Heather Wolpert-Gawron

How To Get a Job in Education That You Love

By on June 12, 2008

The Pre-First Step in How to Take Control of Your Teaching is actively seeking out the right school for you.
GOAL: To love where you work and enjoy what you are doing  

Too many teachers are miserable. Some of that can be attributed to the difficulty of the job, but a lot can be blamed on the fact that many teachers take what they can get because they are so grateful to have a job. That’s no way to be happy, and that’s the teacher’s fault.

OK, kiddos, it’s not too early to start the process of looking for a job. Whether you are unhappy in your current position or you are a newbie looking at the world of education with wide-eyes and bushy tails, you are entitled to work in a place that “gets” you, and wants what you have to offer.
In fact, the springtime is perfect for those who are looking for the best positions out there. So if you’re interested in being the one in control of the interviewing situation, start now. Looking for a job in education in the spring signals to a potential employer that you are NOT the bottom of the barrel. Yes, there are great teachers out there who get hired two days before the start of the fall semester, but if you want choice yourself, get going now.
Here’s a step-by-step guide in how to get a job in education: (Note, this is not for the faint of heart or for those who need to follow the system set up by the districts. This guide is only for those maverick job-hunters out there.)




STEP 1: MAKE LISTS ABOUT YOURSELF –  Make a list of the activities, classes, and electives that you HAVE taught.  Make a list of activities, classes, and electives that you are interested in, whether you’ve taught them or  not, that would make you happy to spend your day doing. Remember your goal.  Make a master list of activities and classes that you can PITCH to a principal by combining the two lists.

STEP 2: MAKE LISTS OF AREAS/DISTRICTS THAT YOU’D WANT TO WORK IN – When I made the moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, this step figured in big time. I went on the Internet and started with the California Dept of Education. I also looked at maps of counties in Los Angeles and drew a circle around the area I would be willing to commute to and from. So now I had a list of Los Angeles Districts based on drive time. (Quality of life starts with downsizing traffic time). I had a map of those districts and a sense of where they were in relation to where I was going to live.
STEP 3: TARGET CERTAIN SCHOOLS – I went to sites like greatschools.net that, while they are wonderful sources of information for parents, should not be limited to use only by parents. They are great resources for savvy teachers searching for jobs as well. I knew I was interested in Middle Schools, so that’s where I began. I searched my circled districts’ middle schools, focused on certain criteria (decide for yourself what criteria means the most to you) and looked at the following criteria:
     * Teacher turnover
     *California Distinguished School (I was coming from a school that was one, and I figured that I could use it as a pitching point if I were to interview at another similarly designated school.) 
     *Demographics (I wanted a diverse population, so I made sure that there were many slices on the pie charts. I also knew that I have had great success with ELL students in the past, and wanted the to continue teaching in school with English language learner populations.)
      *API/AYP (I know, chill out, I know, these aren’t ways to judge schools. But it would be irresponsible of me as a teacher to enter into a school interview not knowing that school’s level of challenges or objectives. You as an individual need to gauge honestly whether you are up to certain challenges in a school setting or whether those battles just aren’t your bag.  Remember your goal.)
Go do a simple drive around of the areas. You will learn a lot about the community by just driving around the nearby streets, walking into nearby restaurants or stores. Pick up a Starbucks and hang out in the neighborhood. Do your homework about the area just by using your gut reaction to the environment. Remember, if you love where you work, you might one day consider moving into the district itself. Remember your goal.
I know this is a pain in the arse, as you now have to gather all of your transcripts together yet again. Word to the wise: get as many sealed transcripts as you can afford to at one time so that you don’t have to scramble the next time. And believe me, there will be a next time.  Your first job will most likely not be your last.
Sorry I yelled, but that’s a really important point. School districts will tell you that this is the proper process for hiring:
Application > human resources > interview with HR > then they recommend you to a principal > then you interview with the principal > then they contact the HR dept if they want you > then you (maybe) get a call.
That method is too passive for my tastes.
Once you have your list of schools you want to pursue, CONTACT THE PRINCIPAL YOURSELF.  Take the damn bull by the horns and make an appointment with the head honcho, even if it’s just a handshake meeting.  Or just stop by and get an eye-to-eye, 5-minute meeting.  Or just stop by and drop off a resume to the office manager yourself, even if you can’t see the principal.
Oh yeah, and make nice with the office manager. She’ll be the one that puts your package on the principal’s desk with a, “I just met the nicest teacher!” or a “You’ll never believe the doozie that just walked in!” You have to watch out with office managers. They can be beautiful, loving, nurturing people or they can be incredibly “turfy” and protective of their position. As someone once said, they’re kinda like a “Box of chocolates, you….” well, you know the rest.
Anyway, don’t totally diss the HR department. Send them the application package that they need, call for an interview (don’t wait for them to call you) AND simultaneously make that all-important interview with the principal of the school that you want to be working in. If a principal likes you, they will call their HR dept and make sure you are theirs for the hiring. If an HR person doesn’t like you, and all you’ve done is make a meeting with them, you’ll never make it into the principal’s office. The principal, on the other hand, has the true control over who gets to work on their staff.  

