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Jun. 25 2010 - 9:15 am | 733 views | 1 recommendation | 3 comments

Letter to an unemployed teacher

Yesterday I received an e-mail from a reader, a young woman in New York City who went to an excellent university and has a master’s degree in teaching, but is currently unemployed. She asked if I had any advice that might help her secure a job in this tough economy. Following are excerpts from the message she sent to me, as well as my reply to her.

Dear Mr. Salmonowicz,

… After two semesters spent student teaching I was able to graduate and receive New York State Certification. Now, I’ve been on the job market for almost a year and I’m coming up empty everywhere I turn. I know that there are many budget problems facing schools across the country and I understand how many schools have their hands tied with hiring freezes. But I want to be a teacher. It’s what I want to dedicate my life to and I won’t stop until I’m able to get in a classroom.

Currently, I’ve been pouring over the job hunt boards (monster, indeed.com, idealist, craigslist) as well as registering with the NYC New Teacher Finder and CharterSchools.com, but from all those I’ve only received the nibble of a single phone interview. I was wondering if, in your experience, you’ve found it best to seek out the jobs before the schools post them. Would a principal find it beneficial or annoying for a new teacher to show up unexpectedly, cover letter and resume in hand? I know that as a previously certified teacher I am unable to apply for programs like NYC Teaching Fellows, but do you think it would be prudent to apply for Teach for America to try and jumpstart my teaching career?

I understand that these questions might seem irrelevent and individual, but there are hundreds of new teachers across the country who are certified but unable to work (I know dozens in my area alone). And, while I can only speak for myself, I’m starting to feel the end of my rope coming up mighty fast. I would throughly appreciate any advice you could give.”

I wrote back…

In response to your question, I’ll offer a few suggestions:

1) Your idea of joining Teach For America is a good one. Make sure you apply at the first deadline (the new aplication goes up in August, I believe), and spend a lot of time reading about TFA. Reading Wendy Kopp’s book, One Day, All Children, as well as Donna Foote’s book, Relentless Pursuit, will give you great insight into TFA’s history and what corps members go through during the experience.

2) Try KIPP (kipp.org/careers), as its charter schools have some openings in New York City. Also, this is a good site with job postings for all 125 NYC charter schools:  http://nyccharterschools.org/meet/work-in-a-charter-school. And, of course, make sure you’re on the substitute teacher lists for NYC public schools, NYC charter schools, and any private schools in the area (my guess is a top-notch private school would love to have someone with your educational background available as a sub).
3) Although this might not be a preferred option, you might consider moving to another state where the budget isn’t so bad and teaching opportunities exist. This may require taking new tests in that state, and moving far from New York, but it’s something to think about. You’re young, so this is a great time to explore other areas of the country–before marriage, a mortgage, kids, etc. Also, many people your age spend a year or two teaching English in South Korea or South America. I know a number of people who have done it and have had great experiences. You build your resume, you don’t take on any debt (which is a more cheerful way of saying you basically break even in terms of money), and you have a fun life experience.
4) If there’s a school that you really like, but they say they can’t hire you solely because of budget reasons (i.e., they’d hire you if they could), then volunteer there. Develop relationships with the administration and English teachers, and set yourself up for a position next year. I’ve never done this, and I don’t know anyone else who has done this, but it’s an idea. Similarly, your idea about just showing up at a school is a good one. It might not lead to a job right away, but you could make contacts, get advice from principals, and maybe even get connected to a job at another school.
5) If worse comes to worse, figure out a way to translate your skills into a job (or jobs) that might not involve classroom teaching this year. You could work for Kaplan doing test prep for the ACT, SAT, or GRE; work at a tutoring company set up to assist kids whose schools are low performing (these companies are called Supplemental Education Services, or SES: http://www2.ed.gov/nclb/choice/help/ses/index.html); tutor wealthy high school kids in the Hamptons for $50/hour, or help them with college and scholarship essays (and if you’re like me and feel like this gives rich kids even more of an advantage than they already have, then make sure you spend an equal amount of time volunteering your services to students at a high school in a low-income area); or spend a year working for an education non-profit like TFA or KIPP in their New York offices.

You’re obviously very talented if you went to such a great university, and you sound like you’re very committed to the profession, so I’m sure something will open up for you eventually. Just remember, in this economy volume matters a lot when applying for jobs. A good friend of mine graduated from law school last year, and in the months leading up to his graduation he sent out cover letters and resumes to 400 law firms. He got 25 interviews, and one job offer. This is probably the worst job market for new teachers in decades, so don’t get discouraged. Find ways to make yourself more marketable–by volunteering, doing education-related work, reading tons of education books, and enhancing your repertoire (e.g., creating differentiated lessons for books/units you know you’d teach under NY standards).
Good luck!”

If any readers have ideas for this talented young woman (as well as the thousands of other teachers who are searching for jobs right now), or if you disagree with the advice that I gave her, please post a comment below.


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  1. collapse expand

    With all due respect, she would be hugely underpricing herself to tutor for $50/hr in the Hamptons — try $150/hr. In my county, Westchester, north of NYC, $125 an hour is normal.

  2. collapse expand

    Along the lines of exam prep, something else she might consider is joining one of these outfits that do college entrance consulting and working with kids to help guide them with their application essays and “packaging”. It’s a huge racket these days, given the sheer number of applications sent to selective colleges, parents are willing to pay big money to give their kid an edge. Believe it or not, this type of consulting also exists for selective private prep schools, for the wealthy folks for whom public high school is not an option. Just a thought.

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    About Me

    I'm a Teach For America alum and spent three years as a high school teacher on the west and south sides of Chicago. I've conducted research on turnaround schools with a team from the University of Virginia, consulted for school districts across the country, and done work with New Leaders for New Schools, the Consortium on Chicago School Research, and DonorsChoose.org. Currently I'm finishing my PhD from UVa's Curry School of Education.

    My work has been published in Education Week, the Phi Delta Kappan, and a number of academic journals, and I'm a co-author of the book Teachers' Guide to School Turnarounds. I also contribute monthly to GOOD, the website "for people who give a damn": www.good.is/community/MichaelSalmonowicz

    Learn more about my writing: http://sites.google.com/site/salmonowiczpubs

    E-mail: michael.salmonowicz@gmail.com

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    Followers: 51
    Contributor Since: September 2009
    Location:Chicago, IL

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    I am a contributor for GOOD, the website “for people who give a damn.” You can read my June column here. Past columns can be found here.