Applying for a teaching role is different to applying for a role in other sectors. While the basic principles remain the same, it's a unique process with its own rules and expectations. For a beginning teacher, this can be really hard to navigate. For this reason, we gave BTs the opportunity to talk to two experienced school principals in a webinar earlier this month, having previously run one in June. (You can check out our blog post on the first webinar here). This time around we had Sue Clement, a first time principal of a small inner-city Wellington school, and Arthur von Sturmer, a recently retired principal of a large suburban Wellington school. Sue and Arthur answered a wide range of questions, and we cover the highlights in this blog post.
1. Your background and experiences can set you apart from the crowd
A key message from Sue and Arthur was that your "journey to teaching" is what makes you unique and can set you apart from the crowd. Sue's advice was to look at some of the thing you've done before your teaching qualification. In your cover letter, make explicit connections between what you've done and how this could be transferable to the classroom. For example, if you've been overseas, write about what you discovered or learned about yourself, and why it brought you back to teaching. Be reflective of your experiences, whether you were a stay-at-home parent, a swim coach, or have worked with a special needs child.
Two years ago I made a shortlist out of a whole 90 teachers who’d applied for a job. [What it came down to was] ‘what else have they done in their lives?’
2. Keep your CV simple...
Both Sue and Arthur stressed that, while a CV is important, it's best to keep to the essentials. While both appreciated that many teachers put a lot of time and effort into making their CVs beautiful, both said that if you do a plain, traditionally formatted CV you are not at a disadvantage - teachers are not judged on how beautiful their CV is. An important thing to consider when formatting is whether an office manager can easily photocopy your CV for the panel.
Arthur said that the essential things he looks for a CV are your contact details, work history, perhaps a statement from your referee, contact details for referees and contact details and not too much else, because other things can be addressed in your covering letter.
3. ...because the cover letter is the clincher
Sue and Arthur both emphasised that, for them, cover letters were the most important part of the application. What they want to know is what you're bringing to the role. Their key piece of advice is to address the job advertisement.
I personally think putting energy into the covering letter rather than a fancy doodle CV is much more important. Making your letter for that specific job takes time and energy, and I think you do need to get the highlighters out, look at what they’re asking for and highlight key words - and that’s what you need to address in that covering letter.
4. Invest your energy into roles you can actually win
If the job ad says beginning teachers are not suitable for the position, that's really what it means. It's likely the school doesn't have the capacity to nurture and support a BT. You'll just annoy the principal as well as waste your time, energy and resources by applying.
5. Visit the school or make contact with the principal
It's really important, if you can, to visit the school prior to putting in your application - especially if there's an invitation. Principals often get information from these walks that they can't get in a paper application. If you do want to visit the school, Arthur stressed that you need to call and book a slot ahead of time. Don't expect more than 15 minutes or half an hour for a tour of the school though. Don't turn up the day applications are due and ask for a look around the school - in that case, you've left it too late!
If you're from out of town, Sue said most principals are happy to be contacted via email or phone if teacher have questions. Remember that principals may not have the time to answer your questions straight away.
6. Be prepared at all times
If you're going to visit the school, you need to do some research beforehand. Sue always makes a note of who visits, and anyone who has obviously not read the information pack or school website prior to visiting the school is out of the running. In this digital world, you need to read the latest ERO report, and read the school website - and make sure you read anything they forward you as part of the application pack. Use this to prepare some questions about the school beforehand.
If someone’s going to walk around the school, they had better have some pretty pertinent questions. Nothing worse than walking around with someone and they’re asking inane questions.
7. Don't be scared of interviews... just be prepared.
If you've got an interview as a beginning teacher, remember that this is a huge achievement in such a competitive market.
The most important thing, again, is to research the school. Look at what's in the advertisement, the paperwork, and on the school website. Check out the newsletters because they'll give you a feel and flavour for the school. Get your family or flatmates to read the job ad and come up with some practice questions, as this this will help you come up with some examples and stories which you can use in the interview.
If you've done your research, you can probably anticipate some of the questions you're going to get. Sue said that at her school, for example, there's an Asia-aware focus so there's going to be a question about that. It's also a very multicultural school, so there will definitely be questions about teaching to diversity and differentiated learning. Arthur said that you can expect to be asked about your curriculum strengths, and your professional development - what you've done, and the areas where you need to develop your skills. He also said it's okay to take your time, take a breath, ask them to repeat the question if necessary - it's not a test! Don't be afraid to show your sense of humour.
8. Referees can win or lose you a job - make it easy to contact them
Referees can do an amazing job selling you to a school, but it's really important that you make it as easy as possible for a school principal to contact them.
There’s nothing more frustrating if you’re trying to get through 80 or 100 CVs and someone’s put ‘referees are available by contacting so and so’. You need to realise that there’s not a lot of time for people to deal with these things so the more you can do to help by speeding up the process the more that will help.
Put in the referee's email address, so that if the principal wants to email your referee for any reason they don't have to come back to you to get it.
Another good thing to do is to get something in writing from your referee, for example, a quote from your final TE report or a brief paragraph your referee has specifically written for your CV.
9. If you don't win a role, make a plan
It's a competitive market, so if you don't win a long term role at the end of the year, you're not alone. The key thing is make a plan for how you're going to be able to stay in the teaching game while supporting yourself financially next year. If you can do volunteer work, that is a fantastic option. Getting your name on relieving lists for schools in your area is also really important. Another option is to approach schools and see if you could do a 0.2 release role, so teaching at the school one day a week.
Previously I had an application that I shortlisted, someone who’d actually done two days’ voluntary work at two schools. She’d found paid work for the other three days, and she’d been able to live financially off that. And she was lucky that she was able to do that and still pay her rent. She chose two very different schools, a high decile school and a low decile school. Which was very clever because she covered both bases. She did that for two terms and then she won our role. So really she got the job because she went out and volunteered, and she founds some growth in that. And I thought, “wow”. So she was different from the other people who applied.