College graduation: a time of celebration, a convergence of formal schooling and the workforce. For teacher candidates, it’s a time of searching for open teaching positions, substitute teaching positions, and interviewing in every hiring district. As an undergraduate student nears the completion of a teaching degree, advice is abundant from everyone, especially teachers. Advice ranges from working as a substitute in every possible location to identifying districts desperate for teachers. But why should students sacrifice a quality job to settle for any job available? What tools will equip students to help get the job they want?
In fact, waiting until graduation to think about the attributes needed to obtain employment and the tools that will improve performance is too late. Four years of development and strategic planning are at risk, leaving recent graduates fumbling to make connections, develop interview skills, and fill in the gaps on resumes without guidance. Teacher education program graduates, it seems, are prepared to take the job but not well equipped to find the position, identify what a school needs, and market individual skills tailored to the district.
An easier approach to this process involves a more direct route instead of opting for the long and winding road. First taking into account the destination—a job description including required skills, knowledge and experience—can assist. To get some place on purpose, in this case a specific job, a road map can be a useful tool. Using a job description as a guide, the areas of focus in this article will help to give applicants a competitive edge over those on a more wayward path. Using the following guidelines, along with a job description, leads to proven success in the job application.
Step 1: Create a Resume
An opening for a job in a school gets posted. A resume is sent. The prospective teacher hears no response. What went wrong? This is where starting with the job description matters. Have students use the job description as a guide—identify important qualifications, such as “differentiates instruction” or “demonstrates knowledge of developmentally appropriate practice.” Instruct them to include these in the resume so they “talk the talk” of the school posting the job—those phrases are included in the job description because it is important to the mission of the school and an indicator of what might be required for candidates to be a good fit.
Step 2: Establish a Portfolio
A portfolio is the “show and tell” of the adult world, providing teachers an opportunity to share stories about their experience, knowledge, and skills. Address the key phrases in the portfolio too, by illustrating how instruction was differentiated in lesson planning and implementation, including evaluations and letters of recommendation, and describing how developmentally appropriate practice was established. The portfolio provides evidence of what the resume summarized. Students should use the portfolio—both electronic and hard-copy—as a brag book, showcasing important experiences and demonstrating imperative skills.
Step 3: Network
The old adage “it is all about who you know” remains true. Strategic networking is an art that extends beyond making temporary connections and using people as stepping stones to get industry information and meet new people. In school districts, many job postings are internal, looking for substitute and already-employed teachers to fill positions without revealing the opening to the public. However, external candidates can interview for these positions based upon the recommendations of employees in the school or district. How can a candidate learn about these openings? Strategic networking follows the intentional, more direct path toward employment. Students can identify teachers, principals, and school personnel working in targeted school districts and learn more about the schools from the inside perspective. They can get to know the insiders before the interview. They can ask about the school’s mission, curriculum models, or instructional strategies used in the classroom. They should not, however, ask for a job at the start. Have students show an interest in the school and how it works; they should demonstrate passion for the school’s mission. Members of their network will remember their name when the time is right.
Step 4: Establish a Brand
Think about a favorite brand name, where only the brand name—not just a generic or substitute—will satisfy one’s needs. As a job applicant, wouldn’t it be better to be the brand instead of a generic easily substituted for another? Establishing oneself as a brand involves knowing personal strengths and weaknesses and acknowledging attitudes and values. Understanding how to communicate elements of a self-brand to others involves careful marketing. Consider how social networking tools, like LinkedIn and Facebook, impact branding, as well as how a resume or portfolio can be leveraged to market one’s brand.
Step 5: Develop as a Professional
If the job description is the road map, professional development is the tool used to fuel the application process and advancement. Occasionally, teachers may find gaps in their educational experience—such as a missing Special Education course or lack of proficiency in computer technology. Identifying these gaps before graduation, instead of scrambling after degree completion, can be vital in meeting qualifications. These gaps can be filled with coursework, attending conferences, viewing webinars, or joining professional organizations. This is the candidate’s opportunity to “walk the walk,” gaining required knowledge for a position in advance.
The biggest take-away from the five areas of influence is simply this: students need to be strategic and get ahead early. Wouldn’t it be easier to navigate the field of education with a road map and helpful tools, and eliminate the possibility of getting lost altogether?
Amy Szymaszek is a Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, studying Educational Leadership and Advocacy. She is currently researching professional burnout, cultural diversity in education, and bridging the theory-practice gap in education. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Peter Titlebaum, Professor of Sport Management at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, has over twenty-five years experience in management in the profit, non-profit, private, and public sectors. He speaks and writes on areas of networking, organizational and personal development, educating audiences to be their own advocates. He may be contacted at email@example.com.