Desperately Seeking Employment

I’m A Self-Taught Art Teacher

I’ve always considered myself a “self-taught” art teacher. Yes, I put myself tens of thousands of dollars into debt to obtain the necessary degrees that were supposed to make me into an art teacher, but the reality of it is, my six years of schooling didn’t teach me anything about how to teach art. Everything I know, I know from personal experience.

As an undergrad, I attended a state school that had a 3:1 Art Education program with a private school. I completed all my gen. eds., my pre-requisites, my studio classes and the necessary basic education classes at the state school. I then took more advanced education classes at the private school where I also completed my student teaching. My studio classes taught me the basics of every art medium (at least the ones that would fit into my schedule), and the education courses taught me about the basics of teaching in a regular classroom. And by regular, I mean a classroom that doesn’t involve a plethora of dirty, messy, dangerous materials that are necessary for the development of creative minds.

I learned how to “work the room” while teaching, which entailed walking up and down the aisles of desks, to ensure that students were on-task. I learned how to maintain an orderly and controlled classroom that required students to always raise their hands and to always remain in their seats. I was instructed on how to identify when your English and Math students needed extra help and various ways to prepare students for a Social Studies test. While my college instructors were all capable and knowledgeable individuals, not one of them had the first inkling of how to teach in an art room. And why should they? These professors weren’t art teachers. They’d never experienced the chaos joys of teaching fourth graders how to paint. They knew how to manage a classroom in which the teacher’s main role was to transfer knowledge to students not mold and encourage creativity and independent work.

My student teaching experience, which occurred in two different art rooms, should have helped me more, and in some aspects it did, but in many, it was lacking. I learned from my K-6 mentor how to manage the classroom through a point system. While I’m not nearly as strict with my “rules” as she was, I still use the 5-point, Art Party system today. In fact, a few of my peers have even started using it in their classrooms. I learned how to write lesson plans that look good on paper, but as any art teacher can tell you, writing a lesson plan and following a lesson plan are two completely different things. One should rarely ever expect to be able to follow a unit or lesson plan to the letter. Too many circumstances arise within an art room to make it feasible. And in my opinion, that’s okay. Not once during my entire student teaching or undergraduate experience did anyone teach me how to teach an eighth grader how to draw the human figure.

My grad school experience was even worse. My Masters of Science in Education degree claims to be in in Visual Arts Education, but the reality of it is, teaching art rarely came up. In our studio classes we were practically forbidden to discuss teaching or how to teach our students the things we were learning. It was appalling to many of us that we were art teachers and yet no one would allow us to converse about how we could transfer what we were learning into our classrooms. The art education courses we took weren’t any better. We were expected to discuss the latest theories in art education and what to teach in our classrooms (the top choices being, but not by me, Multiculturalism, Differentiated Instruction and Cross-Curricular lessons), but were never instructed on how to teach these things. Let me rephrase that, we were never instructed on how to teach the basic art techniques needed to make art. You know, like observational drawing. Apparently we were expected to already know these things. And many of us did, but not because our prior educational experiences had prepared us for it, but because we had already been teaching for a few years.

So, fast forward to a few days ago when I’m in an interview and the interviewer asks me, “How would you teach an auditory learner to draw the human form?” Say what now? My mind went blank. I knew I couldn’t answer, “I don’t know” and have any chance at ever working in this school system. Instead, I pulled some ridiculously lame response out of the air. After wards, all I could think was, “I don’t know how to teach kids anything, I just do it.” When it comes to teaching kids how to make pinch pots or draw the face or use watercolor paints, I just consider the steps that need to take place and then just teach it. I can’t explain to someone how I teach it, but I know that my students learn it because they’re all, for the most part, successful at it. If I see a student struggling, I suggest alternative ways for them to do it or I alter the way I explain how to do it. But this isn’t anything I plan. I’m more of an on-the-spot type of teacher who looks at the immediate problem and comes up with a solution.

