Career Planning: Think Before You Act

January 01, 2003 2 min read

I remember my first job fair. The New York City Board of Education desperately needed special education teachers, and I was one of hundreds waiting to get into a huge high school gym and find that first job. I had a particular school in mind and was supposed to meet a certain person. But the person never showed. In the heat of the moment, I jumped at the first offer I got.

So started my career in education. I was naive, unprepared, and unknowledgeable about the job I had taken. But I was young and (fortunately) loved the profession.

Recently, after twenty-two years in teaching, I completed my certificate of advanced study in educational administration. This time, in looking at career opportunities, I have done my homework and researched my options. Almost every class in my administration degree program had at least one discussion about job-searching and what you needed to do before you accepted a job. Strange, I don’t remember ever having that type of conversation in my teacher-education classes.

Things apparently haven’t changed much. My daughter recently graduated with a teaching degree in history. She spent time on her portfolio, her resume, and her attire. But in all of our conversations, she never indicated that she spent any time on how to look for a job, what to ask, or what sort of compensation she should be looking for.

This is unfortunate. As someone who has seen a lot of teachers come and go, I can tell you: You need to examine what you want in a teaching job and what sort of compensation you need and can command. And be ready to express these things in an interview.

Just because an offer is made doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. Take time to consider what you are accepting. There are a few things you can do to figure whether a position is right for you. First, look at the school’s Web site. Many school and district sites now include substantive information on their goals and performance. Next, try to talk to teachers who work in the school.

Also, be direct about salaries and benefits. This might be a little tricky, since some districts don’t like to talk about such issues during the initial interview. But ask anyway. You are an adult, and deserve to know what your contract would include and whether it will suit you.

Another good option is to call the district teachers’ union. Ask for a copy of the district’s contract and a referral to a teacher you could talk to.

The point is, take time to consider what you want and where you might see yourself ten years from today. Do your homework and be ready to ask questions at a job interview. Stand up for yourself. A portfolio is good to have at an interview, but how you handle yourself and whether you obtain the information you need are more important.

At least know what you want. Getting it is the challenge.