If the goals and strengths of some of these schools are compatible with the personal ones you outlined in the previous chapter, then you will know where to target your job-search energies.
If, on the other hand, your investigations lead you to delete more than a comfortable number of schools from your list, then continue the search with yet another round of schools.
The best way to gather information about specific schools is to consult with a number of people who are directly or indirectly associated with the schools. I call these consultations school surveys.
A school survey is like a job interview in reverse. You ask the questions and evaluate the answers. This chapter will help you locate potential consultants or advisers, set up appointments with them, devise a list of useful questions to ask them and evaluate the answers they give you.
Network Your Way to a List of Schools
On a separate sheet of paper, jot down the names of schools where you would like to teach. Also list the names of cities, towns, or counties where you would like to teach, but are unfamiliar with the schools.
You'll need to do a little networking to locate the names of good schools that operate in the cities, towns, and counties you mentioned. That means making some phone calls to people who are familiar with the schools in those areas. You don't have to know these people by name. You just need a phone book and a little determination. Call employees of the local Chamber of Commerce, regional school suppliers or area realtors and ask them to recommend good schools.
Steps to Effective Networking
Following are four steps you can use to solicit recommendations effectively. Study the model, but don't copy it word for word. Develop your own approach so that it sounds natural for you. Practice it a few times on yourself and a friend. Then go out and network!
1. Tell why you are asking the person for advice.
- (To school supplier) "You service schools in this area..."
- (To realtor, Chamber of Commerce member) "You know this town, I thought you might..."
- (To organization head) "You work with teachers and schools in the area of..."
- (To state official) "You fund school grants in the area of..."
- "Can you recommend a school that has an excellent reputation?"
- "I'm looking for an opportunity to teach:
- mildly handicapped high school students.
- vocational education.
- early childhood classes."
- "May I check back with you later for more ideas?"
After you have completed your networking, rank your schools from most desirable to least desirable. If this is difficult to determine, give top priority to those schools that were:
- recommended by the people you trust most,
- described as schools that emphasized your interests, and/or mentioned by more than one person.
Sorry, there is no "best people in teaching" list. To determine who to talk with at length about the schools of your choice, begin by compiling lists of people who have a working relationship with your prospective schools. If you can identify these sources by name, do so. If not, write down general job titles, and then go back and use your networking skills to get the names.
The most obvious people to serve as advisers, class-room teachers, school-board members, and local college faculty are the ones most often used by everybody else. You want to talk with these traditional sources but you also want to brainstorm for some creative sources.
Brainstorming for Sources
Look at the chart below to help you get started. In the left-hand column, under Job Site and General Experts, are the traditional sources of information. As you move from left to right, less obvious sources appear. First there's the Local People in Related Services column; then there's the Local Sales and Service Community column.
Your Own Chart
Make your own chart of potential advisers on a separate sheet of paper. Consider all sources valid. Some of your best information will come from sources that you see once a year or less. In job hunting, this is known as the strength of weak ties. In one study, those job seekers who networked with people they met once a year or less found jobs that paid $2,500 a year more than those job seekers who concentrated on asking family, friends, and colleagues.
Develop a List of Questions For Advisers
What types of questions should you ask your advisers in order to get the best information possible about prospective schools?
Ask about the school's philosophy, management styles, and working conditions; about improvements the school could use; about education trends and changes that might affect the school and for career and job-search advice.
Below are sample questions. Some are appropriate for laypeople, such as reporters, PTA officials, or secretaries. Others are questions for experts, such as teachers, administrators, or state-agency personnel.
Start a notebook and put these titles on three separate pages: Questions to Ask Experts, Questions to Ask People in Related Fields, and Questions to Ask Others (Sales and Community Service). Later, you may wish to add a fourth page: Questions to Ask at Interviews. For now, jot down appropriate questions on each of the three pages. Use some of the sample questions below as well as your own.
Philosophy, Management Styles and Working Conditions
- What does the district, school, or department do best?
- Why do you like working here?
- Why do you like working in this community?
- What is the general discipline policy or emphasis?
- What are the expectations for teachers by their supervisors?
- How are people evaluated?
- What are the annual goals for this school?
- Are teachers' opinions solicited about future changes?
- What are the strengths of the current staff?
- What does it take to enjoy working here?
- What are typical classroom budgets like?
- What is the student-teacher ratio?
- Who are some of the top people?
- What makes them special?
- Are there any articles, brochures, or policy statements I might read?
- May I tour your school sometime?
- If you could change anything about the school what would it be?
- What improvements would you like to see funded?
- What are some parental concerns?
- What students could use more services?
- What types of services?
- What types of skills would help make the staff more complete?
- How have you seen the school change in the last few years?
- Are there any new laws or regulations that will impact this school?
- What type of staff development is being planned?
- Is the school implementing any new trends in the testing or grouping of students?
- Are there any staffing changes being contemplated?
- Are there any new education studies you would recommend I read?
- Are there any new techniques/methods you would recommend I investigate?
- What are some pitfalls new teachers/staffers typically face here?
- Who helped you the most when you first came to this school?
- What is the district currently looking for in new teachers /staffers?
- What type of teacher/staffer stays a long time at this school?
- What makes someone successful in this school?
- Looking at my work-strengths summary, how would you think 1 might fit in here?
- Which of my experiences need to be more fully described?
- Which of my experiences would you minimize or delete?
- Do you see any areas I am weak in?
- What areas would be an asset?
- When are most jobs advertised?
- Are jobs filled throughout the year?
