FAQs about Teaching at an Independent or College Prep School (K-12)

By Flannery Amdahl

6 Reasons to Teach in an Independent School

Photo by Moren Hsu on Unsplash

This post was revised from a previous post published February 22, 2014, which summarized information about a past career event. Representatives from New York Interschool‘s Faculty Diversity Search (FDS) answered questions from GC students about getting a teaching position at an independent school. NY Interschool is a consortium of 8 Manhattan independent schools, including Brearley, Browning, Chapin, Collegiate, Dalton, Nightingale-Bamford, Spence, and Trinity.

FAQs about Independent Schools

Do independent schools hire MAs and PhDs without teaching certification or degrees in education? What are these schools looking for in an applicant?

Unlike public schools, independent schools are not subject to state curriculum requirements, and teachers do not have to be certified by the state. Many independent schools actively recruit MAs and PhDs with expertise in a particular subject matter and who demonstrate a passion for teaching kids.

Both of the panelists agreed that applicants should have some experience in the classroom. Between three and five years of teaching experience is recommended, and teaching at the college level is also attractive to these schools. Substituting is recommended if you have no experience with younger students.

What are some of the advantages of teaching in the independent schools within the New York Interschool consortium?

  • Class sizes are smaller than at many public schools. (They tend to range from between 12 to 20 students.)
  • Teachers tend to have more freedom in developing their courses, as these schools are not subject to state curriculum requirements.
  • Significant resources are devoted to teachers’ professional development. Many schools, for instance, are willing to invest money in staff attending conferences.
  • The intellectual climate among faculty members can be quite stimulating. Our panelists estimated that about 75% of teachers possess Master’s degrees, and almost all of the schools also have faculty members with PhDs.
  • There tends to be a great deal of open conversation among faculty about teaching, and new faculty members frequently have the chance to work with a mentor.
  • Students tend to be motivated and want to work hard.
  • Benefit packages (health insurance, retirement, etc.) are “wonderful.”
  • There is generally a strong strong sense of community at theses schools, and parents tend to be interested and involved.

 What’s the workload like?

Most teachers teach 4 to 5 classes, our panelists said. In addition, there is a significant out-of-classroom component to the job: teachers are expected to get involved by coaching sports, advising clubs, directing community service activities, and/or advising students (often in groups), and to attend school events like sports and plays.

How can applicants learn about job openings, and when should they apply?

The major hiring period for independent schools is January through April. The National Association of Independent Schools has an easy-to-use job database. Many applicants also use a search firm. One of the largest national firms is Carney Sandoe & Associates. Another great place to look within New York City is the education section of the New York Times

What’s the application process like?

The first step of the interview process involves a telephone interview with a department head. The strongest applicants are then brought in to visit the school and meet with heads of each department and with the head of the school. (This will usually involve one very full day or two separate visits). This also gives applicants a chance to get a feel for whether they like a school.

Of that group, two or three finalists will be selected to teach a demonstration class; some schools choose the topic, while others let the applicant pick. Our panelists said to keep in mind that the hiring committees are watching how you teach, but will also be trying to evaluate whether you want to teach the type of kids in their particular school.

What’s more competitive, humanities or the STEM fields? What other type of jobs are out there?

There’s an acute need for math and science teachers right now, although openings change from year to year. Schools within the NY Interschool network tend to post between four and six history openings a year. The year of this event, these schools posted three English positions. English tends to be quite competitive, our panelists noted. Applicants from the social sciences should probably focus on applying to high schools, where social sciences are often taught as an elective.

Although schools are structured differently, other jobs include community service coordinator, director of diversity, and director of outreach and public engagement. Curriculum development is usually done by someone already working at the school, such as an academic dean.

 How diverse do these schools tend to be?

While the student bodies at many of these schools have become more ethnically and economically diverse in the past 20 years or so, they do not yet mirror NYC’s population.

Most of the independent schools within the NY Interschool consortium, for instance, do not have programs for ELL (English Language Learner) students. Resources for students with learning disabilities or special needs vary across schools.

Independent school faculty are not typically as diverse as the student body. The panel representatives from Faculty Diversity Search (FDS) work to improve this by recruiting candidates of color and other under-represented minorities.

What kind of compensation do teachers receive?

Although salaries vary from school to school, the panelists estimated that the starting salary for new teachers is about $50,000. Some schools use a step system and pay more for teaching experience and advanced degrees. (The panelists said that more credit is usually given to experience rather than degree.)

Getting started on your job search!

Both panelists suggested that, if you’ve considered a career in teaching at an independent school, you should get together a resume, sample cover letter, and teaching statement as soon as possible. A resume for a K-12 school will look much different from an academic CV, and you’ll want to leave out most of your research interests and publications and focus on teaching experience instead.

The FDS website features more tips on resume and cover letter writing, interviewing, and demo lessons.