Tuesday, July 13, 2010

On The Hunt: Reflections on Job Searching in 21st Century America

For those of you that are reading this blog after getting home from a long day at your workplace, I salute you. No, really, I do. The fact is that you all are coming home to your friends and loved ones after a hard, productive day. You have helped make your company/business/workplace better because of the time and effort you put in today. You might be tired and dragging, but that shouldn't diminish what you did today. You gave it your all. You got up in the morning, despite the fact that rolling over and sleeping for an extra view hours was mighty tempting. You survived the morning commute once again. You enjoyed your lunch on site. You made it home through rush hour traffic. You might not realize it, but there are people who are jealous of what you have accomplished today. I know I am.

As I sit at home composing this newest entry, I felt compelled to discuss what it is like for an unemployed teacher in 21st century America. For the third time in four years, I have entered the month of July not knowing what I would be doing come September. Already I am describing myself as a career educational journeyman and yet I am only 25 years old. The fact of the matter is that in today's educational setting, jobs are hard to come by and even harder to maintain. I have left one job already because I was unhappy there. I have left another job that I was happy at, but my position there got cut. I now stand before you on the other side of your computer screen looking, hoping, wishing that somebody would once again give me a chance to teach at their school.

The truth of the matter is that my situation is not that unique. Once upon a time this country had a shortage of teachers. Nowadays, there is a surplus of teachers and you combine that with budget cuts left and right and well, you have the makings of a very difficult job hunt. If you teach the tested areas of math and science, then you at least have a shot. For us social studies and foreign language teachers, it is much more difficult. The truth is that foreign language programs frequently get the axe and are seen as unnecessary. Even here in Southern California, I have seen very few postings for language teachers and that is with a heavy Latino population. For social studies teachers, it seems now that being a coach is valued more than the teaching of social studies. Schools are much more likely to hire a coach and stick him in the classroom rather than the other way around. It is sad to think of social studies as a throwaway class, but due to the testing premium in today's society that is exactly what it is becoming.

The problem also lies in the huge bureaucratic machines that are the public city school districts. Long gone are the days when you turned in your resume to the school secretary and then sat down one-on-one with the principal of the school for an interview. In today's world, everything is done online and through human resources. People who know little about educational pedagogy are making decisions about who gets interviewed based on what you have submitted in your online portfolio. My patented youthful exuberance pales in comparison to someone who has taught for 20+ years. Even if you somehow manage to make it to an interview, that interview is with people not even associated with the school you might end up at. Already I have received auto reply messages from principals who are on vacation until the middle of August. They, like many others, are placing all their trust in the hands of the district's human resources staff. They are assuming that the most qualified candidate has gotten the job.

So, what's a young teacher to do? How do I "play the game" in this kind of dog-eat-dog environment? Well, seeing as I'm currently unemployed, I'm not sure. However, I do have some theories. First and foremost is to forgo the bureaucratic juggernaut of online job postings through the school district website. I'm not saying you ignore it completely, but you need to know that any job that you are qualified for that pops up you most likely won't get. This means that you turn your attention to the charter schools in your area. The majority of charters have their own interview process, independent of the main school district. These are the schools that are more likely to actually read your resume and grant you the traditional sit-down interview in person with the school's principal. Charter schools get a bad rap from time to time, but the truth is one thing they definitely get right is the hiring process. They have a certain vision for their school and their candidates must fit that vision for the school to succeed.

Lastly, you need to get your name out there. Contact people that you know and can speak highly of you and let them know you are looking for work. This can be previous employers, professors, former colleagues, etc. Contact schools directly. For me, I've found that emails are extremely effective. Even if a school doesn't have an immediate opening, things might pop up later on and they will remember your email. This also gives you an advantage as the school will already be familiar with your name. Call me old-fashioned, but I firmly believe in taking initiative and if something as simple as an email can help make an impression to a potential employer then by all means I will do it. You never know when an employer might email you back thanking you for your email and suggesting another school that might have an opening to your liking. In today's job searching world, any tiny advantage will go a long way in helping your procure that elusive job.

Those are my current thoughts on the matter. Whether or not I'm successful remains to be seen. I like to think of myself as a qualified candidate and already I have gotten several complements on my resume and what I'm done thus far in my first three years in public education. What doesn't kill us makes us stronger and I have already survived two job searches, so why not one more? At the very least, it has helped me get back into the swing of updating my blog, which I have been away from for this past month. Speaking of my blog, if any of you reading this happen to know of any schools that need a history or Spanish teacher in the greater San Diego area, please let me know. I know it's a long shot, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to ask.