Also know that if you meet a principal for a handshake and they end up not having any positions available, they will remember you as the teacher who took the time to meet with them. I have, on a couple of occasions, heard from principals in August who have just found out an English teacher was not returning. It’s worth it just to make your face known.

Look, I can’t do this one for you, but what I will say is this: don’t BS. Yes, it’s important to throw certain words and philosophies around (student-centered, multiple-intelligences, collaboration, differentiation), but if you don’t buy into those things, don’t say them. Once again, your goal is to love where you work, and you want to find a place that will also love your working there. So be sure to share your honest philosophies about teaching.  It’s like entering into a relationship with someone.  Don’t tell them you like romantic-comedies if you really like sci-fi or you’ll be stuck watching “The Notebook” on Saturday night.
Remember your interview is a pitch; so make sure that you are sharing your successes, not confessing your failures. This isn’t confessional time. Make sure you answer honestly and you’ll be sure to eventually find a school that shares your methods or that needs your methods on its staff to add texture to its strategies.
After all, a school should have different types of teachers on staff if it is looking to relate to as many diverse learners as possible.
Possible questions that might be asked:
What are your thoughts on fluid grouping of students/collaborative learning groups?
What is the most challenging element of teaching that you face?
If a student were disruptive in your classroom, what strategies would you use to keep that student on-task?
Rank the following in the order of importance and explain why? Planning, discipline, strategies, assessment.
What do you feel are the benefits and drawbacks of standardized assessment?
Are you a collaborative person?
What are your thoughts on differentiated instruction?
How do you support a classroom with multiple levels of learners?
Anyway, the list goes on. But keep in mind a principal will want to know how you work with colleagues, how you will handle parents, how you will handle multiple types of learners in the classroom, and what your thoughts are on discipline and content.  Be prepared for a panel of interviewers as well, perhaps members of different departments.
Also remember that if a district wants you, you hold certain cards.  Make sure they take all of your units. And if you already have a job and have tenure at your current district, you should always have that travel with you.  Sometimes it’s just about asking, so don’t avoid it in the negotiations stage of the hiring process.
Good luck with your search, and remember: you are interviewing a district and school as much as they are interviewing you.  Keep your goal in mind: To love where you work, enjoy what you’re doing, and take control of your teaching.
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  1. Linda F
    May 29, 2008

    I love this!

    I’ve always followed the advice to get my face in front of the person that will be the boss, because it’s critical to get your own impressions about him/her BEFORE you run around the HR maze. Why waste time trying to get a position with someone you don’t want to work with?

  2. tweenteacher
    May 29, 2008

    Right on the money, Linda F. It’s the first way to take control of your own happiness in the job. If a person puts more cards in their own favor, they won’t have to take the only job offered. Thanks again for the comments. It’s really a pleasure.

