Recently I’ve seen quite a few discouraged posts in teacher groups I’m a part of about the struggles of trying to land your first teaching job. It’s true, the market is fairly saturated right now, and it can be extremely difficult to get your foot in the door at a great school without years of experience. It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed for a teaching job, but I chatted with two friends yesterday – one is a recently retired elementary school principal, and the other is a current high school assistant principal – who gave me some awesome advice to share with someone looking to get hired today (and, what next steps to take if you don’t end up getting the job you wanted). So, without further adieu…
1. Make face-to-face contact with the principal.
This is probably the oldest piece of advice in the book, but it’s true that being able to connect a face with a name (and a resume) goes a long way in the teaching industry too. Show the hiring principal that you are serious about wanting a job, and that you’re willing to go out of your way to make an impression. A five minute visit to introduce yourself, shake a hand, drop off a resume, and say “I’d love to be considered for an interview” ought to do the trick. (P.S. Make sure to avoid busy times like drop-off and pick-up, and be prepared to wait a little while since a principal is rarely in his/her office. Also, look like a teacher when you show up.)
2. Do your research ahead of time.
Make sure you are familiar with the state standards or competencies, the curriculum the school uses, the demographics of the school, and – if possible – the details of the specific job you are interviewing for BEFORE you get there. Not only will this make you appear more prepared and invested, but it will also help you tailor your interview responses and present yourself in the best light possible for each individual job. For example, if you know a school has a high Spanish-speaking population, you may want to play up your time spent doing mission work in Costa Rica and your ability to speak the language conversationally. Likewise, if you know a school is struggling to meet accreditation (that’s on public record, FYI), you might be more prepared to talk about data and the remediation experience you gleaned during your student teaching.
3. Show enthusiasm, energy, and charisma.
One of the principal’s I interviewed made a great point when he said that being a teacher requires a certain amount of acting skill, so if you can’t “turn it on” enough for an interview, chances are you won’t be able to do it in front of a class of 25 either. In your interview, you want to come across as someone who is confident and upbeat, but also ready for a challenge and open to learning. Be positive – it’s not the time to harp on the negatives of the education system for example – and friendly. Smile. Speak with a strong voice. Make the interview panel laugh. Use stories to describe your experiences and answer their questions. When principals meet with a potential candidate, they are not only checking to make sure that they will be a good teacher, but also that you will be a good fit for the faculty/school culture and the community at large.
4. Be focused in your interview responses and able to talk about the “meat” of teaching.
Although everything in point #3 does matter, it won’t get you very far if you can’t talk about the real issues of the profession: instructional strategies, remediation, classroom management, parent communication, technology, etc. One of the principals I talked to rightly said, “We all went in to this profession because we like kids and want to make a difference… You’re going to have go way past that to really stand out. Talk about SPECIFIC STRATEGIES you’ve used to reach struggling learners or to differentiate instruction, GIVE EXAMPLES of times you’ve had to deal with upset parents or unruly classes, and lean on DATA whenever you can. Your student teaching, substituting, tutoring, volunteering, etc. should provide the material for your responses. **It’s really important to think ahead and plan how you will discuss these topics ahead of time. You will NOT be able to do it on the spot.
5. Provide visual aides.
This is something I hadn’t thought about before, but both principals said they rarely look at teaching portfolios during a first interview (and almost never look at electronic ones at all). Instead, they suggested that you put together a small packet of four or five pages that highlight your biggest strengths. This should include your resume, of course, but also sample lesson plan, remediation data, published writing, and particularly strong recommendation letters if you have them. This should be neat, visually appealing, and something that can be easily flipped through during the interview AND referenced later. Make sure you also include your contact info and even a picture if you want to take tip #1 to the extreme. (P.S. It’s still a good idea to bring your portfolio and mention that it is available if they’d like to see it.)
6. Ask good questions.
This was big for both principals I talked to, and one even said it was the biggest thing to make or break a candidate. Almost every interview ends with “Do you have any questions for us?”, and the best candidates take full advantage of the opening… Don’t ask about basics like start dates or salary (those things can be looked up online), but turn the interviewers around and show that this is about finding a good fit for YOU too. Some of the best questions my friends had heard in an interview were: “What is your school’s weakest area right now?” and “How will you support me and help me grow as an instructor?” Don’t waste this part of the interview. Plan ahead and knock their socks off!
BONUS: Offer to coach/ lead the yearbook / sponsor the senior class.
I don’t think principals will tell you this, but I think it is SO valuable. When it comes down to it, if two candidates are neck and neck and one of them can lead the drama club – drama club is going to get the job every single time. #forwhatitsworth
So, let’s say you do all those things, but you don’t get the job…
First and foremost, DON’T GIVE UP! It really is a HARD field to get into right now (especially if you aren’t working in Title I schools, teaching Special Ed, or working in a highly specific field), but we will always need good teachers, and you WILL find something. Here are a few more tips from my principal friends about how to make the most of an “in-between” year or so:
- Stay in sight. Sign up to be a substitute, get a job as an instructional assistant, become a coach, do remediation… Do whatever you can to be known at the school, build connections with other teachers, and to demonstrate your abilities and commitment. Not only will this year (or so) give you more experience for your next round of applications, but it will keep your name in the forefront of the principal’s mind when opportunities at the school DO come up in the future.
- Take a “less desirable” position. Both principals I talked to said that “experience is experience.” Even if you don’t get the exact job you wanted, ANY job is better than no job at all. Teach for a few years in another school district, tackle a different grade or subject area, etc. Just make sure you don’t get stuck there – stay focused on the end-goal, watch for new opportunities, and don’t be afraid to take risks in the future.
- Call in August/September. In the end, things happen. Often teachers unexpectedly move, go out on Family Medical Leave, or something else right before school starts and the principal has to scramble to find someone willing to jump in in a bind. If you haven’t accepted another full time position yet, call the principal in August or September and just make sure they remember you and know you are still interested if something becomes available. “You’d be surprised how many good teachers got hired this way,” one of my principal friends said.
And there you have it! If you’re on the job hunt, I hope you found this helpful, and I wish you the BEST of luck. If you’re a teacher or someone who has been on the other end of the hiring process, please share what you would add to this list in the comments and pass this post along to your friends looking for job!
Nailed it? Check out this post before the first day of school: 20 Things to Know before Your First Year Teaching
Considering a career in education? Read this post first: Is Teaching the Perfect Job for Moms?