- Are substitutes ever hired full time?
- What type of substitute makes a good impression here?
- How can I best prepare for an interview at this school?
- Is there a pre-employment interview?
- What should I know before going into a job interview at this school?
- Can you recommend two other people I might talk to?
Now it's time to arrange appointments for your school surveys. This is about the time many job seekers start to get cold feet. Sure, school surveys sound like a great idea, they say, but will busy and important people really want to talk with me? Guess what! Most people love to talk about themselves and what they do. If you contact one of the few who is reluctant, just ask him or her to recommend someone else who might be more available.
Phone versus Letter
A phone call is usually the quickest way to set up a personal meeting. Be prepared, however, to make more than one call if you are trying to reach a busy person.
If you feel more comfortable initiating this appointment with a letter, that's fine. But keep in mind that in most cases a letter will still require verification by phone.
Make sure your phone or letter request covers the following:
- The types of information you are looking for (refer to previous question-writing exercise)
- How much time you would like (about 25 minutes)
- A convenient time to meet (before, after, or during the work day)
Whenever possible, talk with at least three persons associated with a school of interest. Start with the person least directly associated with the school (such as a town council member) and gradually progress toward the ones with the most direct involvement. That way, by the time you talk with someone with hiring power, you will have learned a lot about the school. You will sound knowledgeable about it and committed to its mission.
Should you use a referral's name when you call for an appointment? First, ask the person who gave you the tip: "Do you mind if I mention your name when I contact Mr. Wonderful?" If your contact hesitates, quickly indicate that you will not use his or her name.
Second, only mention your referral if you have good reason to believe Mr. Wonderful likes him or her. You can't always determine this, but usually, if the referral has mostly positive things to say about Mr. Wonderful, then Mr. Wonderful probably views your referral in a positive manner as well.
One More Sticky Question
Some of the people you contact will ask you if you are job seeking. Be honest. If you are looking, say, "Yes, I am looking for a future job, and I want to talk to some of the best people in the field in order to get a jump on future openings." Or, you can say, "I will be applying in the future. Right now, I am surveying schools to learn which districts/schools have goals and teaching styles similar to my own."
Make the Most of School Surveys
Before you embark upon your first school surveys, I would like to remind you that your advisers will be left with a very definite impression of you based upon the quality of your appearance and discussion. The following is my advice on making the most of those qualities.
When setting out for a school survey, dress equal to or slightly more formal than the person you are going to meet. If you are unsure of what to wear, call a school secretary and ask about typical school dress.
Speaking of appearance, make sure you appear on time. When you are making an appointment, always get specific directions to your meeting place.
Take your list of questions and your work-strengths summary to each meeting. These papers should keep the conversation flowing. Remember, too, that a school survey is a job interview in reverse-your purpose is to ask the questions and privately evaluate the answers. That means that your adviser should do most of the talking.
Never Stretch the Purpose of a School Survey
Conducting school surveys is a wonderful way to investigate schools and teaching positions. However, you must never use this method as a ploy to get interviews and job offers. That would be abusing your advisers' generosity. You told them you were gathering information to make better application choices and that's the way it should stay. Stretching the purpose of the school survey can also get you in trouble with personnel departments if they find out you are trying to go around their hiring processes.
There are many ways to clarify the purpose of school surveys, should it be necessary.
First, if someone asks you to bring a resume - don't. Instead say, "I don't have a resume at this point. Right now, I just want to get some advice and learn about your school. But, when I do apply, I will be happy to send you one."
You could take your work-strengths summary to the school survey instead and get it evaluated. Ask the person you meet with to evaluate the strengths you listed on your summary and indicate the ones that would be of greatest interest to the school. You'll learn in the process what the district wants and what you don't yet have. This advice might also cause you to remember something you forgot to include in the summary.
Second, if you are offered a job (as I have been) at the end of a school survey, again, clarify your intention. Simply tell the consultant how flattered you are to hear the offer. However, reaffirm that you are still thinking and looking and will let him or her know as soon as you have completed your information gathering and can make a decision. This is professional, and it can increase your value later if you decide to apply formally. Employers may be prepared to negotiate conditions, such as classrooms, student count, or experience-salary issues when you are desired, but not yet available. It is hard to turn down the offer, but you owe it to yourself and the job seekers who will come after you to preserve the integrity of the school survey.
Survey Your Surveys
How do you know if your school surveys were successful? What do you do with the mounds of advice you accumulated? The following guidelines will help you appraise the results of your school surveys.
Evaluating School Surveys
Use these three criteria to determine if a session was successful:
- You talked only 10 to 20 percent of the time.
- You kept to your allotted time.
- You felt good about your abilities and potential after leaving.
You will sometimes find it difficult to keep track of all the names, places, and advice you encounter. Keep a file on each school you are serious about. In each folder, store notes, pamphlets, and thoughts about the school. Try to answer these questions on a sheet in each folder:
- How do my skills and interests fit this school?
- What is this district/school proud of?
- What are some unmet needs I could assist in?
- What would be some of my weaknesses in the eyes of this school, and how can I plan to strengthen them?
In general, the advice you gather from your school surveys will be extremely valuable. But this does not mean that all of it is accurate or that you should always follow it. Before you act on any advice, such as taking a course or rewriting your resume, verify the advice with another opinion.
Write Thank-You Notes
Every adviser who spends time helping you deserves your thanks. While you're reviewing your surveys, jot down the names of each adviser. Send each one on your list a typed or handwritten note that acknowledges their help.