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Nailing Your Teacher Interview

Nailing Your Teacher Interview

Cue the confetti! Start the disco lights! Welcome to the Summer Planning Workshop!

I am so very excited to begin and help you prepare for the 2020-2021 school year.  I know that everything seems confusing and overwhelming right now.  I firmly believe that if we take it one piece at a time, we can be in good stead to start the year and still have plenty of time to relax and enjoy summer.  NOBODY is suggesting that you work all summer long and never take a break! Far from it! But I do believe that doing what we can will help us feel more organized and ready when school does start in the fall—no matter what it might look like.

We are starting at the start—the teacher interview.  In order to have a class to prepare for, you have to nail your teacher interview and land a teaching job, but even interviews look vastly different than they have in the past.  Chances are, if you do have an interview this summer, it will be virtual instead of in-person, so these are my best tips for online interviews as well as interviews in general.

Tip #1: One thing that hasn’t changed is dressing for success.  If your interview is online, you may be tempted to go with the Coronavirus version of a Mullet—business on top, jammies on the bottom.  I would caution you against this for two reasons.

There is psychology behind the phrase “Dress for success.” According to Psychology Today,   “When we intentionally dress for success, we gain confidence through the way we are treated by others, as well as the way we perceive ourselves. Strategizing professional attire appears to be a wise move regardless of your industry, and attire induced accomplishment can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.” (Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/why-bad-looks-good/201709/power-role-play-dressing-success-makes-you-successful)

If by chance you should happen to stand during the interview, unlikely, I know, but possible, the people who are interviewing you would see that you only chose to dress professionally on top. Granted, some will find it funny and roll with the punches, but others may hold it against you and it just isn’t worth the risk.

Tip #2: Practice is important, but don’t overdo it.

I have heard time and time again that people have felt like over preparing just made them more nervous in the long run.  However, to just go in and wing it isn’t ideal either.  If you have participated in online learning, you might be more familiar with the videoconferencing software options like Zoom, Google Meet, etc.  Whether you have experience with it or not, it is still a good idea to practice on camera.  Ideally, you could do a mock interview with a friend using the same platform, but at the very least practice with your camera on.  Check angles, lighting, connections, background, etc. to be sure there is nothing distracting and you are well lit.   We have two resources on the website to help with this.  The first is a list of common interview questions to rehearse.  The second is my distance learning checklist.  Not everything will be applicable since this is an interview and not an online lesson, but it might help you think of some small detail that would have otherwise been overlooked.

Tip #3: One advantage to an online interview is that you can have notes, or a “cheat sheet” of sorts handy off camera to help if you get nervous.

You can write them out on Post-it notes and stick them around your computer or have them on a sheet of paper nearby.

Tip #4: Many interviews now have a “task” component.

I think this is something that has been trending for awhile, not just in response to moving more interviews online.  Some examples I have seen are teaching a mock lesson, submitting a classroom management plan, or writing an after-interview essay. One person even mentioned having a group Zoom interview with all candidates, being given a task and then assigned a time for an individual interview.  The task they were given was to look over some samples of student work and then comment on what that work showed about the student’s learning and what the teacher’s next steps would be.  If there isn’t a specific task component, it wouldn’t be unlikely to have scenario questions as these have long been an interview staple that I even had in my interviews many years ago.  By this I mean that the interviewer would present a common scenario like a student misbehaving, or struggling with content, or a colleague that you disagree with.  They would then ask how you would handle that particular situation.

Tip #5: Learn as much as you can about the school or district where you are being interviewed.

Some things I would suggest to find out if possible: the size of the district as a whole and the building you would teach in (if you know that), typical class sizes, demographics, programs they use, values, and really anything else that you can find.  Be sure it is factual information that can be validated—a disgruntled parent/student/teacher comment on their Facebook page, for example, may not be true.

Tip #6: Do a social media self-audit.

The personal information you choose to share on your social media profiles definitely varies with each individual, so only you know what you feel comfortable having prospective employers see.  One thing to definitely check is if you have shared pictures of students you have worked with in the past.  If you do, be sure that you have (and can produce if asked) prior written consent from the families to share those pictures. To just share images of students without consent is a violation of FERPA (privacy act) and would be something to avoid.  I have heard people say that you should make your account(s) private, but I believe that is also a personal decision that only you can make.

Tip #7: Obviously, you will be asked a lot of questions, but most interviewers will end the interview by asking if you have any questions.

