You’ve ran the gauntlet. You’ve crafted the resume, practiced your interview skills, and dressed for success. The triumphant moment has arrived and you’ve received the job offer! It is a thrilling moment but not the end of the story. Not every offer is accepted and not every yes to a job offer ends happily. Maybe you even have two offers and you don’t know how to decide. I am going to suggest some things to ask, observe and research about a school as part of evaluating a job offer.
Details of the job
Do you have your own room? If not, how are rooms assigned, and how is workspace, storage, and clean up negotiated between the teachers sharing rooms? Can you see the rooms? Most schools will include a tour as part of a second interview, but if you didn’t get one, don’t hesitate to ask for one. As you look through the space, pay attention to the size, furnishing, tables, faucets, sinks, windows and light. Ask about storage rooms. How stocked are the cabinets and storage rooms?
What are will you specifically teach? What will your schedule look like? What are typical class sizes? How long is a class period? What other duties are assigned to teachers? You will learn how many “preps” you have (different classes to prepare for) and you can gauge your experience with them to have a sense for how prepared you are for this position. Knowing class sizes is very interesting information that can tell you a lot about the school. I’ve been shocked to learn schools can have 30-40 students or more in a class. On the flip side, small districts and private schools may have very small classes at times. While it can be nice, you need to think about job stability in those situations. Lastly, read your teacher’s contract.
How many teachers are in the art department, what do they teach and how long have they been there? Maybe you are the only art teacher or maybe you are part of a large department. Maybe the other art teachers will be part of the hiring committee or maybe you meet some on a tour. Your colleagues can make quite a difference in your comfort in the school and job. Unfortunately, this is harder to grasp in a brief meeting. The school may involve the department in the interview process and I always think this reflects well on the administration and department. Administration may make the hiring decisions but it is wise for them to see how a new person will mesh with their existing staff. Involving art teachers in the process also shows administration values their staff and their input.
Why is the art teacher currently in the position I am interviewing for leaving? Encouraging answers include retirement, family is being relocated due to a spouse’s job transfer, or the department is growing and it’s a new job position. Reasons that should give you pause include the teacher is leaving the profession, the teacher wasn’t offered tenure, etc.
Support of the arts
What is the art department budget and how is it allocated? How much budget would you be given to spend on supplies in your first year? This is a really important piece of information. A teacher recently described an administrator asking how she would produce a quality program on a very meager budget. Some districts are poor and some just don’t value the arts enough to properly fund them. It’s not always about money per se but about a school’s values. Have they invested in the arts? Is there a kiln, document camera, adequate storage, computer lab, etc?
You can also observe the school and its publications to access how much a school values the arts. Is there art hanging in the school? A place for 3D work to be displayed? Do they have a gallery? Look at the school’s program of studies and observe how many art classes are listed. Also, consider the size of the music and drama programs at the school. Sometimes smaller schools can only sustain one “strong” art program. Does the school compete in contests? Do they hold an art show? Is there an art club or National Arts Honor Society?
Support for teachers
What kind of support systems will I have as a new teacher? It’s pretty common, but not a given, for the administration to have a program to help new teachers adjust. Ask the administration if there are such programs in place.
What type of school discipline plan is in place? Do teachers feel supported by the administration? I often check to see if the student handbook is online and if so, I read it. If you get an opportunity to interact with teachers ask if they feel supported by their administration when dealing with students and parents.
What technology is available to teachers? Are teachers issued laptops? How often are they replaced? Is there adequate tech help? COVID-19 certainly put a spotlight on school districts that had old technology with teachers struggling to teach remotely. Look to see how available printers and photocopiers are to the staff.
What opportunities does this school offer for professional development and growth? Does the school pay any portion of classes taken for a Master’s degree or for professional development? How does the school pay scale compare to other districts in the area? At one job I taught the same two half-year classes over and over. I was so ready to teach new art classes at my new job. Another job paid for a portion of college tuition which helped as I was chipping away at my Master’s degree.
Quality of administration and health of the school at large
How do administrators interact with school community members? When in the presence of students, does he or she greet them? If you talk with the department chair or teaching staff, ask about their perception of administration leadership and support of the arts. Also, use your eyes. How do you see administrators interacting with students and staff? Do people seem happy or on edge? One parent described an uneasy feeling she had around the principal of her son’s elementary school. She went on to describe watching her son enter the school and how the principal never made eye contact with her son and yet snapped at him for going the wrong way. I vote for trusting what your gut says about what you have observed.
Are administrators former teachers at the school? Home-grown administration shows satisfaction with the district, confidence in the district’s future, and growth opportunities for teachers.
Does the school have a good reputation? Is teacher turnover low? Tap your friends and social network for contacts in the community and staff. Ask to speak to the union head if they have a union. Don’t neglect to Google the school and see what is in the news.
Physical building and space
Is there trash on the floor? Are the floors waxed and carpets generally clean? I can, and have, forgiven a school for its outdated look. How well a school is kept up says volumes about the school system. I like to check out the student bathrooms in the schools I have worked at as well as in my own children’s schools. Are there paper towels, soap, and toilet paper? Do the bathroom stall doors latch? Is there graffiti? How about the teacher’s rooms, are they organized and clean? Where do teachers eat? Do they have their own bathrooms? Are there cubbies in classrooms to stow and lock personal items?
Is the space attractive? Does it feel sterile or warm and friendly? Notice whether there are attractive bulletin board displays in the halls. Take time to note the flyers and learn about the life of the school.
Does this school have an active PTA group? Do school budgets usually pass or is it contentious? Does the school receive support from the community at large? How involved are parents in the school? Some towns have foundations that provide support and PTAs that host speaker and provide mini-grants to teachers. Much of the budget process is public so you can often Google that information.
How far is the commute? What is the salary? Is the position stable? What benefits does the position provide? Is there room to grow? There are so many variables a person has when deciding when it’s the right school and the right time for making a change. You can certainly do the old-fashioned pro and con list but ultimately, trust your gut feeling.