FOLLOW THE FORMAL STEPS
Once you feel you have gathered all the information you need about a school or district of interest, call the central office and ask about current openings and how the district would like you to apply for them.
The formal steps usually include submitting an official application form along with a resume and a cover letter.
If a district has no current job openings, I still suggest you complete the formal application process to whatever extent possible. You never know when an opening will come along. Unexpected spouse transfers, medical leaves, and grant money can all provide sudden job openings. The farther along you are in the application process, the closer you are to securing that unforeseen job opportunity.
Each school district has its own application form. The forms are similar in many respects, but the variations make it important to approach each one with a fresh eye. Also, the more you know about a specific district, the more you can tailor your responses to the specific curriculum and overall programs.
Below are some general pointers to keep in mind as you complete your application forms.
- Employers often reject applications based on the following errors:
- Spelling and/or grammatical errors
- Incomplete information
- Information not typed or not hand-printed (requirements vary from form to form)
- Make your responses brief and use action words whenever possible. Action words make you sound energetic.
- Handle dates with care. If some of your job experiences have been short-lived, round off your dates to the nearest month or year. If your dates betray your age and you feel that might be a problem, group your experience in general time frames. For example, instead of listing dates that indicate 15 or more years of experience, write "more than 12 years of experience."
- Avoid discussing any sensitive issue. There is not enough room on most forms to support your case. For example: Suppose you had to leave a school district. When faced with an application question such as "Why did you leave the district?" leave it blank or write "Will discuss in person." This allows you to discuss the issue more fully and in its proper context.
Take out your master resume (the one you created by following the advice in Chapter 3) and read it carefully. Does it show how your special skills, strengths, and experiences meet the specific needs of the district you are applying to? If not, revise it accordingly.
Along with your application form and targeted resume, you'll need to send a cover letter addressed to your prospective supervisor (get this person's name from personnel). The letter should describe your interest in securing a position in the district, provide a brief description of your job qualifications, and then actually ask for an interview. (See sample letter on next page.)
If the district is not conducting official interviews at this time, in place of a regular interview, ask for an exploratory interview in which you could discuss what you and the district might have to offer each other in the future.
UPDATE YOUR PLACEMENT FILE
Whether you are a novice or a veteran teacher, once you start completing job applications, it is important that you check in with the career placement center at the college from which you received your most advanced degree. The reason to discuss, either by phone or in person, your placement file.
Your placement file is a depository for your personnel and academic data, recommendations, and student teaching/professional teaching evaluations. It is maintained by your college's career placement center and is used to support your applications for employment.
Most employers will want a copy of your placement file if you become a serious candidate. Usually this file is closed, which means a prospective employer has access to the file, but you do not.
Ask a career placement counselor at your college if your file is complete and up to date. If it is not, take the necessary steps to see that the file becomes complete.
Also ask the counselor to read through your file and remove any letters, evaluations, or recommendations that even hint at negativity. You might also consider removing letters or recommendations that are 10 years or older.
Special Advice on References
Be extremely selective when asking people to write references for your placement file. In most cases, you won't have a chance to review what they say about you, so you want to ask people you are confident will say good things about you. I suggest using this three-step process:
- Draw up a list of three to five reference candidates.
These can include education professors, teaching supervisors, or any other past employers. It you and your last employer did not get along, don't use him or her. You should have at least one contemporary on this list, but you can choose someone else who is capable of writing about your most recent work-a department head or colleague perhaps.
- Next, show reference candidates your Work Strengths Summary (Chapter 1). Ask them if they would look it over and give you some feedback (i.e., to highlight skills on the summary sheet that they think are your top strengths as well as to suggest other skills you might have omitted).
- Finally, evaluate responses to determine which candidates to select as references. Use the following criteria:
- Do not select any candidate who is unwilling to review your Work Strengths Summary. Such a person probably will not take the time to write a good letter of recommendation.
- Also delete any person who heavily corrects your summary, offers minimal input, or seems otherwise detached from the evaluation activity.
- Select those candidates who are enthusiastic about the skills on your summary sheet or are supportive of your goals.
It's been three weeks since you sent your formal application to a prospective school. More than likely, one of the following has occurred:
You received a form letter thanking you for your interest, but for one reason or another, denying you an interview.
ACTION: Send the employer a letter that: (1) thanks him or her for responding to your inquiry, (2) addresses the employer's concern about you (if the employer stated one in the letter), and (3) asks the employer to keep you in mind for future job openings or interview opportunities. Then, at least every few months, check in via follow-up call or follow-up card.
You have received no response.
ACTION: Pick up the phone and follow up. Example:
Teacher: Hello, this is Maria Jones. A few months ago I applied for a teaching position in your school district. I would like very much to sit down and talk with you about the needs of your district and how my experience and skills might serve those needs.
