As an elementary school principal for 11 years, I hired many teachers. I also witnessed how the district and fellow administrators went about hiring their teachers.
I have some tips for how to get a job as a Special Education Teacher.
Tip Number One – Excel at Student Teaching
This is my number one recommendation for landing a job as a special education teacher, because administrators want teachers who have demonstrated the ability to teach. If you don’t do well in student teaching and related field experiences, you stand a very low chance of being hired.
Administrators want teachers who know how to do two things:
1. Manage the classroom, meaning very few discipline referrals
2. Teach the children using best practice teaching strategies
3. Work as a team player, bringing good work habits, collaboration and knowledge to the table
Tip Number Two – Get great recommendations
You need recommendations from at least two cooperating teachers (the most important), one college professor, and an employer that you’ve had for at least six months. Job experience is important, particularly job experience in the area of working with children and particularly working with children who have special needs.
A good tip for getting good recommendations is to hand the recommender a copy of your current resume, highlighting special skills and job experience. When writing a recommendation, I appreciated this, because as a teacher and an elementary school administrator, time was of the essence.
Tip Number Three – Create an attention-getting, but easy to skim, cover letter and resume and deliver it in person if possible.
Administrators do not want pages of text to read or a big folder of materials. Submit a one page cover letter, an easy to skim one page resume highlighting special skills and job experience, and three letters of recommendation.
Tip Number Four – Go to as many college job fairs as you can.
Even if you don’t plan to look out of your area or state for a job, go to as many job fairs as you can. It gives you the opportunity to network and practice interview skills.
Tip Number Five – Learn as much as you can about the school district you which to apply for as possible.
Research the school districts for which you plan to apply. You can easily do this online. It will help you know who you want to work for and it will also allow you to tailor your resume and interview toward what the particular school district is looking for.
Tip Number Six – Don’t be afraid to search outside of your town or state if you need to. The move can be temporary if need be.
I had to take a job in a town two hours away from the city in which I hoped to live. It was hard but after two years I was able to get the job I wanted.
Tip Number Seven – Prepare for your interview.
This is very important and I offer two pointers:
1. Dress for the interview – Wear one step above the clothing you will be expected to wear as a teacher.
If in doubt, wear a simple suit with a jacket and a flat heeled shoe. The reason I say this is because administrators want to see people who we can imagine teaching our children and you have to be comfortable to do that. If you have the opportunity to see the principal of your prospective school ahead of time, dress in a fashion similar to what they are wearing. Administrators usually dress one step above their teachers.
2. Practice your interview skills. Write down sample questions. Answer them in writing and then orally. Be succinct. You will likely have 5-10 questions to answer in 15-20 minutes. Plan accordingly.
Tip Number Eight – Interview well.
Shake hands with the interview(ers). Talk about special skills and past job and student performance. Stress the above three things that administrators are looking for. Take a small bottle of water with you. I do not suggest taking a big binder portfolio. Instead, condense it into a five page document with colored pictures that you can leave with the interview team. Highlight activities that make you stand out as a teacher above the other candidates.
Tip Number Nine – Send a thank you note after your interview.
I can’t tell you how important this is. If you don’t get the job, it will keep you in the mind of the administrator interviewing you and when another principal calls him/her your name will be at the forefront of their mind.
Tip Number Ten – If you can’t get the job you want right away, substitute teach, but you will need to excel at it if you hope to land a full-time teaching job.
I can’t stress this enough. If you are a bad substitute teacher, you will not get a job as a teacher, particularly if you take a long-term assignment (such as a maternity leave) and do poorly at it. However, if you take a long-term assignment and excel at it you will get more assignments and you will land a full-time job. Make sure you get a recommendation from your building principal if you do a long-term assignment in their building.