When we are younger, playing school with our stuffed animals or friends, we envision all schools to be the same. One teacher standing in front of the room with 20 seats for students who would be sitting up straightly and hanging on to every word. We imagine white boards with pretty pens and exciting lessons that would enchant every student. But as we go through college and realize that playing pretend can now become a reality, we must scrutinize the decision to become a teacher a bit more. In the education realm we read about the teacher dropouts who don’t fulfill their two-year commitment to Teach for America or the teachers at charter schools who leave after only one year. We read about these organizations and schools and have a mix of emotions—confusion, disconcertion, surprise, maybe even sadness. You ask yourself, how could someone leave the profession so soon—some even halfway through the year?
As soon-to-be teachers, it’s important to remember that when you accept a teaching position it is as much about you picking them as them picking you. All schools are not the same and we do our students and ourselves a disservice if we don’t do some serious research prior to accepting a position at a school. When we’re in education, the stakes are higher than the traditional banking or consulting job. Kids' lives are at stake. When a teacher leaves a school, whether it is at the end of the school year or worse—in the middle—kids ask themselves, was it me? Or who will I go to now?
While it can be tempting to accept the first job offer we receive, we should do our due diligence. Caring about education and our long term careers means considering the following before we accept a position:
1. Ask about professional commitments.
Outside of teaching, what are you also responsible for? Ask about teacher-led activities, lesson planning expectations, team commitments, preps, lunch duties, etc. This will help you more clearly envision what your day-to-day will look like.
2. Ask about adult culture.
How does professional development work at the school? How do principals or Deans interact with the teaching staff? Do teachers spend time together outside the work week? A school can be a very lonely place if you don’t have a “work bestie” or a group of colleagues who can be that support system.
3. Speak to a current teacher or shadow a school day.
When you are on an interview or even a demo lesson, you aren’t seeing a typical school day. When we interview, we are so focused on making sure we use the right “buzz words” or don’t use fillers such as “um” or “like.” You aren’t in the mindset to be on the lookout for school culture, student behavior, adult interactions etc.
4. Read about the school…and take it with a grain of salt.
Many candidates will say they have done their research by reading the school website or other online reviews. While these can give you a good insight on the school, it is not the whole story. It is important that you use a variety of sources before making up your mind.
5. Make a pros and cons list.
Every school you apply to will have things you love and things you might dislike. You may love the curriculum, but you will have two days of lunch duty each week. Or teachers receive their own Mac computer but they are also responsible to pick up a class or two if another teacher is absent. It is important to be self-aware and recognize what you like and dislike about the school. Normally when you make a list like this, as long as the pros outweigh the cons, you are good to go. With teaching however, this is not the case. Some cons should sway your decision no matter what. That con, whatever it may be, will be different for every teacher.
I write this article not to scare people away from the Teach for Americas, the Success Academies, or the traditional DOE schools. I write this in hopes that new teachers will make an informed decision as they select their first school. By encouraging new teachers to “know thy self” in their selection process, we will be building a generation of teachers who are resilient and steadfast in their commitment to support learning and the path to college and career readiness for all students.