06/25/2015 by Carney Sandoe Staff |

PhD to ABC, Part I: Becoming a High School Teacher

PhD drawn on a notebook

Every year, we work with dozens of scientists and engineers who have completed their doctorates but aren’t sure that a future in research or academia is right for them. They come to CS&A interested in exploring their options as teachers at private high schools but are typically unsure that making this kind of transition is possible. If this sounds familiar to you, we're here to tell you that it’s definitely possible—and that Carney Sandoe can help you figure it all out.

An important piece to any job search is understanding what it is about your skills or experience that will be attractive to employers. So, why would an independent school be interested in someone who has his or her PhD? In general, at least part of an independent school’s mission is to prepare students for college. It stands to reason that a person who has displayed an ability to excel in academia may provide a good academic role model for students. Independent schools also need to hire teachers who have mastered the material they will be teaching. There is a very limited number of people who extensively study physics or chemistry, then enter the field of teaching. Typically, graduate students will perform teaching duties as a Teaching Assistant as they complete their doctorates, so it’s assumed that the candidate with a PhD will have at least a modicum of experience working with students.

There will still be plenty of questions going through a hiring manager’s mind when they are reviewing a PhD’s application. Chief among them will be “how does this person relate to kids” and “is this person only considering secondary school teaching because s/he couldn’t find a tenure track position?” Questions similar to these will come up about any applicant, but they are particularly salient for the newly minted PhD. The key to answering these questions in a compelling way is to do so proactively.

If you are making this kind of switch, take some time to think about what your experience has been like working with undergrads. Did you enjoy being a TA and teaching lab or recitation sections? Did you make any creative effort to make these sections better or more productive for students? Did you mentor students or give them advice about their academic or career paths? Did they trust you? If you’re answering “yes” to any of these, then make sure to highlight these experiences on your resume and cover letters. In an interview, don’t wait to be asked why you want to teach high school. Explaining the motivations for your transition and the experiences that inform them should happen early on in an interview. You don’t have to pretend you know everything there is to know about teaching high school science, but you do need to let your interviewer know you’ve given it serious thought, are ready to learn, and genuinely enjoy helping students learn. The more you can anticipate and address your interviewer’s concerns, the more compelling your candidacy will be.

The transition is certainly possible but not easy; not every independent school will consider candidates without previous secondary school teaching experience. Working with CS&A ensures that your materials will be referred to schools that are open-minded to considering candidates with your credentials and also gives you someone to help you understand your place in the market.

Sound like something you're interested in exploring? Apply now to work with CS&A to help you transition into a K-12 teaching job you love.

Read Part II of this PhD series that shares advice for humanities PhD candidates who want to work in independent schools.

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