While the temptation to say no might be your initial thought, I would caution you against this.  The questions you ask may be just as determining a factor as the questions you answer.  Some examples I have seen are:  What would be an example of a school-wide expectation?  What does a typical day in (grade/program/school) look like? What research, work, study (however you want to phrase it) could I be doing over the summer to be better prepared to teach at (name of school, district, etc.)? Picking one or two of these should be sufficient.

Tip #8: Almost invariably, you might get asked the dreaded “What are some of your weaknesses?” question.

This can be so difficult to answer! Obviously, no one is perfect, but nobody also wants to say in an interview that the main office had to call down for attendance daily because you always forget to post it or, no matter how hard you try, you are just always late to everything.  While these things may be true about you, it would feel awkward to discuss in an interview.  A better suggestion would be to reflect on something that didn’t go as planned—preferably a classroom experience if you have one.  Talk about a lesson that bombed and what you learned from that or a reward you thought was great but failed to be as motivating as you had hoped and how that is informing your practice now.  These types of situations show that you are human, but are willing to examine and improve upon your weaknesses.

Tip #9: Whether it is an online or in-person interview, plan to be there 5-10 minutes early.

This shows you can be punctual but not so early as to be uncomfortable (for you and the interviewer!) to sit through a long wait.

Tip #10: My final tip is to say, as hard as this might be to understand sometimes, that you either win or you learn.  There is no failure.

If you get the job, fantastic—all your hard work has paid off and you can begin (or continue) your career in what will hopefully be a good match for all parties. If you don’t get the job, think about what you can learn from the experience. Were there questions that caught you off guard?  Were you disorganized or late? What might you do differently next time? I know this is easy for me to say, but I firmly believe nothing is an accident.  If you don’t get the job, it wasn’t going to be the right fit for you.  I know that can be something that is hard to take—I know there were jobs I wanted so badly that I didn’t get, but now looking back, I know that every no I got was actually a blessing and just leading me closer to the right fit.

I hope these tips have been helpful! I would love to hear your insights, tips and experiences with interviewing as well, so feel free to leave them in the comments below so we can all learn! Happy teaching!

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Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Two Small Changes That Made All the Difference in My Classroom

Want to know the best way I have found to curb excess talking? How about the most equitable and easy way I found to handle classroom jobs? These two seemingly small changes made a huge impact in my classroom!

Let’s talk about ways to curb the chatting first, shall we?

Every morning, each student got 3 bands. I used the hair ties that came in packs of 100 for $1 at Dollar Tree and just kept them in a tin I had from a gift I had received years ago!

I bought 5-6 packs at the beginning of the year and that usually lasted us the entire year—you could even think about putting them on your supply list or wish list for your classroom.  Invariably, I would have some break, or accidentally go home with a child. They also just wore out after a while—at 100 for $1, they aren’t necessarily the highest quality item you will find!

Here’s how the idea works:

The students could wear them on their wrist, keep them on their nametags, supply boxes, or whatever you choose. Each time they blurt out, they put one back in the container we keep them in.

I even developed a nonverbal cue to let them know that they had lost a band, so that I didn’t have to disrupt my teaching.  I would make eye contact with them and just tap my wrist and then point to the tin where the bands were kept.

This way I could keep going with what I was doing, and they simply got up and put the band back in the tin.  They knew right where it was kept (for me it was right on top of our mailboxes, so it was easily accessible, and they saw it often) and they could do that without any further disruption.

In over 20 years of teaching, I had tried several things, but this was by far the one that worked the best for me. It’s great because it’s a visual reminder for the kids, and this way you can be sure you have given them 3 warnings first before giving a more serious consequence. Win/win in my book!!!

The other so-simple-I-can’t-believe-I-didn’t-think-of-it-sooner hack is how I handled classroom jobs.

It was another classroom “chore” that I tried multiple ways of managing before I finally settled on a great, easy solution.  When I was first teaching I had only a few jobs, but kids felt left out because only a few students ever got to help.

Then I purchased a pre-made bulletin board kit, but their jobs didn’t meet my needs.  Then I came up with a list of jobs so that every child had a job that I was changing every week.  Except that I would often forget.

I had students complain that some jobs were almost never used, while others were used multiple times a day.  There was even a year where I thought I would tie persuasive writing to the class jobs, so that kids could convince me that they were the right person for the job.

All in all, no matter what approach I took, it was just a headache that I never looked forward to dealing with until I came up with the idea that I will share with you here.

Some of you may already be familiar with Tara West and her blog Little Minds at Work.

