The job market today for some teaching certificate/license areas is saturated, making getting a job more difficult than ever.
As an elementary school principal for 11 years, I hired many teachers. I also witnessed how the district and fellow administrators went about hiring their teachers.
I have some tips for how to get a job as a teacher. Although this article focuses on getting a job as an elementary teacher, much of it can apply to other teaching areas as well.
Tip Number One: Excel at Student Teaching
This is my number one recommendation for landing a job as a teacher, because administrators want teachers who have demonstrated the ability to teach. If you don’t do well in student teaching and related field experiences, you stand a very low chance of being hired.
Make sure you do well in every field experience and especially in student teaching. If you work in a part-time job with children or adults with disabilities, you need to excel at that also.
As your cooperating teacher what she expects. Ask for advice. Ask her to tell you when you are doing anything you shouldn’t, or ways to do better. This is very important.
Administrators want teachers who know how to do three things:
1. Manage the classroom, meaning very few discipline referrals.
2. Raise test scores. Like it or not, in today’s climate of “No Child Left Behind” test scores are very important. Principals are looking for teachers who know how to teach content using best practice teaching strategies.
3. Work as a team player, bringing good work habits, collaboration and knowledge to the table. Principals want teachers who can work without a lot of direction. They don’t want a teacher they are going to have to guide and direct every day or even once a week. They want teachers who will work with colleagues and do research to solve problems, not run to them every time there is a problem.
Tip Number Two: Get great recommendations – At least 4, preferably more.
You need recommendations from at least two cooperating teachers (the most important), one college professor, and an employer that you’ve had for at least six months. Job experience is important, particularly job experience in the area of working with children.
Volunteer experience is important also. If possible, I suggest you get some experience working with children in a special population as well, such as children with special needs , who speak English as a second language or children with special needs. One easy way to get this experience is to volunteer for Special Olympics, a local Children’s Hospital, or a local urban league. A recommendation from a volunteer coordinator is a good thing to have.
A good tip for getting good recommendations is to hand the recommender a copy of your current resume, highlighting skills and job experience. When writing a recommendation, I appreciated this, because as a teacher and an elementary school administrator, time was of the essence.
Tip Number Three: Create an attention-getting, but easy to skim, cover letter and resumeand deliver it in person if possible.
Administrators do not want pages of text to read or a big folder of materials. They sometimes have a lot of resumes to go through and do not have enough time to sit and read them all. Submit a one page cover letter, an easy to skim one page resume highlighting special skills and job experience, and three to four letters of recommendation.
Tip Number Four — Go to as many college job fairs as you can.
Even if you don’t plan to look out of your area or state for a job, go to as many job fairs as you can. It gives you the opportunity to network and practice interview skills.
Go to every interview you are offered, even if it is not at a place you want to work. Every opportunity is a chance to practice your skills and network.
Tip Number Five — Learn as much as you can about the school district for which you wish to apply.
Research the school districts for which you plan to apply. You can easily do this online. It will help you know who you want to work for and it will also allow you to tailor your resume and interview toward what the particular school district is looking for.
Tip Number Six — Don’t be afraid to search outside of your town or state if you need to. The move can be temporary if need be.
I had to take a job in a town two hours away from the city in which I hoped to live. It was hard but after two years I was able to get the job I wanted. The job gave me good experience to build upon. Moving to a town where I didn’t know anyone taught me independence and risk-taking. While living there I also was able to make some connections which were later valuable to my success.
My point is you never know where you will end up or how the people and experiences you have along the way will impact you.
Tip Number Seven — Prepare for your interview.
This is very important and I offer two pointers:
1. Dress for the interview — Wear clothing one step above the clothing you will be expected to wear as a teacher. If in doubt, wear a simple suit with a jacket and a flat heeled shoe. The reason I say this is because administrators want to see people that we can imagine teaching our children and you have to be comfortable to do that. When an interview team sees a candidate walk in dressed in an expensive designer suit and four inch heels it makes it hard for us to imagine them teaching and running after little kids. If you have the opportunity to see the principal of your prospective school ahead of time, dress in a fashion similar to what they are wearing. Administrators usually dress one step above their teachers.
2. Practice your interview skills. Write down sample questions. Answer them in writing and then orally. Be succinct. You will likely have 5-10 questions to answer in 15-20 minutes. Plan accordingly.
3. Here are some sample questions you might be asked:
- Tell us a little about yourself and why you are interested in this position.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What is your background in working with children?
- How do you differentiate instruction? (this is important)
- How do you plan lessons? What are the components of a great lesson plan?
- Tell us about your parent involvement strategies.
- Scenario — You have a child in your classroom who is exhibiting learning difficulties and/or severe behavior problems. You have contacted the parent but there is no response. What would you do?
- When we walk into your classroom, what will we see?
- How do you use technology (computers, smartboard, elmo projectors, Ipods/podcasting, etc) to enhance instruction?
- What is your classroom management strategy/plan? How do you ensure that all of the students are engaged in the learning process?
- Have you worked with children who have special needs ? ADHD? Autism Spectrum Disorder? Learning disabilities?
- What are the components of an IEP and how do you work with Special education teachers to implement IEPs in the classroom?
- How do you adapt the curriculum for children with disabilities?
- Are you familiar with the testing requirements of No Child Left Behind? How will you prepare your students for these tests?
- How do you ensure that students from diverse backgrounds (race, socioeconomic, religious, special needs , ESL) feel welcomed and valued in your classroom? How do you teach to meet their diverse learning needs?
- Given that as an elementary teacher, you are responsible for all subjects, how do you ensure that all of them are taught within the time frames you are given?
- Tell us about your ability to work as a team player.
- What would your former administrator and colleagues say about you as a teacher?
- In our school/district, students are expected to be progress monitored on a regular basis. How do you accomplish this?
- Do you have any questions for us?
Tip Number Eight — Interview well.
Expect a team of interviewers, especially if the interview is at a particular school and not at the downtown office. Shake hands with the interview(ers). Talk about special skills and past job and student performance. Stress the above three things (Tip Number One) that administrators are looking for. Take a small bottle of water with you. I do not suggest taking a big binder portfolio. Instead, condense it into a five page document with colored pictures that you can leave with the interview team. Highlight activities that make you stand out as a teacher above the other candidates. Emphasize your ability to individualize instruction for every student.
Tip Number Nine — Send a thank you note after your interview.
I can’t tell you how important this is. If you don’t get the job, it will keep you in the mind of the administrator interviewing you and when another principal calls him/her your name will be at the forefront of their mind.
It should be brief and hand-written. You can pick up plain thank-you notes at the dollar store. They should be the kind that are off-white and say “Thank you” on the outside in gold or silver lettering. Keep it simple.
Preferably you should write it ahead of time and drop it in the mailbox on your way home from the interview.
Tip Number Ten: If you can’t get the job you want right away, substitute teach, but you will need to excel at it if you hope to land a full-time teaching job.
I can’t stress this enough. If you are a bad substitute teacher, you will not get a job as a teacher, particularly if you take a long-term assignment (such as a maternity leave) and do poorly at it. However, if you take a long-term assignment and excel at it you will get more assignments and you will land a full-time job. Make sure you get a recommendation from your building principal if you do a long-term assignment in their building.
For a copy of a sample cover letter, resume, thank-you note and letter of recommendation, go to my website at www.myspecialneedsclassroom.com
You are entering the best profession in the world. Happy Job-hunting!