You thought that you were doing a good job. Your students seemed to like you. You interacted well with parents. However, everything changed when you received that dreaded letter stating that the school would not be renewing your contract for the coming academic year. Unfortunately, since private school teachers are not unionized, you have no recourse. Obviously, you need to make sure that you leave with good references if at all possible. It will do you no good to leave with negative references.
Most teachers like to teach. But many teachers don't like to market themselves. Unfortunately, that is what private school teachers have to do these days. Nobody else is going to market them. Most teachers don't belong to an agency which exposes them to schools looking to fill a vacancy. Because the job market is so very competitive, teachers have to sell themselves or risk losing out to a more competitive candidate. Here are five things which you can do to prevent that non-renewal letter from arriving in the first place.
1. Show that you love teaching young people.
I mention this in the first slot because this is why the school probably hired you in the first place. Occasionally a school will hire a displaced college professor. Why does that matter? Academia has been shedding jobs for many years as colleges realign their programs to changing market conditions. As a result, hundreds of very well-degreed graduate students are looking at all their options. Teaching in a private school beats being unemployed. In most cases the school is often happy to hire somebody who interviews well and looks terrific on paper. However, if you are not passionate about teaching young people, you could find yourself in a bad spot when it comes time to renew your contract.
The advantage which you have is that you probably have rock solid academic credentials, i.e., you went to a good university or two and graduated with top marks. That in itself makes you a good academic role model for your students. Private schools like that. Your academic credentials enhance the school's reputation. The other advantage is that your students will be eager to learn. Classes are small. The student to teacher ratio is manageable. You won't have to worry about discipline. You can engage your students and encourage them to explore the subject with their expert guide - you. When your students look forward to your class and are genuinely excited by your subject, the school will notice that, appreciate it and make the decision to renew your contract.
2. Participate in the sports program.
Most private schools require their faculty to coach a sport. While competent professionals will handle the major sports, the school will expect you to pitch in. If you enjoyed racquet sports, for example, here's your opportunity to work with your students on another level. Sports are not a frill in private schools. Most schools embrace Juvenal's idea of mens sana in corpore sano. Every student participates. Most schools set aside an afternoon for school-wide athletic activities. At boarding schools, you will find much of Saturday after morning classes devoted to sports.
Assuming that you inspire your team and do a good job teaching them some of the finer points of playing the sport well, you will rack up a few more points in the plus column. Your enthusiastic coaching creates value as far as the school is concerned.
3. Adopt an extracurricular activity as your own.
As with sports, extracurricular activities are not optional in private schools. They are part of the package for which parents pay. When you review the list of extracurricular activities offered at most private schools, you will see where extracurricular activities fit in. They are an integral part of a balanced program designed to educate the whole child. Unlike public schools where extracurricular activities have eliminated or much reduced, private schools are expected to offer many choices.
Private school faculty lead extracurricular activities such as the chess club, the French club and so on. In fact, you will probably have heard this mentioned at your interview. Running a club or activity which is popular with students will also enhance your reputation as a member of staff who makes the school attractive to its clientele.
4. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Communicate with your dean and headmaster. Assume nothing. The administrators will most likely meet with you regularly to discuss your lesson plans and make sure that you are doing things the way they want. As a result, it makes good sense to hunker down in your first couple of years and do everything precisely as your superiors instruct. If you feel a need to deviate from the plan which has been set out, discuss it beforehand. Nobody likes a rogue. Being a rogue could cost you your job.
Communicate with your parents. They are your clients, after all, and they have high expectations both of the school and you. Since you are on the front line, they will point the finger at you first. Parents have an uncanny way of asking other parents what they think of Mr. So and So. Guarantee that the feedback is always positive, indeed, glowing.
Be upbeat and constructive in all your communications. Your colleagues will not appreciate your sarcastic comments about how old fashioned their methods are. That may well be true. But keep your opinions to yourself unless your dean asks for your confidential advice. Administrators will not think highly of a staff member who has earned a reputation for being difficult to manage. On the other hand, they will value a teacher who brings time and talent to the table.
5. Bring honor to your school.
If your paper on Stcherbatsky was well-received at a recent conference, make sure that your superiors are aware of your achievement. A quick review of private school websites will show you how proud schools are of their faculty and staff and their accomplishments. As I mentioned before, teachers don't usually like to market themselves. That poem you wrote last week may not seem much to you, but it will impress your colleagues. It will also showcase you as a creative member of staff.
After reading my suggestions for protecting your interests, you are probably wondering why you have to be so proactive about protecting your reputation and your job. That's just the way it is in the 21st century. Assume nothing anymore. That's a good thing. It will keep you alert, competitive and on top of your game. That, frankly, is what any private school wants from its teachers.
Questions? Contact me on Twitter. @privateschl