Sunday, August 29, 2010

Alternate Careers Part I: Private/Public School Teaching

Colored Pencils by Petr Kratochvil
So, let's say you're an A.B.D. or newly minted, perhaps even less than fresh, Ph.D. or M.A. thinking about seguing into private or public teaching at the secondary school level. Where do you begin? There are a number of questions you should be asking yourself:
  • For starters, have you ever actually worked with middle or high school students? (Teaching, tutoring, volunteering, substituting, etc.?) If not, what, then, is your underlying motivation? A love of teaching? Need for a job? Cluelessness? Can you persuade yourself and others that you're really serious?
  • Have you thought about how teaching high school sophomores, for example, might differ from teaching college freshmen? What pedagogical strategies do you have up your sleeve for the under-18 subset? Can you begin to answer these questions?
  • Are you ready for long, intense days of teaching and copious amounts of grading during the evenings and on weekends? 
  • Are you willing to supervise an after-school club or coach a sports team? If not, how will you "fit in" and contribute to the school's teaching/admin team? In other words, do you have enough rah-rah team spirit to work in a public or private school environment?
  • Should you go private or public? If you'd prefer working for a public or charter school, are you ready and willing to gain additional teaching credentials? This could take 1-2 years and cost you $$.
  • How should you go about retooling your application materials? What are search committees at high schools/middle schools looking for? [Tip: it isn't research prowess!]
  • Finally, can you say goodbye to research and focus almost exclusively on teaching 24-7, minus summers, without burning out? Can you, the former wanna-be professor, adapt to the professional life of a secondary school teacher?
For those of us without a great deal of experience working in middle or high school classrooms, these are not the easiest questions to answer. Frankly, how will you know if you'd enjoy and excel at private or public school teaching if you have only ever taught in a university setting? Well the answer is: you won't. This is why it is absolutely critical to consider the questions above AND gain some solid secondary level experience before taking the plunge. Schools will be hesitant to hire someone whose commitment appears lukewarm at best.

Most importantly, there is a huge difference between teaching at a public school vs. teaching at an independent school. The vast majority of private schools don't require their teachers to be certified, and elite institutions like having Ph.D.'s as faculty members. (FYI: doctoral and master degrees make for impressive selling points to the parents of potential students.) Accordingly, private school teaching has proven increasingly attractive to Ph.D.'s who like to teach yet are seeking employment outside the ivory tower.

"Secondary-school teaching has long been an obvious alternative for humanities Ph.D.'s and A.B.D.'s who don't land the college teaching jobs they want. But increasingly, people with doctorates are viewing elite private-school teaching as a rewarding career in its own right, rather than a watered-down version of college teaching or an undesirable backup plan," writes Gwendolyn Bradley at the Chronicle of Higher Education. [For the rest of the article, "Careers for Ph.D.'s at Private Schools," click here:

For more on making the transition to high school teaching, see also " Ask the Administrator: What About Teaching High School?" from Dean Dad at Inside Higher Ed:

The interview and search process is described here as well: "Back to high school":

BUT, before you get too excited, consider this sobering fact: Getting picked up by an elite private school is, unfortunately, no easy task these days, as numerous humanities Ph.D.'s and A.B.D.'s can attest. The market is saturated and we are still in the midst of an economic slowdown, which means fewer openings and more applicants. Check out these NYTimes pieces if you don't believe me, "Teachers Facing Weakest Market in Years": and "Teaching: No Fall Back Career":

Moreover, many private schools filter their applications through large search firms, like Carney, Sandoe & Associates (; and Carney, Sandoe and the like are known to turn down qualified Ph.D.'s for no other reason than lack of classroom experience.

Still interested? Where, then, should you begin? I would advise the following:

1. Network with former or current public/private school teachers and conduct informational interviews

2. Pour over your CV and stock job letter and make sure they are addressing the proper audience

3. Make sure your references know about your search and are willing to talk in depth about your teaching abilities

4. Attempt to gain some solid classroom experience: volunteer; tutor; teach a workshop; substitute teach; register as a contingent faculty member at a private school in your area; observe others at work

5. Search the job listings board at the National Association of Independent Schools: to get a sense of what schools are looking for right now. (FYI: The hiring season for 2010-11 is obviously over at this point, but you still have more than enough time to prepare your materials for the 2011-12 season.)

6. Contact Carney, Sandoe & Associates, or a similar firm, and ask for representation, but only after you have completed steps 1-5. Attend a private school job fair/recruitment conference. These are held throughout the year. CS&A hosts their own job fairs, for instance.

"CS&A hosts five conferences in Atlanta, Boston, New York City, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. throughout the late winter and early spring of every year. The purpose of these events is to facilitate teaching job interviews between our job-seeking candidates and hiring-school representatives. Candidates and schools are able to interview with each other in a single location efficiently and cost-effectively."

For specific CS&A 2011 conference dates and more info., read the rest of the page here:

See also:
The Education Group:
Search firm for private schools. Free to apply. Also runs job fairs.

Public job fairs, organized by state, are listed here:

*Additionally, here's a first-person Chronicle of Higher Ed piece about a Ph.D. who attended a job fair in 2003:
"Navigating the Alternative Teaching Market,"

FINAL NOTE: Anyone else want to offer any additional pointers? I'd love to hear from those who have successfully made the transition. Contact me if you'd like to write a guest blog post or be included in a future "On the Fence" column at Inside Higher Ed.


Corinne L. said...

Thanks for the info. I am looking into alternate careers, despite being a die-hard academic at heart, and am looking forward to reading the rest of the alternate careers series.

Eliza Woolf said...

Hi Corinne, thanks for your post. I'm glad the Alternate Careers series will be helpful for you. Hopefully we'll get a few additional tips from readers who have already made successful transitions out of academe.

Alternator said...

What if you apply this fall but get rejected by recruitment firms? Then what?? Is it still possible to find a private school teaching job for 2011-12? Just curious . . .

Eliza Woolf said...

All is not lost if you are rejected by a recruitment firm. There are several firms out there and many schools will interview applicants who have applied independently. You're best bet is searching the National Association of Independent Schools website/job listings.
Also, make sure you ask WHY you were rejected, if they are willing to share. Make yourself a stronger candidate in the meantime.

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