Have you finished up your teaching coursework and now are ready to begin the search for your first job? You might be anxious to find something quickly, but the last thing you want to do is rush the process. Many new teachers eagerly accept the first job that comes their way, only to find after a couple of months that the particular school they're in isn't the best place to work after all. Before filling out an application and beginning the hiring process, you might want to do a little background research.
If you are lucky enough to be able to teach anywhere after receiving your teaching certificate, take some time to think about where you'd like to live. North? South? East? West? Do you like the mountains, or would you rather live near the beach? Just because you graduated from school in Oklahoma or Florida doesn't mean you have to apply to all the schools around your university. For some, a husband, family, or other significant element in their lives, will tie them to a particular place. My husband was accepted into law school in Houston, Texas, so my teaching career began there. If you don't have any ties to a particular location, however, you might seriously want to consider different states, cities, and communities you think youd enjoy living in.
After you've chosen a location, the next step is to find the school districts and private school entities in your area. The Internet is a fantastic resource for that search. You can begin by visiting your state's department of education Web site. Most list the public school districts by county or city. Locate those on a map and determine the driving distance between where you'll live and the farthest school in the district. Some school districts are much larger than others and, if you aren't careful, you might find yourself driving 40 miles or more out of the way.
Another good resource that provides a list of both public and private schools is Pattersons American Education. That book can be found in any public library, or online for a subscription fee. Most listings include an address, phone number, and Web site. Jot down a list of five to ten school districts and/or private schools in the area where you intend to live.
Go online and learn what you can about each of those districts. What is the mission and vision? What are the guidelines for being hired as a teacher or as a substitute? Does the district list open positions on its Web site? What kinds of resources are available on the district Web site? Can you access school Web sites from there? Browse through the information provided on the district Web site and learn as much as you can. Try to view the curriculum or at least get an overview of it. If you know people who have children attending school in that district or someone who works there, ask questions. How do they like the district? What do they wish was different? What do they like most about it? What is the community feeling about the district? Those kinds of questions will give you an overall feeling for whether the school district is a place where you would feel comfortable working.
After you've done that bit of research, cross off the districts that don't appeal to you. Next, look at different schools within the districts in which you are interested. Browse through the school Web sites for the grade level(s) you are prepared to teach. Look at each school's mission and vision. Read the letter from the principal (if there is one posted). Look at the teacher pages and other information posted for parents. What kind of feeling do you get from looking through the Web site? Remember, most schools will put their best foot forward on the Web site to create positive PR for the school and district, but you still can tell a lot just from the amount of information -- or lack of information -- provided.
What are you looking for in this part of your research? You want to see signs of open communication with parents and the community. You also want to see student work posted, notices of awards won, and announcements of student achievement. Look at the teacher photos. Do they look genuinely happy or as though they've just put on a smile for the camera? Are there pictures of the teachers? Does the principals letter state the school's mission or vision or his or her personal education philosophy? Those things will give you a good insight into what's important to the school administration.
At this point, you are merely browsing to a get a feel for the different schools within the districts you're interested in. When you submit your application and are called in for an interview, it might be at any one of these locations. When you've been asked in for an interview for a specific school, be sure to re-visit the school's Web site and refresh your memory on the information found there. (That also might help you develop questions for the interview, which we'll discuss further in a later column.)
In addition, several Web sites post reviews of schools by parents and community members. One such Web site is Public School Review; here you can find schools across the United States by state, school district, or school name. Each page includes information about the school, including student demographics, standardized test scores, average household income or average price of homes in attendance zone, and personal reviews. If there are hidden skeletons in a school, you'll find them in the reviews written by parents, students, and community members. Another Web site at which you might find reviews is SchoolMatters. A search for school reviews will bring up several more Web sites that might be useful when looking for the perfect place to work.
Although you might be anxious to fill out applications and begin the interview process, it really is important that to take the time to do a little research first. The last thing you want is to end up in a poor work environment. Trying to find a new school your second year of teaching is much harder than finding your first teaching position. Don't make the mistake of rushing into a job you'll end up hating. Just like everything else in teaching, a little prior preparation will save a lot of headache later on.
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