My girlfriend's Absolute Dream Job is to be an elementary school secretary....
January 26, 2010 4:36 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend's Absolute Dream Job is to be an elementary school secretary. She's got the skills, but she's never been able to so much as get an interview in any of the school districts she's lived in or near. Now she's starting the job hunt again in a new city, and I'm wondering if any school district (or local gov't) employees out there have advice on how she can improve her odds.

Some relevant facts:
  • We live in Austin, TX at the moment. Previous attempts at getting a school secretary job have been in and around Pittsburgh and NYC.
  • She's never had the least bit of trouble holding down a job. She's definitely employable in general terms; this seems to be a specific problem with navigating the school district hiring process.
  • At one point when she was working through a temp agency, she was placed for a few months as a temporary elementary school secretary — which is how she knows she likes the job. The principal at her school wanted to hire her on permanently, but couldn't for arcane reasons having to do with their seniority rules. This was back in Pittsburgh; I don't know if there are similar rules here in Austin, but it's an example of the obstacles she seems to be dealing with.
  • The advice I've been able to find includes things like "Volunteer at your child's elementary school." She doesn't have any kids, so getting a foot in the door that way won't work for her.
  • No, she doesn't secretly want to be a substitute teacher or a daycare worker or a nanny or anything like that. She's a good secretary, she likes being a secretary — she'd just rather do it for a school office than for a law firm or a bank branch or what have you.
posted by nebulawindphone to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Volunteering at a school isn't the smartest way to get a job as a school secretary. I'm a teacher at an elementary school in NYC and our secretaries have been sitting in those chairs for yeeears. One has been there so long she remembers when the school put matrons in front of the restrooms to hand out hankies! I'd suggest making friends with as many teachers at as many schools as possible. They'd know when a position is available and they can put in a good word with the principal. Perhaps there's a web community or listserv for Austin teachers that she can join. Check the district's HR website daily and call schools to see if there are any vacancies. In NYC, there are many vacancies that are not posted on the website even though that's technically illegal.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:54 PM on January 26, 2010


And she should visit school offices and ask to speak with the principal at each one.
posted by HotPatatta at 4:56 PM on January 26, 2010


School secretary jobs are hard to come by, simply because of extremely low turnover. In my wife's experience as a teacher, a school secretary job is essentially a job for life with limited, or no, possibility for advancement, because they're considered non-professional (meaning, you don't need an educational certification). Jobs open when someone retires or otherwise moves out of work entirely.

School secretaries often start with administrative jobs with the school district office, not at a specific school. Start by looking for those jobs first.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:04 PM on January 26, 2010


My mom was a school secretary for many years before transferring to an administrative position (in NY). Does your state/district use the civil service system? I know my mom was certified as a "Clerk 3" at one point - you take an exam and based on your ranking you can be qualified for open positions (very basic explanation). Some public employers are required to fill positions from the civil service list; and it just generally looks good on the resume (if your state uses that kind of system).

But, like others said, it's a position that people usually stay in for life, moving only to other positions within the school (and even then their old position is filled from within the district). Also, in my experience, the substitute secretaries are usually just the retired secretaries who used to work there.

Try to get any type of administrative assistant type job in the district - not just at the school buildings, but also at the general admin building (where, e.g., the superintendent, the accounting dept, and HR dept are). But be prepared for a loooong wait for an open building secretary position.

It doesn't hurt to start going to school board meetings and networking. Schools are very political; nepotism is huge.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:14 PM on January 26, 2010


I temped for a while as a middle school secretary. She could call around to some temp agencies and see if they ever have placements as school secretaries. When I was doing it they were all extremely impressed I was able to figure out their archaic attendance database, so I bet if she got a temp placement and was competent that might lead to permanent position.
posted by sulaine at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2010


In the fairly small town I grew up in, the school board members had considerable influence over hiring decisions. She might try attending some school board meetings and networking a bit there.
posted by shesbookish at 5:48 PM on January 26, 2010


Old, established school districts likely have low turnover in school secretary jobs, but what about new and/or less traditional schools? Charter schools come to mind--has she looked into any new schools set to open in the next year or so? If they haven't opened yet (or at least haven't been around for decades), they're much less likely to have Mildred the school secretary who's been there for 50 years.
posted by Meg_Murry at 5:53 PM on January 26, 2010


My mummy is a school secretary, basically,nowadays to get her job you start at the lowest, most menial part-time job and work up through senority. It takes abou fifteen years. Not very efficent for the worker but there are so many qualified people already working in her system it doesn't make sense to hire an outside person.
posted by saucysault at 6:24 PM on January 26, 2010


The thing with HotPattata's advice: By volunteering or secretary subbing, you would be immeaditely in the know if there's an opening and be that much more relevant in administration's minds. Put another way, volunteering and subbing a little can't hurt.

The principal at her school wanted to hire her on permanently, but couldn't for arcane reasons having to do with their seniority rules.

Has she conisdered private school jobs? I don't have public school experience, but it seems private schools (by virtue of not really being a district, but rather insulated schools) have less an issue with seniority. Also consider that my hometown oppened 5 private schools in 4 years, so there were definitely openings.
posted by jmd82 at 7:18 PM on January 26, 2010


Adding to jmd82's thought, be sure to check out parochial/faith-based schools as well. Not all communities of that type hire only from within.
posted by gnomeloaf at 8:15 PM on January 26, 2010


Note also that public schools, especially in the North, will tend to be unionized, which makes all kinds of hiring-type issues Complicated. This may be less of an issue in Texas, but it's probably what happened in Pittsburgh.
posted by FlyingMonkey at 2:12 PM on February 3, 2010


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