Finding Your First Job as a Public School Music Teacher
College music education students who are completing their final year prior to graduation will soon find themselves searching for their first teaching job. Negotiating the job market in music education can be an overwhelming and sometimes stressful experience. Students will need to determine how to begin their job search, how to write an effective resume, what to say and do at an interview and how to decide whether a particular job offer may be the right one for them. As a supervisor of music education in the public schools for many years, I would like to share some suggestions, based on experience, which should increase the probability of success. Part 1 of this article will focus on the job search and the application process. Part 2 will focus on successfully interviewing for the job. Part 3 will discuss issues involved in accepting or rejecting a job offer.
The Job Search and Application Process
1. Sources of Job Vacancies
Before beginning your job search, it is a good idea to identify and become familiar with several sources of job vacancies. Start with a newspaper in your geographical area which has an established and reputable classified section devoted to education listings. For example, the Sunday Week in Review section of The New York Times has an excellent source of listings in education for the New York metropolitan area. The national periodical, Education Week, contains listings for teaching as well as administrative positions nationwide. Students who are members of their state school music association can obtain regular listings of job vacancies. For example, the New York State School Music Association will send monthly job vacancy listings to members upon request. Students who are NAfME members can access job vacancy listings via the Internet at www.nafme.org.
NAfME operates on site job centers at national and regional conferences where employers can interview interested candidates. You can participate by providing resumes to the job center prior to the conference and by examining job vacancy listings at the center during the conference. NAfME facilitates communication between applicants and employers. Interested employers can arrange to interview selected candidates on site during the conference.
2. The Cover Letter and Resume
The most appropriate way to respond to a job vacancy announcement is to send the employer a cover letter and resume. These two documents should be carefully prepared and professionally presented. The cover letter should be addressed specifically to the person or office listed on the vacancy announcement. The letter should include a succinct amount of information about you which is directly related to the specific position being advertised. Describe what you are doing at present, the status of your certification and why you are interested in this specific position. The letter should contain your address and phone numbers where you may be reached. Conclude the letter by thanking the prospective employer for his/her interest and enclose your resume.
Resumes should be clear, concise and customized to the position you are applying for. In my experience, candidates who presented such resumes had a very good chance of being contacted for an initial interview. Candidates who included irrelevant material in their resumes or who used the resume to present their philosophy of education were less likely to be contacted for the initial interview. A good resume helps the employer to quickly determine whether the candidate’s training, background and experience might be a good match with the position being offered. The employer is able to make those initial determinations by examining what the candidate has done and when he/she has done it. The employer will most likely select those resumes that clearly show potential for the particular position and arrange initial interviews for those candidates. Your goal is to compose a resume that will make it to this initial selection. An effective resume should include the following categories:
(1) Position Sought: Focus this item specifically to the position advertised. For example, if the position is for a high school band director, say, Position Sought: High School Band Director. If you are interested in applying for more than one type of position (i.e. High School Band Director, Elementary School Band Director or Middle School General Music Teacher), develop a separate resume for each category, highlighting your strengths for each type of position.
(2) Educational Background: List all colleges and universities you have attended with inclusive dates and your degrees received. Organize the list chronologically beginning with the most recent entry. If you graduated cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude, indicate this next to the degree. For example: B.A. (Music) Hunter College, l995, Summa Cum Laude.
(3) Teaching Experience: List all teaching experience beginning with the most recent. Include student teaching experience in this category.
(4) Other Skills and Experience: List any other relevant experience working with children and young people whether or not it is music-related. For a relatively new teacher, this could include work as a camp counselor, youth choir director, accompanist, and any performing experience. Other examples might include working in a library, an after-school center or a music store. Don’t forget to include any volunteer work you have done. Volunteer work provides valuable experience and should be included in your resume. In addition, indicate any other related skills that could help to make you a desirable candidate. Examples might include computer literacy, ability to use music technology and proficiency in a language other than English.
(5) Certification: List your teaching licenses including the exact title of the license, the issuing state and the date the license was issued. If you are to receive your certification shortly, indicate when you expect to receive it (month and year).
