Looking for your first teaching job? With soaring teaching vacancies nationwide, you’ve likely got a great chance of landing one. Statistically speaking, you’re also likely not to stay long.
Nearly 50 percent of all new teachers leave within the first five years of entering the profession, according to prior studies. Almost half of those who exit early cite job dissatisfaction as the primary reason. Some of that dissatisfaction could be avoided if teaching-job candidates practice more due diligence and watch carefully for red flags before accepting a job offer, say experienced educators.
“Even though I learned a lot at my first teaching job, had I known then what I know now, I definitely wouldn’t have taken the job,” said Deidra Fogarty, who taught at seven schools before founding Black Girls Teach, an advocacy and professional-development group for Black women in education.
Fogarty says the excitement and drive to land that first teaching job can cause early job seekers to overlook signs that a school might not be a good fit during the interview process.
She and other experienced educators offer strategies on how early-career teaching candidates can effectively evaluate prospective employers before accepting a job.
Do research on the school and the district
It’s relatively easy to engage in preliminary research of a school or district online. A district website is the logical first stop. Here, you’ll find a variety of basic but revealing information, such as the district’s number of students and employees, racial/ethnic demographic data, annual budget, graduation rate, and more.
Individual school websites also provide important insights, explains Jason B. Allen, a former school administrator and current special education teacher at 7 Pillars Career Academy in Forest Park, Ga.
“Ask yourself questions like: Do they have student engagement? If they only have two clubs, that’s not a lot of opportunity,” Allen said.
Online research shouldn’t stop at school and district websites. Employment websites sometimes post workplace reviews by current and former employees. And, increasingly, educators and school administrators are taking to Twitter, Instagram, and other social media channels to share a range of information of interest to job seekers, such as school initiatives and upcoming events, educational philosophies, and highlights of student achievement.
Request an in-person, all-access visit to the school
The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way schools operate; in many districts, virtual job interviews are a residual effect. While Zoom interviews are convenient—allowing job candidates from anywhere to connect with hiring personnel—virtual interviews don’t tell nearly the whole story of a school or district. Seasoned educators urge early-career teaching candidates to visit the school where they’re interviewing whenever possible.
Once at a school, take advantage of the opportunity to observe important details, starting with your stop at the front office, advises Fogarty.
“Ask yourself: Is the main office staff friendly? Do they greet you? Is it organized, or chaotic?” she said. “If it’s chaotic, that’s a sign that the school itself probably is too.”
Also important, Fogarty says, is to observe staff and students—preferably, in uncontrolled settings.
“Ask if you can walk around the building,” she said. “It’s a red flag when they have only very specific classrooms they want you to visit.”
Fogarty suggests asking yourself the following questions while observing classes: What are the students doing? Are they working independently, or doing work sheets? Is the teacher just sitting back, or is he or she engaged with the students? Are the students and teachers treating each other with respect? What is the tone of the teacher’s voice?
Go into it like you are interviewing them."
Learn about the broader community
Having a sense of students’ home environments can provide important insights that, in turn, better enable teachers to prepare for meeting students where they are, says Allen, the Georgia teacher.
For example, “If the majority of families are grandparents raising kids, there are going to likely be issues around technology and access at home,” he said.
More broadly, the political and cultural climates within a given community can influence everything from how a school operates to what its policies are and what its students learn.
Increasingly, polarized climates in some communities are raising tensions and, in some cases, causing upheaval. Last June, for instance, police declared a Loudoun County, Va., school board meeting unlawful when residents argued over the district’s proposed policies on transgender students.
Parents aren’t just getting more vocal; in many communities, they’re exerting greater influence on districtwide decisions, from curriculum choices to discipline policies. Allen describes applying for a job in a district that touted restorative discipline practices as a way to address student misbehavior. But after he took the job, he learned that parents opposed this philosophy.
“I did not research the influence that parents had,” Allen said.
Learning about student demographics, community members’ mindsets, and their sphere of influence can take some digging, but the revelations may better prepare candidates for a given job.
Prepare to ask questions in the interview
When preparing for an interview, job candidates tend to spend ample time anticipating the questions an interviewer may ask them and less time on the questions they’d like answered. Experts suggest re-thinking that strategy.
“Think about the things that matter most to you, even though it’s your first job, and ask questions directly aligned to them,” said Fogarty. Whether it’s work-life balance, career development, or something else that’s important to you, she says, go into the interview with your questions prepared.
Other experienced educators agree. Joanne George, a middle school teacher at New Jersey’s Learning Community Charter School, advises job candidates not to shy away from the tough questions.
“Don’t be afraid to ask: Why is there an opening?” George said. “Can you tell me about the teacher turnover at the school?”
George, who acknowledges that she’s worked in schools where discipline is a serious issue, emphasizes the importance of hearing where school leaders stand on supporting teachers when parents question or challenge them on matters from academics to behavior.
Several factors can inhibit job candidates from asking questions during an interview.
“You’re trying to manage your emotions, trying to memorize talking points, trying to be engaged and present,” Allen said.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed during the interview, forgetting to ask specific questions or second-guessing whether it’s the appropriate time. To this, Allen advises: “I don’t think there’s ever a time that’s too early [to ask a question].”
Adjusting your mindset before you go into the interview can help you keep the questions you want to ask at the forefront.
Says Fogarty: “Go into it like you are interviewing them.”