Locked Out of the Ivory Tower
September 19, 2007 8:13 AM   Subscribe

I've been trying to land a job as a history teacher in the Seattle area for a couple of years. What am I doing wrong? Given my background, do I have any alternatives?

I naturally realize that there's a bit of a glut of qualified history teachers, but I'm wondering what it is that makes me less competitive.

By way of the quick resume rundown: 32 years old, BA in history from 2003; one year teaching alternative school in Long Beach, CA; moved up to Seattle the following year & worked outside of teaching for that year, then returned to sub in 2005. Got a long-term English assignment that went very well (very challenging, got many kudos), followed by a one-year contract English position at the same high school...

...and now I'm back to subbing. I totally thought they were going to pick me up at that school. They had multiple openings in English, and while my training is mainly history you still get an English ("language arts") endorsement in Washington. I still don't know if I did something wrong or pissed someone off; they've never said a word. (Hell, they never even bothered to call and say I didn't get the job.)

So what does it take? I keep thinking I'm out of the running because I don't have my Masters, but when I talk to teachers in the area I find that many of them have about the same level of qualifications that I've got. I'm articulate, I'm energetic, I'm a reliable employee, I'm not the least bit shy... I have military & corporate experience that my students really like to hear about, because they feel like I can actually talk about the "real world."

Every interview (when I get them) seems completely different from the rest. But it doesn't seem to matter if I do well or get lost in the interview... here I am subbing again.

What am I doing wrong?

And, at this point, is it time to look into doing something else? I don't really know what that could be, but the passive-aggressive treatment I seem to be getting from the educational world is really starting to wear on me.
posted by scaryblackdeath to Work & Money (8 answers total)
You're wrong about one thing: there is isn't a glut of history teachers. There are too many history/social studies teachers and too few math, English, and science teachers. There's less turnover for history teachers because, frankly, we're not really qualified to do a heck of a lot more. Sounds terrible, but it's true. That's the problem with studying social science in college. We're qualified to do more, but our society doesn't value social science.

It takes time to find a job as a history teacher. You're competing with a ton of other people who majored in a social science in college and couldn't find a job, so they went back to school to get a teaching credential. I wish I had some encouraging words for you, but I don't. It just takes time. I live in Los Angeles, and to find history jobs, you have to be willing to teach anywhere in the county. If you wait to find a job in a school or neighborhood you like, you might be waiting for years. You'll occasionally meet a social studies teacher who got a job right away, but you can attribute that to serendipity or they inside connections.
posted by HotPatatta at 8:36 AM on September 19, 2007

That's the problem with studying social science in college. We're qualified to do more, but our society doesn't value social science.

Well, no. Socially I would say we value the soft sciences much more than the hard ones. It's considered urbane and worldly to discuss sociology and economics, but it's "boring" to talk about the the implication of CERN experiments on the Standard Model, or some neat integration technique you just learned.

The real reason social science people seem to be less valued in academia is due to their general uselessness outside education (not that that's a bad thing - these subjects have intrinsic but not economic value. If everyone majored in sociology we would starve - but we'd sure have a lot of theories about the interactions of starving people). Engineers, mathematicians, and scientists have many opportunities to apply their knowledge in the private sector (and often get compensated pretty well for it), where almost no one values your medieval french literature degree (beyond it simply being a degree, which demostrates your ability to do commit to something and do some measure of regular work).


It's my understanding that with No Child Left Behind, you need to have an education degree to get hired.
posted by phrontist at 9:53 AM on September 19, 2007

NCLB does not mandate education degress for teachers. My wife is a history major (degree in 05) and is into her third year as a full-time teacher.

Granted, she's working in a somewhat dangerous, low-performing school, but still....
posted by Doohickie at 10:48 AM on September 19, 2007

I think HotPatatta has got it right. You've got a lot of competitors hunting for very few openings.

During a meeting for people interested in a master's in education at the University of Oregon two years ago, we were told by an adviser the demand for high school teachers was ranked thusly:

1. Hard sciences, math
2. English as a second language
3. Foreign languages
4. English
5. Social sciences

Then he asked how many of us were interested in teaching a social science. About two-thirds of us (out of 40 or so) raised our hands. (I eventually decided to switch to library science.)
posted by shoseph at 2:10 PM on September 19, 2007

Do you have a teaching portfolio? Samples of your lesson/unit plans, with their connection to the state & national curriculum frameworks spelled out, and maybe copies of exemplary student work? And its accompanying rubric, which also reflects the state standards? You must strongly emphasize that you understand the grade level expectations. Prove to them that you are an organized thinker and you're not just pulling lessons out of your butt. It's the age of accountability. This isn't what my high school experience was like, but times they are a-changin.

If you're curious, follow up to see who was hired to fill the position. In larger districts, they often shuffle people around and fill internally -- they may know who they want before they even post the opening (they are required to post it anyway).
posted by Marit at 2:53 PM on September 19, 2007

THis isn't Seattle, but, in Vancouver (BC), you apparently need to have social sciences + something else to get hired. ESL is a popular choice. However, if you can pick up some science courses (enough to have a minor, for example), you may have better luck, since you could be hired to teach both history and a science. ESL might be easier to study part-time, though.
posted by acoutu at 3:24 PM on September 19, 2007

Piggy-backing on acoutu's comment, you also might be able to swing a history teaching job by offering to coach something extracurricular.
posted by HeroZero at 3:40 PM on September 19, 2007

I'm not a teacher (my mother is), and in Washington teachers are subject to the state pay scale in the public schools - having your Masters would automatically make you the most expensive person to hire out of everyone applying for the job.

So maybe hold off on that (until you've got a steady job, then it's fairly popular to get your masters and jump to the top of the pay scale...)

Anyways, what I really came in here to say, is that the state of Washington publishes a list of 'endangered subjects' each year, which they offer some financial support and will forgive certain student loans for if you commit to teach in one of those areas. I cannot, for the life of me, find the list, but I do know ESL/Bilingual studies is on it (as is math, my field!) if you end up seriously thinking about getting another endorsement.
posted by lastyearsfad at 4:25 PM on September 19, 2007

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