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Using Teaching Agencies

Posted By: Della DeKay on May 29, 2005
For many new graduates (and experienced teachers) this is crunch time--its June and you don't have a job. Often anxious teachers turn to teaching agencies. Beware! Make sure that you read the agency contract carefully before you sign it. For example, if the agency charges a 15% fee ask when they will collect the money. The agency I used collected the entire fee during the first six months of employment. That translated into my paying them $500 every two weeks. One of the women that I taught with was besieged by the agency's demands for its money.
When you read the contract look at every paragraph. How does the agency define a job acceptance? When and how can you leave a job without owing the agency additional money? Remember, you can be fired or quit a job for cause and STILL have to pay the agency that placed you. Where will you be sued if you default on the contract? If you live in New York and are sued in New Jersey you will need a New Jersey lawyer. Does the agency contract require you to pay for the agency's lawyer in case of a suit?
The agency will pressure you to accept any job offer that is made. Frequently the agency is representing schools that find it difficult to hire people. To avoid problems make sure that you carefully consider working at the school before accepting the job. Can you work with the administrator of the school? How much independence will you have? What is the turnover rate at the school? Ask questions throughout the interview process. Unlike jobs that you find for yourself or through TC, you will pay a fee to work in this school. Make sure that you are comfortable with the school's philosophy and approaches to students. Clarify exactly what will be expected of you and who will supervise your work.
Before you go on an interview ask the agency how it defines a job acceptance. In my case the agency considered a hand shake with a high school principal at the beginning of the interview a job acceptance. At no point did the principal or I discuss salary nor did the principal formally offer me the job (that can only be done by the NYC Department of Education. For public teaching jobs make sure you understand the hiring process!).
Document every interaction you have with the agency. Communicate with the agency by letter. If you are have a problem either before or after your are hired write a detailed description of the situation and send it to the agency. Do not rely on phone conversations--people have faulty memories. If the agency leaves you a substantive message on your answering machine, save it until you are certain that you are satisfied with your new position.
If you deny that there is a contract or feel that you have a grievance against the school you will be sued. Don't panic--these agencies survive by intimidating people and are anxious to sue. Often a matter that you felt was resolved will reappear three months later in the form of a summons. I thought the agency had accepted my explanations; in reality the agency was patiently waiting until they could initiate the suit. At that time I was a first year law student and I knew that there was no contract between me and the school so I hired a lawyer and counter sued. It cost $3,000, but the agency was forced to withdraw the suit.
I know that there are times when it is essential to use a teaching agency. But remember, you are paying them. To get the most from your investment read the contract carefully BEFORE you sign it, if you dislike a provision in the contract challenge it, and keep copious notes detailing all of your interactions with agency staff. If the agency threatens to sue you, be prepared to defend yourself in court if necessary. If you are careful, you can then use the agency to your benefit.
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 Using Teaching Agencies by Della DeKay on May 29, 2005
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