Teaching Tips & Tricks | Apr 26, 2012
The real deal on how to find the right teaching job for you
By Angela Watson
Founder and Writer
I’ve shared my job interview tips for teachers, but many people have written and asked How do you get the job interview in the first place? How do you figure out whether a teaching position will be a good fit for you? I created this page to share my advice on landing a teaching job interview, as well as tips to help you figure out what it will be like to actually work at a particular school and determine whether it’s the right place for you.
Choosing the Right School and Teaching Position For You
It can be tough to determine whether a school is a good place to work in or not. Chances are, you’re looking for a place to stay at long-term, so it’s important to know what you’re getting into and to obtain interviews at schools that are a good fit for your needs.
Ask around for advice on the best schools in your area and whether there are any openings. For example, I once wanted to transfer to a school that was closer to my house, but had no idea where to start. I talked to teachers I knew for recommendations, and two particular schools were mentioned over and over. I did a lot of internet research to find out what the schools were like before even thinking about contacting those schools. You can run a Google search to find websites that allow the community to rate local schools and give commentary. You should also find out online how long you have to wait before you can transfer to another school (in many districts, it’s two to three years.) You don’t want to be stuck some place you hate. If the school system does school climate surveys, go online and read what parents, students, and staff have to say about what’s going on at the school, and how those opinions have changed over the last few years.
How to get an interview for a teaching position
It’s tough for me to give advice on this topic because it really varies depending on where in the United States you live. In some places, it’s perfectly acceptable to solicit interviews by emailing principals directly and stopping by the school to drop off a resume. In other places, that’s expressly not allowed. However, I would say that it’s better to err on the side of being overly-aggressive in this job market. Be kind and not pushy in your demeanor, but persistance in contacting a principal is probably worth the risk, even if the district doesn’t recommend that you do it.
One of the best ways I know of to get a teaching job is to substitute teach in the school first. Prove yourself by doing an outstanding job with other teachers’ classes and your name will come up the moment a teacher announces she’s retiring or going on maternity leave.
I asked fans of my Facebook page to provide more advice for teachers who are trying to get an interview and catch the principal’s attention when sending out resumes. You can read the full list of advice here: there are some really wonderful tips!
Questions to ASK about the school you want to work in (don’t skip this step!!!)
A lot of new teachers make the mistake of thinking they are the ones being interviewed. This is only partially true. Even if the job market is very competitive in your area, you are still interviewing the principal to see if the job is right for you. It would be better to have to substitute for awhile or work out of your field than to sign a year-long contract working with the boss from hell at the school from hell. Do your research before accepting any positions!
The following are some questions you might want to get answered before you accept work in a school. You can ask some of them when you are being interviewed, but you can also find some of this information online and by talking with teachers at the school if you know any of them.
- Why is the teacher in the position I am interviewing for leaving?Answers you want to hear: relocating out of area; transferring to another school closer to home; maternity leave; staying in the school but moving to another grade level. Answers you don’t want to hear: Transferring to another school in the same district for any reason other than commute length; leaving the profession.
- How does your average teacher turnover compare with the rest of the school district?If turnover is higher at this school than the district average, there could be a reason why the school can’t retain teachers. You might be able to research this on the internet, preferably before the interview. Hearing a principal explain turnover can give you a different perspective, though.
- What are your thoughts on the school’s standardized test scores over the past few years?You can (and should) research this online ahead of time, but if the topic doesn’t come up during the interview, this can be a good question to ask because the principal’s reaction is often more telling than the scores themselves. If s/he gets nervous, defensive, or agitated, that might be a sign that the tests are a soresubject and cause a lot of tension in the building. Keep in mind that improvement is more important than high scores, especially with at-risk student populations, and it’s worth expressing enthusiasm over incremental gains.
- How much planning time do teachers receive?Some amount of time daily is a good expectation but not guaranteed. This is an important consideration if you are considering jobs from neighboring school districts with differing policies on prep time.
- What’s the average class size?Not on paper, which is a totally different story, but for the classroom you’re applying to teach in, how many kids were actually in the room last year?How many are currently projected to be in the class for the coming year?
- What’s the ESOL population at the school? How will I be equipped to meet their needs?This is a relevant question if you think you’ll be offered to the job and want tomake sure you understand what you’ll be facing. Are there pull-out groups to support these students? Any special programs for them?
- What types of special needs will some of my students have? What resources will be available for me to use with them?Some schools mainstream kids with severe emotional, behavioral, and.or cognitive disorders and provide very little support for these students in general education classrooms. You’ll want to get an idea of what types of students are in the school (Is there an autism cluster? An emotional impairment wing?) and whether special ed teachers pull out or push in for their instruction.
- What kind of support systems will I have as a new teacher?Sometimes principals like to brag about their new teacher support programs. Sometimes they will look at you like you’re crazy and you’ll wonder why you asked. Either way, the response is very telling.
- How many years of experience does my grade-level team have?You’ll want at least one veteran teacher at your level for support.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s hard to convey tone on a computer, so let me be clear: I’m suggesting that you ask only one or two of these questions, and ask them humbly, while smiling and genuinely listening to the responses. This is not the Spanish Inquisition, and you’re not trying to trick the person who is interviewing you into revealing a fatal flaw about the school. If the person’s answers are vague and unhelpful, I would still nod and accept the response. Use your judgment about what’s appropriate to ask and which questions would be leaning over the edge of enthusiastic and inquisitive into the realm of presumptuous and pushy.
