The Complete Guide to Getting Hired for First Year Teachers
The teacher hiring season is now upon us. Soon-to-be education graduates everywhere are pulling on their black slacks and blazers, putting together a nice folder of card stock printed resumes, and filling out innumerable online applications for their dream teaching position. Interviewing can be a time of excitement. Job fairs are hyped up with a unique brand of college propaganda-magic, and checking your email or voicemail for interested schools is an exciting and highly rewarding gamble. As a first year teacher, I remember this time well. It was exactly at this time last year that I received confirmation of my first teaching job where I currently am.
As exhilarating as the interviewing process was, it was also stressful. Questions plagued me constantly: What do I wear to an interview? How do I make my resume ready? What even goes into a cover letter? What kinds of interview questions will they ask? What if I can’t think of an answer? I, being the paranoid person I am, read books on how to become career ready. My all-time favorite was Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World by Lindsey Pollack. It’s full of helpful tips on how to be an extremely employable person. I highly recommend it.
But if you don’t have time to read an entire book on being hirable, or you just need a quick refresher before you head off on your way to an interview, I’ve written this blog post just for you. These are my suggestions, from application to post-interview, on how a first-year teacher can successfully get a job offer.
#1 Your resume and cover letter should be flawless.
Accept nothing less than perfection. You will be sending your resume and some version of your cover letter to every single school you are interested in. These documents should be completely rid of any grammatical, spelling, or other conventional errors. Your resume and cover letter are a Human Resource’s department first impression of you. Make it count.
Luckily, you have lots of resources to pull from for this (including this handy-dandy blog)!
- Spell check.
- Make sure it is pretty in a very minimalist, no frills sort of way.
- Use the same font for the entirety of it.
- Change font size sparingly.
- Use bolding and italicizing to consistently denote meaning. For example, bold all of your previous positions and italicize all of the dates.
- Only use circle bullet points.
- Look up a list of resume action words like the one from Wake Forest University when describing your previous experiences.
- Spell check again.
- Have a friend proofread it.
- Have your college’s career center proofread it.
- Have somebody in the field of education proofread it.
- Read it backwards.
- And seriously, spell check the pants off that sucker.
Your cover letter should be cohesive with your resume. Use the same header for both if at all possible. The format of the cover letters I write are as follows:
To whom it may concern:
Paragraph 1: Alter this paragraph for every school you apply to. Outline what your educational philosophy is and why it fits in with their school. Include values/information that you’ve found about the school to sync that argument. Views on technology, collaboration, and/or after school programs are key components to look for. If you’ve had any personal experience with the school, that can go in this paragraph, too. This is the paragraph they are most likely to read, so it is likely the most important one.
Paragraph 2: Expand on specific teaching experiences you’ve had (student teaching, volunteering, tutoring, etc…) This paragraph should primarily stay the same between school applications for the sake of ease. This is where you want to highlight your qualifications that make you stand out. What have you done beyond just getting your degree?
Paragraph 3: Conclude your cover letter with a brief summary of what you have mentioned in the previous two paragraphs and say thank you for their time. Give your audience several ways to contact you and specify if any time of day is preferable based on that contact information. For example, “Please feel free to contact me via my email at firstname.lastname@example.org at any point in time.”
#2 Triple check that your online application form is flawless.
Seeing a pattern here?
Schools get a ton of online applications. Don’t be the one that stands out for the wrong reasons. Take your time, spell things correctly, and check that your information is entered correctly. Many schools will require that you write short essays for their application. Compose those with the same concern that you would putting together a capstone thesis. Use spellcheck, hemingwayapp.com, and an honest editor to make sure you are writing your best. Don’t worry! Oftentimes, different districts of schools will use the same or very similar essay questions, so once you’ve written a bomb essay once, you don’t need to write it again! Make sure to proofread any recommendation letters you’ve gotten. Check that your name is spelled correctly in all occurrences and that there are no errors otherwise. Your recommendation will understand if you need to make a request for a small change, but the school district might be less forgiving if your name changes from Andrea to Sally halfway through.
#3 Apply everywhere ASAP.
Different schools have different ways that they choose interview candidates. Some schools meet with every applicant for a short 15 minute interview, and then call in their favorites for a second, longer interview. Other schools really look at that online application, pick their favorite 5 applicants, and only interview those people. Regardless, your biggest goal over the next few weeks should be to be in their applicant pool as soon as you can. You need your name in the hat in order to be considered for anything. Apply to every school that you KNOW you want to work at, and even apply for those fringe, back-up schools that you could maybe see yourself working at. Everyone needs to have a realistic view that they might have to take a year at a less than ideal environment in order to get where you want to be. It is the common saying, “Grow where you are planted.” Also, be aware where the time might come when you have a decision to make. If you applied at a school you truly can’t see yourself working and they offer you a job, you could have to say no. And that’s okay.
