George Lucas Educational Foundation
Professional Learning

How to Find Your Dream Teaching Job

April 30, 2009

Whether you are unhappy in your current school, a newbie looking at the world of education with wide eyes and a hopeful grin or about to jump into education as a second-career seeker, you are entitled to work in a place that "gets" you and wants what you have to offer.Your goal is not to take the first job that is offered, but to get offered a job that will make you happy.

These are the prime job-hunting months for teachers, because that's when principals find out who's not coming back. There are teachers out there who even get hired two days before the start of the fall semester. But if you want choice yourself, get going now.

To help you jump ahead of the pack, I've prepared these tips that are, admittedly, not for the faint of heart, or for those who feel compelled to follow the hiring system set up by school districts. These eight steps are reserved for you maverick job seekers who are ready to hunt and gather your dream position:

Step 1: Create a List of Activities, Classes, and Electives You Have Taught

Also, list those you have not taught but are interested in. Use this list as a guide to find schools that have programs that cater to your interests. They may also be looking just for you.

Step 2: Make Lists of Areas and Districts You'd Like to Work In

Start with your state's department of education Web site, and investigate your counties of interest. Look at maps and draw circles around areas you would be willing to commute to and from. Quality of life, after all, starts with downsizing your commute.

Step 3: Target Certain Schools

Go to sites like that compile school data from many sources. These sites were invented for school-shopping parents, but they are also great resources for savvy teachers searching for jobs. When I last looked for a position, I started by looking at middle schools and then focused on certain criteria. Here's what I zeroed in on:

  • Demographics. I wanted a diverse population, so I made sure there were many slices on the subgroup pie charts, and, having had great success with English-language-learner students in the past, I wanted to continue teaching in a school with ELL populations.
  • Teacher turnover. Is there too little -- or too much?
  • School awards and national or state recognition. I was coming from a California Distinguished School, and I figured that if I found another Distinguished School, I could use that a pitching point.
  • Academic Performance Index for California schools. I know most states have something similar. I also know these indicators from standardized testing aren't the best 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. Each teacher must gauge honestly whether he or she is up to certain challenges in a school setting or whether those battles just aren't one's bag. Remember, you want to be not just employed, but happy.

Step 4: Scout the Territory

Drive around the areas that most interest you. You will learn a lot about the community and school by just cruising the nearby streets, walking into stores, or having a cup of coffee in the neighborhood diner.

Step 5: Send Your Application and Résumé to Both the District Office and to Principals

Let me say that again. Send to both. Districts will tell you that the proper process for hiring is to send an application to the central human resources office, then interview with HR, then let the office recommend you to a principal, and blah-blah-blah, but that method is too passive for my taste.

The minute you have narrowed down the list of schools you want to pursue, start contacting the principals yourself. Take the bull by the horns and make an appointment with the head honcho, even if it's just a handshake meeting, a five-minute sit-down, or simply a résumé drop.

But don't totally dismiss the HR department. Send the application package it requires, and then call for an interview (don't wait for HR to call you). Just know that if a principal likes you, they will call the HR department and make sure you are theirs for the hiring. If you go through the district alone, you may never get through the door to meet the person who makes the ultimate decision.

Step 6: Make Nice with the Office Manager

The office manager is the person who puts your package on the principal's desk with "I just met the nicest teacher!" or "You'll never believe the doozy who just walked in!" But watch out. They can be beautiful, loving, nurturing people, or they can be incredibly turfy and protective of their positions and their beloved school.

Step 7: The Actual Interview

The most important point here is this one: Avoid fibbing. Yes, it's useful to insert certain words and philosophies ("student centered," "multiple intelligences," "collaboration," "differentiation") into the conversation, but if you don't buy into something, don't say it. It's like entering into a relationship with someone. Don't tell them you like romantic dramas if you really like sci-fi or you'll be stuck watching The Notebook on Saturday night.

Keep in mind that a principal will want to know how you will work with colleagues, how you will interact with 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 -- even members of different departments.

Step 8: When You Get the Call

If a principal wants you, you hold certain cards. You'll get a call from HR. If you have salary "points" from university classes or professional-development workshops you have attended, make sure the new district counts those. If you already have teaching experience, and have earned tenure at your current district, you should always ask to have that recognition travel with you as well. Sometimes it's just about asking, so don't avoid these important career issues in the negotiations stage of the hiring process.

Good luck with your search, and remember; You are interviewing a district and a school as much as they are interviewing you. Keep your goal in mind -- to love where you work and enjoy what you're doing every day.

Do you have any advice or experiences to add? Whether you're a veteran educator or a new teacher, please share your thoughts.

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