Skip to Content

Six Steps to Landing Your First Teaching Job

The economy is tough, but jobs are out there. Here’s how to find them and make yourself a stand-out candidate.

By Kevin Hart

Story suggested by Student member Jamie Falls, California State University Sacramento

You’re so close to beginning your teaching career, you can already feel the chalk dust on your fingers. 

On track to graduate? Check.

Got your student teaching and Praxis exams under your belt? Check.

Figured out how you’ll find a job? Not exactly…

First, the bad news: You’re about to start job hunting during one of the worst economic climates in recent history. Thousands of teachers nationwide were laid off this school year–and if it weren’t for NEA’s support of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which saved or created 650,000 education jobs, the situation would be much worse.

Now for the good news: The job market may be tough to crack, but it’s not impossible. Follow these six steps, and you’ll be on your way to landing your first teaching gig.

Step 1: Organize your portfolio

Without much teaching experience to discuss at interviews, you’ll need to dazzle interviewers with your attitude and your portfolio. Gather transcripts, certifications, Praxis results, recommendations, student work from your student teaching, statement of teaching philosophy, unique lesson plans, and anything else that will help establish your qualifications. (This article on electronic portfolios will give you more ideas.)

Tip: Your portfolio reflects your professionalism as a teacher, and your attention to detail, so make sure it’s perfect.

Step 2: Don’t wait for the phone to ring

Starting each day with a job hunt schedule is the best way to “get focused and stay productive,” says Hallie Crawford, a career coach based in Atlanta. Make a list of things you want to accomplish each day, whether it involves networking, adding to your portfolio, or submitting applications.

Network aggressively with friends and acquaintances—a kind word from a colleague to a school administrator may open doors.

Spread the word about your job search to your Facebook and Ning friends, and look for job feeds on Twitter. The Kansas Educational Employment Board, for example, uses Twitter to send job announcements. CareerBuilder also has several regional Twitter feeds.

Tip: Many NEA state affiliates link to education job boards from their Web sites. You can find state Association links here.

Step 3: Consider substitute teaching

Substitute teaching lets you network with administrators and fellow teachers, and offers a preview of your teaching skills.

Unless you’re hired as a long-term or permanent substitute, you will likely be paid on a per diem basis, and will often be assigned jobs on just a few hours’ notice. Be flexible.

Work as a substitute educator can be inconsistent and may lack benefits. If you need to defer student loan payments, you can find instructions at Stafford Loan and Sallie Mae. Research your health insurance options – you may even qualify for certain state plans.

At press time, the health care reform bill under consideration by Congress would allow you to stay on your parents’ health insurance until you turn 27.

Tip: Find 10 tops to being a good substitute educator here.

Step 4: Take a critical look at your skills

Michael Moffre, a middle school math teacher in North Colonie, NY, always expected to teach social studies, but he’s glad he pursued dual certification in math. That math certification helped Moffre land employment in a top-rated school district.

“The whole point is to make yourself more marketable,” he says.

There might not be a lot of demand for your current area of certification, which is why a second area can be critical. Math and science are the well-publicized shortage areas, but not the only ones.

"There’s a lot of demand for math, but … everyone is looking for special ed,” advises Robert Piche, a veteran high school math teacher in Howard County, Maryland.

Tip: The NEA Academy offers free or discounted courses for professional development or, in some cases, graduate credit that you can apply toward dual certification. (Find it online at NEA Academy).

Some NEA state affiliates offer similar programs.

Step 5: Look for regions that are hiring

Certain parts of the country are aggressively recruiting qualified teachers. For example, in an attempt to fill dozens of teaching vacancies, Philadelphia has begun offering relocation assistance and has even hired a placement firm to help spread the word.

Mississippi has routinely had more than 2,000 teaching vacancies statewide, and Florida has spent the past several years actively recruiting teachers to move to the state (see Teach in Florida to learn more). Cities across the country, from Baltimore to Las Vegas, aggressively recruit new teachers each year.

The U.S. Department of Education issued a report, Teacher Shortage Areas Nationwide Listing ( PDF, 588K, 83pgs.), that allows you to see geographic and/or subject area shortages for every state, and how those needs have changed over the past 20 years.

Step 6: Prepare aggressively for your interview

Crawford, who has prepared countless clients for interviews, says the key to successful interviewing is to relax. When you’re overly nervous in an interview, a principal or hiring committee may wonder how you’ll handle yourself in front of a noisy classroom filled with children just itching to test you.

Make sure you’re well educated about the school where you’re interviewing—information like standardized test scores, special needs programs, and the percentage of students on free or reduced-price lunch is reported by each public school to their home state. It is also helpful to show familiarity with the community where the school resides.

Many school districts standardize their interview questions and certain topics—such as differentiated instruction, lesson planning, technology in the classroom, and classroom management—are covered frequently. Be ready to discuss them.

How much will you make?

You didn’t get into teaching to become rich—but it would be nice to know how much you’ll earn.

While salary schedules can differ from one district to the next, many of them follow the same basic format.

Below is a chart showing the first five years of the current salary schedule for teachers in Aurora, Colorado (the location was randomly selected). Take a look at how years of experience and education level affect the salary.

If you’re a brand new teacher and have a bachelor’s degree plus at least 30 credits, you’d earn a starting salary of $39,416.

BA BA+15 BA+30 BA+45
1 37,295 38,362 39,416 40,480
2 38,504 39,581 40,652 41,728
3 39,716 40,802 41,885 42,973
4 40,926 42,021 43,120 44,220
5 42,135 43,240 44,356 45,465


MA MA+15 MA+30 MA+45 MA+60 MA+75 PhD
1 41,556 42,612 43,669 44,739 45,799 46,859 47,923
2 42,812 43,879 44,952 46,031 47,104 48,177 49,250
3 44,066 45,147 46,234 47,321 48,410 49,491 50,584
4 45,321 46,417 47,514 48,614 49,713 50,809 51,911
5 46,577 47,682 48,795 49,904 51,015 52,123 53,243

Don’t be intimidated—this is public information, so you have the right to see it before making any employment decisions.

Be informed, be organized, and be confident. Now go forth and get employed!