Things to look for when you visit a school
If at all possible, try to tour when school is still in session. If you’re interviewing in late May or June, or after the new school year has begun, I would definitely want to look around. Being able to see the students for yourself, and the way the staff interacts with them, will tell you more than any questions you could ask. Remember that the learning environment is typically more laid-back and less rigorous at the end of the school year. Spend as much time at the school as possible, and try to talk to any teachers you see. If you can substitute teach in the school, even for a day, that’s a fantastic way tosee what it’s really like.
Is there trash on the ground? (In urban areas you might notice some outside on school grounds, which reflects more on the environment of the community than the school, and not as troubling.) Are the floors waxed and carpets generally clean? How do the bathrooms smell? Expect some mess and odor in the children’s bathrooms but overall, there should be a sense of sanitation with plenty of paper towels, soap, and toilet paper. This may sound obvious, but I once taught in a school in which the doors to the bathroom stalls were hanging off the hinges and the custodians refused to give the kids any soap or paper towels because they claimed the kids made too much of a mess. Pay attention–how does the school smell? Remember, you’ll have to live with that smell 40+ hours a week!
If classes are in session, are kids loitering in the hallway? Do they walk or run? Do they have passes or are they roaming freely? Are the classes in the hall walking in straight quiet lines or doing whatever they want? Are their teachers calm and relaxed or screaming at their classes to get in line?
Are teachers yelling at students? Are there kids standing or sitting in the hallway as a punishment? Are the kids basically on task or is there a sense of chaos in the rooms? Is the noise level reasonable? (Remember, you’ll be able to hear through the walls in most cases). Are the teachers teaching or sitting at their desks? These factors will reveal a lot about either the type of student population or the teaching philosophy of the staff, or both.
Again, this aspect will be compromised during the summer time and you won’t be able to tell. During the rest of year, notice whether there are attractive bulletin board displays in the halls. Are teachers’ rooms organized and clean? Are posters and student work displayed? Are the furniture arrangements conducive to learning? These things matter because they are indications of good teaching. You want to be surrounded by co-workers who know what they’re doing and who are providing a top-notch education to their students. Also notice whether you will have four solid walls, windows, a door, or a carpeted area. These things are not necessarily a given.
Do the faculty and staff smile and greet you? Are you given an extensive tour and introduced to key school workers? How do people react when they find out you’re a prospective teacher? At one school in which I interviewed, the staff seemed either indifferent, as if I was just another teacher in an ever-revolving door, or seemed so desperate for good teachers that I was scared off.
Interactions with admin:
How does the administration respond to others? When in the presence of students, does s/he greet them (sometimes by name), ignore them, or bark orders? When passing parents, does s/he speak to them? (During one tour, I actually had a parent and the principal get into a yelling match and a near physical confrontation in which the parent said he was going to whip her you-know-what and the principal, a woman, said “Bring it on!” I swear, I could not make this stuff up if I tried.) How does the administrator handle the concerns of staff when approached in the hallway during your tour–does s/he take the time to answer or arrange for a time to meet with them later, or just blow them off? Is his/her tone accepting or critical? Is the school secretary friendly and joking with the administrators or cowering, uncomfortable, and stiff?
Look for benefits specific to the school in which you are interviewing. Examples include parking within close proximity to your classroom; unlimited use of copier, paper, and lamination; copier close to your classroom; new furniture; and bathroom/sink/water fountain in the classroom. These are details you’ll want to keep in mind when deciding between two job offers that you really like if you are that fortunate. They may sound like small things, but trust me, they will impact you on a daily basis!
Determining whether or not to take a teaching job
Many pre-service teachers interview for every job opening they can find. That’s not a bad strategy, but it can be tough when they are offered a teaching position and find themselves suddenly unsure of whether or not to take it. Maybe the school is really far away, or is a grade level you don’t really want to teach. Deciding whether to take the job or hold out for something better is tricky.
If there are any questions above that you haven’t had answered, or if you haven’t yet taken a school tour, ask to take care of those things before making your decision. Even if a job is not ideal (and very few are), you want to know what you’re getting into so you can enter the situation fully prepared.
Ultimately, I think you really have to go with your gut instinct. Remember that most new teachers start off in rough schools because they have no tenure or experience, while jobs in the more affluent areas are snatched up by experienced teachers. You won’t be stuck at a school forever. If you decide to take the plunge in a school you’re unsure about simply because you don’t feel you have other options, be sure to find a veteran teacher at your school that you can confide in and ask for help. A support system can make all the difference in how well your year goes.
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As I am interviewing and looking for a new school this is very insightful!
Thank you for all you do Angela and for putting this together!
I am entering into a sticky situation. I have been offered a position for a job 45 minutes away, but the perfect grade level. I’m ready to take it but….today I was offered an interview for an AP poisition for July. What happens if I take the position as a teacher and then rescind the offer if I get the AP job? Can my license be revoked? I don’t know how the etiquette is with doing such a thing.
I would recommend asking someone locally in your area (a union rep if possible.) Those kinds of policies are determined by individual districts. All the best to you!