I can only anticipate problems up to a certain point because there’s always the human element to every problem. In other words, the student. Every problem you face in an art room is going to be different because the students are different. Don’t ask me how I would teach contour drawing to auditory learners. Ask me how I would teach contour drawing to Johnny, a fourth grade student who is struggling because he didn’t understand the demonstration I just did. I happen to know that Johnny is a race car fan. I’ll use this to explain to Johnny that an outline is like the track around an object. I’ll suggest to him that his pencil is a race car and ask him to draw the track that would take his race car around the object. Being an auditory or visual learner isn’t always an issue, because, in my experience, there’s always a way to explain how to do something that connects with the individual student. And that’s not something you’re necessarily going to learn in college. That’s a lesson you learn in the field when you’re on your own and actually teaching.

And in regards to that interview, did I get the job? Highly unlikely considering I was interviewing with a school system that didn’t have any available positions. Is there a possibility they’ll consider me for any future openings? I hope so. Of course, if their consideration of me as a suitable candidate is based solely on my fumbling responses to their generic questions, maybe not. Sometimes I wish the interview process involved actually teaching a lesson to real, live kids instead of answering a bunch of arbitrary questions about things I’m more capable of doing and showing rather than explaining. After all, I’m a visual and kinesthetic learner. It can safely be assumed that this is the type of teacher I am as well, therefore, couldn’t it also be assumed that a Q & A session isn’t the best way for me to demonstrate my abilities as a teacher? Apparently the concept of adapting to the multiple styles of learners doesn’t extend past the classroom. But that’s an issue for another day.

Desperately Seeking Employment

Times Are Tough

It’s no surprise that times are tough for teachers right now. Budget cuts are being made left and right, and you hear stories in the news all the time about cities laying off mass amounts of teachers. But what about the rural areas? How are teachers doing in the less than newsworthy parts of the country?

Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like they’re faring any better. Of course, you probably won’t hear about that in the news. Reporting that a school district has laid of five teachers opposed to hundreds just isn’t as impressive sounding. But it’s still happening, and these teachers, regardless of where they live, are still feeling the pains of being laid off.

I grew up in the Northern Adirondacks in New York State. School districts up there are small, and quite often, K-12 is often contained in one building. Graduating classes average around 30 students. Were talking small schools here, folks, but just because the schools are smaller doesn’t mean that the teachers don’t value their jobs any less. My Alma Mater just went through some budget adjustments and laid off four teachers for the upcoming 2010-2011 school year. Well, technically speaking, they eliminated positions, which I guess sounds nicer than fired teachers. While four might not sound like a lot, when you do the math, about 30% of the teachers in that district no longer have jobs. Now that sounds like a lot. Imagine if a larger school district laid off 30% of their teachers? That would be newsworthy stuff right there.

What are these teacher supposed to do now? In larger, metro areas of the country, it might be easier for recently let-go teachers to find alternative employment, but in rural areas, such as the one I grew up in, it’s less likely. The four teachers I mentioned above were all tenured teachers, not that that means much, but it just shows that they were committed to the school they worked at and were probably feeling pretty comfortable about their future employment. Not anymore.

Two of the four teachers who had their positions eliminated are new moms. In fact, one gave birth only a couple of months after she learned that she would no longer have a job come fall. Another one of the teachers let-go has a list of medical problems that will continue to be an issue whether she’s employed or not. I’m sure finances are a huge concern for these teachers and their families. On top of all the expenses everyone else in the area has (mortgage, insurance, credit cards) these teachers have to also wrestle with student loan debt for the Masters Degrees they were mandated to obtain. As in, they had no choice but to get their Masters if they wanted to continue teaching in New York State. The state makes you get your Masters degree, but, of course, they don’t offer any financial assistance towards the cost of this requirement. But that’s a gripe for another day.

Finding jobs and dealing with mounting debt isn’t limited to recently laid-off teachers. I know many teachers in rural parts of the country who have been trying for years to find jobs. Including myself. I have an advantage over many of the other job-seeking teachers though, I don’t have children, making my job search much more mobile. When I realized that no jobs in the area would be opening up in my field within the next two or three years, I was able to hightail it out of there to more populated areas of the state with larger school districts and better job prospects. I even had the flexibility to leave the state and start new elsewhere. Relocating is expensive, time consuming and emotionally draining. It’s not something most unemployed teachers in rural areas can embark on.

Let’s take K.W., for example. K.W. is an unemployed high school English teacher with two sons. She is unmarried, and while she does reside with her boyfriend (the father of her sons), his income barely covers their expenses. K.W. lives in one of the poorest counties in New York State, and every year she watches as vacated teaching positions get eliminated instead of filled. She has applied for every available English opening, only to be rejected for every one.

