If you missed part I or part II of post-grammatic stress disorder (finding work in education after student-teaching) you can find all parts of this series here.
Have you ever attempted to run as fast as you can in a set of four-inch heels?
I have; a gal will do anything for a job.
No, no, no. Not that kind of job. I’m talking about a job in education.
So there I was, in the dead heat of a Georgia July, resume packet and business cards riding shotgun in my Volkswagen Beetle. I’d heard something earlier that day about an opening at a school fairly close to my apartment. I sat helplessly and (attempted to) listen hopelessly at my brilliant professor talk for a solid hour and a half about The Canterbury Tales. To this point, it was my favorite class of the summer. Mid-way through July with no job in sight and my graduate courses scheduled to end in a few weeks, however, I was steadily becoming more resentful of the time I spent sitting when I could’ve been job hunting. All I could think about when he talked about the bawdy Wife of Bath was that another wife was going to steal my job. I wasn’t laughing along with any of the innuendos he pointed out in the text. I checked my watch about a hundred times before he finally dismissed the class.
I ran home, got changed into my best, “hire me I’m poor and hungry, but well dressed,” attire, and finally made it to the high school. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I knew I was going to meet someone come hell or high water.
I got out of my car and walked in my sky high shoes only to find the front door locked. I began a walk-about in search for a principal; an assistant principal; a teacher; a janitor; a coach; a student…anyone. I stumbled my way into cheerleading practice, but no principal in sight. I walked out (as not to disrupt my potential future students) and walked back to my car. Maybe another day; I thought.
Then, as I was about a football’s field away from the front entrance, I saw a man, in business casual attire, walking out from the front door. I’d already done my research and knew that he was the principal. So I booked it. I didn’t think about blisters (which definitely followed my 100 yard dash); I wasn’t concerned about the sweat (that definitely followed a brisk jog in the blazing heat; I certainly wasn’t concerned with my nerves which had definitely gone haywire. I guess it’s true what they say; running has definite mental benefits.
Thankfully (or tragically, whichever you may choose), the principal saw my attempt to hit the ground running…quite literally. He stopped in his tracks, which coincidentally didn’t stop me from continuing to run toward him.
If you’re a man of significant stature, I would advise against running at full speed in your dress shoes. It may not be perceived as kindly.
Still, I gave myself an informal interview. I handed him my resume, only to find out that there was not an opening at the school. He kindly took my resume, said he would talk my qualifications over with the English department head, and get back to me. I wasn’t defeated. I knew this may happen during my job search. After all, if you’re afraid to hear ‘no,’ you’ll never continue to knock on every single door until you hear the word ‘yes.’ Job searching takes a bit of gumption, and a whole heck of a lot of thick skin.
I retreated to lick my battle wounds (dress my blisters), write a thank you note, and send a quick e-mail of gratitude to the principal.
Oddly enough, he was fired a few weeks into the school year. It was tragic, really, as he was a favorite among staff, students, and parents alike.
Do I consider my sprint a lost opportunity? Absolutely not. I found myself interviewing at the same school just two years later. I was offered the job, but declined (it was a really tough position to turn down).
In fact, I was offered two jobs as a direct result of pop-ins. Here’s a little secret: pop-in visits work. They just do. In the age of applying online, principals have an unprecedented stack of resumes that sit idly on their desk every year. It sounds like a fabulous idea to apply online; and perhaps you went the extra mile to research the school and write a personalized e-mail to the principal with your resume attached.
I can tell you definitively; personalized e-mails do not work. They just don’t. I sent over 100 personalized e-mails to principals that I hadn’t popped in to meet; do you know how many principals e-mailed back…0. This is a waste of your precious job-hunting time. Unless you have a teacher referencing you to an open position, or you pop-by, you will likely never hear back from the principal.
Here is how to have a successful pop-by.
1. Dress professionally. Don’t show up in your graduate grunge; be sure to put on an outfit that the future principal would see you wearing inside the classroom. At the very least, be clean and pressed. Although you may work up a sweat attempting to find the principal, you will stand out if you look nice.
2. Do your homework. Don’t show up and be totally clueless of the principal’s name. Ask for the principal by name; do a little digging to figure out where the principal graduated or what their interests are. Often, the school website will have some clues for you to get briefly acquainted with him or her. Sometimes, a school will have recently been awarded with an accolade or may currently be undergoing a few changes; be sure to be knowledgeable of the school culture. Your fifteen minutes of research will show you care about the culture of the school: not just about a paycheck.
3. Have a resume packet; business card; sample lesson plan ready. Some schools require that you teach a lesson before they hire you. Be ready to teach. If you’re selling your amazing creativity, be creative! Be professional, but be creative. Schools don’t want teachers who just give lip service to an idea. They want you to be an ideal match for their students.
4. Don’t be scared to hear no. If I quit pop-ins after I heard “the principal isn’t here,” or “the principal is busy,” I would’ve gotten nowhere. Don’t be afraid to hear no. As lovely and effective as pop-bys are, they are unscheduled visits. Sometimes, the principal really isn’t there or they really are busy. It’s ok to be busy. It is what you want to be eventually. Also, you’ve already gotten your foot in the door (literally), and you’ve found the name of the secretary. Time to write a thank you note!
5. Be realistic in the schools you pop-by. If you KNOW you’re not willing to drive 50 miles away to a school that you don’t want to teach in, don’t pop-by. I made a list of the schools that were within a 10 mile radius from where I wanted to live and I made my rounds accordingly. I knew the schools I wanted, and I was willing to wait for the right opportunity.
6. Don’t stop your pop-bys after the school year has started. YOU NEVER KNOW when a job will become available. Often, the student enrollment is unknown until a few weeks after school has begun. I’ve known plenty of teachers who got their jobs after the year began, and all of them jumped to the front of the line because other applicants gave up.
Pop-bys are intimidating to some, but they shouldn’t be for job seekers. Your goal right now is to find employment. If you show that you are serious about your search, employers are hopeful in your ability to do the job that they could potentially hire you to do. Keep searching; a job is out there somewhere.