BEFORE THE INTERVIEW
#4 Prep your interview questions!
Interviews are malleable creatures, but I would happily put down my entire life savings on the bet that they will ask you at least two of the following questions:
- What do you consider to be your biggest strength as a teacher?
- What do you consider to be your biggest weakness as a teacher?
- Tell me about yourself.
- When was a time you faced a challenging scenario and how did you handle it?
- What are your views on technology?
- Do you want your students to like you?
- What are your views on technology?
- What about our school appeals to you?
Interviews are probably the most anxiety-causing aspect of job searching, but you can reduce an enormous amount of stress by preparing yourself for these common questions! Now, I’m not saying you need to rehearse your answers, but if you know what story, strength, or weakness you are going to highlight, then you are two steps ahead and you won’t be caught unawares. There are thousands of websites available via Google that can give you even more extensive lists of interview questions. I like this one from Teacher Catapult.
#5 Do NOT lie about your biggest weakness.
This is a controversial topic around the hiring community of the world, but I stand so firm in my opinion on this subject that I made it a separate point all its own. There are two philosophies that circulate the infamous, “What is your biggest weakness?” question:
① The wrong philosophy: Lying is a must. Interviewers actually expect you to lie, and give a “fake weakness” (i.e. too much of a perfectionist, care too much, always want to be the leader, etc…) to test your skill savvy.
② The correct philosophy: Interviewers have heard all of the lies. This is not their first rodeo and you are certainly not impressing them by giving them some bologna answer. Be honest about what you struggle with. Really, do you want to work at a school district that expects you to be dishonest?
While I am a firm believer in this, there are a few tricks to preparing your ‘biggest weakness’ answer. For example, don’t choose something superficial (even if it’s true) like that you are a chronically late person. That doesn’t show self reflection. You want to pick a weakness that demonstrates you are extremely aware of your flaws as an educator and are actively working to get better in that area. Pick something that is only relevant in the classroom or school environment that you legitimately struggle with and then supply an example of a time you struggled. Following that, give tangible explanations as to how you are fixing this problem. Show your future employers that you can grow.
#6 Plan, plan, plan.
Practice your handshake. Lay out your clothes the night before, cleaned, pressed, and ready to rumble. Is the school far away? Stick deodorant and a toothbrush in your car the night before. Always keep a Tide stick handy. Have extra copies of your resume in a nice, durable folder. Drive to the school at least once before (if at all possible) to make sure you know where it is. What’s the traffic like in that area? Always plan to get the interview a full half hour before it starts.
PROTIP: Use that half hour to listen to your favorite pump up music in the car and jam out. Also, do a couple of power poses for a few minutes. In her Ted Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”, Amy Cuddy talks about the power of holding a powerful pose for a few minutes. Do whatever you need to do to get hyped and build confidence.
DURING THE INTERVIEW
You are going to do great. You just need to be confident in yourself and remember to smile. If you’re having fun, your interviewers are having fun. If you can do it seamlessly, make a quick joke and get the room smiling. This experience should be pleasant for everyone involved. You’re all in the same room because you love kids and education. Thrive on that.
#8 Be ready to admit you don’t know everything.
As a brand, spanking new teacher, you might not know all of the things they ask you about. During one interview, I was asked if I was familiar with Ci3T, which I was not. When I expressed that I wasn’t familiar with this, but I was willing to learn, my interviewers appreciated that I was ready to accept where I still had more room to become a better educator. It is completely fine. In fact, it would be much more concerning if you tried to fake your way through knowing things that you clearly weren’t familiar with.
AFTER THE INTERVIEW
#9 Handwrite thank you notes within 24 hours.
Immediately after the interview, write down the names and positions of all of the people that were present. Within 24 hours, handwrite individual thank you notes to each of them, thanking them for their time and bringing in a few highlighted moments from the interview. These only need to be 2-3 sentences long. Make sure your handwriting is neat. If you don’t have the time or resources to handwrite a thank you note, emailing is okay as an alternative. This tip also applies to job fairs. Contact every representative you spoke with and let them know your interest in the district and your appreciation for their time.
Now you’re ready to go off on to your job-searching bonanza! Hopefully this blog post gave you a few useful tips along the way. The hiring process was one of my absolute favorite parts of ending my undergraduate career, and I hope this time can be equally exciting for you. The thrill of getting your first job offer is unparalleled. If you do use any of these tips and have good results, please contact me and let me know! I’d love to hear from you.