, and that’s fine (see #7) that just means it’s somewhere you don’t want to be, or wouldn’t “gel” well with the rest of the staff.
7.) Go to every interview
This sounds like common sense, and the angry skeptic might read this point as “oh yeah, let me turn down all the NOTHING I’m getting offered.” Hold tight. After working your way through May and June and maybe even early July you will finally start to get some traction. Schools will start calling you back slowly, but surely. Think of it as the first snowflake of an avalanche, or the first drop in a rainstorm, or whatever various “more will come” metaphor you’d prefer. You start to hack your way through the jungle of hoops and a few schools tell you you’re being “highly considered” or “you’re the favorite candidate for this position.” That is great news! However, be wary of ever assuming you’ve got a job in the bag. There may be a point where you’re so sure one school wants to hire you, and then you’ll get another call. Go to that interview. Until your signature is ink on paper, keep jumping through the hoops. Sometimes the best school will contact you later in the year and might be the best thing for you. The universe is a random and chaotic thing, so keep as many options open as possible and be careful about shutting doors too quickly.
8.) Don’t kid yourself on where you want to be
In line with #6, be honest about what kind of environment, and what kind of student body you want to teach. Some of your peers will opt for the more rural areas where you have to drive 30 minutes to get to a Wal-Mart; the class sizes are smaller and the kids have a lot of parental involvement. However, some of your peers will opt for more urban areas, some of your peers will opt for a suburb area or a private school; they all have pros and cons. At any rate, make sure you know what kind of area you want to be in, and make those a top priority in your search for a job. Spending a year in an environment you hate will drive you nuts and, frankly, it will rub off on your students and will be a bad situation all around. When you feel like you’re drowning, you might be quick to accept “any port in a storm,” and this is entirely natural. However, fight this urge. Your students will sense it, your administration will sense it, and that’s bad news. You may be waiting a bit longer, and other jobs might pass you up in the meantime, but it is better to wait for a position you could really see yourself in rather than taking the first offer that comes along.
9.) Your resume will never matter as much as your personality
Over the years you may have added many fellow education majors to Facebook (through classes, for projects, whatever.) You will have seen these peers teach in classes, and through four years you’ll have a rough idea of how these men and women are in a classroom. These peers will forget to turn on projectors, refuse to accept any criticisms of their lesson plans, or speak so softly they couldn’t command an army of ants let alone a classroom. Every other day you will see someone post a status announcing their new position of gainful employment. Some of these people you will remark “oh, good for them!” and for others your jaw will drop in disbelief that some district out there in the world gave that person a job. It’s rude, it’s petty, but you will think it. Bottom line: be prepared to see bad teachers get jobs before you. That’s because they met with a principal who, more than likely, just felt like that applicant would be a “good fit” for their building. Often they are correct. Your resume is incredibly important to getting your foot in the door, but at the end of the day that personality has to shine through because that is what’s going to clinch you the job.
10.) We are all on the same ship
There are some who believe that finding your first teaching job is a zero-sum game. (Your loss is their win.) These people will commonly say things like “I’m not sharing any of my resources!” or “Why would I tell people about openings I know about? Then someone else could get them!” Do not, under any circumstances, choose to be one of those people. Teaching is a profession built on collaboration and the people who respond to the stress of searching for a job by lashing out and treating everyone like the enemy make this process practically unbearable. Sometimes a friend will get a call from an urban school, and she’ll pass your name along to them instead because she’d prefer something more rural. Sometimes it is just that easy. We, as educators, have enough to deal with trying to find that first job without worrying about our peers stabbing us in the back. We are all passengers on the same ship just trying to get into classrooms to inspire and foster students. Rest assured you will get into a classroom, and all the effort will be worth it. Once you finally secure that job, do you really want to turn around and see that no one’s behind you because you were more interested in stepping on necks than helping people out?
One day your grandkids will ask “what was the best day of your life?” and having kids and grandkids and winning the lottery and solving the world’s problems will pale in comparison to the day a principal calls you to offer you the position. That moment is coming; be prepared and try to relax.