One of the factors that can make the transition from the higher education market to prep school stressful (in addition to walking away from a career!) is the murkiness of the job search. Veterans of the academic search will be pleased to know that the prep school hiring process features all the opacity of higher ed, but with enough twists and turns to keep things fresh. (Think of it like the Coen brothers’ reimagining of True Grit rather than Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.)
First the opacity: As with any search, there is a lot you will never know. Will the school consider candidates with a PhD? Many searches are general – “English Teacher” – will they consider someone with your specialty? While these questions will come to mind, as in the higher ed process, you can’t know the answer, so don’t worry about it. (That said, if a department already has faculty with PhDs, you can at least know they’ll consider your application. Unless they've been disastrous in the classroom.)
Second, the timeline: As with many fields in higher ed, prep school positions trickle out over the course of several months. I received my first referral from Carney Sandoe back in November, but the action doesn’t really get started until February. It’s also worth noting that schools continue to post positions until late spring. Unlike colleges and universities, where hiring a new teacher requires fifteen signatures and an act of God, prep schools can move much more quickly. If a teacher decides to retire in April, they’ll hire a replacement in May of that year.
As with higher ed, the key moment in the process is the huge hiring conferences. These are run by CSA and by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). Since I’m working with CSA, I’ll focus on their process.
About a week before the conference, CSA sets up a website where schools and candidates schedule interviews and send messages. While a dearth of interviews a week before the MLA can signal career-death, such is not the case here. According to CSA, most interviews are made in the 48 hours before the conference starts. This can certainly put you on edge as you wait to hear from schools (and wonder if you should check on the refund policy for your plane tickets), but it’s the nature of the beast.
If a school decides to interview you, they have the option of sending you an old-fashioned email, sending you a message through CSA’s site, or they can simply sign up for one of your open time slots. Whatever the case, schools drive the process. They schedule interviews and you say yes or no. (If you get an interview, take it. Even if you’re not sure you want a job, at least talk to the school. It’s good practice, and you never know what you might learn.) Most of the interviews will come from schools to which you’ve applied, but it is also possible that you’ll receive requests out of the blue.
Another difference between the higher ed and prep school markets is that you can apply for jobs at the conference, even if they are not hiring in your field. To someone fresh from the MLA this sounds like advice your mother-in-law would offer (ie. completely insane), but it makes sense because the hiring process is so different. Here’s a notional example:
Boston Preparatory Academy sends their Dean of Faculty to the conference to hire a Spanish teacher. In the back of her mind she knows that there is a good chance that one of her French teachers may leave at the end of the year, but none has made a decision. (Many schools don’t sign contracts until April or May.) While at the conference, the Dean receives a message from a CSA candidate with a PhD in French literature saying, “I’m a French teacher in the midst of a secondary school search, and am particularly interested in teaching at Boston Prep. I will be at the CSA conference in February, and would love the opportunity to learn more about your school.”
Because the Dean knows that a position might open up in the coming months, she goes ahead and schedules the interview. The candidate has a stellar resume, shows initiative, and it’s only half an hour out of her day, so why not? The interview goes swimmingly, and both candidate and Dean walk away feeling that it would be a good match. A few weeks later, old Mr. Smith announces he will retire, and the Dean says, “No problem. I’ve already talked to a candidate, and he’s fabulous.” Granted it’s unlikely to move quite this smoothly, but it does seem to happen.
As the conference gets closer, I’ll continue to blog about my experience, but at this point I’m just waiting for my first interview…
Good luck, me.