Tuesday, February 08, 2011

The Private School Market I: The More Things Change

"What, you're still a mess?"

As I’ve wandered onto the secondary school market, I’ve been struck by both the similarities between this process and the higher education market. The first point of continuity is that the ritualistic aspects of the application process are virtually the same. I get up in the morning, and check the NAIS website to see if anything has shown up in the wee hours. Once at work, I check email occasionally constantly in hope of receiving an interview invitation. Then I check the job board again, and log onto the Carney Sandoe website to see if there is anything new there. In other words, applying for prep school positions is no less an obstacle to getting real work done than applying for college positions.

As annoying as this similarity is, even worse is the fact that that while the market is different, my neuroses are pretty much the same. I find myself agonizing over inconsequential choices in my cover letters: Should this be a comma, a period, or a semi-colon? Which will impress the committee most, Arial or Times New Roman? I convince myself that nobody will want to interview me. I convince myself that I’ll have to choose from five great offers. I wonder when I should buy plane tickets to the conference. I wonder when the search committees will meet. I wonder if I should call the department chair and ask when the committee will meet, so I know whether to buy plane tickets. I wonder if I can afford to live in Boston/San Francisco/Chicago/DC/San Diego. So for those of you thinking that the wounds left by many years on the academic market are easily healed, it may not be so.

Another similarity became apparent during a recent phone interview with Progressive Preparatory School, a great private school in _________. The interview went great (I think), and I hope to make the on-campus phase, but towards the end of the conversation, the interviewer mentioned that the school had received two hundred applications. At first I took this as good news – if a school as good as Progressive Prep dug my application out of so deep a pile, I must be doing something right. But then I realized that this also means that the competition for the good prep school jobs is no less fierce than the competition for a tenure-track college or university position. (In fact, there were fewer than a hundred applicants for the tenure-track job I have now, so in purely quantitative terms things are even worse.) As disconcerting as this is, it’s important to note that numbers don’t tell the whole story. As my interviewer noted, many of the other applicants are 23 year-old college graduates, and thus in a different category than a forty-something PhD. This is not to say that someone with a PhD is a better candidate – the degree will chase away some schools – but that schools will read your application differently.

On a final note, I’d like to suggest that anyone contemplating the PhD to Prep School route have a look at Brent Whitted’s article “Why I Teach in an Independent School,” published in 2001 in the journal Profession. Brent briefly discusses his decision to jump from a Canadian university to a prep school in Los Angeles, and outlines the ups and downs of prep school teaching. He points out that the pace of teaching is radically different – classes meet daily, after all – but he also emphasizes the joys of working with smart, ambitious students. If you have access to JSTOR, have a look. If you don’t, drop me a note, and I’ll see if I can find a PDF.


Anonymous said...

I can't access the article through my Uni's JSTOR subscription.
Could you post it as a PDF in your blog?
I am leaning more and more each day toward the private school option, although I currently have a Tenure track job in academia (this is my second year)...I have the feeling this job is a total waste of time. There are parts of being a college prof I enjoy (mostly, reading and writing about stuff I love) but there are some parts of it I find unbearable:
1.- Crappy salary (with increasing budget cuts and reduced benefits)
2.- Ridiculously long working hours (I work an average of 55-60 hours per week, 6 days a week).
3.- Amazingly unproductive, dull, and endless committee work and meetings.
4.- Lack of freedom in selecting the geographical area where you might end up working.
Anyway, your blog rocks. It's really helpful to know that there are a lot of fellow academics who share my pain.

Anthea said...

Thank you for posting information about the job application process with private school system. It's both useful and interesting to hear more about it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous,

I'm pretty sure posting the piece would get the blog in trouble. Email me (scroll down and click on "Benjamin" and it should take you to my profile page) and I'll send you a copy.

Good luck,