The problem doesn’t lie with K.W., but with the circumstances that put K.W. at a disadvantage. You see, K.W.’s boyfriend is employed with a government agency that requires their employees to work swing shifts. Meaning, his schedule is constantly changing from month to month or week to week. K.W. tries to substitute teach in the area schools when she can, knowing that getting your foot in the door in a school is key to getting hired full-time. Unfortunately, she can only sub when her boyfriend’s schedule allows him to be home to watch the boys while she is at work. This doesn’t happen that often.

Day care is out of the question too. After doing the math, K.W. calculated that the amount of money she’d bring home from subbing, assuming she was able to work five days a week, would only be enough to cover the cost of daycare and nothing else. What’s the point then? Essentially, they’d be saving money by not having K.W. working. Unfortunately, come hiring time, K.W. doesn’t have enough of a foot in the door to land a full-time job.

But what about teachers who are able to get their foot in the door? They must have the advantage right? Well, not always. Sometimes having your foot in the door isn’t enough. Unfortunately, in rural areas, often times blood runs thicker than water. Take for example, J.P., an unemployed elementary teacher with a husband and two young daughters. J.P. has had the good fortune of being able to work as a teaching assistant and a substitute teacher at the schools in her area. Unfortunately, J.P. has yet to be hired full-time.

There is a factor involved here (and in many other people’s situations as well) that very few hiring committees or school districts will admit to, but time and time again, continues to happen. School districts, particularly in rural areas, tend to favor alumni and family when hiring. For example, let’s say J.P. applied for a position along with 40 other potential candidates. J.P. happens to be one of the eight fortunate applicants to move on to the interview stage. Unfortunately for J.P., another candidate graduated from the school holding the interviews, and the son of a 4th grade teacher already employed at the school have also been scheduled for interviews. J.P. may be the most experienced and qualified person for the job, but J.P. will not be getting the job.

Unfair? You betcha. But loyalty is strong in small communities, and the alum has a greater chance of being hired over J.P. just because he/she graduated from the school. Unfortunately for the alum, the son of the 4th grade teacher may have an advantage over everyone just because his mother already works for the school.

In conclusion, I wish I could offer a solution to the hardships teachers are facing right now, but I can’t. It pains me when I hear about my friends, my family and my acquaintances, many of them extremely capable teachers, continuously being rejected for teaching positions. I don’t think people truly understand the strikes against them that many teachers have before they even apply for a job. Good teachers are being passed up for positions all the time because circumstances beyond their control are working against them. It’s devastating.

Desperately Seeking Employment


A little while ago I vented about being overqualified for jobs I was applying for. I know what you’re thinking, is it even possible to be turned down for a job because you’re overqualified? Uh, in my experience, yeah. And apparently others, like Shana Berenzweig, agree, as reported by NPR:

But now she sometimes considers that degree she paid so dearly for a liability, at least when it comes to some jobs. She takes it off her resume when applying for waitress jobs.

“It’s almost like people are just going to assume that because I have a master’s degree, I’m going to ask for money,” she says. “Or if something better comes along, I’m just going to jump ship.”

With the unemployment rate at 9.7 percent, sustained unemployment is afflicting even some of the most educated. Some fled to graduate school recently as a temporary safe haven from the economy, only to find themselves still without jobs. Many are applying for low-paying or nonpaying internships to try to fill in gaps in their resumes.

See? With teaching jobs being cut all around the nation, this job search thing is getting more and more difficult. I recently had a conversation with a colleague (a fellow art teacher, an employed art teacher) who expressed his disgust for the unemployed and the people who collect government assistance because they can’t find a job. He called bullshit, in fact, he pointed out that there are numerous jobs out there if you were just willing to get down and dirty, like, for example, shoveling shit. While I tend to agree with him, I had to point out that it is entirely possible to be overqualified for a job. I have to be honest, I don’t remember his response because I’m pretty sure I lost focus and became distracted by something else (I’m seriously beginning to reconsider the idea, as many have suggested to me, that I have adult ADD).

