How to get a job as a teacher

May 3, 2012

in hot topics, your stories/contests

how to get a job as a teacherThere are LOTS of people looking for teaching jobs right now. My page called Job Interview Tips for Teachers was pinned on Pinterest over 14,000 times in three days. As a result, I started getting emails from new site visitors who were appreciative of the advice and looking for more information about how to get their foot in the door. What can prospective teachers do to land the interview to begin with?

Their questions were totally relatable: “How can I do more than just apply and hope HR will see my application and be interested? I don’t want to be that annoying person who calls and begs for an interview, BUT I don’t want to be passive and let a job pass me by. What do you suggest I do to land an interview?? Unfortunately, I don’t really have any “connections” in the area so word-of-mouth will not get me in the door. Do I email individual schools anyway? Any other suggestions??”

Another wrote, “Just wondering if you had any advice on emailing principals with your cover letter and resume? I actually wondering specifically if there is something I can type on the ‘Subject’ line that might get their attention to read through my things. Any suggestions are welcome!!”

The last time I looked for a teacher position for myself was 2007, and the job market has changed quite a bit since then. So, I set up the Finding a Teaching Job page and shared the information I DO know, and then crowd sourced for more info by asking the teaching community on Facebook. The advice these teachers shared was fantastic, and worth featuring in a separate post here on the blog so more people can benefit from their wisdom.

Lots of people on who responded on Facebook advised prospective teachers to reach out to individual principals. Luci Orrison D’Amico wrote, “E- mail the principal directly! You never know what they might do if they need someone. I applied for a biology position knowing that I was chemistry certified. I mentioned that I was fully aware of their needs. I was called immediately.” An anonymous person added, “Emailing works – but personally I recommend putting together a packet if your cover letter, resume, and any recommendations that you find applicable and hand delivering it to the office. You don’t need to ask to see the principal, but it has a more personal feel to it. I’d email a principal if I KNEW there was a position in the building just to let me know that I was interested.”

Raye Wood made the very valid point that you must “Know the area…emailing principals directly in my district would do zero good as all personnel decisions are made by HR.” Though I think personally I would still take the chance that emailing a principal would give me an edge, being aware of your district’s norms and expectations is a hugely important point. Musings of an Urban School Pyschologist added: “Although not a teacher, I second (third? fourth?) the comment about knowing a district before going in for an interview. HR and/or principals will see TONS of cookie cutter interviews of people who blanket a lot of districts with resumes, but if you know THEM, what they do, care about, strive for, etc as a district or building, and can share what you will do to fit in and make it better, you will stand out.”

Alina Soto added more advice about those little things can make your correspondence stand out: “The cover letter catches their attention if it has what they’re looking for. I once had a principal call me because he was very impressed with the “objective” on my resume. He wanted me to share what I meant by being “very creative”. Another principal liked the clip art on my resume (lol). It was one of those school clip arts. It’s amazing how the little things you least expect sometimes make a big difference.”

Jill Burgess shared this:

Some districts’ HR says to not contact the principals (mine included) but I asked around and heard from teachers and principals that if you don’t contact the individual schools, you won’t stand a chance. If you don’t get something by the beginning of the school year, sign up to sub. I started subbing in January. I had no job by the beginning of August. BUT two days before school started in 2010, a teacher had to go on long-term leave due to medical issues and as a certified teacher who was on the sub list, I was called in to substitute. What started off as a 6 week job kept getting extended, first to fall break, then winter break, then I was asked to stay until spring break. In mid-January, the principal said that the teacher wasn’t coming back that year and asked me to stay on the rest of the year. My the end of February, the teacher decided to retire. By that point, the principal had seen me in action so much that she came and told me that she was getting ready to post the job and for me to apply.

Plan ahead for the interview. Study up on whatever programs your district/school of interest uses:assessments, curriculum, practices like balanced literacy, etc. You better believe that you’ll be asked about that. Make a list of classroom management practices you plan to implement as well as any special talents you can offer to the school (part of what helped me get the position I have is being a musician. It seems irrelevant to teaching, but I found ways to tie my music in with the standards and it impressed the administration to see).”

And here’s some wonderfully detailed advice from Eric Turner:

1. Email principals directly unless specifically told not to.

2. Ask HR how long it should take for word that you’re in a pool of applicants or waiting for an initial phone interview or central office HR interview etc. At the same time, word it in such a way that you can call them without feeling imposing. For example, “If I don’t get a phone interview, etc by such-and-such-a-date, when should I call and inquire about it?” And get a name. That way when you call you can tell the person on the other end, that so-and-so told you to call back if you had not received a phone interview, etc by that date.

3. Follow up with thank you notes – to everyone! Secretaries, HR personnel, principals, etc. I think the thank you notes I sent out got me my first job more than anything! Immediately after my initial interview and then principal interview I sat out in the car and wrote a thank you note while the information was fresh in my mind and found the closest post office and dropped it in the mail. They got them within two days.

4. ALWAYS look over the school website and find out what the school is like and what they’re doing etc and see how you can fit in to make it better. Don’t look dumb in an interview by not knowing anything about a school or school system.

5. Often it’s better to be quiet and listen to the interviewer and pick up on their clues that just jumping in and giving information.

