The teacher job hunt: US vs UK

teachers wantedJob hunting for a teacher position in the UK is quite a bit different than it is in the US. Although I wouldn’t say my job hunting experience in the US was extensive, I did teach in two of the largest districts in the country in three different positions. Generally when applying for positions with districts in the US, you fill in one online application indicating the grade level(s) and content area(s) you wish to teach (elementary, middle, or high school), and principals at all of the schools with openings matching your desired areas are alerted. You can also contact the principals directly via email or cover letter to show your interest. The main thing is that you can fill out one application for a large number of schools.

However, many jobs are also secured at job fairs. I was hired for my first teaching position on the spot at a job fair. The interview was short and very informal. I also got my foot in the door for my second teaching position at a job fair. I attended the job fair in Georgia while we were considering a move there. I wanted to see what the prospects were like the area. I met a principal who was interested in me right away. He told me to contact him if I did end up moving to Georgia. A few months later we were living in Georgia, and I was ready to find a teaching job, so I emailed him. I was invited in for an interview. This interview was longer and a bit more formal, and I also met with one of the science teachers. Although I wasn’t offered the job that day, I had a really good feeling about it based on how the interview went. The next day, I was offered the job. My most recent job teaching in Georgia, at Lanier High School, was an internal transfer. I wasn’t changing districts, just schools. So there were no applications to fill out, only a form requesting a transfer. Because I had been involved in establishing project based learning at the middle school level, I had contacts at the high school who were interested in having me work with them there. I had been considering a move to the high school level, so it was the perfect opportunity. In fact, my transfer was approved before I had even met with the principal! I would say I was really lucky in finding such great positions so easily when I was looking the US.

As I started job hunting in the UK, I realized the process was quite a bit different. Firstly, there are no school districts per se. Most schools have moved to a self-governing academy model, which in some ways is similar to the charter school movement in the US. As there is no central district for each county or area, each school lists their individual vacancies and has their own format for a job application. The job applications were poorly formatted Word documents that were cumbersome to work with, and a lot of detailed information was required including a complete job history requiring an accounting of every position you held since leaving high school and an explanation of any gap in employment, even if it was for university studies. Once the application is completed, it is emailed to the school by the application closing date with a cover letter and a CV if accepted. (Some schools did not want to see CVs, which seems very different from always having a resume in the US.)

When the schools receive applications, they review them and decide who they would like to interview. Some schools will contact you via follow up email to let you know they were not interested in interviewing you, but I found many did not respond at all. If the school is interested in an interview, they email you with the interview information. When applying for teaching jobs in the UK, I sent out applications for every position that was remotely close enough to where I knew we would be living. Most of the schools I did not hear back from. One school emailed and said they were not interested at that time, and another school indicated they were interested in interviewing me but wanted to interview in person. At that point, I was still in the US (it was April of last year), and there was no way I could be in England for an interview any time soon.

It was at that point I realized that my job hunt was a bit futile until I was actually in the UK. One component of the interview is teaching a sample lesson, so the school likes to know you’ll be able to come in for an interview. If they see you are residing outside of the country, most won’t bother contacting you. I imagine this may be the same in the US, but I know that my former district recruited far and wide and would sometimes have interviews via web conference.

So this brings me to the story of how I found my current teaching position. I would check the school web sites of schools in the area I am now living to see if any openings were available. If there were, I would complete the application and send off my information. Right before I moved, I noticed there was an opening at my current school. The application deadline was right before I was flying out. In the midst of packing everything up and getting all of the details for transatlantic move with pets, I took some time out to complete the application. (I had applied to the school earlier last year, but I was not selected for an interview at that time.) Since I had already applied once, I only needed to spruce up my application and take into account all of the tips I had learned from perusing UK teaching forums. I sent if off and then worried about getting everything ready for the big move. (The application was due on Thursday, and I flew out on Saturday to give you an idea of the timeline.)

On Saturday, Devon, Newton, Halley and I made our way to the airport and departed for England arriving on Sunday. Once we arrived at our new home on Sunday, I slept most of the day. Between jet lag and moving preparations, I was exhausted. On Tuesday, I received an email inviting me to an interview for a position that Friday. That gave me just a couple of days to prepare a 50-minute lesson on one of the assigned topics. My husband had been saving money by not having internet access at the house, so I spent many hours at Starbucks drinking coffee and tea, eating gluten free snacks, and using their free wifi to create my lesson plan and resources.

On the Friday, I arrived for the interview with one other candidate. In the UK, they interview all candidates on the same date. You end up spending some time together throughout the day, which is interesting and a bit weird to be getting to know the competition. The day began with a welcome and overview from HR. We were then given a tour of the school by two of the students. Next up was the lesson observation where I taught my sample lesson to one of the classes. This was followed by meeting with the science department as a whole during the school break time. Finally, we were each interviewed separately with the principal and the head of science. The other teacher was interviewed first, and I was interviewed second. At the end of my interview, the principal said they could either call me with their decision or I could wait in the staff room while they discussed their decision. I had a feeling they wouldn’t offer to let me to stay if they weren’t planning on offering me the position, so I chose to stay and wait, especially since my phone still had a US number at the time. A few minutes later, the principal came in to congratulate me, and I accepted the position. Amazingly, I found a teaching position after being in the country less than a week. Additionally, I was lucky to find a school who saw the fact that my background teaching in US schools with different practices and strategies could be an asset for the school and not a hindrance.

So that’s my story about the differences in finding a teaching job in the US and the UK based on my personal experiences. It’s been relatively easy for me each time, and I’m sure it helps that I teach science, a high need subject area. I don’t know everything about the processes at all schools, but I do feel I have a pretty good grasp of the major differences. I think we could learn from each system. For instance, teaching sample lessons during US school interviews could be very beneficial. I know this does happen in some areas of the US, but I never experienced it myself. In the UK, a common application form for all schools would be helpful, as filling out individual applications for several different schools, each one formatted and ordered just a bit differently from the others was incredibly time consuming. Each application would take at least two hours to complete, and there must be a way to make this process more efficient.

I know I have a unique perspective on the experience, and it’s not everyday you get to see two completely different education systems. I’m interested in hearing what types of experiences you may have had applying for teacher jobs in the US, UK, or somewhere else in the world. Please share in the comments below.

Finally, I thought I’d give you the opportunity to vote on the topic of Monday’s blog post. The poll will stay open until 11:59 EDT on April 23rd. Please take the time to let me know what you’d like to hear about next!

By Janelle

Space geek, science nerd extraordinaire. That's me! Want to know more, visit the About page.

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