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Teaching in an independent school offers several advantages -
You have a great deal of autonomy in designing and teaching curriculum.
You are part of a community that values subject expertise, teaching, and learning.
Classes are small.
The students you teach are committed to learning and are generally quite able academically.
A few key issues:
Many times no certification required at the secondary level - you can teach in most independent schools without state certification or enrollment in a teacher training program. NOTE that most independent elementary schools do require coursework in teaching methods, and some require state certification.
The hiring calendar - starts much earlier in independent schools than in public schools - most of the activity occurs from January through April.
Teaching fellowships - some independent schools offer fellowships or co-teaching (put in link) programs for new teachers, where you are matched with a mentor teacher and may have a reduced course load initially. Some independent schools offer teaching fellowships for new teachers. These fellowships usually offer promising teacher candidates:
the opportunity to be closely mentored by an experienced teacher;
to participate fully in the life of the school;
and, in some cases, to start with a reduced teaching load.
Teacher placement agencies - much of the hiring in independent schools occurs through teacher placement agencies like Carney, Sandoe. You register with one or more agencies, to which you submit your application materials, which are then forwarded to schools with appropriate openings. The National Association of Independent Schools suggests considering these issues when looking for a recruiting agency:
What specific services do they give you?
Are there fees?
Do they specialize in certain types of candidates, schools, or geographic areas?
What restrictions are placed upon you? Can you simultaneously register with other agencies or pursue leads?
In your field, what were the numbers of openings, candidates, and placements in recent years?
Here are some links to some education placement agencies.
Sports and extra-curriculars - teachers at most independent schools contribute to students growth outside the classroom. The ability to coach one or more sports or to advise a major extra-curricular activity such as theater or a student publication is highly valued in applicants.
ARE YOU QUALIFIED?
Laurence Boggess, a former independent school teacher and headmaster and author of Everyone's Guide to Job Searching in Private Schools, has this to say: "The basic qualities that make a good teacher are universal. They are: love of children, communication skills, expertise in a subject or method area, and confidence."
1) Love of Children - "You must enjoy being with children if you want to teach school. Period.... Love of children means giving them your patience, watching them discover, figure things out, fail and succeed, and being the adult on whom they try things out.... Love of children means taking a personal interest in your kids without taking their insults personally.
"More than any professional qualification, independent schools look for signs that a candidate has a rapport with children. During your interviews you will probably be asked to interact with students in a classroom, in the halls between classes, at lunch, or during recess or break time. I am always swayed by a candidate who is willing to be with children in an unstructured situation, hanging around and talking or playing, comfortable with a group of children he or she doesn't know."
2) Communication Skills - "The successful teacher must speak effectively to a wide range of people in many settings: with children in the classroom, with parents in conferences, with adult groups during open houses and parents' nights, with your colleagues in faculty meetings, with visitors and potential new students and families during admissions tours. Teachers must also be able to effectively express themselves in writing. Independent school teachers do a fair amount of writing."
3) Expertise - "Your college or graduate school degree says you are expert enough in your field to teach school. If you possess a degree in science, history, math, a social science, foreign language, or any subject area, you likely possess the knowledge to teach that subject up through high school."
If you have a Masters degree in one of these subjects, you will have the advantage.
If you have written a senior thesis or will graduate with honors in your major, that is also a plus.
If you wish to teach at the elementary level, most independent schools will not consider you as a candidate unless you have taken some courses in teaching methods and pedagogy and have some practice teaching experience. (NOTE that teaching fellowships offer promising candidates a way around this requirement.)
4) Confidence - "Confidence is not cockiness or aggressiveness; it is the assured feeling that you can do a good job. It is belief in yourself. In most teachers I know, confidence waxes and wanes, and the best teachers are the ones who have periodic bouts of self-doubt.... Confident teachers, like everybody else, have feet of clay, but they quickly bounce back from setbacks and usually maintain a healthy sense of humor about themselves and their teaching."
HOW TO GET STARTED
Register with one or more independent school teacher placement agencies.
Put together your application materials - have your resume and cover letters critiqued at the Career Services Office; talk to potential references; write any essays that the placement agencies require.
Get some classroom teaching experience - this can make a huge difference. The Service Learning Office can assist you in finding opportunities teaching and working with youth.
Learn all you can about independent schools and the hiring process - get a copy of Everyone's Guide to Job Searching in Private Schools (though it's old, the advice is still useful); read some of the articles from the NAIS link below.
Articles about Independent School (NAIS)
Great resources about what independent schools are looking for in employees; reflections on teaching in independent schools; and more. From the National Association of Independent Schools.