In every other profession but teaching, you can Google everything you need to know about a place you’re interested in working at. But as a teacher, it’s hard to find information on particular schools and to get honest feedback on how they operate.
We’ll dive into how to determine “school fit” later, but for now we’ll focus on a much more basic problem: how do you research schools you’re interested in learning more about?
Before you start interviewing...
Check out the school’s website (if they have one)
Just like a picture is worth a thousand words, a school’s website speaks volumes. If the website is clear, up-to-date, and transparent about their mission, that’s a great sign. If not, take note -- if a school is on top of their game, there’s no reason their website should be a mess.
If the school you’re interested is missing a website, don’t worry -- lots of schools are. But if the school you’re interested in doesn’t appear anywhere online, however, that’s a red flag. Most schools have some internet presence, and if it isn’t mentioned anywhere, that’s not a good sign.
Check out Greatschools, Niche, and InsideSchools
Greatschools, Insideschools (for NYC schools only), and Niche are websites that show you how a school measures up in terms of demographics, test scores, and student behavior. For some schools, they’ll also show reviews from parents and students. There are thousands of schools on these websites, so if you want to learn surface-level facts about a specific school, all of these websites are great starting points.
A lot of schools (especially ones that are part of a network) are on Glassdoor. Just like any other Glassdoor page, schools’ pages will have approval ratings in addition to employee and interviewee reviews. Information on Glassdoor can be helpful in helping you prep for an interview, but remember to take reviews with a grain of salt -- sometimes the reviews will be from people with a bit of an axe to grind with the school. Use your judgement to decide whether a negative review is a one-off or an honest opinion.
Scour social Media (Facebook and LinkedIn)
Facebook is a pretty revealing source of information. It will give you a good idea of how schools communicate with kids and parents as well as a good sense of what they’re proud of -- Facebook is used to showcase achievements, and a school’s page will tell you what they value.
LinkedIn is also a great tool you can use to learn more. LinkedIn gives people a chance to endorse individuals at skills they’re great at and to give reviews about their character. By looking at how other people talk about the school leaders of a school, you can get a good sense of whether this might be someone you want to work with.
Call a friend
You can probably learn the most about a school by asking someone who already works there. If you know someone who works at a school you’re interested in, you should set up a casual conversation to ask about their experience.
Of course, don’t go in with guns blazing and with preconceived ideas about what their work might be like -- be chill, be respectful, and ask higher level questions about what they like/dislike or what their day-to-day life is like. Many people are happy to share their views about their job and will give you an honest overview of what the school they work at is like.
If you’ve already nailed down an in-person interview…
Ask the principal or assistant principal for stats and metrics
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask an administrator for metrics on student demographics and performance (e.g. State test scores, student growth in reading and Math) in addition to stats that tell you about what the rest of the staff is like (e.g. % of staff with Masters degrees, % of staff of color, average number of years of experience). Asking about these metrics will not only tell you who you’ll be working with, but who you’ll be working for.
Talk to school staff who aren’t teachers
One of the best sources of information is the school security guard or school secretary. They see everything that goes on, and generally have a good pulse on how well a school runs. Usually during an interview, you’ll have the chance to wait in the office or to greet different types of staff at the door. Use this opportunity to have a casual conversation -- sometimes these casual chats are a good way to get information on how kids interact with teachers, and how the administration handles issues.
Ask to speak to teachers and students
If you’ve already talked to the principal or hiring manager from the school, but you still want to know more, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask if you can speak to teachers and students there. While students and staff members at the school might be a bit guarded about their responses, they’ll still likely reveal what they value about the school and what they’d like to see improved.
Look at how the teachers and administrators talk to students
One of the most telling signs of how a school works is how school administrators and teachers treat kids. Pay attention in the times you’ll be walking through the hallways during the interview and watch how teachers talk and interact with students. Are they super strict? Are they listening to kids’ concerns? Are they checking in with kids to see how they’re doing? Observe those interactions and think about if you’d be comfortable interacting with kids in the same way, and whether you respect the way the adults in the building treat kids.
While digging for information on schools can be a bit of work, it’s worth it. You spend a lot of time at school as a teacher. You should go the extra mile to research about a place you’ll potentially be spending most of your time, and to have an idea of what it stands for and how it operates.
Do you have other suggestions on how to do research on schools? Want to share a story about how you took the extra mile to learn more about a particular school? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org -- we’d love to hear from you.
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