Employer: I'm sorry, but we're very busy around here right now. There's just no time to set up an appointment. Besides, we're not really expecting any openings in the near future.
Teacher: Thank you, Dr. Smithers. I understand. May I call again in a few months to see how your needs stand then? I would very much like to work in your district. I'm particularly interested in working with reluctant learners and think your district is developing some very exciting programs in this area.
Employer: I'm glad to hear you're interested in our new education programs. I guess it couldn't hurt to check in again later.
Teacher: Thank you for your time. I'll speak with you again soon.
FOLLOW UP AGAIN
Is it all right to check back several times with employers? Absolutely! One teacher reported that she checked back once every month in the spring and once every two weeks during the summer. She reasoned that it is better to become known than forgotten. This teacher ended up getting a position that usually required a special education certificate, without having one herself! How? She continued to call back those people who seemed interested in further contact.
Here's a sample repeat call:
Teacher: Hello, this is Maria Jones. A few months ago I applied for a teaching position in your school district. At the time, there were no openings or opportunities for exploratory interviews. I'm calling to see if anything has changed. I'm still interested and available.
Employer: No, things are pretty much the same around here. I don't anticipate any changes.
Teacher: Thank you, Dr. Smithers. May I check in again in a few months? I would very much like to work in your district. As I mentioned to you before, I'm particularly interested in working with reluctant learners and think your district is developing some very exciting programs in this area.
Employer: Oh, yes. I remember you saying it. Well, I don't think the employment situation will charge in the near future, but you can keep trying.
Teacher: Thank you for your time. I'll speak with you again soon.
When You Can't Get Through ...
Sometimes you may not get through to an employer when you call to follow up. That's not always bad. It can be very helpful to get on a first-name basis with other workers in the office, and an intercepted follow-up call can give you a chance to do so. Here's a sample call that does just that:
Teacher: Hello, this is Maria Jones. May I speak with Dr. Smithers? I'm calling to see if any teaching positions or interview opportunities have opened up. I'm still interested and available.
Receptionist: Oh, hello, Maria. Dr. Smithers is out now, but I'll tell her you called.
Teacher: Thank you, Helen. I appreciate your relaying the message.
Remember: Job vacancies often occur at odd times. One way to increase the chances that your name will surface when a sudden vacancy arises is to send prospective employers a short monthly or bimonthly note expressing your continued interest in a district or school.
It is very easy to lose track of names, school addresses, interview dates, leads, and follow-up tasks. The easiest way to make your job search more organized is to complete an index card like the following for each important contact.
Review the cards each week and compile a to-do list based on your comments in the "Helpful Info" and "Follow-up" categories on the cards. Combine this list with the formal daily list found under the worksheet in Chapter 6 entitled, Job Seeker's Daily Attitude and Goal Sheet. This sheet is also used as a self-motivational tool, which is why it is presented in a later chapter.
WHAT ELSE CAN I DO TO BECOME KNOWN?
I often hear job seekers say, I have sent out my applications and requested interviews; now I don't have anything to do but wait." Not so! Take this time to become better known in a district and to demonstrate your abilities by doing these things:
- Student teach.
- Substitute teach.
- Network with building staff.
- Ask the principal to evaluate your teaching.
- Attend local professional conferences.
- Be active in professional organizations.
- Help with the newsletter, conduct surveys, etc.
- Help organize conferences, mailings, membership drives, etc.
- Volunteer in the schools.
- Become a part-time tutor.
- Chaperon student events.
- Join advisory committees.
- Participate in PTA or other parent /family organizations.
- Work on fund-raising or bond issues.
- Acquire helpful skills or knowledge.
- Take an education course at a nearby college or university.
In today's more competitive market, many new or returning teachers find that they cannot expect to land a full-time teaching job the first year of their search. Many of these teachers use substituting as a way to become known in a particular school or district.
One woman I know had worked for years in interior design and then decided to return to teaching when the owner of the company closed shop. Unfortunately, competition for teachers was tough in her area and she wasn't able to secure a full-time teaching job. She decided to substitute teach. She told me, "I had never seen myself as a substitute. But it is marvelous. I am now on a first-name basis with many influential supervisors.
"Substitute teaching also lets me get inside several schools, really inside, and see how things work. One school I go to has strict behavior and dress policies, another favors open-ended methods, and another focuses on an area I'd never even heard of before. This knowledge will help me with my interviews next year because I know which schools interest me and which ones I want to avoid."
The woman went on to say that she had a business card printed and leaves it with each teacher whose class she enjoys. At schools she particularly enjoys, she puts her card by the faculty room where phone lists are left. In this way, she's getting known-and also more calls for substitute jobs!