“At the end I reached a point when I thought that I couldn’t do it anymore and that I’d never get a job as a teacher,” Lauren Petersen tells me with an exasperated sigh.
A week later she had three different teaching job offers in three different locations and within three different grade levels.
Getting a teaching job is not easy. But it is possible. After six months of applying, interviewing, and having to expand her career interests, Lauren knows the hardships of getting a teaching job after college.
With patience, networking, and hard work, she was able to realize her career dreams as a first-grade teacher up here in the Bay Area. Now she shares her advice with any college students or recent graduates want to get a teaching job after college.
1. Build relationships
During the fifth and final year of her dual-degree teaching program, Lauren was working full-time as a student teacher in one of the Diocese schools in San Francisco. She had built a relationship with her master teacher starting in sophomore year during her required fieldwork and afterward had requested to work with her again during her full-time student teaching position.
Not only did she have a strong mentor-mentee relationship with her master teacher, but she also established herself as a reliable and talented teacher to the rest of the school, including the principal.
After graduation, Lauren found that these relationships were key to finding a teaching position. Her master teacher helped her create a portfolio that included lesson plans, student work examples, pictures, notes, and letters of recommendation from the parents of her students as well as her master teacher and principal.
Though she did apply to teaching jobs through sites like Ed-join or the employment page of the Diocese website, a large portion of the interviews she got were because of recommendations given by the principal where she did her full-time student teaching.
“Principals meet with each other and send each other emails so they’re the first to know if a school is looking for a first grade teacher or something. And yes, other principals are going to be giving recommendations for other people, but if you come very highly recommended, you’re going to be the first person that that other principal wants to meet and interview.”
2. Get as much experience as possible
Lauren recommends getting as much real classroom experience as possible. Yes, you can learn a lot from books and professors, but you need to also get your hands dirty and do real teaching. She is beyond grateful to the master teacher she had while student teaching who really let Lauren try things out and encouraged her to take charge of the lessons.
Lauren admits that not everything will go smoothly. There will be times when you make mistakes, but that’s exactly how you learn and improve.
And you don’t have to stick to the required hours of your undergraduate, Master’s, or dual degree program. Go in and volunteer with different schools, ask if you can stay longer than the required amount of hours, see if you can shadow teachers in different grade levels. Every experience you have will shape who you become as a teacher.
Lauren spent time in public and private schools, in elementary grade levels and middle school grade levels, and she even spent a month teaching in Korea. All of it helped her narrow down her interests and get a real idea about what kind of teacher she wanted to be.
Not only will the experience in the classroom help you define yourself as a teacher, but it also prepares you for your interviews.
“You go in there [into the interviews] and they ask you questions like, ‘What is your favorite lesson you’ve taught?’ or ‘Talk about a lesson you taught that failed and how you did/will fix it.’ If you’ve actually done the work, spent real time in the classroom, it’s easy to talk about because it’s your life. It’s what you do. So then it’s like having a conversation with someone because you’ve actually had that experience.”
3. Be confident
You have to enter into your interviews with confidence. Yes, it’s a nerve-racking experience, but you’re applying to be a teacher. These principals and school board members are looking for someone who will be able to walk into a classroom and take charge.
Show them that you’re going to be able to stand in front of a class and teach.
“If you don’t believe you can do it, the students won’t believe that you can do it either and that’s not who the principal or other teachers want to hire.”
4. Don’t limit yourself too much
When Lauren first began her job search, she limited herself to private schools in the Bay Area for kindergartners. After completing her fieldwork, volunteering, and student teaching, these were the types of positions she knew that she wanted.
After around five months without any offers, though, Lauren realized that she should expand her search. She just needed to get her foot in the door. A lot of the time, openings within certain grade levels will occur at a school, but instead of hiring outside for that position, the principal will look within the school to see if any current teachers want to switch to that class. This was one of the reasons it was difficult for Lauren to be hired. She was an outside hire. So she decided to expand her job search to any grade level (from elementary to middle school) and anywhere from San Francisco to San Diego (where her family is from).
She ended up applying for a sixth grade position in San Diego and it was the first of three job offers she received.
“I was like, at this point I’ll accept a job for any grade level or location. I just need to get my foot in the door. If I do my first couple of years in sixth grade, I’ll have more experience as a teacher and can start looking for first grade positions again.”
5. Be patient; Try to stay calm during the job search process
This is probably going to be the hardest tip to follow.
Lauren herself had all but given up on finding a job by July. She had applied and interviewed at about six different schools and although all of the interviews went well, principals were looking for teachers with more experience or wanted to hire from schools that were closing before hiring brand new teachers.
What you also have to keep in mind is that a lot of schools hand out their contracts around mid-March and they aren’t due back until mid-April, so when you’re first starting the job search, principals may have an idea about whether or not they will have an opening, but they’re not 100% sure. So you have to be patient and understand that a lot of the hiring happens right at the end.
That doesn’t mean you should wait to start your job search! Just don’t get too down on yourself if it takes longer than you thought to find a position.
“Everyone had been telling me from the beginning that all of the offers tend to come in at the end because that’s when principals are really looking. I was like, ‘Right. Right.’ But, you know, I had been working on this [the job search] for so long and didn’t really believe it. But within a week [a few weeks before school was starting] I had three different positions in different locations in different grade levels.”
Homework time! Thinking about becoming a teacher? Take Lauren’s advice. Get as much experience under your belt as possible. Work on building relationships with teachers that you work with and the principals of those schools. Remember to enter every interview with confidence and be patient with your job search. And try not to limit your career too much. Be open to different locations and positions.