Twenty Talks to Teachers

by Thomas E. Sanders

Chapter 3: Securing a Position

Additional Information
  • Year Published: 1908
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: United States of America
  • Source: Sanders, T. E. (1908). Twenty Talks to Teachers. The Teachers Co–Operative Company.
  • Readability:
    • Flesch–Kincaid Level: 10.4
  • Word Count: 2,908
  • Genre: Informational
  • Keywords: education, educational, learning, teaching
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The problem of securing a position concerns not only the young teacher, but often the experienced teacher as well. Thousands of young persons begin the work of teaching for the first time each year. The se curing of the first school is usually a red–letter day for most persons who are really anxious to teach. Most boards of education and school officials hesitate to em ploy a teacher who has had no experience. It is one of the conditions to be met in all occupations. Often principals and older teachers are loudest in their demands that only the experienced be employed, forgetting that there was a time when they themselves were without experience. For a subordinate place where there is not too much executive work, I should prefer the young person well prepared to the teacher who has so much experience that they feel that they know all that is needed to be known.

Most young persons, unless they have a good professional course to begin with, teach first near their home. The time is coming, and let us hope coming rapidly, when one or two years of professional study must precede any attempt at teaching. It will be well for the pupils, well for the schools and, in the long run, well for the teachers themselves. Natural ability being equal, the young teacher who has a year or more of professional study has a decided advantage. This professional study gives clearer ideas of school and higher ideals of what should be accomplished. When school officials and communities insist on professional preparation and pay salaries sufficient to justify them in demanding professional preparation, they have taken a long step in advance toward a profession of teaching. Communities will then be less dependent upon local teachers—the sons and daughters and nieces and nephews of local politicians and relatives of prominent families. Between these on the one hand and the indigent never do–wells who have a half charitable claim on the community and are pensioned with a position in the schools there are many communities in which there is little incentive for young persons to prepare for teaching. When a professional preparation is required from all applicants things will be different. Then those who look to teaching as a serious occupation will have the advantage.

It is an unfortunate thing for the schools that so few teachers can be progressive, up–to–date, and thoroughly alive to their own welfare and continue to teach for a life time in their own locality. There are a few examples of such teachers and such teaching. The person and the opportunity met, but in many, many cases, in fact, very few cases has the worthy person and the worthy position for such person come together. President John W. Cook, in an address a few years ago, in commenting upon this lack of opportunity, thought it the duty of the community to increase the salary until we could have the best teachers remaining continually at the same school or neighborhood. This sounds plausible at first. It would seem strange, however, to see a man of President Cook's caliber content to continue to teach in the same district school where he began. We may well wonder if it would have been the same President Cook of national fame as an educator if he had done so, or whether he had been dwarfed in the staying into a very ordinary person—perhaps a cook without the capital letter.

The worthy, ambitious, successful teacher will in more than nine cases out of ten sooner or later desire a position away from home. Then the problem of how to secure a position becomes a live one to them. The first thing, of course, is to find a vacancy, a place where a teacher is wanted, and the second thing is to make the school officials believe you are just the person for the position.

A good teachers' agency can be of much service to you in finding the vacancy. They serve the same purpose in locating teachers—and a legitimate purpose it is, that a real estate agent does in buying or selling real estate. The dealer in real estate brings the buyer and the seller together. He serves both, and if a man of honesty and principle, may be of service to both and his business in every way a creditable one. The real estate man usually knows who wants to sell property, knows something of the value of property, looks up the title and records, and then brings the buyer and seller together, or takes charge of the details entirely. To the per son who has ever been served by a good real estate agency no justification of the business is needed. The same is true of a good teachers' agency. A good agency spends hundreds of dollars each year seeking information of where there are to be vacancies and changes. School officials learn to depend upon many of the re liable agencies to aid them in the selection of their teachers. Agencies also often have some weight in the matter of recommending teachers. This is especially true late in the season when unexpected vacancies occur. Agencies are then often asked to select teachers for the positions and school boards take them upon the recommendation of the agency.

