Picking the Right School as a Teacher
Right now, if you searched for job openings in the school district that you have your eyes set on, you'll see that there's an abundance of openings (especially in STEM). Assuming you are a quality candidate, there will be an overwhelming amount of opportunities where the employers will be drooling over what you bring to the table. Knowing this, you're going to have to make a tough decision.
To narrow down the possibilities, you'll factor in proximity to home, salary, and the hours first; but don't let these be the only deciding factors when making your selection. Of course, you won't know if you made the right decision until you step foot in the building as an employee. To prevent setting yourself up for a rude awakening, I have compiled 5 questions to ensure you are making the best decision for yourself prior to signing that year-long contract.
1) Does the school's mission/culture align with my vision?
This is the most important question outside of salary! Every educator has a reason for teaching, which many of us refer to as our "why". This "why" gets us through our toughest days, and if it isn't being fed on a daily basis at some capacity, teacher burnout will be inevitable. For example, my "why" is centered around working with and building the confidence of students from minority backgrounds, in an attempt to close the achievement gap. Realizing this task is much bigger than myself, I knew I needed to be in a building where the administration and staff had a similar practice of celebrating student growth as opposed to measuring student success solely on the performance on state standardized tests.
Starting my teaching career in a school that was laser-focused on student performance on standardized tests took a heavy toll on my teaching practices and eventually my confidence. We never took time to celebrate the fact that students increased their reading or math levels by 2-3 grades, because they weren't "proficient" at the conclusion of the school year. In fact, many of the staff members were chastised or categorized as "ineffective" for students not reaching proficiency when they entered the class multiple grade levels below. It was an awful first impression of the education system, but a change in scenery shifted my entire perspective and ensured me that I was exactly where I belonged. At my current school, we celebrate students leveling up, no matter where they started and instill that confidence in them that every young learner deserves.
With that being said, start by solidifying your vision and the lasting impact you want to have in education. Confirm that this vision runs parallel to the school's so you don't feel alone, and know you're in a space where collaboration is possible and is fueled by that vision. If you get those genuine vibrations from the administration and they actually believe in you and what you stand for, greatness will follow.
2) Will I thrive teaching this demographic of students?
When selecting your school, you have to be completely honest with yourself about the demographic of the students and parents you'll be interacting with. It is a must that teachers have a compatible and effective teaching style for the students they will be in front of, or else they will be doing themselves and their potential students a disservice. The preference is completely up to the educator. You will have strengths and weaknesses no matter the demographic you are teaching, so don't expect to come in perfect. The demographics I'm speaking of aren't just limited to race, one must also take into consideration socioeconomic status of the students and parents, the performance level of the students, and more. A new teacher will need a few years to experience different levels of parent involvement, develop their own culturally relevant teaching style and effectiveness with their population to see if they have truly found their niche.
3) How much creative freedom will this administration give me to create lessons and classroom culture?
This question is definitely a touchy subject for most administrations because many have no power over this. There are schools with a history of under-performing that give teachers scripts to facilitate their classes. Schools in this situation will try their hardest to give leeway to the teacher to add their own personal style to the script, but there isn’t much veering off or creative touch that can be added to these lessons. If you understand this is the reality at the school you desire and support the bigger picture, don’t hesitate to accept the position. On the contrary, if you are a creative and envision a unique approach to the curriculum, find a school or district that will allow that creativity to flourish. I promise those schools are out there.
4) Will I receive the proper support/coaching at this school?
I cannot stress the significance of this question enough. Every teacher (especially new to the profession) will need help at some capacity. You need to make sure that the school you choose has the proper system for you to feel in control. Whether it is a peer with more experience, an open-door policy with the administration, or a consistent behavior plan throughout the building. Many new educators, and even veterans with the implementation of more technology, have complained that they do not feel supported. Although this is relative to the individual teacher, all feelings are valid. Schools should have an expert for every possible component needed to run an effective institution, so you are completely in the right to ask an administration if they have a protocol for specific expectations.
When I started teaching, I could not write a lesson plan to save my life! But through modeling and scaffolding (we need scaffolds too!) with my instructional coach, I can knock them out in minutes. Always remember that even the most experienced teachers are learning something new every day, so be sure to work for an administration that embraces questions and assists your needs with urgency.
5) Will I grow as an educator and professional here?
It is a known fact that a majority of classroom teachers don’t envision themselves teaching for the remainder of their working lives. Many aspire to be principals, lawyers, entrepreneurs, etc. and most administrations should be aware of this. In my opinion, it should be a part of their job to create opportunities for these teachers to lead outside of the classroom and showcase their abilities. Through the implementation of committees, team leads, and grade level chairs, an administration can allow one to grow immensely as a professional. If desired, you get exposure and real-life experience that many companies and various professions are looking for. These skills and committees can easily translate to a resume and will be co-signed by the administration to place as a reference. Do not settle for schools that don’t give teachers this opportunity.
If you have the desired responses to these 5 questions as well as salary/proximity, you will have done as much as possible to ensure you’re in the right environment! My first teaching job was picked solely off of salary...and I didn’t even last a full year. So I’d love to open your eyes to what you DESERVE as an educator. You are entitled to feel comfortable and valued wherever you decide to teach, so make the right choice and give the students your all. I promise there is nothing more rewarding to a true educator. What are things you look for when picking a school? Comment below!