Finding the perfect school | A checklist

You need a carefully-selected list of criteria when applying for your first teaching job. What’s the point in working somewhere that you’ll be unhappy, just to say that you have a job, if that can be avoided? Personally, I think that we should all aim for a job that makes us happy, and a workplace that is conducive to that.

When I went for my first teaching job, I knew exactly what I was looking for. You should use this as a basic checklist when searching for the perfect place, but feel free to adapt and change it to fit your needs, wants and desires.

The list will work out well regardless of what stage of the teaching career that you’ve made it to, so is perfect for ECTs and career-changers.

Close and commutable

Decide on how far is too far, be it by car, on foot or public transport. I wouldn’t want to work anywhere that’s more than twenty minutes or so down the road, but you might prefer being closer to, or further away from, home.

Also consider whether you can, or would enjoy, driving to work. If you can, I’d suggest investing in a car to make bringing supplies backwards and forwards much easier. It’s also heaps better in the winter, as it minimises the amount of time spent in the cold air outside.

A room of your own

On placement, you’re often spun about between various full-time teachers’ rooms. That’s fine, of course; you’re not going to be there forever and it won’t be long until you move to a different school as part of your teacher training.

However, when applying for your first job, you should be on the lookout for posts that will give you your own room all year round. I was a nomad last year due to the COVID restrictions at our school (teachers moved and most of the kids stayed in the same room all day). Now, though, I have my own room which lets me setup shop for the day ahead. I can keep all of my resources in one place (i.e. glues!!) and know exactly where the kids’ books are when they need marking.

Even if you can’t guarantee a room for your whole career at your new school, make sure you’ve got one for your first year there (COVID permitting of course!).

An ideal atmosphere

When you take the inevitable tour around the school while at interview, take in the atmosphere. Are teachers friendly towards one another? Are there smiles in the corridors during PPA? What’s it like in the staff room?

There’s no real specific criteria for this one; just work out how you feel on the day.

Observations for all

I’m not sure how all schools feel about this one, but at mine, we have an open-door policy. That means that we are encouraged to invite other members of staff into our rooms while teaching. This isn’t out of judgement: as an ECT, it might be to improve your pedagogy. For more experienced teachers, you might wish to learn something new or share what you’ve learned over the years.

Regardless, work out the school’s policy and determine whether you’d be happy with this or not. Personally, I love it – seeing others teach is really eye-opening as to how you could improve an aspect of your teaching prowess. Plus, you’ll have regular observations as an ECT as part of the induction process – and as a qualified teacher you’ll undergo the occasional obs for appraisals (which is the process by which you can move up the ever-important pay scale). Normalising lesson drop-ins really takes out the edge of being watched when it counts.

Workload and marking

Teachers have to provide feedback. It’s an essential part of the learning process that shows learners what they can do better to improve next time. Importantly, there should be more work generated for the learner than for the teacher.

As a result, you should check the school’s marking policy before confirming whether you’d like to work there – and whether you’d be happy with it. Are books expected to be marked every week, or every fortnight? Is twice a term enough? Does coded marking ever make an appearance? When do assessments take place, what do they look like, and what’s the turnaround like?

These are all important questions that you should be asking yourself first. What type of school do you want to work at and why?

While you’re here, you might also like…

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