Where Should I Work as an Elementary Teacher?

There is nothing quite like the feeling of graduating from college, elementary teaching license in hand. Most graduates ride these feelings as long as possible; until it is time to find a job. There are a lot of external pressures that weigh on a college graduate shortly after the high of the ceremony wears off. Paying back student loans, putting years of education and training to work, becoming a productive member of society…for many graduates, this represents the first time in their life that they had to concern themselves with such issues. It can feel overwhelming.

The fear and uncertainty that comes with trying to find a job can make it appealing to accept the first opportunity. For most young teachers, their first job offer includes more money than they have ever earned. It can be frightening to consider the possibility of not accepting an offer. What if another one doesn’t come? It is important, however, to put your fears aside and make a decision that is best for you…all parts of you. Not allowing for considerations like values and interests, location, type of school, environment, and housing/cost of living can quickly turn a dream job into a nightmare.

Consider Your Likes and Dislikes:

Job satisfaction and enjoyment should be of paramount concern when evaluating job prospects. One of the first things that should be completed after graduation is a list of likes and dislikes. Think about what kind of job would be considered a dream job. Interestingly, when such a list is made, money invariably winds up toward the bottom of the list. The considerations one should examine include:

  • Is the school located in a large or small city? Working in Los Angeles, California is very different than working in Wahpeton, North Dakota.
  • Is the scenery/environment important? If harsh winters are not acceptable, do not go to the northern parts of the Midwest? If being able to enjoy varying seasons is on the list, Arizona would not be an ideal location? Like to mountain climb and hike? The flatlands should be crossed off the list.
  • If cultural and recreational pursuits are important, consider the destination’s availability of activities. A small town in Nebraska may not be an ideal location for an opera lover. Conversely, small town community theatre lovers may not enjoy the glitz and glam of Broadway. Can’t go a season without watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play live? Don’t live in a city without an NBA team.

Nobody teaches 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Establishing a rich and full life outside of the school walls is vital to establishing a healthy level of contentment and satisfaction.

Consider the Location and Type of School:

Once again, evaluating the location of the school is important. This can include examining things like:

  • Understand the implications regarding the location of the school. Working in inner city Chicago is far different than working in a rural school located in Montana. Ultimately, the responsibilities associated with teaching are the same regardless of the location. That doesn’t mean, however, that the location and type of school shouldn’t be considered. Different areas of the country have different values, which often directly affect the learning environment. Even within the same area, public and private schools can be run very differently.
  • The demographics of the student population should be examined. Is there a dominant language spoken throughout the population in addition to English? What cultural norms and values will play into the learning environment? As today’s schools become more and more diverse, cultural considerations are more important than ever. That is not to say that diversity isn’t a positive thing. Teaching to different cultures can lead to amazing opportunities that aren’t present in other schools. Many teachers welcome these challenges and are drawn to particularly diverse schools.

Nobody can determine that ideal employment location except for the applicants themselves. The important thing is to never go into a situation blind. Research, research, research.

Analyze the Environment, Building Features, and School Culture:

Many teachers spend as much, if not more, time with their co-workers as they do with their family. Working in an environment that is not conducive to the establishment of healthy colleague relationships will lead to an unpleasant work environment. Getting up every morning and trudging off to a miserable job is not something any teacher, much less a new teacher, deserves. Particular considerations include:

  • Pay attention to the environment when attending the job interview. Are people friendly? Is a tour and introductions part of the process? Do people appear to enjoy their jobs? How do faculty and students interact? All of these things can tell one a great deal about the environment and culture of an organization.
  • The building itself should also be analyzed during the interview process. Is it in disarray? Are their structural or maintenance issues? Do students take pride in their environment or is there graffiti and garbage throughout? An administration’s level of pride and commitment to the school can often be measured by the appearance of the building. If something looks amiss, it probably is.

Compare Salary & Benefits:

Although salary should not be a primary concern, it cannot be ignored either. There are a couple of considerations that need to be made regarding salary and benefits.

First of all, benefits should be considered as part of the salary. For teachers who have never had a benefitted position before, it can be easy to ignore the significance of a healthy benefits package. Health insurance in particular is a vital consideration today. The value of things like insurance, retirements, vacation/sick days, disability insurance, etc. are continuing to increase. Giving these items an imaginary monetary value will help you compare options effectively.

  • The salary itself can be misleading. All things being equal, a $45,000 annual salary would obviously be worth more than a $40,000. All things are not created equal, however, so salary needs to be considered in the context in which it will be spent. The cost of living varies dramatically across the country. $45,000 in Connecticut buys far less than the same amount in Oklahoma.
  • Every year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases information regarding the cost of living in each state. This information is readily accessible and should be examined to determine the actual value of a salary offer. For instance, based on a national average of 100, the cost of living in Hawaii (the most expensive state in the union) was valued at 161.7 in 2013. Conversely, the least expensive state for the same time period was Tennessee, where the cost of living was 89.7. A beginning teacher’s salary in New York City may appear extremely high, until the cost of housing is considered. The primary thing to remember is that the salary offered will most likely not be equal to the purchasing power of that money.

There is nothing more exciting than obtaining one’s first job. That excitement needs to be tempered, however, so that one can find a situation that is healthy, fulfilling, and rewarding. This means examining a variety of factors, not least of which is salary. By doing research and examining the situation from all angles, a decision can be made that is in the best interest of the teacher and will hopefully lead to a long term, happy employment relationship.

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