The greatest value of the teachers' agency to you in the early part of the season is in giving you reliable information in regard to vacancies. They often know where vacancies are to occur and the particulars of them. You would find it hard to collect this information—the places where there are vacancies, salary, qualifications desired, nature of work, etc. The information is valuable and is worth to you the cost of the com mission in that it widens your field and chances. After you know these things, you must then push your own claims to secure the place.

A good agency looks up your record as a student, as a teacher, and as a person of good character, and if your record – is not good it refuses you membership. There are, however, many agencies that are only leeches, depending upon membership fees for existence and caring little or nothing for the real business of locating teachers. In selecting an agency as in other things, you must use good judgment. There are many agencies that do good, honest work for its members. They usually charge a membership fee of two dollars and five per cent of the first year's salary, but they work faithfully for their members, and will not admit to membership a teacher whose record is not good. Beware of the agency that guarantees you a position. It cannot do it and do a legitimate business.

After you know there is a vacancy, the next thing is to make the Board of Education believe you are the person for the place. You must depend upon your own personality and ability in presenting your claims, together with the aid of your friends. Applications are usually made in writing, and often personal applications are called for before final arrangements are made. Your letter of application should be brief, specific, neatly writ ten and well arranged. School boards are often business men, busy with other duties besides school affairs. They want the facts in the case—age, health, weight, education, experience, success in teaching and governing, something of your personality, etc. They will want personal references also that they may write and get in formation about you direct, and very often ask very pointed questions. They, in fact, want to know the very things which you would probably want to know if you were employing a teacher. These facts should be briefly told, but well. The better the language, the more straightforward, the more forcible, the better it is arranged, the stronger the impression, and the more attention it will receive. Into your letter of application you must put your best self.

Let me emphasize the matter of arrangement of the letter. It goes without saying that the letter must be neatly and plainly written or type–written, and free from misspelled words. To my personal knowledge many teachers fail to arrange the form of the letter to appeal to the eye, and this is essential. Paragraphing counts for much in a letter of application. The long, loose, scrawly, disjointed letter, hard to follow when reading it, with pages mixed until you must turn the sheet once or twice to tell for sure where the sentence is continued —these letters often cost the writer a position, and it is right that they should. Use the standard business letter size of paper of good quality. Make your left–hand margin uniform. Write a neat, plain hand. Punctuate properly, and above all paragraph so that the eye catches at a glance each topic treated. If you are a teacher and do not know the value of the margin in placing emphasis and attention upon a topic you should study it before writing letters of application.

Do not ask a lot of questions in your letter of application—such as size of place, cost of board,, railroad facilities, etc. It is true that these are important items to you. But the secretary of a school board is too busy to answer all these points until you are seriously considered for the position. You may be only one of fifty applicants. With the help of a few members of the board he will in a few minutes reduce them to probably half a dozen by eliminating those whose letters do not appeal to them. If your letter of application has been neat enough and strong enough to make a good impression it will be among this half dozen. Now comes the actual consideration of the board. They weigh and study this select half dozen. They may then eliminate two or three of these and investigate and consider the remaining ones for several days before coming to a conclusion.

Keep your application before the board. If your first letter is strong enough to place you among the few to be carefully considered, these days of investigation are critical times. The skill with which you keep your self before them will count much. Manage to write one or two members of the board every two or three days. Be brief and be business like, but do not seem to be anxious. Personal letters from those who know you will be worth much. Have them addressed to different members of the board. This will impress your name and application upon each member. Each member will have a vote, and you must reach a majority to win. Be careful also in the persons who write in your interests. Many good men cannot write letters of recommendation and do it gracefully. They either overstate or scatter. The list of references you give will mean much.

If you are elected to the position then comes the time and opportunity to make inquiry as to salary, work, expenses, etc., before accepting. This can be done with out giving offense or arousing the suspicion that you will not accept. You may also accept only conditionally until you know these points. After you have been offered a place, if you have any doubts about the work, then ask your questions. Be pointed and accurate, and expect a prompt and businesslike reply. If the conditions are such that you cannot accept do not keep them waiting, but tell them that you decline the place, and give them the reasons.