But back to my point (see? ADD). It’s tough times to be a teacher. Back in my hometown’s neck of the woods, times have been tough for awhile now, for every profession, but as NY State continues to look for ways to cutback and reduce its grotesque debt, things are getting even tougher. It seems every time budget planning time comes around, the North Country is the first on the chopping block. Recently, the jobs being threatened are in prisons and correctional facilities, state parks and of course, the old standbys, health care and education. Here are just a few examples: 

Crisis in local education
I left the North Country because I knew things there were dire. I knew there was very little chance of me finding a job in education up there. Especially in art education as most school districts tend to have 1-3 art teachers in their districts. I remember being told years ago that jobs would be aplenty soon as many Baby Boomer teachers would be retiring. Well, guess I have a few more years to wait. As Stephen Bartlett at the Press Republican reports, 
But an ailing market has kept many in the profession longer than expected, while the economic downturn is shrinking the workforce. (full story here)

What’s a poor unemployed art teacher to do then? Well, I guess I’ll keep trying to get my foot in that door and in the meantime, follow Shana Berenzweig’s lead and make myself look less educated than I am when I apply for jobs that generally only require a high school degree. That’s not unethical, right?

Desperately Seeking Employment

Get your foot in that door!

Trying to find a job is tough business. Trying to find a job in education is even tougher. Especially nowadays. For one, job openings don’t pop up year-round and for another, there are A LOT of job-seeking teachers out there, unemployed and otherwise. I’ve been at this job hunting business for quite some time, about eight years now. I’ve had some jobs here and there, but I got to say, unless you know someone, unless you’ve got you’re foot in the door, it’s hard to even get called for an interview for a job opening. Here’s how I’ve gotten my jobs…

I started working as a substitute teacher at my Alma Mater during breaks while I was in college. I did this for a couple of years. After I graduated college, I applied for a few job openings; all but one of them resulted in the dreaded, “Thank you for your interest… we’ve filled the position… ” letter. I was fortunate enough to get one interview, but was informed that I just didn’t have the experience they were looking for. After that I worked a few odd jobs as a waitress, a receptionist, a purchasing clerk and a file clerk. Oh, and as a nanny over the summer months.

A year after I graduated, I was called by my Alma Mater and offered a long-term sub position, filling in for my former art teacher. Turns out my old art teacher had requested that I be hired for the position. I was flattered, but I also knew there were some circumstances that existed that weren’t necessarily ideal, so I turned the job down. The superintendent was persistent though, and I ended up taking the job. I was a K-12 art teacher for a little over a year. If you’ve never taught at a K-12 school, I don’t recommend it. It’s a lot of work. At any rate, after the contracted teacher returned from her leave, I was asked to be the long-term sub in the Home & Careers classroom at the same school. I lasted there for about three months. It was part-time, I was driving an hour and a half every day, and it just wasn’t worth it. I ended up taking a job as an office manager that paid $20/hour and offered full benefits.

I lasted a year and a half as an office manager. I hated it. I wasn’t cut out to work behind a desk day-in and day-out. I moved to a more populated part of the state and started working as a waitress by night and a substitute teacher by day in about 7 local school districts. I knew it was important to get yourself known in schools so when a job opened up, the schools were already familiar with you and had a face to put with your name, so-to-speak. I was working 12 hour days, 6 days a week. It was hard. I was exhausted, but I was making money and I was convinced, as soon as spring comes around, I’ll be golden and can walk right into a job.

Well, spring came, and not a single art job opened up. Not one. Knowing that I couldn’t possibly handle another year doing what I had been doing, I applied for a .40 K-6 position that opened up at a school back home. I was shocked when I was called for an interview (I had previously applied for this position right after graduation and had received one of those letters). Long story short, I got the job. I think it helped that I had gained experience as a long-term sub in a neighboring school district and that one of the teachers in the interview knew my sister. So, I was a .40 elementary art teacher and a .60 building sub for about two years. If you’ve never had this experience, let me tell you, it’s not that great. You do all the work of a full-time teacher with none of the perks. No benefits, no union support, no voice…. (If you really want to know what it’s like, check out A Day in the Life…)

And that was the last job I really had. I moved to Virginia for a few months before returning to NY to finish up my Master’s degree. I’m currently working as a grad assistant, and I have my name in for subbing in about five local school districts. I’ve been in the subbing system since October. It’s now March and I haven’t subbed a single day yet. Why? I don’t know. My guess is that there are SO many unemployed teachers out there that there are a plethora of subs. And I’m new to the area, so no one knows my name, or my face.