  3. Neva B
    June 13, 2008

    I have been on the hunt for a teaching job “that I will love” and the title of this article leapt out at me. I have been doing many of the things suggested like calling around to meet principals or just going in to give my resume and multimedia CD to the office manager because the principal was not there or in a meeting, going by to update my application and stopping in to chat with the superintendent,but I have not been able to get that interview yet. It is June and maybe something will open up. I started in mid-April and maybe even that was too late. Now I guess I will just keep on trying to at least meet principals and leave them with an imprint of a teacher that hopefully made an impression for future openings…from Mississippi Teacher in waiting…

  4. heather
    June 14, 2008

    Keep trying. Sometimes these things go in waves. Mid-April was perfectly appropriate, so I applaud you for that choice. The summer is another wave when teachers tell their principals when they don’t have to be still working with them day in and day out. You sound like you’re doing what you need to do. I remember one Distinguished School school that I made an appointment with in April. I went there to meet the principal and as I sat there, an emergency came up, and she came out, shook my hand, made her apologies, and left. I sighed and moved on. Two months later I got a call from the principal who remembered my face, had her assistant find the resume that was once on her desk, and called to offer me a position. I had already taken one, but you never know how these things happen.

    Also, remember that when you’ve gotten the offer from the school, the district still might haggle. Make sure they give you all of your units. If you have tenure, you can even insist on transferring that. If they want you enough, they will somehow make it happen.

    Don’t worry. It will happen for you. Keep in touch and keep getting your face out there to those who are making the decisions. Feel free to write back. I’ll be waiting to hear how it goes.
    aka Tweenteacher

  5. David Cohen
    June 16, 2008

    Good post, Heather. (And comments, too). I have to agree about being yourself. I think it’s actually a sign of self-confidence to be candid about your struggles, provided you’re talking about them with awareness of your strengths and with the intent of addressing your needs.

    I also had the opportunity to be part of a large panel doing group interviews for our school’s principal last year. Our conversations after the interviews focused mostly on making a good match – the personnel dept. had done the screening, so we weren’t interviewing people without qualifications, after all. Maybe a candidate could have done a better job selling herself or himself, but what good would that do? Had we made the wrong hire, we’d all be miserable and less successful. Same thing for a teacher, I’d say. If you put on something insincere in the interview, you might regret getting the job and discover it was a bad fit.

  6. tweenteacher
    June 16, 2008

    I’m a big believer in putting odds in your own favor and when it comes to being happy in teaching, finding that right fit is the first step towards that happiness. It is also the first step in taking control of your own teaching. Many teachers feel that education is a system that has too many components that are out of our control. I happen to believe that there is much more that we as teachers can do to give ourselves back many of the cards, some of which we as a profession gave up ourselves, others of which were never extended to us. Being responsible enough to do one’s homework about the school to which you are applying is one the first steps one can make towards being more in control of your career and your day-to-day happiness as a teacher.

    I too sat on an interviewing panel. You’re right, it was about what made a good match, and if a person has done their homework enough to see themselves fit into that machine, it also increases that person’s chances of getting that position.

    Once again, thanks for writing.

  7. Pat
    June 29, 2008

    Great list. I agree that you can’t be passive when seeking a job that you want. You have to jump through the hoops but showing initiative tells a principal that you really want a job.

  8. tweenteacher
    June 29, 2008

    Hey Pat,
    Thanks for commenting. You can’t ever be passive in this profession b/c it is an active and interactive career that is ever-evolving. It begins in the relationship that you set up with your principal. if they know you are willing to do extra to educate yourself about the school, they may even be more willing (once you are hired) to support your programs. People like to give helping hands to those who are passionate about their same cause, in this case, a school and its students. Good luck with your job search!

  9. Kindra
    February 29, 2012

    Wonderful advice! It seems that the districts in my area ask you to drop off all application packets at the district offices, where you will never see a face of the interviewer. Would you still suggest dropping off applications to individual schools? I feel like they would tell me to take it back to the district office?? Any advice to getting my foot in the door would be wonderful!

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