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School may still be out for summer, but for recent graduates looking to begin careers as teachers, class is in session until further notice.
A successful teaching job search is like a part-time job itself, according to Washington University Graduate David Schwartz, who aspires to be a middle school teacher. David graduated with a BA in 2008 and an MA in 2009. He’s now parlaying his experience as a student teacher and intern into that first job.
We talked with David about his search strategy and what has worked for classmates who have already landed jobs. Not surprisingly, it takes discipline to conduct a thorough search and, once you land a teaching position, discipline (in the classroom) to keep it. Read on to learn how to begin your job search in the education sector.
When and why did you decide you wanted to be a teacher?
When my classmates started coming to me for help in 7th grade, I realized that I was good at explaining things to others, and I liked it. I knew then that I wanted to be a teacher.
What has it been like experiencing the economic downturn as a student, and now as a graduate looking for a job?
As a student, I did have a limited budget, so more money had to go to food, and I had less money for other things. But in some ways, I haven’t been as affected by this economic downturn as those who have experienced “good times.” I’ve never been a graduate student or come out of school at any other time, so I have no basis for comparison. In my job search, it has made things more difficult because more people are going into education who had left the field, and so there’s more competition for the same jobs.
What’s worked well for you in your job search?
What’s worked well for me is leveraging my human resources. I have certain geographic areas that I’m interested in, so I have asked friends who are from those areas, or who still live there, for school recommendations and advice about living in those places. When I know people who went to the schools I’m looking at, I ask them to write short notes of recommendation.
The other thing I’ve done is send out a lot of applications, but I have carefully tailored each cover letter by looking at the school’s mission statement or district goals and finding three points I can say I’m qualified to address. It’s the old five paragraph essay.
What advice do you have for those looking to pursue teaching as a career?
When I look at my college friends who have been successful in their job searches, the common thread is that they jumped on the process early, starting in late January or over winter break.
And they’ve used a job search process that works.
Start by identifying where the jobs are posted that you want to pursue. Identify specific schools you are potentially interested in, based on location and whether you want public or private, and learn as much as you can about those schools. Keep separate documents and folders on your computer for each school/district.
Once March rolls around, start checking the websites where jobs are posted on a daily basis so that when something comes up you can jump on it quickly. Keep a master list of every school you contact, what you send them in your application, who the application is addressed to and a phone number for the school. Call them a week later to follow-up and ask a few questions, including the timeline for filling the position. Use this as an opportunity to express how interested you are in the position, and then write this down on your master list along with every subsequent contact you make with the school.
Thinking of the job search as a part-time job will put you in the mindset to give the search the time it needs to be successful.
You just came back from an out-of-town interview. How do you suggest preparing to give a good interview?
First of all, go in wanting the job. Period.
Wear a business suit and look the part. Make sure that your nails are clean and clipped.
You should have a good answer to the question, “Why do you want to work here?” Use the Web to find something you like about the school. Know the mission statement and think of how it relates to your approach to teaching. Have two strengths and two weaknesses ready, in case they ask for more than one. For your weaknesses, be ready to talk about what you’re doing to address them. Do NOT mention classroom management, even if it is a weakness.
If they say, “Tell me about yourself,” at the beginning of the interview, they are really asking, “What can you bring to this job, and why should we hire you instead of somebody else?” It’s perfectly fine to drop in character traits and experiences you’ve had that will help you in the classroom. It’s even better to drop in what you’re passionate about (such as a subject and/or age level) and what you’ve done with that passion.
A prompt thank-you note is a good way to stay in their head, even when they’ve moved on to interviewing other candidates. E-mail will work, but handwritten is better.
What is your future career plan, and what is your strategy for making it happen?
My future career plan begins with getting my first job as a middle school teacher. Once that happens, I plan to stay in the classroom for a long time. To make all this happen, my strategy is to impress my interviewers enough that they hire me (including having a good answer as to why I want to work at that school), and then develop a classroom management plan so I’m not fired on grounds of not being able to control my class.
And don’t forget to write thank-you notes to the people who have written you recommendations or made a call on your behalf. You never know when you’ll need to contact them again for help in your next job search.
Enjoy your August!