or, why I may or may not be coming soon to a school near you…

This has been a very strange week and I have not been at all well for most of it, but I want to take a moment here (and hope that I will be coherent for it) and address an issue that I have been asked a lot lately as the summer winds down. School is starting just twelve days from now, after all.

I often get asked by students “why don’t you get a teaching job here?” In the short amount of time we have together, I can’t really give you as full an answer as you deserve. What I want to do here is to take a few moments to explain how teachers actually get hired, because it’s a much more complicated process than, say, getting a job at a fast-food restaurant, and it takes a very long time.

First, there has to be an opening. In order for there to be an opening, one of the following things has to happen:

  • someone leaves their position (they retire, resign, or pass away),
  • someone loses their position due to incompetence
  • additional funds become available from the state or federal government to create new positions

Most teachers have delayed retiring because the economy is so unstable at the moment. Most teachers resign because they get married, get another teaching job somewhere else, get a job in another field (or become a principal), or move. President Obama did make additional funds available to schools, under a program he and Secretary of Education called “Race to the Top,” but Michigan didn’t qualify for any of those funds.

Second, if there is an opening, it has to be in an area that I am certified to teach in. The state of Michigan uses a two-letter code to describe your certification areas. My codes are BA, DA, and DX. Basically, that means that each of the following codes means that I am qualified to teach:

  • BA: English, Language Arts, Grammar, Writing, Poetry, Literature, Great Books, Shakespeare, Drama, Business Writing, Yearbook
  • DA: Biology, Ecology, Botany, Zoology, Human Anatomy & Physiology, Environmental Science, Life Science, Biochemistry, Genetics, Microbiology, Forensic Science.
  • DX: General Science, Science, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Earth Science, Life Science, Physical Science.

So if a math teaching position opens up, I couldn’t apply for it, because I am not certified to teach math. The same is true of history, geography, math, physical education, music, etc.

“Ah,” you say, “but you have substituted in all of those areas.”

True, but being a substitute is different from being a regular teacher. A substitute teacher merely follows (or is supposed to follow) the plans written by the regular teacher. It is the regular teacher who is making the long-term decisions about the best way to teach their students over the course of a year. (Believe me, a lot of thought goes into this.) Substitute teachers can teach just about any subject because they teach it at most (usually) for only a day, and if they screw something up, the regular teacher can correct that the following day. (Which is why I try to leave long and detailed notes about what we did and didn’t cover in class, as well as anything that we found confusing.)

Third, the position is posted internally. That means it’s initially open only to teachers who are already employed by the school district. They get first dibs on any new positions. This is often how teachers change grade levels or subject areas (if they have the appropriate certification).

Fourth, if there are no takers within the school district, the position is posted externally, which means that anyone who is qualified for it can apply. In the past, school districts have kept a wide window open—often 30 days or more—for these positions, meaning that if they posted a position on June 1, you had until June 30 to apply. Because the economy is doing so poorly, and because there are so many teachers out of work and looking for full-time employment, many districts have narrowed the window that positions have been open. I have seen positions where the cut-off date was a week after the position was posted. They aren’t doing this to be mean, but simply because if they leave it open longer than that, they will receive hundreds of resumes and it will take forever to go through them.

Fifth, there is an initial round of interviews.

Sixth, there is a secondary round of interviews.

Different school districts handle these interviews in different ways. Usually, the first round of interviews is handled by a single person in central administration, who narrows down the list of potential candidates from dozens or even hundreds to as few as a dozen in some cases and only three or four in others. Those who make it through the initial round are then invited back for a second round of interviews, which are typically with the building principal they would work under, along with other teachers they would be working with. This interview committee is usually the one that makes the ultimate hiring decision.

But wait, it’s not over yet! Even after you are selected, they have to do a background check on you (if you have been working as a substitute teacher, this is generally already done) and they have to verify that you have, or can obtain, the appropriate certification.

And then—you have to be approved by the Board of Education. You have to go to a school board meeting, where someone (usually the principal) says that they want to hire you to teach such-and-such a subject in this or that building, and why you are qualified, and sometimes you have to make a little speech (not often, but you are expected to at least show up), and it all seems like a formality, but it’s not, really. After all, the Board of Education is responsible to the taxpayers (like your parents) for what happens in the schools. Your appearing before them and their approving you is what representative government is all about. They are approving you on behalf of the people who elected them.

There you have it: eight simple steps to get a teaching position in a given school district. While each step seems fairly simple and straightforward, it is a long process overall. In fact, until I sat down and wrote this post, I had never really put together in my mind all the steps of this process.

So when you ask me “why don’t you get a teaching job here?” don’t think I’m not trying. I would love to get a teaching in many of the schools that I substitute in. It’s just that it’s a much more complicated process than you realize, and right now, we’re just trying to get through the first one or two steps.

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