With your letter of application should go copies of a few good testimonials from persons who know you and your work. Send also a good photograph, and a self–addressed, government stamped envelope for reply. Get some good brief testimonials from those who know you best—your teachers and one or two business men. If you have taught, get testimonials from the school board and patrons testifying to the success of your work. Keep these original testimonials. Have neat type–written copies made and send a few of these with each letter of application. Offer to send others, and in writing the board later it is well to enclose one or two new testimonials with each letter.

In addition to the testimonials, refer them to a few reliable persons who know you and your worth. Ask the board to write these persons asking about you. Many persons have little faith in a general testimonial written to the public and for your own perusal. These same persons often have much confidence in a personal, private letter stating the same thing, or answering definite questions about you. For reference it is best to give the names of persons Who have not already given you public testimonials. Select for such references per sons who know you, and persons who will answer promptly and specifically any questions asked about you. Many good men who could and would give you a good testimonial are so negligent and careless that they fail to answer a letter of inquiry until it is too late. The busy business man who is accustomed to attending to his mail promptly and on time often makes a better reference than a man of more leisure. The first writes promptly, while the second may carry the letter for a week or ten days before the spirit moves him to reply. This delay is considered by the board making the inquiry as a reluctance on his part to recommend you.

A good small photograph should go with each application. Good copies of large photographs are inexpensive and answer the purpose well. Often these photo graphs are not returned, and if the copy is a good one it answers the purpose as well as a more expensive one. The photograph should be plain, but showing you at your best. A front view is usually best. The eyes and expression should be good. It should show you neatly dressed, but modestly and becomingly. Its purpose should be to emphasize your personality and not to show how pretty you can look. The low–necked, short–sleeved dramatic–posed photographs sent out by some teachers will and should defeat the applicant for a position as teacher. Such photographs might be all right in gay Newport or some other fashionable resort. But fortunately, a majority of our school boards are composed of business men of common sense, modesty, and good judgment. They are not seeking vaudeville performers, nor stage poses, but persons of modesty and good common sense to teach school. Your photograph should show these qualities in you, else in most cases it will serve to defeat rather than to help you to a school position.

Enclose a self– addressed stamped envelope for reply. It will pay. This will bring you more replies than a loose stamp enclosed. It is even better if you use the government stamped envelope which may be had at any post office. Applying for a school is a business matter, not social, and business forms should be used. Use plain white paper, business size, with envelopes to match, and write on one side of paper only, numbering pages.

If the position is a good one and the contest close, the board may request a personal visit. If possible, it is best for you to go. Five minutes conversation may clinch a position which otherwise you would lose. Make it a business call, not a social. Dress for business, not for society. Be well groomed, but seemingly indifferent to dress. Be at your best. If the trip is a long one stop at a hotel and, rest and dust before calling on the board. Excuses for personal appearance may be reason able, but to "land the job" your chances are better if no excuses are necessary. It is a difficult trial to appear before a board of strange men, an applicant for a position from them, and yet be quiet and composed. It is a test of your personality, and if you acquit yourself well it shows strength and usually secures you the position. To be composed you may have to use will power and mental effort. It is possible to do this successfully. In fact much of experience consists in nothing more than the ability to keep composed under trying conditions. Neither your life, health, happiness nor future success depends entirely upon the result of the interview. It may be hard to believe this at the time, but if you can make your self realize it you have struck the keynote to success. The members of the board are only men, plain, blunt men, not always the strongest men. They are human like yourself. Be frank, be independent, be courteous, look them square in the eye, talk to the point, but do not talk too much. The interview is often a contest of personalities, your own personality, and that of the board. You must show composure and courage. This will secure for you the position often over the strongest of applicants.

There is skill and art in one's ability to secure a position. One element of advancement and success will depend upon how you master these.