Letter to an unemployed teacher

In Letter to an unemployed teacher, Michael Salmonowicz of The Report Card responds to a New York City woman who graduated from an excellent university, earned a master’s degree in education and spent two semesters student teaching. She’s been job hunting for a year with only a single phone interview.

She wonders if she should apply to schools before they post an opening. Should she apply to Teach for America?

Salmonowicz suggests applying for TFA and KIPP, getting on the substitute teacher list, teaching overseas for a year or two and thinking about moving to a state with more teaching opportunities.

If there’s a school that you really like, but they say they can’t hire you solely because of budget reasons (i.e., they’d hire you if they could), then volunteer there. Develop relationships with the administration and English teachers, and set yourself up for a position next year.

If classroom teaching isn’t an option, he suggests working for Kaplan doing test prep, tutoring students in low-performing schools, tutoring wealthy kids in the Hamptoms or working for an education non-profit.

This is someone who really wants to teach. What should she do? Get special ed certification?

We don’t need more public school teachers, writes Cato’s Andrew Coulson on Big Government. Over the past 40 years, enrollment rose by 9 percent while the number of public school employees nearly doubled.

To prove that rolling back this relentless hiring spree by a few years would hurt student achievement, you’d have to show that all those new employees raised achievement in the first place. That would be hard to do… because it never happened.

How many young teachers will wait around for a year or two or three till older teachers retire and the job market improves?

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  1. Too many older teachers are hanging on to their jobs for some reason. I think it’s because they are afraid of change and have no idea what they would do with themselves outside of a classroom where they are in charge. Many declare it’s the economy but in a district like mine where teachers are afforded lifetime benefits and a nice pension, I find that hard to believe.

  2. It seems that job prospects are the worst for the elementary-trained teachers, then the liberal arts types (Social Studies, Art, Vocal Music, English, and such). Math, Special Ed, and Science (particularly Physical Science) still have some openings. There are some bright spots. Different parts of the country are hiring. So, teachers should be prepared to move, if possible.

    I would suggest that teachers NOT buy houses, until they have a few years of seniority. If they do, they should plan to buy less expensive, smaller houses – preferably something near the bottom of the price range for their location. That way, if they have to sell, they have a better chance to get their money back out.

    It’s a tough world for teachers right now. I have 2 friends of my daughter who are out of work, and somewhat worried about the future.

    I wrote a post about this

  3. I know two teachers who delayed their retirement, from a state like the one dkzody describes, for three years because the new contract had big increases and their pension was calculated on three years at their top salary. They stayed to get three years on the new salary scale. Maybe that’s not unusual.

  4. It’s interesting to read this debate happening in America, as we’ve had the same issue in many parts of Canada for the past 10 years. Most new teachers find themselves volunteering in schools for a few years before they are actually hired onto a contract, which is usually temporary (maternity leave for example).

    There’s a small percentage that looks abroad, and finds teaching work for a couple of years before returning home to start the job hunt again. I was one of the adventurous types and taught in London, England for three years. Now I help Canadian & American teachers make the move across the pond, and absolutely love helping these amazing teachers find work in schools – all while traveling around Europe on the weekends and holidays. It’s a good life.

    For Americans, they can really only get one visa (called the Highly Skilled Migrant Visa), which limits who can apply, but it sounds as though the woman you describe here would qualify. Perhaps she will end up teaching in London instead of waiting around?

  5. Cranberry says:

    Many states must balance their budgets. Some municipalities have already declared bankruptcy.

    If you’re afraid your pension won’t be honored when you retire, you’re more likely to continue working. Many Americans have debts they must repay, and the real estate market has seized up. Suddenly, selling your house and moving to Florida isn’t possible. Add to that the possibility that your spouse may feel he’s likely to be unemployed soon, and it’s entirely rational to work as long as possible.

  6. SuperSub says:

    In NY the top three years of pay include all the additional paid duties that a teacher does… so you see a ton of veteran teachers who never showed an interest in clubs, hall or lunch supervision, or tutored suspended students. Not to mention that the union leadership and negotiating teams are primarily made up of teachers who are within their last tens years of teaching.
    Unfortunately, the bulk of union membership are in the middle years of their career, too concerned about their own retirement to upset the status quo.
    Is it any surprise that new teachers get the shaft?

  7. I know a number of teachers close to retirement who aren’t retiring due to either a.) taking time out when their kids were younger and pulling their retirement money out then to smooth things over, b.) either kid/spouse/parent expenses they have to meet and still need a working income to cover, c.) life circumstances which dictate that they need to keep working, d.) they need the health insurance, or e.) some combination of the above.

