How I Transitioned From the Ph.D. To Secondary Education – by Dr. Rebecca Simon

Dr. Rebecca Simon got in touch to share her story of transitioning from the Ph.D. and academic job search to secondary education teaching.  I’m delighted to share a long excerpt from her own blog post here, and encourage you to click through and read the whole thing. It’s filled with great advice and links to amazing resources.


In 2 blogs I wrote last spring, I described how I interviewed for an academic job in the US Southeast. Once I returned home, I knew that the academic route was not for me. I decided to turn my attention to secondary education teaching.

The first thing I did was read lots of blogs and articles from academics who turned to teaching, which proved to be valuable resources. I’d also really recommend reading this article from Carney Sandoe (written by a now-colleague of mine!) that advises Humanities PhDs how to go about getting a secondary teaching job. Not only did they validate my choice, but they also offered great advice in terms of the application process.

The second step I took was updating my general cover letter and resume. The cover letter is not too different from an academic cover letter but there are still changes that have to be made (again, read the Carney Sandoe article!). For one, you have to highlight your teaching philosophy: What is your philosophy about student-centered learning? What is your philosophy about project-based learning? How do you approach teaching? How do you differentiate learning? How do you value diversity? How does your expertise/pedagogy shape your methodology? You also need to describe your teaching experience. Yes, you can use your university teaching experience, but focus on your teaching methods and pedagogy – NOT your expertise. Did you use Socratic seminars? Did you lecture? How did you accommodate students with disabilities, learning difficulties, or other special needs? Your resume must be tailored for a teaching job. This is not a CV so don’t treat it like one.

Third, I applied to two teaching recruiter agencies: Carney Sandoe & Associates (who are nation-wide recruiters) and Cal-West Educators (who are California and West Coast recruiters). These programs focus on the independent school sector. You can also go to the National Association of Independent Schools job boards, but for a first-time secondary teacher I’d really recommend you to work with a recruiting agency. Schools turn to those companies first because recruiters interview and vet you thoroughly.

Why did I go this route and not public school? For one, although I earned a California teaching credential, I never cleared it and it expired in June 2017. Another reason is that in California a doctorate would make me too expensive to get hired in the public sector. Education funds are dire and districts are strapped. This is an unfortunate reality. Another reason is more personal rather than logistical. I don’t believe in the standardized state testing that public schools are subjected to. I feel they are culturally, socially, and economically biased and that they do not measure teaching. I also feel they put too much pressure on schools, teachers, and subsequent funding to cater to high scores, which takes away educational creativity and a love of learning. I trained in that area and I had no desire to be a part of it.

Carney Sandoe rejected my application due to a lack of full-time teaching experience, but Cal-West agreed to represent me. The process was simple. I filled out the online application followed by an interview. (This will be either in person or over the phone.) One of the big questions you have to be prepared to answer is why are you interested in secondary education? They want to make sure that a teaching job isn’t just a holding place before you take off back into the academic world. They want to make sure that their candidates are committed. It looks badly on the recruiting agencies if new-hires put in their notice 6 months into their new job because the new teacher took on something academic. Schools pay the recruiting agencies so they lose out. Plus, that hurts prospective PhDs who are genuinely interested and passionate about secondary education because recruiters and schools can be a bit more cautious about those applicants.

Once Cal-West agreed to represent me, I had to complete my online profile. This consisted of several uploaded documents that included: all university transcripts, teaching philosophy, cover letter, resume, and three letters of recommendation. The last part was tricky because I no longer had contacts from my credential experience 5 years ago, so I received references from professors who observed me teach.

The most important thing is to focus on your teaching experience and area of teaching expertise. You have to be flexible. (Research expertise can and will come later on the job, especially if you take part in curriculum development.) In my case I had to stress that not only could I teach British and US History, but also World History, AP-level history, any area of social studies, humanities, political science, economics, and English literature. How did I know I could teach those subjects? Several reasons.

  1. 1) I did my student-teaching in 7th grade social studies (Medieval World in California), 9th grade World Geography and Cultures (multidisciplinary), 10th grade World History, and 11th grade US History.
  2. 2) I was a Teaching Assistant for Western Civilization 1500 – Present, Early America and the Atlantic World, and Problems in US History to 1865 (all of which I wrote and delivered lectures).
  3. 3) At King’s College London I was a Graduate Teaching Assistant for The Worlds of the British Empire 1700 – 1960 for 2 years and Power, Culture, and Belief in Early Modern Europe 1500 – 1800.

So as you can see, I had experience teaching in many different and varied areas of history. Each class encompassed a different part of the world at a different time so it was not hard to make any world connections.

This is an opportunity where I was also able to draw upon my research and you can too. All research is multidisciplinary. If you study history, you’ve also studied literature. Therefore, you can teach literature. Humanities encompasses all areas of history, literature, and social studies. If you’ve studied history, you’ve studied literature and therefore you’re familiar with social studies and thus you can teach Humanities. (Plus, PhD in the Humanities? There you go!). Did you have to look at rulers/leaders, governments, trade, or any kind of cultural exchange? BOOM! You can teach political science, government, and economics. Did you write a thesis? I sure hope so because then you can teach writing. Was your area of expertise and teaching experience limited to something specific, such as early modern Europe? Brush up on how early modern innovations spread throughout the world and affected the 19th and 20th centuries. Not sure how that happened? You’re a seasoned researcher and an expert, so you can learn this easily. I believe in you. Your interviewer wants to make sure you can teach all aspects and time periods in World History? You can. I promise. If you’re not sure, pretend you can and read up over the summer.

END OF EXCERPT.  Be sure and click through to the full post to read the rest!

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