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Perhaps the biggest mistake that you (a Ph.D. hoping to make the jump to prep school teaching) can make is to neglect revamping your application materials. Many prep schools are suspicious that a candidate with a Ph.D. is applying out of desperation rather than any real desire to teach at the high school level. An application that seems more appropriate for a position in higher education will only confirm that suspicion.
While many top private schools look like high-end colleges, this does not mean that you should apply with the same set of materials. No matter how much a school looks like a small New England college, it’s still a high school, and they’re looking for high school teachers. In short, when crafting a CV, cover letter and personal statement, you need to start from scratch. Remember that the underlying goal of all your materials is to make clear that your interest in teaching at the secondary level is genuine. You signal this implicitly when you put together your vita, and explicitly when you write your cover letter and personal statement. If you cannot provide a good explanation for making this move, they aren’t going to help you make it.
As a rule of thumb, everything you submit to a prep school should be half as long as it would be for a university position: Your CV and personal statement each should fit on two pages, and your cover-letter on one. My vita includes the following sections, in order:
1. Teaching and advising experience. This is a twist on the “Employment History” section of your old CV. The difference is that you don’t simply list the positions you have held. Rather, explain how what you’ve done at the collegiate level is appropriate for the high school level. Emphasize your contact with students in smaller classes, and any experience you might have as a mentor. For example:
Visiting Assistant Professor, Small Town College, Small Town, USA
• Taught classes of 15-25 students on _______, _____ and _____ with emphasis on ____, ___ and ______.
• Identified failing students early in the semester and worked with them individually to ensure their success.
• Advised College poetry club and oversaw publication of Small Town College Poetry Review.
2. Education. Keep it brief. Omit the names of your advisor and dissertation committee, and the title of your dissertation. To be blunt, they have never heard of Professor Bigname, and don’t care about the subject or historiographical significance of your research.
3. Courses Taught. Just provide a list.
4. Other Experience. Have you done any work with high-school age kids? Were you a camp counsellor? Did you volunteer through Big Brothers/Sisters or coach a little league team? Here’s where you can tell them.
5. Publications. Some might argue with including them at all, but I do. When the list of new faculty goes out to Mom and Dad, the administration will be happy to say, “Dr. Harrison’s book on the nature of presidential power will be released by Fancy University Press in the fall.”
6. References. Just a list here. If you are using Carney Sandoe or another placement firm, you won’t have to worry about arranging to have them sent, but include the names and contact information here.
*Next up – your personal statement!