10 Common Beginning Teacher Job Seeking Dilemmas

Finding a job as a beginning teacher can be difficult experience. Here at Education Personnel we work with lots of BTs and hear all sorts of stories. We’ve pulled them together into a list of the 10 most common dilemmas that BTs we meet face on their job seeking journey.

Note: These scenarios are  inspired by the many and varied situations we come across while working with beginning teachers. The examples themselves are fictitious.   .

#1. I did my teacher training a number of years ago but since then I’ve been parenting/travelling/dealing with illness/just haven’t been lucky, so I haven’t found a teaching role yet. I’m applying for teaching vacancies again but concerned with how this gap appears to potential employers.

Unfortunately, gaps are always going to be questioned by employers, especially if they’re for a significant amount of time. You’ll need to have an honest and convincing answer for when it inevitably comes up in the interview. Don’t fudge it or be vague about dates. If the reason was you just couldn’t find a teaching role, say “I applied for a lot of roles but the job market at the time just wasn’t in my favour, I was competing with 100 other teachers on average for each role. I wanted to stay in teaching so I did relieving for a year instead.” Principals know that life happens and will usually be sympathetic.

You can also use your time off to your advantage. Look at how your experiences during this time shaped you as a teacher. For example, if you were parenting, what skills did you pick up looking after young children? Perhaps you volunteered at playgroup or their kindergarten? If you travelled, what did you experience and how can you apply that to the classroom? We know a teacher who took a year off to volunteer as a teacher in Africa. In the interview she was confidently able to apply her experiences there to the classroom. Be creative with your job application.

Finally, the unfortunate truth is that the longer it’s been since you’ve graduated from teacher training, the harder it’s going to be to pick up a teaching role, especially if you haven’t taught at all during that time. But you can bolster your recent teaching experience on your CV by getting out relieving or volunteering in schools/centres. This will also build up your confidence in your teaching abilities.

#2. During my teaching practicum I had a very difficult placement and I am unable to use that associate teacher as a referee. Since I did a graduate diploma, I only have one teaching referee (from my other placement). I’m also worried about listing this experience in my CV, in case potential employers ask about it in the interview.

This experience is more common than most beginning teachers realise, and it’s a really tricky situation. Most principals or centre managers will want to speak to the associate teachers at both teaching practicums, as there are few other suitable referees for beginning teachers.

If a potential employer asks to talk to your associate teacher at the difficult placement, give them an honest explanation about what happened. For example, “My associate teacher and I shared very different values, which lead to disagreements.” Don’t throw anyone under the bus, but be straightforward.

If you feel that your associate teacher might be amenable, you might consider going back to speak to them about the situation and whether they might be happy to be a referee after all. If not, you’ll need to provide a different teaching reference. The best way to do this is to build up your skills and relationships by relieving with a small handful of schools or centres, where the relief organiser can speak to your teaching ability and what impact you had on students. Another less ideal option is to list your visiting lecturer as your reference.  

#3. Teacher training took a toll on my finances, and I need every bit of income I can get to pay my rent. I know I need to get teacher registration, but at this stage I just can’t afford the $280 fee.

Unfortunately, the reality is that teacher registration is essential if you want to teach in New Zealand. Without your teacher registration, you can’t relieve in primary or secondary schools, and your ability to win a full time job is limited. The Teacher’s Council do not offer scholarships or support grants for teachers to get teacher registration.

However, WINZ will sometimes pay for teacher registration for teachers who are on the Job Seeker’s benefit. If this is your situation, speak to your case manager. You may be asked to provide evidence that registration will improve your job prospects, such as a letter from a school saying they can only hire teachers with registration.

If you’re not registered with WINZ there are always options. Legally you are able to relieve for 10 days at a school without having your teacher registration. Two days of relieving at a school will easily cover the fee. You could also take up extra short-term work specifically to save up for your registration - for example temping at an event or babysitting. A loan from your family can also easily be paid back with a day or two of relief work.

#4. I live in a small town, and there are very few teaching roles available here. I’m having trouble finding any kind of teaching work. But I can’t leave this area - my family circumstances make it impossible to move.

This is a tricky situation that lots of New Zealand teachers find themselves in. Unfortunately, there’s no magic solution. If there’s only one school or centre in your area, make sure you are on their relieving list. Go and volunteer there. Build up a positive relationship. This will give you a head start when a vacancy becomes available. But you need to make peace with the fact that if you don’t win that role, you may not be able to work as full-time teacher until you are in a situation where you can move to another area.

#5. Since graduating from teacher training, I’ve been unable to find any teaching work. My old job at the bank/shoe store/etc offered me my full-time job back, and because of my financial situation I couldn’t say no. Because I work 9-5, it’s impossible to visit schools that I’m applying to, and I can’t do relieving or volunteering at schools.

There are some ways around this. Most schools or centres are okay with scheduling interviews outside of office hours, and instead of visiting the school or centre you could arrange a phone call during your lunch break.

