Getting that First Teaching Job. Tips Tricks and Things that Trip Us Up

I was invited to participate in a student teacher seminar last evening. The focus of the seminar was resumes, interviewing, and developing and articulating answers to questions most often asked in interviews.

It was a smallish group, 18 students, which was good as it allowed for some very specific feedback. In this group were student teachers acquiring a variety of certifications and licensure.  General education, special education, and those working on both.

I have many interviews under my belt. Hubs and I have moved around and I am no stranger to the whole process. I have sat on both sides of the interview table. I have written resumes and cover letters as well as read hundreds of others.

In today’s post I will use my observations from last evening to provide tips, tricks and things that trip us up when getting that first teaching job per Tuesday’s theme of this blog.

We started the session with a question. How do you decide what you will teach in your class? I had each student share their answer and provided no immediate feedback.  I was listening for very specific answers. I was listening for each student’s sparkle. I didn’t only want to have the answer to the question, I wanted to see how they organized their thoughts, how child-centered they were, how they perceived their role as designer of lessons.

After the last student shared her answer, I felt little else than overwhelming sadness. Of the 18 answers, only 2 mentioned students. This group responded to the question like little soldiers who have been programmed to spew back facts with no personality, no hint of free thinking, no hint of who they are.

The answers were usually short and included common core, district standards, state standards, pre and post assessments. Nothing more. I won’t lie. This scared the shit out of me.  These people might teach my own kids!

So I asked why they answered as they had. The group agreed that is what they were taught at the university, they believed that is what interviewers want to hear, that they wanted to be seen as teachers who know what drives the bus and how to follow along. Wow.

I asked what else and interviewer might want to understand about them with a question like that. Blank faces.

I provided specific feedback.  I wanted to be encouraging. I wanted to empower this group. I wanted to give them permission to be people instead of little soldiers that spew facts only. But I also wanted to scream. Even as fact spewers, they missed some really important considerations. Not one single student referred to IEPs. Not one single student was specific about how they would assess. There was no heart or passion in any of their responses.

I explained that what good interviewers are looking for in every answer is the essence of the person they are interviewing. They certainly want knowledgable teachers. But they also want collaborators, critical thinkers, child-centered problem solvers. And the question I asked them, if answered effectively, was a way to highlight those qualities.

I suggested that when asked this kind of question, they include student interests, student emotional, academic and physical needs. I suggested they convey that they  know what a great resource their colleagues are and as new teachers will want to meet with them often and collaborate determining what and how to teach content.  I recommended that every one of them mention IEPs in answering this question.

And then a timid hand went up and the question asked made my stomach turn.

“But I am just regular ed, so why do I even have to mention IEPs?”

I wanted to throw a tantrum and proclaim this student teacher unfit to become a licensed teacher. But that wouldn’t be helpful. So I tossed the question right back at her. “Yes, why would you need to consider IEPs?”  Blank face, long pause. And because I am Ok with waiting for responses, we waited. The others were not so comfortable with silence so hands shot up and answers provided. The fact is that every teacher will have kids with IEPs in their classes. Once they become the teacher of a student with an IEP, they are part of that IEP team and as such, better know it, adhere to it, understand it, and teach with it in mind.

On to the next question. The monster of all teacher interview questions. The one question interviewers love to ask and interviewees hate to answer.

“Describe your behavior management style.”

I thought I was depressed after hearing answers to the first question. The answers to this one were even more disappointing. Every single answer included behaviorism and taking things away or earning rewards. Most mentioned PBIS. Most said they would take away recess. Most believe that if students do what you want them to, reward them and if students do not comply, take things away.

I became a bit dizzy at this point. I thought I was going to have to sit down and put my head between my knees. My heart was pounding, and I actually felt a bit panicked.  How can this be? How can I change their beliefs in these very few minutes I had with them? It was clear they had never considered any other way to manage student behaviors and that they only think of unwanted and disruptive behaviors when they talk about behavior management.

Again, instead of scramming, crying and ranting, I tossed questions out for consideration. I can’t say I was planting seeds, giving them something to think about. I know in my heart I didn’t even scratch the surface. There was no time. I know how I responded was simply my way of managing an anxiety attack.

What if there was no recess to take away?  What if you couldn’t keep them after school? What if you were not allowed to use points, stickers, shiny objects as incentives? What if I told you none of that stuff actually works in any lasting or meaningful way?

I got lots of blank stares. I moved on.

I recommended that when they think about behavior management they must consider environment, engaging the learners, making things relevant, using constructivist theory, planning all lesson using UDL, building relationships with kids, knowing them, encouraging and supporting a  healthy classroom community, making sure every single student knows they are heard and cared about.

Again, blank stares for the most part.  I pressed on, explaining that every behavior is communication and it is their job to figure out what their students are trying to communicate and that many times it is because we have asked our students to do something they don’t feel equipped to handle. And that is where behavior management starts.

Next we looked at resumes and there was not one resume that sparkled enough to get my attention. They all looked exactly the same. They were all very clumsily worded. They all contained trite, inane wording. The lack of action words was boggling. The lack of originality was numbing. And I do not fault the students. The education department had given them a template as a guide and they all used it. The career services office gave them no constructive feedback. One student teacher said she was told her resume didn’t really matter, nobody really looked at teacher resumes because most districts had online applications.

We talked about how your resume has to show your unique sparkle. It is a way to concisely articulate and highlight how great you are, what makes you a good candidate, worth the time to interview.  I suggested they all go back to their resumes and get rid of pronouns, words that have no impact. I told them to consider using words like effective, successfully implemented, solved, developed, managed, designed. And I told them they absolutely must include reference to writing, managing, implementing IEPs. Yes, even the regular education teachers must reference experience with special education students somewhere on that resume. Especially if applying for a position in a school where inclusion is the norm.

The last few minutes of our time together was spent on questions they had. One student said she was told it is OK in an interview to say, “I don’t know”.

Absolutely not!

How about this instead.

I have not yet had any direct experience with that, but knowing my temperament (management style, problem solving style, communication style, core values) I believe I would do this________________ and then reflect on the effectiveness of that approach and modify as needed.

OR

I am not familiar with that, so I would seek assistance (advice, ideas, resources) from seasoned teachers, my mentor or building administration.

Students lingered after they were dismissed and I was able to get to know some of them better. One-on-one I got to see more of their sparkle. I better appreciated how young they are and how their own education was failing them. That it is not their fault they all looked the same.

Now get out there and get that first teaching job! Be thoughtful in your responses, show them who you are. Demonstrate you can think independently, that you are a collaborator, an inspiration, a motivator, a knowledgeable teacher.

Most of all, make sure that your resume, your answers, your cover letters, your shared examples all highlight that you are child-centered.

Welcome to the profession. The job is yours.

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