So the point of this post, GET YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR! Be patient. You may have to suffer through some horrendous subbing experiences before you land that ideal position. Also, network, network, network. Get out there and meet other art teachers. Meet other teachers. Meet anyone. You can’t rely on your resume alone to get you an interview.

Have a similar experience? Have a different experience? Have any advice for job seekers? Please, share!

Desperately Seeking Employment

It’s that time of year again…

Yup! Hunting season! And by that, I mean JOB hunting season! We teachers are a lucky bunch in that job openings in our profession come around only once a year (for the most part. Occasionally you can get lucky and score a long-term sub position during the rest of the year that might result in a permanent position, but one shouldn’t count on it).

Actually, I guess it would be fair to say that jobs open up twice a year. Once in the springtime and once again in the summer when schools who have lost their teachers to springtime openings are now scrambling to fill their vacated positions by September. But again, one should not count on getting a job this late in the hunting season (although two of my jobs did fall on my lap during this time. I guess I was lucky like that. I haven’t been since, so I’m not holding out this time. Springtime hunting it is!).

If you’ve ever been involved in the hunt, you know it is very time consuming and a pain-in-the-ass of a process. It requires you to be organized and on top of things. Job searching as a teacher isn’t like job searching in another profession. You can’t get by with just a stellar resume and cover letter. Here is a quick breakdown of the most common items needed when applying for teaching jobs:

  • Updated Resume
  • Job Specific Cover Letter
  • Job Application Specific to the School or School District
  • School Transcripts (from every higher ed institute you’ve ever received credit from)
  • A Copy of Your Certification
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • A Portfolio (if you’re an art teacher, this may also contain your artwork as well as student artwork. Some schools like to see your work, others could care less, but you should always be prepared)
  • TB Test Results (a requirement for some schools, especially those in more populated areas)

I’m sure I’ve left a few things out. I find it’s best to get all these ducks in a row before you start applying for jobs, which means, if job openings are being posted in April (which seems to be the hot month), you should probably start gathering all this stuff now.

Transcripts and letters of recommendation are probably the hardest to get your hands on.

Some school districts will accept unofficial transcripts, but most require official transcripts, which take time and quite often, money to acquire. Many colleges require that you make transcript requests in writing, but some have switched to a more convenient online request form. Many colleges have eliminated the fees for obtaining official transcripts, but some still ask anywhere from $3-$12 per transcript. Remember, it’s best to have many on hand, especially if you are unsure of how many jobs you’ll be applying to. I usually request at least five at a time and ask that they be mailed to me.This way, I don’t have to wait for the colleges to get around to mailing the transcripts to the school districts. As long as the transcripts remain officially sealed, most school districts are okay with receiving them from you instead of the colleges.

Letters of recommendation (LoRs) are trickier. I have my three go to supervisors that I always ask for letters from. I know some job seeking teachers who always get copies of their LoRs so they have them on hand, eliminating the need to 1. request them and 2. wait for them to make it to the school district you’re applying to. In theory, this is a good idea, however, I tend to avoid doing this. For one, I would hate too submit outdated LoRs. Some school districts require that your LoRs be delivered to them officially sealed, which means you can’t read them, which means you don’t know whether or not your former supervisors have dated them or included any information specific to a previous job search. Of course, you can always be prepared and request a general LoR, that isn’t for a specific job and that you can just photo copy for every job you end up applying for. On the other hand, some school districts you apply to may require that LoRs be submitted on a specific LoR form that they have. These are usually included in the application packets and have some specific questions for your supervisors to answer, as well as an area for them to write a note of recommendation.

So, how you go about obtaining your transcripts and LoRs is entirely up to you. I think it is always a good rule of thumb to have copies of official transcripts on hand. If you’re applying to jobs with plenty of time before the deadline, I would recommend requesting specific LoRs. However, if you’re cutting it close, and the deadline is fast approaching, you may want to have some general LoRs on hand to pop in the application packet right away. With up to 300 or 400 job applicants per opening, most school districts won’t even consider a candidate with an incomplete application packet, regardless of how great of a teacher you are.

Stay tuned for some future tips on the job hunt as I am currently going through this process (again). If you have any questions or any tips you’d like to add, comment away! Happy Hunting!