4.5 Rules for English Teachers Seeking Interviews in Today’s Ridiculously Overcrowded Market

I don’t know if you’ve ever paid attention to films that feature English teachers, but in the movies, English teachers tend to be charismatic intellectuals. Through their Hollywood good looks, dedication, and eloquence, they mesmerize intellectually engaged students who actually enjoy the poetry of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

In the movies, English teachers never divide classes into pairs for group work, nor do we get to see them destroying their eyesight trying to disentangle Bennington’s Arabic-looking scrawl, as they visually transliterate groups of words to see if sentences are complete, syntactically clear, correctly punctuated, and on topic.

Parents of students in the movies tend to be worse than in real life. Generally, soulless egotists, they drive their progeny to suicide by demanding they adhere to the parents’ Waspish ways. Never do I see the more typical parent, overbearing, yes, but bearing down on the teacher to make an exception for little Sam who deserves to be AP despite abysmal PSAT scores.

Oh, yeah. I’m forgetting the movie teachers who work at inner city schools, teachers cut from Anne Sullivan/Helen Keller mold, miracle workers who somehow burrow through acres of emotional scars to rescue and then resuscitate the golden child trapped within.

Perhaps movies share some of the blame for so many of our young people going off to college and majoring in English hoping one day to find themselves teaching in idealized English classrooms.

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It’s really hard getting a job as an English teacher at a prestigious school because, unlike science and math majors, who can make real money in the real world, English majors generally lack marketable skills and therefore are a dime a dozen (cliché not adjusted for inflation).

Where I teach, we get approximately 300 applications for every opening. Since one of my jobs as an English department chair is to screen resumes, I thought I’d offer some advice for English teachers seeking employment, especially given the success of my previous foray into self-help, Mining Insomnia for Gold. Click here for free copy.

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Who knows, these 4.5 simple rules might rescue your CV from trash icon and land it in the interview folder.

Rule 1: Break into the front of the line

Okay, if you want a job, especially if you’re seeking a local gig, you need to target certain schools and check their websites daily. Have your CV and cover letter ready to go with Xs marking the name of the school so you can edit the letter quickly for whatever opportunity arises.

Believe me, the first twenty applicants are going to get much more attention that the last 280.

Rule 2: Create a Good First Impression

Nowadays, emails bearing attachments are the first thing hirers see. At our school, they go to the Headmaster’s Assistant who shovels them my way. Although not a deal breaker by any means, it makes a better impression if you include the Headmaster’s name in the salutation (even though he or she won’t see it) than using the cold, vaguely 1984-ish “To whom it may concern.” Knowing the headmaster’s name demonstrates familiarity with the school.

Also, this communication bears the first impression of you as a writer. You want here efficient, active prose that briskly establishes your interest.

Bad: To whom to may concern: Need a job. Would love to work at your school. By the way, I can teach history as well.

Okay-ish: To whom it may concern: I saw on your website that there’s a job opening for a 6th grade teacher and am therefore applying. Please see my attached resume. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss in person my qualifications.

Much better: Hello, Dr. Grandgrind: I’m interested in the 6th grade position posted on your website. I’ve attached my CV and cover letter. Thanks for your consideration.

Now, although the English major reading these emails might not consciously notice the deft alliteration/assonance of the po-sounds in “position” and “posted” and even less likely to notice the medial consonance of the t sounds of that pairing, sonorous sentences might register unconsciously.

Rule 2.5: Cut the “look-forward-to-meeting-with-you-to-discuss-in-person-my-qualifications” salesperson shit.

Rule 3.5: Compose a brilliant, well-honed yet soulful cover letter that incorporates the job qualifications of the posting with an engaging bio.

I actually read cover letters before I even look at CVs. Even if your candidate graduated summa cum laude from Stanford that doesn’t mean she knows how to write. Academic prose generally sucks.

Rule 4.5: Make your CV aesthetically attractive but not cutsey.

Make the goddamned thing easy to read.

So there you have it, wretched reader, and by the way, if you don’t get an interview, don’t feel discouraged, keep plugging away, and if you do get an interview and not the job, you should still feel proud of yourself – you’ve demonstrated you got the credentials. Generally, life is a crapshoot. All types of contingencies arise. It’s very likely you’re superior to whoever is interviewing you.

The irony is there’s no way I would hire me-back-then if it applied for a job at my school.

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5 thoughts on “4.5 Rules for English Teachers Seeking Interviews in Today’s Ridiculously Overcrowded Market

  1. Being in the industry (English teacher), I like this post. You’re right about the competition. I have had to teach in some remote areas in order to ply my trade. For the last 6 years, on the plains of Colorado, and for the upcoming 2 years, I will teach at an international school in Guatemala City. My strategy has been to go where the great bulk of candidates would not consider living.

  2. Wesley, I am not sure yet. I am still under contract in Little-House-On-The-Prairie land. I fly down in early August. If it’s anything like Costa Rica, it will be paradise; however, I understand that countries within Central America change considerably (use of alliteration/assonance to stand out on my cover letter!). I’ll keep you posted.

  3. When are you going to finish Mining Insomnia for Gold? The last time I got a good night’s sleep was in 1999, and I figure I might as well get some use out of that fact.

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