(6) Professional Associations: List the professional associations of which you are a member. For example, New York State School Music Association (l999-present).
(7) Honors and Awards: List any significant honors and awards you have received beginning with the most recent. For example: Young Artist Award for Violin Performance, l999.
In summary, each resume that you send out should be designed to help you sell yourself to a particular employer for a particular position. Check the resume carefully to avoid misspellings and any grammatical errors. Make sure the resume is up to date. Arrange to have it printed neatly and professionally on high quality resume paper. You are now ready to complete the application process.
Once you have responded to a job vacancy announcement by sending a cover letter and resume, you may be asked to appear for an interview. The following suggestions will help you to succeed at this interview:
1. Do Your Homework
Learn about the school/district prior to your interview. First, see if the school or district maintains a web site. If you are interviewing in a suburb or a small town, the community itself may have a web site containing information about the schools. Check the town library for additional literature about the local schools. Another excellent resource in the New York metropolitan area is the real estate section in the Sunday New York Times. This section runs weekly articles featuring specific towns in the New York metropolitan area as well as neighborhoods within the city itself. Most of these articles describe the school district and individual schools serving the town or neighborhood being featured. To access past articles on the web, use www.nytimes.com/realestate. Try to find out the size of the student population. Learn about the economic and social characteristics of the school population and how this reflects the community being served. Who are the key administrators you would be working for? Does the school or district have a music or arts coordinator/supervisor? Does the school have several music teachers or will you be the only music teacher in the school? The answer to this last question will help determine whether you will teach mainly in your area of interest (chorus, orchestra, band, general music) or be spread among many areas. What does the school/district regard as its strengths? Are music and the arts considered among those strengths?
2. What to Wear
Dress conservatively for the interview. A business suit and tie for men and business suit for ladies are appropriate. Any perfume, cologne, aftershave or jewelry should be kept to a minimum. You want your outfit and accessories to be unobtrusive so that all of the focus will be on you as a professional and on what you do and say.
3. Answering Questions
When the interviewer asks a question, take several seconds to ponder the question. This signals to the interviewer that you are seriously considering the question. Then, begin your answer. This strategy gives you time to mentally formulate your response. Your answer should be concise and directly related to the question. Avoid rambling and stay on the topic. Many interview candidates who are nervous tend to jump in and answer a question too quickly. This can give an impression of hastiness and can even be interpreted as interrupting the interviewer.
4. Eye Contact
Maintain good eye contact throughout the interview and include all of the individuals on the panel in the scope of your eye contact. This helps to give each person the impression that you are communicating directly to him or her. As a result, the panel may listen more carefully to you and feel more comfortable with you in general.
5. What to Bring
Upon being invited to an interview, ask what, if anything, you will need to bring with you. I would suggest that you bring an original and several copies of your teaching certificate, extra copies of your resume, copies of reference letters and/or observations and a list of names and phone numbers of references. However, I would only offer these materials if asked.
6. Performing Skills
You may be asked to demonstrate your skills as a singer or instrumentalist as well as your proficiency at the piano during the interview, especially if there is a music teacher or music supervisor on the interview committee. From the perspective of both the district music supervisor and the school’s principal, instrumental, vocal and general music candidates who could demonstrate piano proficiency possessed a distinct advantage. This type of candidate is viewed as versatile and could conceivably help out, if necessary, by playing the piano at a school assembly or by accompanying a colleague’s performing group. Candidates who have studied the piano are likely to have a secure understanding of chord structure and harmony that will aid them in their teaching. For candidates who will be directing choruses, piano proficiency is especially important. When faced with a difficult decision between two candidates, I and many of my colleagues have often hired the candidate who has piano proficiency. A chorus cannot perform a cappella all the time and it is not likely that there will be a pianist available to accompany your choruses on a regular basis. Teachers who plan to rely on taped or sequenced accompaniments will find that the use of these devices results in a less musical and more rigid, metronomic performance.