    Given that the push in the current working world is for later retirements, why the rush to shove older teachers out? Could it be that younger teachers are more easily bullied into doing whatever administration wants for fear of losing their jobs, while older teachers have the experience and background to say that they remember the last two or three turns of the latest fad, and it didn’t work under the last few manifestations?

  8. Why is this hard?


    New York is (relatively) loosing populations (as is California). Texas, Florida and other states are gaining. Many states are desperate for teachers. Heck my school all they care about is that you have that piece of paper and a pulse. The fact that you want to teach and may be good is just icing. We don’t even care that you are from out of state. We will let you teach while you finish jumping through the paper hoops.
    Here’s the down side.
    We are rural. The pay is less, though the cost of living is less. The life is more simple because there are less choices.

  9. SuperSub says:

    Why the rush to shove older teachers out? Money. At my district a teacher with 25 years experience makes $45,000 more than I do, a 4th years teacher. For every older teacher that retires, my district could hire two new teachers to replace them and still have some wiggle room for steady pay increases.
    Younger teachers are ‘bullied’ (coerced would be a better word) by administrators for one simple reason – lack of tenure. Even though we all pay the same union dues, our union has never stepped up to protect the job of an untenured teacher. We are told by our union reps (older teachers) to pretty much do anything the administrators ask us.

  10. Ex-PhysicsTeacher says:

    This issue has nothing to do with older teachers hanging on, but rather with the fact that education schools hand out degrees and certifications to anyone with a pulse an a checkbook.

    From what I’ve seen teachers retire the first opportunity they get.

    There are simply too many teachers and too many education schools cranking out too many certified teachers.

  11. Ex-PhysicsTeacher says:

    I don’t believe that there is any state “desperate” for teachers.

    I’m certified in math and physics. By all accounts my phone should be ringing constantly with long distance calls. That’s never been the case as long as I was in the teaching profession.

    When I was in the alt cert program I was legally entitled to be hired as a teacher. I got one phone interview for a school in the Kingman Unified School District in Arizona. This particular school was located in the desert, the teachers were bussed in 4 days a week, and the job payed just about 20k a year. It was one of the least desirable teaching gigs on the continent. And yet, I HAD COMPETITION!

    There is no shortage of teachers. Of math, of science, or of much of anything else.

  12. I’d like to point out that public school employees aren’t always teachers. I dunno; I’m seeing class sizes now that aren’t any smaller than when I was a kid. Coulson should be more precise with his facts.

  13. Victoria, the Highly Skilled Migrant program has been closed for quite some time. You might want to update your job skills.

    I agree that there’s tons of jobs for math teachers. Schools are definitely acting like it’s a buyer’s market. I’m also pretty sure there aren’t too many places in America where there’s a teacher shortage.

  14. Mark Roulo says:

    I’d like to point out that public school employees aren’t always teachers. I dunno; I’m seeing class sizes now that aren’t any smaller than when I was a kid. Coulson should be more precise with his facts.

    He was. The headline at the link reads, “The U.S. Economy Needs Fewer Public School Jobs, Not More.” Note the “public school jobs,” not “teachers.” He does go on to break out the growth and does claim that the number of teachers has risen faster than the growth in the number of students, but the article is quite clearly targeted at public school employee headcount as a whole.

  15. Okay, if we’re going to look at public school employee headcount, then let’s look at the place which very rarely experiences cuts…the district office. How many “teachers”–that is, staff with teaching licenses–are working in the district office as coaches for Title I programs, for literacy, for math, for whatever the heck else boondoggle that eats up district cash without actual student contact? The “coaching” scam sucks up a lot of cash. I know in my district one of the loudest voices in support of district office and against ooh-those-awful-teachers is a teacher working as a coach…who avoids classroom work, writes lesson plans, and is generally viewed by coachees as a royal pain-in-the-ass.

    How many administrators are sitting in their rumps in district offices and making the lives of teachers and building administrators difficult because they’ve nothing else productive to do?

    If there’s a pattern I’ve noticed, it’s that the programs that get cut the worst have the biggest number of people whose focus is on working productively with kids, not playing political games to keep the cushy non-student-contact job.

    Why aren’t we seeing more articles about this aspect of where our education money goes? Why is the blame all on building staff?

  16. Hi Cal,

    Thanks for your comment. The name has changed, yes, but it’s still pretty much the same thing – a visa for highly skilled workers. You can see all the details here: http://bit.ly/u42Z9

    I have a few American teachers who have obtained this visa & are currently working in London on it. From what I can tell, the successful applicants are under 27, have an M.Ed or PHD and experience teaching. Those candidates have been successful so far anyway. It’s points-based, so you must qualify for the visa by obtaining enough points.

    Keep up the great work everyone! Love these discussions & thanks so much to Joanne for keeping this blog going strong.


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