But again, this is a question of whether you are able to make compromises. How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to realise your dream of teaching? If you can take the leap and resign at your job, or negotiate part time hours in order to relieve or volunteer during the winter months, it will pay off. It’s a competitive market, so everything you do to put yourself out there is really worth doing.

A few years ago, Education Personnel had a recruiter in our team who had just finished her teacher training. She needed the income from her recruiting job but also realised she really needed to get her foot in the door at a school. She negotiated to work here three days a week instead of full time, and took a 0.4 release role at a school. This was the opportunity she needed to kickstart her teaching career, and several years later she is now a fully registered primary teacher.

#6. I’ve applied for nearly 50 teaching vacancies, but I haven’t even had one interview yet. It’s incredibly demoralising and I’m close to giving up on my teaching dream.

First of all: you’re not the only person in this situation. It’s a really competitive job market. Our Team Leader of Temporary Recruitment Scott applied for between 70-100  teaching roles after his training, before he won a role. So stick with it. The fact that you’ve applied for so many already shows that you really want this. You have the passion and drive you need to win a role.

At the same time, don’t get stuck thinking “this is just a numbers game, if I send this letter out to enough schools one will eventually bite”. That’s not a great mindset to get into. Since this market is so competitive, you need to bring your A game to each application. Evaluate your job find strategy. Are you sending out the same cover letter each time? Is your CV in need of some formatting? Take the steps outlined in this blog post and you might find you have more luck.

#7. I put my name down for relieving at a bunch of different schools in my area, but none of them have called me for even one day of relief! It’s nearly the end of Term 1 and I’m really getting worried.

Don’t stress - there are lots of reasons for this. Typically, Term 1 isn’t all that busy. Relief is a bell shaped curve - it’s quiet in Terms 1 and 4 and insanely busy in Terms 2 and 3. In Term 1, if schools need a reliever, they’ll typically call their go-to, reliable relievers they’ve had for years.

At the start of Term 2, phone or visit the relief organiser of the schools you applied for and let them know that you are available. Take another copy of your CV in case they’ve misplaced the original. Likewise, remind your agency that you are available and keen for work.

#8. I’ve been offered a role at an ECE center, but when I asked them what kind of support they can offer me, so I can work towards getting my full registration, they say they’re not eligible for funding and as such can’t offer any mentoring or guidance.

If you need a mentoring and guidance programme to get your teacher registration - then you need to think carefully before you take the job. When you’re a beginning teacher, your first teaching position should be somewhere that is willing to support, nurture and mentor you. Otherwise it’s not going to benefit your career, and may cause teacher registration problems. If you really need to take this job, try and negotiate a way the centre could provide the induction and mentoring programme for beginning teachers as required by the Teacher’s Council (our understanding is that this is a legal requirement). Private providers are available to provide induction and mentoring.

#9. I’m a primary trained teacher. After graduating I couldn’t find a position at a primary school, but was offered a role at an ECE centre. I’ve been here two years and it’s been great, but my dream is to teach in a primary school. I’m worried I might have pigeonholed myself in ECE.

This situation does puts some limitations in terms of the primary roles you can apply for. ECE experience won’t do much good if you’re applying for a year 6 role, for example. However, you are uniquely placed to teach junior levels, particularly new entrants. It’s all about how you tell your story in your cover letter and the interview. If you’re finding you’re not getting anywhere applying for these roles, you may want to leave your current ECE role (or negotiate part time hours) and relieve at primary schools for a while, while building relationships and making networks.

#10. I applied for a permanent role at a wonderful school in my home city, and won an interview, but was told I didn’t win the role. Since then, I’ve been offered and accepted a long term relief position at a school in another town starting next term. It’s really not ideal but better than nothing. However the first school just called, their preferred candidate dropped out and they’ve now offered me that role! I would really rather work there than the place I’ve accepted.

In this situation, you really have two options.

  1. “I’ve made a commitment, I know the school I’ve accepted the role at has started planning for my arrival. I’m going to suck it up and honour the commitment.”

  2. “This is a permanent role in my home town. It’s an offer I just can’t turn down. I’m going to resign, take the risk to my professional reputation and take the new offer.”

Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. If you do decide to take the second route, there are ways you can do it while maintaining positive relationships.

Firstly, before accepting the offer with Hometown School, say “Just to be honest with you, I’ve accepted a role with Out of Town School and I really need to talk to them before making a decision.” Then call Out of Town School and say “I’ve been offered a permanent role in my hometown, and I’d like to accept. However, I want to check whether it would be easy to replace me.” Most principals are pragmatic and know that this is a good move for you.

However, if it’s going to be really difficult to replace you, and they say so, you need to reflect on your best path forward. The New Zealand education community is very small, and word travels fast. Your next dream role might be at a school which Out of Town School principal is now leading. And remember, you have accepted a job at Out of Town School, and you have a legal requirement to give notice, or negotiate your way out of the contract, even if you haven’t started work yet.

Any dilemmas that we haven’t covered? Let us know by commenting below.