As the school year draws to an end, it is most likely time for you to hunt for a job. That can be an anxious experience, and definitely a risk-taking one. Basically, you are putting yourself and your credentials out there to districts and schools with the hope of getting hired to teach in a classroom. It can be a nerve-wracking several months! With a little knowledge, however, you can survive the job hunt without too many mishaps. Below are a few myths, truths, and tips for job hunting that might prove to be helpful.
Myth: I must have written references from principals in order to be considered for a teaching position.
Truth: That is not absolutely necessary. If you have just graduated from a university or are part of an alternative certification program, you most likely will not have a strong relationship with a principal to request a reference. If you student taught or worked closely with other teachers during an internship, then definitely request a reference from one or more of those supervisors/colleagues. Principals, as a rule, do not observe or develop a working relationship with a student teacher or intern. Most district personnel and school principals will see that you are a brand new teacher and understand that many of your references will come from outside the teaching field. That is perfectly acceptable. Just make sure that the references you obtain describe your work habits and personality in a glowing manner. Principals look for people who are dependable, hard workers, self-starters, and team players.
But what if you're not a new teacher? Perhaps you're a teacher who has had the year from and is looking for a new position. Maybe you and your administrator had a personality conflict, or did not agree in your views on teaching. Whatever the problem was, you now are looking for a new teaching job and feel that any reference from your principal will reflect poorly and inaccurately on your past classroom experience. That happens quite frequently. Again, you do not need a reference from the main administrator. If you were lucky enough to work with a sympathetic assistant principal, or if there are other teachers in the school who can testify to your upstanding work ethic and job experience, then try to get references from them instead. If the question comes up during an interview, be prepared to answer as honestly as possible without verbally bashing your former principal. That type of behavior can turn around and bite you very quickly.
Myth: I must show prior work experience in an education-related field on my resume and application.
Truth: Many teachers are hired who show experience in a variety of career fields without any background in education other than coursework. In fact, many principals like to see prior work experiences that support the teaching position in question. If you are applying for a math position and have worked for an accountant, at a bank, or even for an architect, your past work experience actually can enhance your application. Take a look at your past jobs and ask yourself, how has this job prepared me or given me experiences that will enhance my teaching?" When and if the question about your past employment arises, share that information with your interviewer.
Myth: I will not be hired if I show nervousness in the interview.
Truth: As a new teacher, it is expected that you will be nervous in an interview. That does not mean it's okay to bumble through it, but a little nervousness will not hurt you. Many schools will use a team of people to interview you. That team might include the principal, the team leader/grade-level chairman, and other teacher leaders from the school. If you are lucky enough to experience a team interview, thank your lucky stars. Although facing a group of people can make you more nervous, chances are you'll find a kindred spirit or two who will understand and speak a good word for you. When interviewing with only one person you must rely on that person's judgment completely.
Tip: It is quite understandable to be nervous during an interview. After all, your future career hangs it. There are a few strategies you can use to help lessen or overcome your shaky nerves. First, breathe deeply prior to the interview. More oxygen in your lungs means more oxygen to your brain cells and clearer thinking. Take a few minutes and imagine yourself in your favorite calm and relaxing location. When in the interview, slow down. Don't try to answer a question immediately after it is asked. Force yourself to count slowly to five before answering. If you establish some wait time for yourself, you will have more time to process the question in full and develop an appropriate response. Even if you have a ready answer to the question, wait. That way, when you need extra time to think about an answer, it will seem part of your style rather than a search for a proper response. Don't forget to sit up straight, use lots of eye contact, and speak clearly.
Myth: If I'm not hired by April or May, there's no hope of getting a teaching job.
Truth: Schools hire teachers well into September and sometimes even in the middle of the school year. Of course, it would feel more comfortable if you got a job by April or May. The fact of the matter is, however, that many teachers do not resign from their jobs until the summer months. In addition, last minute in-district transfers, pregnancies, and other circumstances cause teachers to resign or leave their schools at the last minute. Some schools that are fully staffed in June, are desperately searching for teachers to fill empty spots by August. You might despair of ever getting a teaching job, and then receive a call the day before school starts. Keep in mind that you will not hear anything from anyone within the school district during the month of July (for most school districts). That generally is the month that the year-round" staff and administrators take their holiday. Of course, that can vary from state to state and within different countries, so you might want to call the human resources department in the districts you applied to and ask when the principals take their summer vacation.
The myths above can cause undue stress and anxiety during what is already a turbulent time. Just keep in mind the truths I've pointed out to help you overcome some of that stress.
My book, Survival Kit for New Teachers, has an entire chapter dedicated to helping new teachers navigate the job process. But, no matter what resources you use, remember that you are your best advocate. What makes you an asset to a school? Make a list. Then look at yourself in the mirror and say it over and over again. Build yourself up with words of encouragement and strength to help you feel more confident when you talk with others.
You can do this! You can successfully complete the job hunt and begin your new career as a teacher. It might not be as simple as you hope, but it certainly is well worth the effort.