One of the downsides to being a student activist is that your activism might come back to haunt you when you’re looking for a job post-college.
Reader Alyssa is concerned because she’s an atheist who wants to become a teacher and sent me this email:
I’m worried that being too open about my atheism (or even mentioning secular involvements on my resume) will jeopardize my chances of finding a permanent position, or isolate myself after I have been hired, especially since I will be a new teacher.
That’s a tough position to be in, and it’s one I found myself in a few years ago when I had to apply for teaching positions. So let me offer my suggestions in two parts: Getting hired and keeping your job.
First, I wanted to keep the attention on my skills as a math teacher. That meant purging all the mentions of atheism from my resume. You never know what other people will think and you don’t want someone to throw your application away because they disagree with your beliefs.
So here’s what I did with my resume:
I removed any mention of the atheist group I led for two years (and helped create). I removed mentions of the scholarships I won because of my activism. I removed references to atheist groups I had interned with or served as a board member. When it came to I Sold My Soul on eBay, I just vaguely referred to the fact that I wrote a book published by a division of Random House, because I thought that sounded cool without giving away the religion aspect of it.
It was frustrating because my resume was basically cut in half. The most interesting things about me were gone. I knew that if I had volunteered with my church, or gone on a mission trip, or helped lead a national Christian organization, those things would’ve helped me secure the job. Instead, I had to play it safe. But I had a few other things I was involved with in college that I could fall back on. I volunteered in a professor’s lab, I was a member of my school’s College Bowl (trivia) team, I tutored students, I had a part-time job, etc.
It helped that I had a strong background in math and a lot of prior teaching experience (I had worked for a test-prep company for years). I think I answered the barrage of interview questions pretty well. And, hopefully, my personality came through in discussions with the math chair and the principal. (I’m sure it didn’t hurt that they were looking for a lot of new teachers that year… or that I’m Indian.)
Incidentally, the topic of religion never came up in the interviews — as it shouldn’t have. They did, however, ask about my book and I just told them it was about how I had never gone to a Christian church in the past, but I was curious, and I ended up visiting a number of churches across the country and writing about it. Which is all true. The principal thought that was an interesting premise. And then we moved on to other topics of discussion.
So will Alyssa’s atheism hurt her in getting a teaching job? Not necessarily, but I would still leave that issue off the table. Focus on other things in the resume and keep the atheism off your profile.
What happens after Alyssa gets a teaching job?
Then the hard part is over in regards to the atheism. Keep your beliefs separate from your teaching, and everything should be ok. I can’t really keep this website a secret, so I don’t try to. But if a student asks about it, I don’t discuss it. It helps that I teach math — religion doesn’t really come up. But even if you teach science, it shouldn’t matter.
What happens if a parent complains about your atheist activism? Hopefully, you’ll have good administrators who know the right response is to say, “Why does it matter?”
I do everything in my power to make sure my atheism doesn’t get in the way of my teaching. If a student brings up the website, I shut the conversation down. If (in another subject) someone’s faith contradicted what I was teaching, I would try to make clear that I’m teaching the subject as the experts know it and I’m not here to teach someone’s religion to them.
As for my colleagues, it’s not like anyone’s spending time proselytizing to anyone else in the office. And if religion does come up during lunchtime conversation, then we discuss it respectfully. I definitely don’t feel isolated at work because of my beliefs, but I’m also not surrounded by die-hard conservatives.
Ok. Those are the first thoughts that came to my mind.
To the other teachers out there, how would you advise Alyssa?
To the non-teachers, did your atheism affect how you applied for your job? Does it now affect your life in the workplace?