Ten (More) Tips to “Bag” Music Teacher Employment
I will probably never tire writing articles for new or prospective music educators seeking a public school position. I am subject to a flash of inspiration – epiphanies or revelations – at any moment, many of which come while I am walking the dogs or driving the car. Here are some random loose-ends I have not covered before, the results of recent bouts of brainstorming and mind wandering! Hopefully, they will provide you additional insight towards success in the job hunt process. Good luck!
- First stop? Under “Becoming a Music Educator,” a link at the top menu of my WordPress site, there is a summary of all previous articles for getting a job. I have included many resources and recommended links to samples and blogs from “the experts” in developing marketing skills, personal branding, preparing for interviews, and e-portfolios. My blogs are presented in a suggested sequential order, so it would probably be a good idea that you read all of them chronologically beginning with “Marketing your Professionalism.” A copy of my PowerPoint slide handouts for presentations at collegiate music education seminars and PCMEA workshops is also posted.
- Timing is everything. Teachers who are planning to retire usually have to notify their school administration in the months of February, March or April to receive some of their “golden handshake” benefits. For the school district, it helps them plan for future hiring. For you, it should focus your attention and organize your work at a time when the jobs are just becoming available. (Don’t wait for summer vacation!)
- What is saturation? In “the old days” when I was fresh out of the university and looking for public school music employment, I used my own version of saturation marketing. I took the metal-end of a compass point and pushed it in a map on the spot where I was living. The pencil-end was stretched as far as I was willing to travel in one day to go to work (for me, seven PA counties). The circle that I drew represented the targeted school districts that I spent most of my effort. Of course, today we use online application registries such as PA-educator.com which broadcast data on the pool of candidates. Regardless, I sent a custom-designed letter to every superintendent of school “in my hot zone” announcing that I was interested, met all education and certification requirements, and was available for immediate employment consideration. You should prominently share the name/location of your professional website. In addition, this would be the perfect place to mention if you student-taught or served as a private teacher, coach, summer camp counselor, or marching band/musical assistant in their area. For me, this meant a lot of extra work (looking-up the names/addresses, and you can’t just send a blanket form-letter “To Whom It May Concern”), but it seemed to give me a little edge, a foot in the door so-to-speak, and the opportunity to place follow-up calls later to the HR department to confirm they received the letter and did not need anything to add to the file (transcripts/portfolio, etc.). If you’re not restricted to a specific geographic area, saturation this way would probably not be feasible.
- Enhance your online presence! The more I think about the process that today’s graduates must go through to get a music teaching job, the more I am convinced that digital portfolios and a website would be essential to show off your skills, experiences, and accomplishments. I would even go as far as to suggest the purchase a premium domain name (something simple like yourname.edu or .com). Graduating this year from West Virginia University, my former student David Dockan (www.daviddockan.com), among a host of others at https://www.mcgill.ca/edu-e3ftoption/portfolios, http://music.psu.edu/musiced/e-portfolio.html, and http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/teaching-portfolios/, have excellent sample postings for your perusal.
- You need to research the school districts in your area for potential of job openings. If you graduated from a local school, a good person to ask is your former high school band, choral and orchestra directors. They probably go to music festivals and other events and would hear “through the grapevine” who may be transferring, going on maternity leaves, or considering retirement.
- Like it or not, you will be judged on how you look! In another blog, I talked about coming to the interview in “business-professional formal dress.” Try to avoid anything trendy, mod, or “cool,” and guys, this means you wear a tie and a jacket. Unkempt or unusual length/coloring of hair, extra body piercings, and visible tattoos will not help project the classic corporate image of “conservatism” which most administrators seek in teachers. Sure, you do have the right to be “unconventional,” “artsy,” “one-of-kind” or “make a statement,” but you also have the right never to get a public school job!
- Preparing digital samples of your teaching is important! Do this NOW while you are still in college. In a previous article, I have already strongly urged you to limit “specialization” and instead take pictures of all kinds of interactions with music kids: band and string lessons and small ensembles, large group conducting, choral practices, general music classes, dance/drama coaching, marching band rehearsals, etc. However, there is the issue of getting permission to photograph or video the students you are teaching in field experiences, problems with displaying their faces up-close in your e-portfolio and website (and definitely NOT printing their full names). In my school district, we have a “do not photo” list in each building, so just check with the school secretary where you are student teaching. This is also a concern for summer camps, recreational programs, church groups, etc.
- Testimonies are great! Don’t be shy! As far as I am concerned, you are within your right to “beg” for a congratulatory note or a thank you letter from a parent to insert in your portfolio. This would look particularly good fulfilling Charlotte Danielson’s Domain 4c “Communicating with Families” in The Framework for Teaching (see https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/08/09/criteria-for-selection-of-the-ideal-teacher-candidate/. Probably, I would approach it this way: “Thank you so much for your kind comments. I am a budding music teacher, and need to get a few notes from parents to add to my portfolio. Would you be willing to send me something?” This process should be repeated with cooperating teachers and other professionals with which you have a relationship in music education.
- Go to www.majoringinmusic.com. I stumbled on this delightful website that gives comprehensive resources for majoring in music and preparing for the job market! You should especially read their article, “7 Things Music Education Majors Can Do When Facing the Job Market” at http://majoringinmusic.com/7-things-music-education-majors-can-do-make-themselves-more-employable-2/, “hitting the nail on the head” about this topic! They have given me permission to share their outline below. (Do these sound familiar? They are preaching from the same pulpit as many of my past blogs!)
- Be an outstanding musician.
- Learn how to improvise.
- Acquire entrepreneurial skills.
- Become as broad-based and well-trained as possible.
- Combine advocacy with exchange to create better programs.
- Learn all you can about relevant technology.
- Keep an updated list of your skills, relevant experiences, and training.
- College students who collaborate have a significant advantage. As they say, “there is safety in numbers,” and the concept of teamwork would do you well in the employment search process and preparation for interviews. For examples, you already have many lists of employment screening questions: https://paulkfoxusc.wordpress.com/2015/09/01/a-blueprint-for-success-preparing-for-the-job-interview/. It is inconceivable to me that you are not already spending massive amounts of time together, with or without your head music education professor(s):
- Dividing up the work load in finding contacts and possible job openings in local school districts.
- Helping each other with the proofreading process of writing/designing resumes, cover letters, a philosophy of music education, and a personal professional website.
- Holding numerous mock interview sessions, jointly assessing your class mates’ responses to possible interview questions and story-telling skills.
© 2016 Paul K. Fox