There’s been so much in the media the past couple years about public education and teaching, it’s easy to understand why many teachers are growing more and more discouraged about the career – or as it’s better known for most of us, the calling – we’ve chosen to pursue.
As many colleges are celebrating their commencement ceremonies through the month of May, sending pre-service teachers out into the world with what we hope is a solid foundation in pedagogy, it seems a good time to offer a bit of advice for those who are about to teach.
It’s a scary world out there. I know. I’ve been in your shoes. Most of us start our education programs with stars in our eyes and an intense fire in our bellies to get out there and change the world by impacting the lives of children, even if it has to happen one at a time. Some of us fizzle out before we even start. Others find a way to stay on top of the latest reforms, methodological trends, and best practices, providing the best instruction we can in an increasingly hostile environment without letting it impact the face we show to our students every day in our classrooms.
I’m not a guru. I’m just a teacher in the trenches. I’ve been “in the system” for ten years, eight at the helm of my own classroom. Now I’m looking to reenter that world after a year of maternity leave, and even for me, a veteran teacher, it’s a little intimidating. The advent of Common Core, which came on the heels of the much-touted Reading First initiative and the drive for data-driven instruction, has left a lot of teachers, including me, on the edge of burnout. And even since last June, so much has changed and so much new stuff has come onto the scene.
The question has risen in my mind, as I’m sure it’s risen in the minds of every new teacher – be they fresh from college or starting over in a second career.
Do I have what it takes?
In my case, it’s a “do I still have what it takes” question, because I’m looking to return after a year off. But for those just starting out, it’s daunting to realize how many challenges you face as a teacher. Not only in terms of what you have to do when you’re standing in front of that room full of bright-eyed (hopefully) pupils, but also when it comes to landing that job you’ll love.
So I have some advice for those who are about to teach.
- Stand out. When you walk into that interview, show your stuff. When I first interviewed, I brought props in the form of an object box I’d created as part of my Master’s thesis project. Nowadays, technology allows us to create everything from PowerPoint presentations to interactive portfolios. Find a way to showcase your knowledge, abilities, and talents.
- Enter every interview as if it’s for your dream position. Even if it’s not. Sometimes we don’t get the call from the school we’d love to teach at, but sometimes landing a job at a school that wasn’t in the top spot on your list can become your dream position, or eventually lead to it.
- Even if you don’t get the job, don’t give up. Many schools, especially desirable schools, get hundreds of applications for a single position. If you interview and don’t get an offer, make sure you thank the administrators and interview team and express your continued interest in any future positions that may come available.
- Sometimes it’s worth taking a job you hadn’t planned to take in order to get the job you really want. When I first finished grad school, I was hired as a teaching assistant to work one-on-one with a little boy with autism. Was I over qualified? Oh yeah. Did I learn a lot? Tons. Plus I was able to sub for the special education teacher and inclusion teachers, and when a teaching position did finally open up at my school, I basically slid into it. I mean, I interviewed and had to prove why I was better than the other guy (see item #1). But if I’d turned my nose up at that TA position, I might not even have been considered.
- Don’t be afraid to substitute in the school and/or grade levels you want to eventually teach full-time. Many teachers, including me, often end up having favorite subs they always request when they’re going to be out. If you make yourself available to sub, people get to know you. If you end up being a favorite who subs in the same classrooms over and over again, you will start to be known. You could end up landing a long-term sub position. You may rise to the top of people’s minds when permanent positions open up. In a lot of districts, subs are considered “internal”, so when positions are posted internally at first, subs can often get first crack at them. Plus, you really can build up your teaching chops, beef up classroom management skills, and often start contributing to your state’s teacher retirement system.
- Stay on top of current trends, programs, initiatives, and legislation. When I was finishing my undergraduate work, No Child Left Behind and Reading First were just starting to gain traction. Because it was in the nascent stage, it wasn’t discussed too much in my college classes. But within a couple years, it was all anyone was talking about. The same has happened recently with Common Core. We might not like it, but it’s here, and you need to know about it, because you will be asked about it in an interview.
- Always improve yourself. Take continuing education classes in areas you might wish to have more knowledge of. See if there’s coursework you can take that may lead to a different certification area or an extension to your existing license. Most professional development courses are facilitated, or at least made known to teachers, through school districts, but sometimes you can find a way to attend a conference or in-service if you’re willing to pay your own way.
- Know your state’s regulations for certification, both initial and professional, and stay on top of the requirements. The last thing you want to do is let your license lapse because you didn’t keep yourself aware of what you had to do to keep it valid. Most states require a certain number of full-time mentored teaching experience in addition to your Master’s to move from initial to professional certification. Additionally, most states also require a certain number of professional development hours each year/every five years to maintain professional certification. Know what you have to do, and make sure you do it.
- Network and use your contacts. It might be the principal you met at the job fair. It might be the cooperating teacher from your pre-service placement. It might be your Great-Aunt Sally’s third cousin who teaches at the school you want to work in. Stay in touch with those people and make sure they know you’re looking. They might at least be able to mention your name when positions come available.
- Keep your resume current. Even if you aren’t actively interviewing, constantly make sure your resume is up to date with degree information, work experience, training and professional development you’ve done, and you’re most recent contact information. If you stay on top of it, it won’t be so daunting to update everything when it comes time to submit an application.
Got all that? Ready to start applying, if you haven’t already?
Not sure where to start?
Many districts have online systems, or at least online listings, for applicants. You may also find some success using a career resource site, such as TheLadders, to find job postings in the places you may want to teach.
Now, my biggest piece of advice? It’s so big it’s beyond a numbered list.
Remember why you got into teaching in the first place.
It’s not the money. It’s not even the job. Yeah, you know you’ll have to put in extra hours outside of school, hours that will take away from your family and social life. And yeah, it will be stressful.
But why did you want to teach in the first place?
It’s the kids.
I guarantee you, the kids will make everything worth it.
At some point, you will know you’ve impacted a child’s life for the better. You will become the rock for 20-some-odd students at some point in your life. They will depend on you.
They will love you.
You will love them back.
And that’s what will make you a great teacher.
So to those who are about to teach…. I salute you!