Secrets of Securing the Best Offer
Adapted from "They Want to Hire You" by Pamela Wheaton Shorr
When it comes to employment, the stars are decidedly aligning in teachers’ favor. A confluence of events has experts predicting a need for more than two million new teachers in the next decade. Student enrollments across the country are continuing their rapid rise, as more than a million veteran teachers are approaching retirement. Factor in the turnover rate for new teachers, and the job openings multiply: About 20 percent of all new hires quit teaching within 3 years, while in the urban districts, the number reaches an astounding 50 percent within 5 years.
The wave of change is good news for qualified teachers who can boost their salaries and cash in on extra benefits. If you're searching for a new position, keep in mind these suggestions when you're negotiating your compensation:
Secure the Best Base Salary
Money isn’t everything — teachers often report that a supportive administration, parental involvement, and other elements are what keep them happy. But unless a trust fund is available, base salary is probably one of the most important factors in deciding on a new job. In 2005, the American Federation of Teachers reported the national teacher salary average was about $45,000. California topped the nation with an average of around $55,000, and South Dakota brought up the rear at $32,000. But, for those up for a little adventure, consider taking a job in Alaska, which offered the highest pay in the nation for teachers just starting out: $37,000.
Sweeten the Deal with Cash Incentives
Even if teachers top out their pay scale, they can add to their bottom line in many other ways. Overtime and side jobs such as coaching can significantly bump up your take-home pay. Critical needs or “specialty pay” is also available for teachers willing to work in Title I schools and in hard-to-place subject areas, such as special needs, bilingual, math, or science. A number of districts now link bonuses to student achievement. Some have also offered signing bonuses of up to $2,000.
Get Help Paying Back Your Education
Becoming a teacher is expensive. As of 1999, almost half of the states provided various scholarships or forgivable loans to college students who will be pursuing teaching careers. Many districts have jumped on the bandwagon, especially where recruits are trained in critical needs areas. Raymond Cooke, former associate superintendent for Human Resources in Hillsborough, North Carolina’s Orange County Schools, believes “any help the district can give is greatly appreciated, especially for recent graduates.” Hillsborough will pay tuition for relevant coursework in hard-to-fill subject areas or for advanced degrees, Praxis test fees, and even the $85 North Carolina license fee for brand new teachers.
Take Advantage of Real-Life Benefits
If you move to take a job in a high-needs area, push your new school district to cover the expenses. Many districts, such as Lee County School District in Fort Myers, Florida, have offered moving reimbursements to recruits or arranged for reduced rents on area apartments. In recent years, US District 259 in Wichita, Kansas, has even helped new teachers to buy a home with no down payment.
Ask about extra health benefits including membership to a fitness club. For example, San Diego City Schools offered teachers discounts to Curves, a women’s fitness center. Top of the line health benefits is also a draw at Lee County School District in Fort Myers. “We have the Cadillac of health plans,” laughs Denise Phillips-Luster, director of Professional Standards, Equity, and Recruitment. “Some districts around us have a higher rate, but our employees don’t have to pay for their insurance.” Wichita USD 259 offers disability income protection as well as a catastrophic emergency benefit pool.
Make Sure There's Room to Grow
You may be willing to give up perks today if your district can offer you opportunities to move ahead. George Ann Rice is the associate superintendent of the Human Resource Division of Clark County School District in Las Vegas, Nevada. Clark County is the fifth largest school district in the nation, employing about 16,000 teachers. “We need a new school every 30 days,” Rice notes. This situation provides a variety of choices, and teachers have almost instant seniority, because there’s always another recruit coming up behind. Rice says Nevada can only supply 30 percent of the teachers it needs, so the district must look far and wide for new recruits.
Look for Ongoing Professional Support
Recent research shows that job dissatisfaction is a major cause of teacher turnover. As a result, many districts are reworking their professional development programs. The Human Resources department in Aldine ISD in Aldine, Texas, offers seminars on discipline and classroom management for teachers. North Shore School District 112 in Highland Park, Illinois, has a full, 4-year mentorship program for new teachers. Orange County Schools in Hillsborough gives teachers paid leave time when they are preparing their portfolios for National Board Certification. And USD 259 in Wichita runs a parent-teacher resource center to support its teachers. There, volunteers put together manipulatives and other standards-based classroom projects so that teachers don’t need to spend their time cutting out paper shapes for a geometry lesson. They also offer bilingual telephone support for teachers who need to get in touch with ESOL families.
Find the Work-Family Balance
According to the U.S. Department of Education, in 1994, 14 percent of public school educators left teaching because of pregnancy and child-rearing issues. Child care is not a problem in Buford, Georgia. Geye Hamby, assistant superintendent of Buford City Schools, says one of the biggest incentives for teaching in his district is the day care center. Hamby’s own child attends the program. “The school district absorbs about $100,000 of the cost,” Hamby says, “and we never turn a child away.” Other districts offer teachers flexibility with their personal time. In Aldine ISD, teachers can negotiate a job sharing arrangement with their principals. In San Diego City Schools, new recruits can spread their vacation time throughout the year by opting to teach in one of the district’s year-round school facilities instead of in a traditional September–June school.
There’s no question that new teachers now have some excellent options from which to choose. Mildred J. Hudson, CEO of Recruiting New Teachers, Inc., says it's critical for teachers to do their homework. She suggests that candidates look for perks that will lead to better long-term job satisfaction, such as extensive professional development, mentorships, growth opportunities, and support programs.