iteach Insight &

Production Tool Ref #12

How to Choose Where to Teach

Choosing the right school is critical for teacher success and satisfaction. Finding the best school for you can feel overwhelming. How can you know if a school is the right fit for your teaching style and career goals before you sign a contract? 

By knowing what to look for and what questions to ask before you even interview for a role. With these tips, you’ll gain helpful and meaningful insight into what you need from your next school so you’ll be able to identify it when you see it. 

Mission and Values

A school’s mission statement is a great place to start when assessing if it’s a good fit. Learn the founding purpose, focus, and priorities to see if they align with your values. A mismatch in values between teachers and schools can lead to a poor cultural fit. You don’t want to feel out of place while you’re trying to connect with and educate your students. 

Luckily, many schools will publicly list their mission and values online, allowing you to check for compatibility before you even apply. Consider asking leadership for examples of how they put the school’s values into practice or practical actions they take to forward the school’s mission. 

School Culture and Atmosphere

Unlike reading a publicly-posted mission statement, getting a feel for a school’s culture and atmosphere is a bit more tricky. Social media can be invaluable in assessing a school’s culture and atmosphere before you spend time there. 

Review the kinds of photos, videos, and comments that students, staff, and community members post. Get a feel for the level of engagement, school spirit, and community and gauge if you’d be a good fit. A tour of the school during regular hours is another great way to get familiar with the general atmosphere. Look for smiles, greetings in the hallways, general adherence to school policies and positive energy.

Professional Development Opportunities: 

As you prepare to interview with a school, prepare some questions about the professional development opportunities they offer. Many schools offer invaluable mentorship programs with senior members of faculty. These programs are useful at every stage of your teaching career and offer the tips and advice you can’t find anywhere else. 

Find out about funding available for workshops and conferences. Ask if the school has a robust professional development program and what the process is to take advantage of it. Ongoing career support lays a foundation for a long working relationship. Great schools invest in their teachers and encourage their growth and development.

Supportive Leadership:

It’s no secret that great leadership is critical. Students, faculty, and staff depend on a passionate, talented, and engaged leadership team for success. A huge part of finding the right school for you is a good fit with leadership. 

Talking to other members of staff is the easiest way to get firsthand feedback on leadership. Reach out to current teachers and ask about these signs of good leadership: 

  • Does it feel safe to come to leadership with issues and challenges?
  • Does leadership seek feedback from teachers?
  • Do teachers receive useful feedback from leadership?
  • Is teacher wellbeing prioritized?

No one wants to work in an environment that isn’t encouraging. Look for a school where teachers feel encouraged and supported by an engaged leadership team.

Resources and Facilities 

There’s nothing more frustrating than not having the tools and resources you need to teach. When considering schools, assess if they have what you need to do your best work. Look for well-appointed classrooms with adequate access to technology. 

Ask about the materials and supplies available and, whenever possible, tour the facilities before you sign a contract. Publicly available photos and videos on a school’s website can provide some insight, but social media posts give you a glimpse of what the students and staff are using every day.

Student Body and Community

A diverse, collaborative, and supportive student body and community is at the heart of every successful school. Consider the community a school serves and how you’d fit into it. This is another scenario where social media is a valuable tool. 

Look at what the student body and parents are posting and commenting on. Look for a cohesive community where communication is open and diverse ideas are shared. Inquire about parent organizations, community collaborations, and general school spirit to get an idea of the relationships the school encourages. 

Class Sizes and Student-Teacher Ratios 

High-quality teaching is more challenging with large class sizes. Finding enough individual time with students to support their success is difficult when there aren’t enough educators to go around. The only solution to this issue is for schools to successfully recruit more teaching talent. 

When you’re looking for a role, carefully weigh how much your presence could help against your bandwidth and skills. Schools with high student to teacher ratios benefit more from hiring the perfect fit than from hiring in volume. 

Work-Life Balance

Work-life balance is a challenging subject in education. Many schools are prioritizing teacher wellbeing by establishing thoughtful work-life balance policies and practices. Look for a school that makes expectations clear and sets healthy boundaries to protect teachers. 

This is a great opportunity to connect with potential colleagues and ask for their insight. Ask the current faculty how they feel about their work-life balance and look for an environment where boundaries are supported. 

Salary and Benefits

As a professional, compensation must be a top priority when choosing where to teach. Carefully evaluate the salary and benefits package offered by the school and compare it to your needs and financial goals. While compensation is important, also consider the value of other benefits such as health insurance, retirement plans, and additional perks or incentives. 

Schools with lower compensation rates may offer valuable benefits that make up for lower pay. Deciding what your financial needs and goals are before you look into a school will empower you to recognize a good fit right away.

Career Advancement Opportunities  

It’s important to consider how your career goals fit into the district of any school you’re considering. Look for a district with career advancement opportunities that align with your goals. The right school will be supportive of your goals including pursuing leadership roles and expanded responsibilities. 

This is an excellent opportunity to feel out the district culture and familiarize yourself with leadership above the school level. Finding the perfect school in a district that doesn’t foster your growth is an incomplete solution. 

Safety and Security

Safety in the classroom is essential. Teachers and students can’t do their best work without a foundation of security. Ask about the school’s safety and security systems and policies and look for modern, well-informed answers. 

Does the school have a resource officer? Are there security cameras in place? Ask how often the school updates its safety policies and procedures. Are practice drills common? A safe school is one where students, faculty, and staff are well-informed of expectations and procedures.

Feedback and Evaluation Process

A constructive feedback structure will make your time at a school not only more pleasant, but more productive. Look for a school with a clear, fair, and approachable evaluation process. Professional feedback should feel like a collaborative process with both teachers’ and students’ best interests in mind. Good feedback is specific and actionable. Look for a process that makes it easy to receive, respond to, and record feedback.

Ask current members of faculty how they feel about their evaluations. A successful program should make educators feel heard and supported by the evaluation and feedback process. Do teachers at this school feel comfortable with the existing process? Does it feel safe to open up a dialogue about the feedback they receive? Does the process feel fair? There’s no better source of information on what it’s like to teach at a school than someone currently filing the role. 

Gut Feeling 

The most important thing to look for in a school is a gut feeling that it’s a good fit. At the end of the day, a school that meets all of your criteria could still feel like a poor fit. A school missing a few of your “nice to haves” may immediately feel welcoming. As you consider where to teach, look for a school that makes you feel comfortable and welcome at every stage of the prospecting and onboarding process. If a school doesn’t feel like a good placement, you don’t need more reason than that. 

Finding the right school starts with knowing what you want and what to look for. By taking the time to define what you need to be successful, you empower yourself to find it with less trial and error. When you’re teaching in a welcoming, inclusive, and supportive environment, you’re free to focus more on your students and personal growth. With these tips and your own introspection, you can research potential schools with confidence.

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