7. Writing Sample
You may also be asked to compose a written essay. The essay is generally used to evaluate your written communication skills. It may also be used to assess your understanding of a specific issue in music education.
8. The Demonstration Lesson
Some school districts require a candidate to participate in a demonstration-lesson which can take anywhere from fifteen minutes to an entire class period. A candidate may be asked to do demonstration lessons with more than one class. This activity enables the interviewing panel to observe the candidate under pressure, to see how he/she communicates with students, to gain an understanding of the candidate’s conducting skills and rehearsal techniques and to determine how he/she responds to unexpected challenges and an unfamiliar situation. Generally, the interview panel selects the music to be used and gives a copy of the score to the candidate prior to the lesson. Sometimes, the candidate may be asked to choose the music to be used and to bring copies of the music to the lesson. Whatever the case, most of the candidates who do well on their demonstration lessons establish good communication with the students, maintain good eye contact, display a positive attitude, speak clearly, keep their own talking to a minimum and focus on specific items in the music which can be effectively dealt with in a short time span.
9. Questions to Ask
At the conclusion of the interview, the interviewer may ask you if you have any questions. At this early stage of the interview process, it is better to ask questions directly related to the job, school or district rather than questions that may convey the impression of self-interest. Ask questions dealing with curriculum, instruction, scheduling, concerts and school-wide goals. Avoid questions related to salary, benefits, over time and work hours. You will have the opportunity to discuss these items, and ask these questions, once you are offered the position.
Accepting or Rejecting the Job Offer
Once you have been offered employment, you must now decide whether or not to accept the offer. This is a very personal decision. There are, however, certain general criteria that can be used to help you arrive at a final decision.
1. Learn More about the Position
Is the position full time or part time? Is the position "tenure track" or a leave replacement? If it is a leave replacement, how long is the present teacher’s leave? Be aware that in a leave replacement position, you will no longer have a job once the person on leave returns unless you are appointed to a different position within the school or district.
What is the size of the school and of the school district? Are there many music teachers in the district or just a few? Within the school, itself, does one music teacher teach every area within music or are teachers assigned according to their area of expertise? Does the district have a music supervisor or arts coordinator? If part of your job description involves directing large performing groups, you may wish to investigate whether the schedule allows for small group rehearsals (sectionals) or whether you will always be working with the entire group.
You should be told what the starting salary will be. If possible, try to obtain a copy of the teachers’ contract. Use the contract to get a sense of how quickly the salary rises and if salary credit is available for additional degrees and training beyond the bachelor’s degree. What kind of salary do the senior teachers earn? What is the highest salary one can earn before retiring? Determine the compensation for after school activities.
2. Your Comfort Level
Finally, what is your "gut" reaction to the people who interviewed you. Do you feel comfortable with them? Was there anything about the personal dynamics of the interview or the school environment that made you uncomfortable? Do you think you will be happy working there? You will need to evaluate not only the facts but also your personal reactions in order to decide whether or not to accept the position.
3. The Decision
If you decide to accept the job offer, you are well on your way to beginning an exciting and rewarding professional career! If you decide not to accept this particular job offer, be sure to write a letter to the interviewer thanking him or her for considering you. Explain that you have decided not to accept this position at this time. Say something positive about the school or district and express the hope that they might be willing to consider you as a candidate sometime in the future. This shows that you are handling the situation in a professional manner. In the event that you would ever apply for another position there, you will have maintained a good relationship.
Dr. Victor V. Bobetsky, a former music teacher in the New York City Schools, has served as a school district music supervisor/administrator in Columbus, Ohio, West Hartford, CT and East Meadow, N.Y. He is the Director of the Teacher Education Program in Music at Hunter College of the City University of New York. Dr. Bobetsky presents staff development workshops to music educators at local, regional and national conferences. His arrangements for school age voices have been published by Boosey and Hawkes.
© 2002 – NYSSMA Reprinted by permission of the author and the New York State School Music Association Original article appeared in the January/February 2002 issue of the NYSSMA School Music NEWS, Thomas N. Gellert – Editor