How to Get a Teaching Job in 2021
We surveyed administrators, instructional coaches, and career counselors around the country for their insights on applying for teaching jobs this year.
Every spring, educators, unlike people in most professions, enter a peak window for job applying and hiring. But this year’s hiring season has some added challenges: major shifts in student enrollment, different hiring priorities and practices, and new required skills from applicants—all fueled by the pandemic.
We surveyed administrators, instructional coaches, and career counselors from all over the country to hear what hiring looks like for teachers in an unprecedented school year and share their insights below.
The Lay of the Land
For starters, many schools still don’t fully know what positions they’ll need this coming fall and may not know until late summer.
The economic recession catalyzed by Covid-19 pushed many families to move, directly impacting school enrollment and staffing this year. These changing circumstances have had a ripple effect, resulting in job cuts along with vacancies that need to be filled, we heard. In some cases, teachers have stepped into vacant leadership roles and their former positions are now available.
Adam Johnson, a middle and high school principal in Murtaugh, Idaho, says he’s desperately looking for more teachers in his area. “We are seeing significant increases in enrollment with families migrating here, but we are not seeing an increase in teachers,” he said. Meanwhile, Delia Racines, principal of a pre-K through 8 school in Los Angeles, shared, “I lost four teachers this year, and I will lose two more next year. I also no longer have a full-time assistant principal—the position across the district has been cut.”
Given the instability of the past year, others say potential applicants seem cautious about applying for new positions or transferring schools, even though school jobs are available. “So many folks seem to just feel uncertain, reactive, hesitant to take a risk,” said Sara Baker, an executive director of human resources in a district in Burien, Washington. “That affects attrition numbers, career changers, folks who may have been open to teaching, but now the ‘timing isn’t right.’”
According to Sonja Cassella, an instructional coach and teacher in Greely, Colorado, teachers may just need to be more open-minded: “There’s a teacher shortage in most parts of the country,” she said. “That doesn’t mean you can shop for jobs as if they were in boxes at a supermarket, but it does mean that teachers may want to up their hopes and expectations for what kinds of jobs may be available.”
Given the fluidity, “flexibility is the name of the game,” said Racines, who encourages applicants to be open to trying something new to fill a vacancy, such as a different grade or content area.
Ramp Up the Applications
For this year’s job applications, educators can add a new skill to their toolbox—teaching someone else’s class remotely. Like schooling generally, hiring processes shifted to (and have remained) mostly virtual during the pandemic, including the infamous demo lesson with a class at the hiring school.
With the buffer of a screen—and a slew of digital materials coming at administrators—applicants have to work harder than ever to set themselves apart this year, said Matthew X. Joseph, a director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment in Leicester, Massachusetts.
“Standing out during this time is a challenge—especially when interviews will be all online,” said Joseph, who recommends that teachers submit easily accessible video lessons and digital portfolios showcasing their interactions with and impact on students. “Your résumé opens the door, your interview draws interest, but teaching a class shows how you would impact the school.”
According to Baker, these digital materials are often submitted by younger teachers and can fill out a more detailed picture of the applicant, including their personal story, philosophy, and perspective. “They want to be seen as people first,” she said. “Yes, with qualifications and credentials, but people who feel called to this work and/or want to make an impact on the world—their ‘why’ matters.”
If you’re on the job hunt, be prepared for schools to check out your social media accounts as part of your application process—or even recruit you there to apply. Some teachers are even using tools like TikTok and Instagram as part of their materials that show they embrace digital communication tools, reports Jorge Valenzuela, an education coach in Chesterfield County, Virginia.
Still, many schools don’t like too much flash and value the traditional résumé and a personalized cover letter, said Devereaux McClatchey, the president of Carney, Sandoe & Associates, an employment recruiting firm that works with schools. “Candidates should always remember that the more they can demonstrate a personal interest in a job and a school, the more successful they’re going to be,” he said.
Prioritizing New Skills
If nothing else, schooling during the pandemic has been in constant flux, shifting between remote, hybrid, and in-school environments. These stressful transitions have shined a light on the need for educators who are flexible and resilient, say administrators and coaches.
“Candidates seeking employment this year understand the fluidity of the school year and the challenges associated with it,” said Connor Cook, a middle school principal in Houston, Texas.
Cook and others say they’ve been impressed most by teachers, even veterans, who are willing to try new things and are always learning—and can showcase this mentality in the hiring process. This approach is especially pertinent when it comes to incorporating tech tools like Nearpod and Flipgrid and using them to address students’ differing needs.
“Virtual students returning to in-person schooling have to rebuild their stamina in the classroom,” said Matt Saferite, a middle school principal in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Knowing how to differentiate effectively, and with patience, is going to be a key skill for teachers to have.”
Overall, there’s an increased interest in educators who can be more experimental, creative, and student centered, rather than those who follow a more structured approach encouraged by teacher preparation programs, said Joel Coleman, a superintendent in Ogden, Utah. This includes having a proclivity toward approaches like competency-based and project-based learning.
“We are looking for educators who know how to create effective content for anytime, anywhere learning, in addition to their classroom work,” he said.
Making an Offer
While a number of school leaders commented that virtual hiring has its perks, such as being able to cast a wider net, it can be harder to get a true sense of whether the applicant is a good fit for the job.
As a result, some schools are upgrading their hiring practices, such as asking different interview questions that go beyond the canned ones that are easily searchable via Google, said Todd Bloomer, a high school principal in San Antonio, Texas.
Bloomer said that he and colleagues—including teachers—brainstorm questions based on the specific job and include role-playing scenarios that a teacher might encounter, such as addressing a conflict with a parent. They try to ask questions that probe into the candidate’s personality and passions too, like educational books they’ve read or their favorite teacher as a child, to get a better sense of who they are. Additionally, he requires applicants to record a one-to-two-minute video introducing themselves in advance of the interview.
More than ever, administrators and instructional coaches say they are extensively checking references and bringing a cross-section of staff members into the hiring process to gauge whether the applicant will fit into their existing professional learning community. In interviews, applicants should be able to make a strong case for why the job is a match, showing they know the school’s mission, vision, and community.
“Every school and district have unique cultures, messages, and goals,” said Johnson in Murtaugh, Idaho. “I think it is essential for candidates to do their homework and find school communities that align with their philosophies and ideologies.”
More Responsive Classrooms
The pandemic has shined a light on long-standing inequities tied to poverty and race, and administrators say that this year they are increasingly seeking educators with culturally responsive teaching practices and an eye for improving equity in schools.
“I can no longer tolerate a teacher who does not have compassion for children living in poverty that are unable to change their circumstances,” said Racines in Los Angeles, who says she’s interested in teachers who are solutions oriented and can work collaboratively with families.
Joe Mazza, a middle school principal in Chappaqua, New York, says his school has made a push to hire more educators of color while changing the culture and mentality of their staff. “You have to be committed to anti-racism and be actively on the road to becoming an anti-racist ally,” he said of priorities for educators in 2021. “The journey does not have a summit, and you will never become an expert, but you should always be listening, learning, reflecting."
We need an empathetic teacher as much as we need one who can break down the Constitution.
Overall, administrators emphasized the need for teacher candidates to value social and emotional learning, given the stress of the past year and the remediation that is likely required this fall. Being able to build relationships with students and motivate them in the classroom came up repeatedly as a top priority for hires.
“I think more than ever, the teacher’s heart needs to be measured to work with kids,” said Bloomer in San Antonio, Texas. “Every kid deserves a caring adult that they feel comfortable going to on campus. We need an empathetic teacher as much as we need one who can break down the Constitution.”