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The Characteristics of Unemployed Teachers

Posted: 12-07-2017

Alison Papenfus

At Placements in Education we try to research why we don't manage to help candidates, and why they fail when they get a job. We took a small sample of experienced teachers who have been unable to find long term teaching jobs this year, and this is what we found.

33% of the sample have poor references from recent past employers.
11% of of the sample can not be contacted - they don't respond to phone calls, messages, SMS and email.
13% of the sample managed to offend the Principal of a school that might have employed them before, after or during the interview
43% of the sample had an assortment of circumstantial problems

Let's unpack that a bit:
In the case of those with poor references, several had many years of service - and Principals gave them a chance over and over again because they interviewed well and seemed on paper to have the skills the school wanted. But the teacher repeatedly failed and left after a short time, certainly less than an academic year. Unfortunately the pattern repeats itself infinitely, and teachers who can not find a permanent job after two years need to consider a change in career.

The uncontactable educators give the impression that they don't mind if they have a job or not - and to be honest that is the last sort of employee anyone needs. People who are seriously looking for a job where they expect to have to work hard and contribute will be intentional about being available to employers, and hence, are more likely to be employed. Those who are ambivalent about being employed should find something to do that is less strenuous (and less important) than teaching.

Finally - those who offend the Principal. There are people who think that they have the right to be rude to whoever they choose. Some of them think they know more than the employer, never mind the education department. So they can say what they choose, do as they choose and the employer must put up with it. Some wise employers test this during interviews, they want to see how quickly the employee loses their cool! These tactics can backfire if the employee decides not to work for such an unreasonable boss! But when an educator makes an inappropriate phone call to the employer, demands a ridiculous salary, overplays their hand in the interview - any of these and a hundred more indiscretions can lead the employer to decide "thanks, but absolutely not!" People who want to be heard but not hear, question everything or challenge authority willy nilly are generally not welcome in schools, and probably ought to consider another career. Politics perhaps? Good luck!

All of this must inform our screening process. As a result of our own research and research on the employment of teachers conducted by others we look very carefully at the CV when any of the following characteristics are present

  • First year teachers who have not stayed at least a full year in their first schools
  • Scrappy and scruffy CVs, particularly those with spelling mistakes and poor English usage
  • Experienced teachers who have had four or more jobs in the past two years
  • Teachers who resign in January or February of the year and don't bother to explain why
  • Teachers with an unexplained gap in their work record
  • Any CV which does not give recent employers as referees
  • Any unemployed applicant who does not reply to SMS, message or e mail within 24 hours - yes, that includes holidays

A teacher phoned me the other day to complain about her CV being refused. She asked what right I had to turn her down, she is fully qualified, has over ten years of teaching experience, and speaks excellent English. I smiled into the phone and told her
"I want the best educators I can find to teach the children of South Africa. That's why I am doing this. I am making the best choices I can so that they will have the best future possible. If three of your recent employers refuse to give me a reference for you, then I cannot be sure that you will give the children of South Africa the best possible future." That's the bottom line. Every teacher, every Principal, every Parent, every recruiter needs to know for certain that we are "in it for the kids" We owe them more than a "body" in the classroom, our kids deserve the best teachers we can find.

And it's Placements in Education's job to find them.

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