By Joel O’Brien — As summer continues to quickly pass by, students have recently started contacting me after receiving job offers from area school districts.
While this is generally a very exciting time, it can also be accompanied by uncertainty and anxiety. During our conversations, I commonly hear the following questions: Is this salary too low? Should I ask for more money? What if I receive a better offer, can I break the contract?
While new teachers are generally well versed in pedagogy and differentiated learning, contracts and salary negotiations are not topics that receive extensive attention throughout their college career.
The emotional roller coaster of receiving a job offer hits close to home for me. Like many recent graduates, I found myself conducting a summer job search. During my first interview, I finished a close second to a candidate with similar qualifications. While I did not receive a job offer, being so close to my first teaching job motivated me. For my second interview, I traveled to a small school in Northwest Iowa.
While the position was a little further home than I preferred, the interview went well and administrators also include that it would offer the opportunity to coach. I really enjoyed playing golf and had recently been awarded my coaching certification, making me a solid candidate for the position. I was not really surprised, but still elated when I received a call from the principal two days later to offer me the position. Feeling relieved that the job search was over, I verbally committed to teach five social studies classes and agreed in principle to coach boys and girls golf. The administration also inquired about me becoming the girl’s head basketball coach, but with little experience I politely declined. Two days later, I traveled three hours to sign the contract and tour the area in search for a place to live.
My relief was short-lived when two days later the principal called and informed me that the superintendent was not very happy about my decision to decline the girls’ basketball coaching job, as they thought it was clear that the coaching position went along with teaching. Caught off guard and unsure how to respond, I told the principal that I would think about it and get back to him by the end of the week. After talking to a teacher in the district where I had substitute taught, they quickly informed me about the legality of the situation, noting the school district was violating the contract by trying to connect coaching responsibilities to the teaching contract.
Consequently, I made the challenging decision to turn down my first teaching job. Fortunately, I found a job that better aligned with my specialty areas only one month later, but this experience provided a real awakening to the business side of teaching and factors to consider when accepting a job offer.
While there is no perfect science to inform someone whether or not they should or should not accept an offer, here are some items to consider:
Salary / Budgeting / Living Expenses
What is the amount of money that you will need to live on? Along with a first job, often comes independence and the responsibilities that come along with it, which may include housing costs, utilities, transportation costs, and student loans to name a few of the expenses. These are all important to consider because they may vary based on geographic location. I quickly realized this factor, as housing costs in Milwaukee are nearly double the amount that I paid while living in rural Ohio. If housing costs are a concern, another option might be finding a roommate. While this option is not for everyone and trust is an important factor, it can cut your living expenses in half. When thinking about transportation, you may look into riding your bike or take public transportation to work, especially if you live in an urban area where parking and driving can be time consuming and expensive.
Equally important to consider is the benefit package offered by the school district. Benefit packages include, but are not limited to the following items: 401K/IRA (Retirement Fund) Contributions, Health/Prescriptions/Dental/Vision/Life Insurance Costs and Deductibles, and miscellaneous items such as Parking. Often times, these issues are overlooked, but they can make a significant difference in cost of living. For instance, public school districts frequently pay for an employee’s (single) health insurance. However, this is not always the case with private institutions, which can result in teachers paying an additional $100-200 out of pocket. Similarly, the extent to which districts match contributions to retirement funds can also vary. Some districts do not match contribution, where other districts match upwards of ten percent. Lastly, I added the miscellaneous categories such as parking to the list, as upon arriving in Milwaukee I quickly learned that parking isn’t “free” everywhere, especially in urban areas where parking ramps and metered spots are the norm. Depending on the location this could cost between $500-1000 extra each year.
School District / Position Fit /Location / Instinct
While the first two factors definitely emphasize the importance of financial responsibility and affordability when considering a job offer, an important and most overlooked factor is utilizing instinct to the right position fit. While some districts may pay more than others, salary does not always equate to happiness and job satisfaction. Finding the best fit expands far beyond salary and may include factors such as teaching content areas, school district goals and standards, geographic location, and school administration. These are important factors to consider when thinking about what you need in order be the most satisfied as a teacher.
There is no easy way to evaluate this factor, but often times individuals gut instinct best inform them on this decision. One might consider proximity to friends/family and level of influence that will have on their decision. Additionally, during the interview did you feel comfortable interacting with the faculty and administration? Did the administration seem open and honesty when answering questions? What information was not included in the interview about the district? What feelings did you experience when touring the surrounding area? What feedback did the local population provide about the school district and community while you toured the area? While considering these factors can raise more questions than answers, they can be helpful when formulating a well-rounded decision.
Lastly, when accepting a job offer I encourage individuals to carefully consider their decision and avoid breaking a contract at all costs. Education is a small world, and burning bridges is the last thing that anyone wants to do as a new teacher.
If you have additional questions regarding job offers, Marquette students and alumni can schedule an appointment with a career counselor by calling (414) 288-7423.