Monday, October 25, 2010

Private Schools & Carney, Sandoe: Redux

For those of you interested in teaching at a private school in the near future, I have both good news and bad news.

First the good news: Carney, Sandoe & Associates (or CSA) are actively recruiting well-qualified job candidates (and yes, M.A.s and Ph.D.s are most welcome) who are passionate about primary and secondary school teaching and experienced in the classroom. America's largest recruitment firm for the private school market is not prejudiced against men and women with doctoral degrees. In fact, to potential employers, a Ph.D. demonstrates subject matter expertise, a factor which is taken quite seriously by hiring committees at private schools throughout the country. Since certification is not required to teach at a private school, applicants can demonstrate their subject matter expertise in other ways: hence the significance of a M.A. or Ph.D. in a core subject.

But, subject matter expertise is not the same as, nor should it be mistaken for, real-world experience teaching and/or working with young people between the ages of 13-17. CSA's clients are the private schools and they, not CSA, are seeking new faculty members who are committed to working with young people and interested in elementary or secondary teaching as a lifetime career, not a fall back, or 2nd choice, career. For better or worse, they don't want academe's leftovers. Private schools want top faculty members and, while you may be surprised to hear this, there are enough applicants out there--particularly for humanities and social science positions--that the schools can afford to be quite picky.

The last thing you want to do, then, is represent yourself as a "failed academic," someone who sought desperately, perhaps for years, to find a tenure-track academic position but then finally gave up and decided to try private school teaching on a whim. Segueing from the world of higher ed to the world of secondary school teaching is not something to take lightly. For many Ph.D.s and A.B.Ds who love teaching, it's a smart and valid choice; but not everyone is suited to teach at a private school. Hiring committees are wary of hiring disillusioned Ph.D.s who may or may not be truly dedicated to their school's mission or passionate about educating young people.

So if you are seriously considering private school teaching as a plan B, what can you do to prepare yourself for the job market and increase your chances of being represented by CSA? Well, first of all, if you haven't done so already, it's in your best interest to start interacting with adolescents as soon as possible. Have you ever taught, tutored, assisted, worked with, or coached high school kids, for example? If so, these experiences need to be highlighted in your application materials. If not, then the onus is on you to gain some face-time with young people before (*but I'll come back to this with a couple of caveats) seeking representation from CSA.

If you've never worked with young adults, moreover, how will you know if private school teaching is the right career choice for you? Although many Ph.D.s assume that university-level and secondary-level teaching are fairly similar, interacting with and designing course content for 13-17 year-olds, and their parents, is a different kettle of fish entirely. Some of these students may be as smart, if not smarter, than the college freshmen you've worked with in the past, but a private school curriculum (i.e. the core subjects and classes offered) is completely different than that offered at a four-year college. You will need to broaden your scope, put away your niche interests, and focus on the core subjects offered by private schools: English, social studies, math, chemistry, foreign languages, drama, etc.

Keep in mind, too, that within these primary teaching categories there is not a lot of wiggle room. In other words, if you're an historian specializing in female literacy in medieval France, you're not going to be offering a special subjects course on this very narrow topic in a private school anytime soon. Instead, you'd be expected primarily to teach survey courses: European history, World history, even American history and the like. There might be occasions when your particular area of expertise will come into play but not as often as you might like if you're truly fixated only on your own research interests. Of course, we all know that most tenure-track professors teach general survey courses as their bread and butter. It's not that different at the private school level, except that introducing a new, highly specialized course would pose a much greater challenge.

A couple caveats: If you're in a high demand field (such as sciences and foreign languages), then you're chances of being hired by a private school, even without much classroom experience, are greatly increased. It's just a simple matter of supply and demand. So for STEM folks out there, applying sooner rather than later might be a smart move. If, however, you have a Ph.D. in a humanities or social science field, you will need to work harder to stand out.

NB: I'll be talking more about private school teaching in the future, as will Benjamin Harrison, so check back soon for the continuation of this discussion.


Adjunct looking to move said...

Thanks, Eliza, for this useful information. It might seem obvious from the outside, and esp. from the perspective of the private schools, that a PhD would of course (duh!) have experience working with young people before contemplating a move to secondary teaching. But real life doesn't always conform to the ideal.

I've taught English as an adjunct for years and really love teaching 18 yr olds but haven't been able to find a tenure-track job anywhere. I'm now thinking private school teaching might be the way to go. However, knowing what I'm up against has made me realize that I'll have to make the transition carefully and understand what I'm getting into. Wouldn't want to come across as a failed academic . . .

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