A reader writes:
I graduated recently with an entry-level Education degree, but I haven’t been able to find a teaching position in my district. Some of my classmates, however, have already found teaching positions. I’ve given my resume to plenty of schools and gotten plenty of interviews, but I haven’t gotten any call-backs. Although the principals have told me that there may not be any vacancies, I think it’s something I’m doing wrong at the interview stage. I’ve tried lots of things, though. Women are judged mainly on their appearance, so I’ve gone out and gotten my hair done, brows and lips waxed, and even tried makeup once or twice. I’ve also prepared moderately for the interview questions, but there’s usually something thrown at me that I can’t prepare for, because, to be fair, I’ve never really taught in the school system. I can’t give realistic answers to these questions, because student teaching didn’t prepare me for them, and the unappealing stench of “fresh meat” probably wafts into the room with every stupid answer I give. One principal even watched me stumble through a demonstration lesson that I was giving in front of real students, and no one even told me I would be required to do that, so, of course I wasn’t prepared.
They expect me to be exceptionally prepared, and I don’t really have that level of confidence. For one thing, I feel like the teacher preparation program didn’t really prepare me to teach, so I might not be ready anyway, but what can I do about that? I find that the schools certainly want me to know what they didn’t show me, and I don’t know how to admit that I don’t know it without looking like a fool. I have a lot of trouble asking questions on the job, especially if I think I’m already required to know something, but there’s no faking it in Education.
Sometimes, I feel like, in my hands, my education, experience, and enthusiasm for teaching amount to nil, and I may never get that teaching job I went to school for. I seriously need help.
I think there are a few issues here — about how you’re preparing yourself, about how much preparation you expect from others, and about whether this is indeed the right field for you.
Let start with the first. I’d bet money that you’re not preparing for interviews sufficiently. You wrote that you prepare “moderately” for interview questions, but you need to prepare thoroughly. You’ll never have anticipated every possible question that you’re asked, but thorough preparation will make you do significantly better, no matter what’s thrown at you. And being asked to do a demonstration lesson is pretty normal when you’re applying for teaching jobs, so the fact that that took you off-guard also signals that you’re probably not preparing the right way for interviews.
I also think you’re probably expecting more help than is realistic. You write that you didn’t prepare for the demonstration lesson because no one told you to, and that student teaching didn’t prepare you for interview questions. But you can’t really expect to be prepared for everything that will be thrown at you once you leave school and are in the work world. This isn’t like test prep that you do in high school — you’re expected to do your own thinking and prepare yourself. If you expect others to do that for you, you’ll definitely flounder — so that might be part (or even all) of the problem here.
Now, all that aside … I know this might be difficult to hear, but is it possible that education isn’t the right field for you? I might be off-base here, but a lot of what you wrote in your letter points to you not feeling like this is work you excel at. And if that’s true, do you really want to build a career around that? (Particularly teaching, for obvious reasons.) It’s a really good thing to be aware of what you don’t know and what you still need to learn, but you do need to feel confident that you can do the job you’re applying for (and be able to demonstrate that ability).
If you truly don’t feel prepared to teach, you’ve got to figure out if that’s because you need more training or whether it’s because it’s not a field that’s coming naturally to you. How are others doing with the same amount of training you received? If they’re doing better, can you figure out why that is? And can you talk to faculty or advisors from your program about the problems you’re running into? They might have advice that will help you do better, as well as help doing some soul-searching about whether this is the right field for you.
One last thing, unrelated to your question but something that really jumped out in your letter: You wrote that “women are judged mainly on their appearance.” That might have just been a bad word choice, but if you truly feel that that’s the main thing women are judged on professionally, then I think you’re also being hindered by some fundamental misconceptions about what employers are looking for. They expect you to be clean and well-groomed yes, and there have been plenty of studies showing that appearance does come into play, but if you’re at the point where you feel like it’s the main thing you’re being judged by, something’s gone wrong in your understanding of employers somewhere, and that’s worth revisiting too.
I hope all this helps — I’m sure this isn’t a fun spot to be in. Good luck.