6. When in an interview or going into an office for whatever reason, look at your surroundings to include objects & pictures on the desk. If you can connect to them somehow, mention it. My principal is big-time into horses. I happened to own a horse while living in CA. I mentioned that and we talked about horses for a little bit.

7. Don’t forget an interview is not just about how good a teacher you might be but how well you’ll fit into that particular school environment and get along with other teachers.

Laura Whitfield offered advice from the perspective of a principal:

As a principal, I agree with emailing with your resume. With the long list of online applicants, I only have time for the ones who have made that effort. I do hate when an applicant stops by and just asks to meet me and drop off the resume. I am really busy and don’t have the time to fit that in also. Now if they drop it off, I appreciate that more. BUT I still keep the emails – so much easier. Less paper and it is always at my fingertips.Getting on the sub list and doing a good job gets a lot of recognition. Make a point to speak to the principal to “thank them for having you” or something. Work well as a team while there. If you know someone at the school, tell them to also mention your name. Keep in mind a million things ( I am not exaggerating) pass through a principal’s mind a day, so a good teacher’s recommendation will keep your name fresh. Don’t call after doing all of the above. It annoys me! Good luck everyone!

I hope that’s helpful for those of you looking for jobs! Don’t forget to check out the Job Interview Tips for Teachers and Finding a Teaching Job pages. Please share YOUR advice in the comments!

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Angela was a classroom teacher for 11 years and currently works as an instructional coach and educational consultant based in New York City. She's created a webinar series on pro-active behavior management and has written 3 books for educators. Check out the blog and free teacher resource pages for photos, tips & tricks, activities, printables, and more.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jessi May 3, 2012 at 10:56 pm

I will be entering the job market at the end of next year (when I move home from China). I am so nervous after hearing from many of my classmates that have not gotten job. Some are even working at wal-mart. I know that I would never be happy doing that with my passion for teaching. Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful advice.

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2 Adrianne May 15, 2012 at 12:51 am

This was an amazing article! There are so many out there unsure of how to land the job when the process has changed so dramatically. I really appreciated the principals view as well. Jessi-don’t forget that you can sub and even tutor to keep your passion alive. Tutoring is so much fun and allows you a lot of freedom in how you teach a student. Don’t give up on teaching everyone! Hang in there.

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3 Jessica S. June 1, 2012 at 10:50 am

I just switched districts this year. I moved from a Title 1 to a non Title 1 school. I started my applications and finished my resume/cover letter before Spring Break. I had 2 districts seeking interviews within April. Just like everyone said I researched the district extensively and brought that information into the screening interview/interview. Knowing key phrases and having “notes” on the information you want to portray helps. You may become nervous but if you then you can look at your notes to help convey your message. I didn’t send a “thank you card” I did send an email directly after the interview to the principal. I looked up thank you cards to principals for teachers under google and sent an email. If you know about the district and what they are trying to it does help in the interview. When I went into the interview I had a copy of my resume to give to all the people. I as well brought in hard copies of the letter or reccomendations and I brought in data to show the growth through my reading and math program of my old district. I had copies of lesson plans but didn’t show them. The last thing I would reccomend is dress for the part. I was told to wear a suit, no big earrings, no perfume, very little makeup, hair down and closed toed shoes. I changed the color of my shirt underneath my jacket from the screening to the interview.

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4 Angela Watson June 1, 2012 at 11:08 am

Great tips, Jessica! Thanks for taking the time to share them.

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5 Maribel June 2, 2012 at 2:05 am

I was on an interview committee and wow! Did I learn stuff! We made a panel of about 7 people and our principal asked questions while we all took notes and scored the teachers.

Here are some of the most important tips I learned in this process:
-Have a binder with any data that you have, student work that looks impressive, letters of recommendation etc…
-Practice saying what your best traits are.
-Know your management plan.
-Learn the different parts of a good lesson plan and make sure you can site examples for each part.
-Talk about differentiated instruction and how you plan and teach to ELLs, gifted, low and high students.
-When the principal asks why you would be a good fit, have your answer prepared! Only a couple of teachers knew what to say to that question.
-Know your strengths and weaknesses.
-Tell them about yourself as an educator and what your philosophy of teaching is.
-Be confidant and smile! There was one teacher who we were all fighting for to be on our teams because she was confident and she knew what to say.
I was fortunate in getting my job when the market was wide open, it’s competitive now and the best thing you can do is be positive and confidant.

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6 Angela Watson June 2, 2012 at 10:53 pm

Great advice!

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7 Roderick Woodard June 17, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Hello! My name is Roderick Woodard and I am a prospective teacher from Arcadia, FL. I received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Science from Ashford University in September 2011. I have been a Paraprofessional for the School District of Desoto County since September 2009. I am wanting to receive professional teaching certification in Elementary Education K-6, with the goal of becoming an elementary school teacher. I’m very nervous about continuing to the next stage of my career and achieving my goals because I didn’t receive a traditional college education for teaching, having attending school online, but I’m going to speak positively about myself and say that my current position as a Paraprofessional has made me think about how I can become a better teacher and I’m even working on my classroom management/behavior plan. I would appreciate any suggestions you may have for me. Thank you very much for the information you’ve provided from your website!

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