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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Music Teacher Job Search: advice from administrators

Going through the job search process can be intimidating. No matter how confident you are in your qualifications for a position, the real mystery is in how to communicate that effectively to the people that can get you that job: administrators and others on the hiring committee who may or may not know much of anything about music teaching and most certainly don't know who you are and what you're like in the classroom!

Did you ever wish you could get some honest feedback from those administrators on the other side of the table and find out what they're really thinking when they sift through the stacks of resumes or listen to your answers in an interview? Well today we all get that chance! I sat down with two of my administrators- the fine arts department director and my building principal- and got their honest thoughts on how to handle everything from job search to resumes, interviews, and beyond.

First of all let's acknowledge that obviously not every administrator thinks the same way. I am lucky enough to have solid relationships with excellent, supportive administrators. Not everyone is so lucky, and even among the best administrators there are certainly a broad range of leadership styles, personalities, and philosophies that come into play in the job search process. But having seen both of them in action as they go through all of the steps of hiring a new teacher, I can confidently say that they are both insightful about what works and what doesn't, and they were also both very good about answering broadly for a range of administrative perspectives based on their interactions with others in similar administrative positions. This is the kind of insight that, at the very least, should help make the job search process a lot less mysterious and intimidating!

I interviewed each of the administrators- my department director and my building principal- separately about a broad range of topics (you'll be hearing more from them over the coming weeks!), and in this post I have compiled their responses on various aspects of the job search process by topic. If you have any follow-up questions for them, please leave them in the comments section below- I know they would be more than happy to answer!

1. Looking for jobs
  • Go ahead and apply for those jobs that may not be the "perfect fit" for you! You don't necessarily want your first interview to be for the job you most want- your interview skills will improve the more you interview.
  • If you have a break in your teaching career, stay involved in music somehow! It will show future potential employers your commitment and passion for music, and it will give you opportunities to network with others in the field. See if you can come in and accompany the local school choir, go to music teacher workshops and conventions, or participate in a community music ensemble!
  • If you find yourself in a less-than-ideal job, do everything you can to still do it to the best of your ability. If your administrators and coworkers can tell others what a fantastic teacher you are, it will serve you well when you're looking for other positions in the future. Don't go into the job thinking "oh well, I'm only going to do this for a year anyway". Go into the job thinking, "I'm going to do this job so well that they'll be begging me to stay and telling everyone what a great job I'm doing, and I'm going to have all of these accomplishments to share with future employers". You'll also just feel better about yourself if you do.
2. Resumes
  • For instrumental teachers, I'm looking for time spent focusing on a particular instrument and experience on the other instruments you would be teaching as well.
  • For general music, I'm looking for a reason you got into (or are hoping to get into) general music teaching- something that tells me this isn't "just a job".
  • For younger candidates, I do look at your grades, especially in your major- if you got consistently poor grades in your major area of study then I question how hard you were working and how much you care! If you do have some inconsistencies or low grades, be prepared with an explanation.
  • In the letters of recommendation, I look for statements beyond the standard- something specific that you did, a specific initiative or program that you were involved in, specific qualities or actions you took in your relationships with students and the community. I want to see something that set you apart in the eyes of the writer.
  • Your cover letter is important! Make sure to tailor your cover letter to the specific job you're applying for, and focus on communicating your passion for teaching, for music, and for students- there is plenty of space to talk about accomplishments and qualifications in the rest of your resume. 
  • Tailor your philosophy of education to the specific job you're applying for- it should be written differently if you're applying for an elementary general music class vs a high school band job. (For more tips on writing your philosophy of education, see this post.)
3. Interview: questions to expect
  • What do you love most about music? I'm looking for a spark in your eye, and I'm also looking to see that you have spent time working on your craft, especially if you are applying for an instrumental or choral music position- I want to know that you have been practicing and performing on a primary instrument/ voice if you are going to be teaching in that type of position!
  • What do you love most about teaching? I'm listening for something about children/students. If a love of children isn't part of your passion for teaching, I'm concerned about your ability to connect with students and your passion for student-centered learning.
  • How do you effectively assess all of your individual students without taking too much time away from teaching? This is particularly for general music teachers, as truly assessing all of the hundreds of students on all of the many areas general music covers can be a particular challenge.
  • How can you contribute to the school community beyond being a good teacher in the classroom? 
  • What are some programs outside of the standard curriculum that you have implemented in the past and/or would hope to implement in our school? This is your chance to highlight some of your specific interests, demonstrate your passion for teaching and for music, and your willingness to get involved in the school community. It could be things you do within the classroom, like a "composer of the month" program or specific unit of study, a performance or school-wide event, or an extracurricular program or ensemble. I'm looking for energy, creativity, passion, and team spirit.
  • If you current/ former students were asked to describe your teaching style, what adjectives would they use?
4. Interview: other advice
  • I'm looking for a spark in an interview- I want to see enthusiasm for your subject, for teaching, and for students! No matter how thoughtful you are in your answers, there needs to be some enthusiasm and energy to accompany your knowledge.
  • Arts teachers can often be somewhat scattered, and while some of that is understandable, I'm looking for a certain level of organization that is necessary for effective teaching. I'm looking for organization and thoughtfulness in your answers that shows me a certain deliberateness to organize/ plan/ reflect to go along with your passion and creativity.
  • Give specific answers to situational questions (like, "what would you do in this situation with a student?"), not just textbook/ buzzword answers. Explain the actual steps you would take in that situation- it helps me to visualize the kind of teacher you are.
  • Ask good questions in the interview yourself! You'll find out a lot about your future administrators and the job itself that will help you decide if it's a good fit for you. Questions like, "would you be open to such-and-such programs or teaching ideas for the music program?" will give you a good sense of how supportive your administrators are and also give you a chance to showcase some of your creative ideas. (For more tips and examples of good questions to ask of an interview panel, see this post.)
  • Talk about the creative or unique things you've done in your classes and/or extracurricular programs. Building principals in particular want to know how you will contribute to the broader school community and how you'll engage students in a unique way. I'm looking for music teachers who can think "outside the box" and bring something special to my school!
  • I want to know that you're willing to collaborate with other teachers- give some examples of ways you have (or hope to) worked with teachers in other subject areas and within your department. I want someone who is going to be a team player!
I hope you find these insights from administrators' perspectives helpful in demystifying the job search and interview process- I know I found it helpful and interesting myself! If you are in the process of looking for a new position, best wishes in your job search! And if you have any further questions on this topic, please leave them in the comments section below- you'll help all of us learn more!

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