job search

Job Search Inspired By Zombieland

Today’s guest blogger is one of my former students from my days at Metairie Park Country Day School. The daughter of two educators, Sarah Giarraputo Fischer is now all grown up and working her butt off really hard, trying to land a teaching position.

Sarah & her son Gibson

A wife and mother, Sarah offers hope to wanna-be teachers who find themselves praying for old teachers to retire, get fired or die so they might take over their classrooms. Okay, maybe kindhearted souls like Sarah aren’t hoping for old teachers (like me) to shrivel up and die, but she is definitely eager to get into her own classroom, and she has some great tips to offer. And, wouldn’t you know, like Clay Morgan (my last guest blogger), she found inspiration in  Zombieland.

So you want to be a teacher…

Well get ready for the roller coaster ride of your life. Oh, I am not talking about teaching; I’m talking about the job search! Cliché but true, my friends. If you are in the market for a teaching job, you need to have a thick skin, be creative and – when necessary – be a bit, well, ballsy.

After I graduated college, I spent a year in New York City (2001) trying to make it in the non-profit sector before setting out to look for a teaching position at an independent school. Without very much effort on my part, I was scooped up by a boarding school to teach English, run the dance program, serve as a dorm parent, and spend 24/7 on the campus. I was willing, able and ready to work for what seemed like a great deal – (after that year in New York City, a job that included room and board was basically impossible to turn down).

Now almost ten years after my first teaching job search, I am ready to go back into the classroom, but I am no longer a spring chicken. With a Master’s degree under my belt, four years of classroom teaching experience, and over four years non-profit management experience, I have a lot to offer. But I also expect decent pay and benefits plus time to spend with my family. I can no longer sell my soul to the school for nothing and, in many ways, that puts me at a disadvantage in this market.

Like most people, I hate the job search process. In fact, I feel the whole system is set up to make candidates feel like they are less than competent.

So how do I survive and why might you care what I have to say? Well, first of all – like you – I am in the thick of it. And second, I recruited, interviewed and placed AmeriCorps members for the past three years as teacher and tutors in Adult Education and ESL programs, so I have had the “privilege” of being on both sides of the job search.

In order to stay positive and engaged in my job search, I looked to the soon-to-be classic Zombieland for inspiration (trust me the similarities between scenes of the undead in Zombieland and one of the larger search firm’s job fairs are numerous). And so I give you my three top rules for surviving the educational job search:

Rule #1: ENDURANCE. Just like characters in the film needed solid cardio to out-run zombies and other undead creatures, a person needs endurance to survive the job search. In Zombieland, all the fat folks were the first ones to get eaten – and the same can be said of those who expect a job to come easily and quickly. If you are not ready for some long days, hard work, and serious emotional ups and downs you might as well get eaten. Regardless of your teaching field (even the math and science folks are facing steep competition these days), the process seems to be a long one this year. There are simply more candidates with a variety of backgrounds on the hunt.

Rule #2: IF YOU HAVE MULTIPLE TALENTS, USE THEM. In Zombieland, people need to be ready to kill the undead with whatever implement is handy at the time. This can range for a pair of hedge clippers to a piano. In the job search, you never know what will get an employer’s attention, so do not be afraid to show off your unique qualifications. I have landed interviews because of my experience with community service, my ability to coach soccer, my experience running a Dance program and – most importantly this hiring season – because I have taught English and History. As more schools are striving for a more interdisciplinary approach, I am looking good.

[WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!]: That being said, be wary. The more you do, the more schools will ask you to do and if you happen to have a life or want one outside of work, you need to be careful about the contract you sign. You do not want to land what seems like the perfect job only to realize you have sold your soul. Engaging in a school community is a variety of ways is important (and I think the best educational practice for reaching students), but in order to be your best you need some balance in your life. This may be obvious to many, but when the market gets tough, I find myself trying to please to the point that I end up being unhappy.

Rule #3: ENJOY THE LITTLE THINGS. This rule is straight out of Zombieland but, hey, they got it right. Just like you have to let off a little steam in Zombieland in order to deal with battling the undead everyday, I encourage job-seekers to make the search more fun. This is not to say that you should not take the search seriously, but rather that you should not take yourself too seriously. This is especially if you have registered with one of the big teacher search agencies and have to attend one of their job fairs.

Personally, I dislike the impersonal corporate style of many of the big search agencies. Sitting at a conference sending little colored slips of paper and emails to perspective schools while having weird somewhat stilted conversations with other candidates who happen to be your competition is not my idea of fun, even if I have multiple interviews lined up. However, it is exactly this situation where Rule #3 is most practical. While sitting at a table of experienced teachers, take time to strike up a conversation and poke a little fun at the fresh-faced newbies. After all, they are willing to do more for less and might be taking your job so you might as well get a laugh out of it. If you are new to the scene, use the job fair as a networking event. You never know you might just find you true love sitting across the table while you both wait anxiously for an interview.

Also, do not forget to get out of the building and take some time off to enjoy whatever city you are in. This will make you much happier and more engaging when you return. Remember, no one wants to work with someone who does not have a sense of humor and, while the employer cares about your credentials, they also need to know that you would be a good colleague.

So those are my thoughts and rules for what they are worth. To those of you out there looking for a job, any job, keep up the good fight! We can do this! We can survive! And with any luck, eventually we will one day look back on the whole process and smile.

So how did Sarah do? What other tips can people offer to wanna-be teachers in this market?

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