For some, the next logical step is graduate school. For others, it’s time to start your teaching career. The great thing about getting a teaching position is that, from now on, you can expect and demand to be paid for your services as a music teacher. But, the real challenge is getting hired.
As a professional music educator for the past 12 years, I have changed teaching positions four times. I was in my first job for six years, then have jumped jobs quite a bit the past six for a variety of reasons. This process of applying and interviewing multiple times has given me a pretty good handle on what it takes to get hired in American public school systems.
Go For The Dream Job, But Have Realistic Expectations
Every music major has an area of emphasis. Take the time to visualize or even write down your ideal dream job. You need to know what that dream job looks like so you’ll recognize it when it comes. The fact is, many other music teachers, both recent graduates and teachers with years of experience, are probably looking for the same job you are. You main objective upon graduating and starting your career should be simple: land a job you can live with.
This certainly doesn’t mean you should “settle,” but you are not going to appear attractive to someone with your dream job if you yourself believe that dream job is beyond your skills as a new teacher. Your first job does not have to be the place where you spend a 30 year career. However, don’t consider accepting a job offer in a school that you can’t see yourself spending at least three years in. In most states, K-12 tenure is attained after year three, and achieving tenure in a state is a big feather in your cap for future employers. You really won’t see the effect that your teaching has on a music program until you’ve worked through at least one graduating class. For example, if you teach middle school band, grades 5 through 8, you will need to see those 5th graders through to 8th grade graduation before you can really call that program “your own.”
If you really want to search for the dream job right out of the gate, you have to be willing to relocate. The desirable music teaching jobs, particularly secondary performing ensemble jobs, will always have a high number of applicants no matter where you are in the country.You will have to carefully weigh the pros and cons of leaving comfortable locations, friends, and family behind to pursue a desirable job. You can always make new social connections in a new place, and with online social networking, it’s easier than ever to stay connected to people you care about.
Applying for Jobs – Leave No Stone Unturned
Consider the following suggestions for finding jobs to apply to:
- Most states, some regional areas, some counties, and even some school districts have their own online job search portals. Be sure to check out USreap.net to see if your state has a REAP employment website.
- For states with county-wide school districts, most county districts or I.S.D.’s have their own employment portal for every school in the county.
- Both Craigslist and Monster.com have regional classified ads for education.
- Many state board of education associations have regular job postings. For example, here are the listings for the Pennsylvania School Boards Association website.
- Many state music educators associations have their own job boards, and certainly check the MENC jobs postings. By the way, if you have a music ed degree and you’re not an MENC member, what are you waiting for?
- Check out online forums for organizations affiliated with your primary teaching area. I actually found my third teaching job by posting “I’m looking for a job” in the forums at Youth Education in the Arts.
- School districts are required by law, at least in my state, to make a public announcement every time they have an opening, even if the position is filled internally. Many school districts will give as little warning about openings in public advertising as possible if they already have a good applicant pool. Many districts do not advertise job openings at all except for the “employment” page on their district website. If you have a specific school district you are gunning for, be sure you check out their website and talk to people who are on the inside. The first place to find out about openings from a specific school district is the rumor mill.
- Many retail music stores have a list of local openings. Typically, they have a traveling sales representative who visits all of the schools in a geographic area. Those road reps are great sources for all kinds of insider information on the districts they serve.
Credentials, Credentials, Credentials
Here are some suggestions for sprucing up your application package:
- Some districts prefer to get your entire application electronically. The previously mentioned USreap.net system delivers your entire application to any school district in the system. Others will give you a specific email address to send items to. Still others want it mailed to them in paper. As the old song goes, “Find out what they like, and how they like it, and give it to them just that way.”
- Be sure that you have current copies of any clearances in your possession – child abuse clearance, criminal record check, FBI clearance, etc. Make copies of the originals and include them with your initial application. This shows that you are organized.
- Make sure that your references and reference letters are people who really know you personally and can go to bat for you. The more recent their contact with you, or the longer-term their work has been with you, the better they are as a reference. The more references you can provide that directly interacted with you in a music teaching (or any teaching capacity) the better.
- Make sure that your resume is clean, easy to read, and is full of action words. If you have not done a lot of teaching outside of your bachelor’s program, incorporate any employment you have had that demonstrates your professionalism. Be sure to include awards you have won and student leadership positions you have held in ensembles.
- Your cover letter is one of the most important parts of your packet. This is where you need to customize the message for each school you submit to – do NOT write one cover letter and then send copies of the same letter to all of the employers. Your cover letter needs to address the specific position that is open in the school district and how you are uniquely qualified to fill that position. This is your chance to tell the employers something about yourself that is not apparent in your resume, as well as express your individual personality and philosophy with respect to the opening they have. I do not recommend that you use your cover letter to “tell them what you think they want to hear,” but certainly use it to highlight abilities you have that match the job opening.
When you do finally get an interview, be thankful for the opportunity – it means that the district is considering you as a possible match for their needs. Keep in mind that districts are looking to add a full-time employee, complete with a significant salary and benefits – it is a big investment on their part. They are also adding someone to their extended work family. No matter what kind of “inside track” you may have with this district (you’ve subbed there, you know the principal, etc.), you really have no idea of what qualities the interviewing panel is looking for, so don’t try to “tell them what you think they want to hear.” It is much better for all parties involved if you are straightforward and honest with them about who you are, what you value, and what you want out of this relationship. You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. If you get mixed signals from them or have any kind of intuitive “red flags” like a knot in the pit of your stomach when they mention something, consider finding a different district to work for. Yes, you need a job, but again if you can’t picture spending at least three years of your life working with these people, you will be much happier somewhere else.
Some tips for the interview:
- Be on time, dress to kill. Plan travel time with at least a 30 minute cushion for unexpected delays.
- Make sure you have a contact number in case you get lost.
- Shake hands, make eye contact as much as possible. Sit with good posture, but not too rigidly.
- Be prepared to answer questions on your teaching style, how you handle classroom discipline, what kind of music you program, how you accommodate special learners, etc.
- If you don’t have an immediate answer to a question they ask, relax, take a deep breath, and if nothing comes, say so.
- Be prepared for an interview panel containing anywhere between 2 and 10 people. Some districts will have the parent booster group president sit in on interviews.
- Come prepared with at least one question to ask the panel, as they usually give you an opportunity to do so at the end. If something comes up for you as a “red flag” in what they say during the interview, dump your prepared question and ask about that.
- Confident but not cocky is a good approach.
- Most districts are looking for tech-savvy people. If you use technology, be sure to bring it up if possible.
- Afterwards, send an email thanking them for the opportunity and looking forward to speaking with them again.
And here’s a great power tip: If you don’t get hired after giving an interview, call them back and ask who was hired and which school district they are coming from. Not all schools will give out that information, but if they do, you have another school to apply to. Chances are that the district the other person is leaving hasn’t posted their opening yet.
Above all, getting hired by a district has more to do with your own preparation and attitude than anything else. If you go in with a “please hire me, I’m desperate” attitude, this will come across in your presentation. If you consider yourself to be a valuable addition to a teaching faculty and expect to be hired by a deserving district, you will find yourself in a teaching position. Above all, DON’T GIVE UP! I got one of my teaching jobs in the third week of August and had two weeks to put a marching band show on the field! Best of luck to you on your job search, and be sure to join us as a professional in the Music Educators Professional Learning Network.
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