Cornelia and Jim Iredell run Independent School Placement, which matches educators with independent schools in New York City, its suburbs, and New Jersey. The company was founded in 1987. We asked Cornelia Iredell her advice for teachers and teacher candidates. Here's what she had to say:
What do private schools look for in teacher applicants?
These days, just as much as advanced degrees and familiarity with independent schools, independent schools look for experience in the classroom. It used to be 25 years ago that if you went to a wonderful college, you could walk into an independent school and start teaching. That's not true these days, except perhaps in the suburbs in Connecticut and New Jersey. In New York City independent schools, the position open to people with that background is the assistant teacher in elementary grades. It's the easiest entry-level position. You need a strong undergraduate degree and some experience working with children. The more academic schools really look for someone who's had more professional experience and who's halfway through a master's or done some student teaching. Even that is more difficult for someone with a B.A. Schools will make an exception for an alumna or alumnus sometimes.
Why is prior teaching experience so important?
One of the situations that teachers in independent schools may face is a parent asking why a student isn't getting an “A.” Kids will complain too if the teacher doesn't have experience. The schools want to make sure the teacher is prepared to deal with these types of situations.
On the other hand, teacher candidates shouldn't worry about where they got their degrees. Some schools are known for certain programs, and these schools aren't necessarily top tier or Ivy League. People will sit up and take notice at all kinds of schools around the country.
What is your advice for mid-career people looking to transition?
For the mid-career person, these schools have an individualized process. The schools may be looking for someone with professional experience. They may be looking for someone who can do something else, such as development. A career changer can find a job in an independent school. We see an increasing number of career changers who are tired of doing what they are doing. Now, we're more frequently getting candidates who have done some graduate work in the field. We've had people do the New York City Teaching Fellows program even if they're interested in independent schools, so they can get hands-on training.
What is your advice for jobseekers?
Get experience in some way. If you are a recent grad, do Teach for America or the NYC Teaching Fellows program. If you can put up with being in a difficult school, it can be an eye-opener. People will take you seriously. You can also try to find a position in a boarding school or another part of the country, where it is more difficult to find the ideal teacher. Boarding schools are more open to intern teachers. They give you a lot of mentoring. It's a wonderful experience.
In addition, write a good cover letter and resume. Some of the cover letters and resumes we see are in poor shape these days. People don't know how to structure a cover letter introducing themselves. People present themselves badly and praise themselves in the letter and overstate their experience. Instead, keep it brief and factual.
Can public school teachers transition to private schools?
Yes, they can! Certainly there are lower school teachers who've been head teachers in public elementary schools. If it's someone who's been tied to testing and a Regents curriculum, it's harder. If you are coming from a public school, become more familiar with independent schools. Sit in classes, and get an idea of what the expectations are and what the classroom dynamic is.
What helps teachers be successful once in schools?
A good mentoring program helps people. Some schools have a more formal one, while some are more informal. Have not only a mentor in your own teaching department, but have someone perhaps in a different area who is not tied in with commenting on how you are teaching your subject and can give you feedback on how you are relating to your students.
Being a subject matter expert and a good teacher are both important, particularly in the upper school. Again, that's part of the importance of the style of the person fitting in with the school. Teachers are always nervous about the demo lesson they have to do as candidates. It's an artificial situation. What the schools are looking at is the style of the teacher, whether the teacher connects with the class. It's important to engage the students.
Are there any particular areas of growth?
Independent schools are always evolving and working to stay at the forefront of learning and education. They are constantly reevaluating their curriculum, even the best schools. Many schools offer a global emphasis in many areas in the curriculum and a greater movement towards interdisciplinary work. There is also a move towards a student-centered approach and modern skills and learning methods. Real world experience is also becoming increasingly important, as are skills in technology, design thinking, entrepreneurship and more, so teachers with life experience might find themselves at the top of the resume pile.