She has tons of great ideas for primary grades.  She did a blog post with a printable for a “Lucky Duck.”  She used it to choose a mystery student for staying on task.

However, one day when I was particularly frustrated with jobs and kids complaining about them, I decided to make my “Lucky Duck” the helper for the day.  So each day, during our morning meeting, I pulled one stick and that person was the person who did any job that was needed that day—passing out papers or other materials, helping with calendar (this was a kindergarten classroom), taking things to the office or to other teachers, etc.

If I needed more than one person to help, I just had the Lucky Duck from the previous day fill that position so that there were no arguments.  Once I had selected the Lucky Duck, I put the stick back in the jar with the duck side down, so I knew that student had been selected.  Once all the sticks were duck side down, I knew everyone had had a turn and I could flip them over and start again.  Something else I thought of on my third year making them, that I will save you right now from making the same mistake, is that I just put numbers on the sticks instead of names.  This way they are reusable from year to year.  Just match the number on the stick with your student’s number on your roster. Easy peasy.

Both ideas were simple, low prep and effective while making my teaching life easier and more streamlined.  I hope they are as helpful for you!

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6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

6 Best Productivity Tips For Teachers

When it comes to productivity, I was not always the greatest at managing my time well. I’d often find myself at school at 6:30 PM and feel like I had nothing to show for the three hours that had passed since school was over.  I knew I need to make a change, so I sought out blog articles and turned to Pinterest to help me.  Here are the things that worked best for me, and hopefully, they will help you too!!!

Whenever you are trying to develop a system for more productivity, I think the best thing to do is start with what I call a “Big Picture Breakdown.”

By this, I mean for you to think of the period you are trying to plan for—it could be a school year, a month, a week or a day. Whatever it is, think of all the tasks you want to accomplish during this period, and do a “Brain Dump,” as my friend Tiffany aka Coach Glitter calls it. What you will do is set a timer, and just write.  Get all your ideas down and don’t worry about censoring yourself, putting them in order, etc. JUST WRITE! Chances are the list will be overwhelming, and that is ok.  Tell yourself you are probably not going to get to all of these things, but the list is there so you can make your best plan to accomplish as much as possible.

From that list, look for things that you can batch.

For example, if I have both copying and laminating items on my list, I would batch those two together because the copier and laminator are side by side in our teacher workroom, so it makes sense to do those things together.  Some other things I like to batch are:

  1. Lesson Prep
    I am one of those people that writes out my lesson plans for the entire upcoming week on Friday. If I over plan, which commonly happens, it is ok because I can just move the items to the following week or save them for emergency sub plans (more on that later.) Some people like to plan day by day, and for more novice teachers, that may be a better idea until you feel more comfortable with pacing and knowing your students’ needs. Whatever works for you is what is best—there is no hard and fast rule for any of this.
  2. Emails/phone calls
    I try to set aside time each day after school to go through emails or Class Dojo messages and make parent or other phone calls. It is a good idea to make this policy known to your parents at the very beginning of the year, so that they will understand that you won’t typically be responding to them during the day.  Therefore, if they have an urgent message, they would need to use another avenue for that (i.e. call the office, etc.)
  3. I was definitely one to batch cleanup.
    This certainly will not work for everyone.  I can think of several colleagues right away that would cringe just to read this, but for me, it worked.  One set period to tidy everything up at once just fit better with my personality, but again, you have to do what works for you!!!

Determine your best time to work and hold it sacred.

Everyone has their “Golden Hour” for productivity.  Some teachers prefer to get to school at 6-7 AM (we had an 8:30 start time), and work before most other teachers are there.  Others would roll in right on time but stay until dark.  Others work contract hours only but did several hours of work at home. For me, I did a little before and a little after.  This was mostly due to necessity, but I made it work for me.  My daughter’s drop-off time for her school was an hour earlier than mine.  This gave me several quiet minutes at school at the start of the day, and let me tell you, I was NOT above closing my door and working with the lights off to avoid interruption.  During this time, I made sure everything was ready and organized for the day, and if there was extra time, I would peek at email, but I often didn’t have time for much then, so it was primarily dealt with after school.

After school, I often had friends drop by to chat and it was just fine with me.  I could socialize and still put materials away, papers in mailboxes and any leftover cleanup tasks.  Then I would work on switching everything for the next day—schedule, paperwork, etc.  Finally, with the time I had left I would work on email, then any copies/laminating/other prep needed.  I rarely took things home to work on once I was married and definitely not after Ellie came along.  I wanted school time to be focused on school things, but home time to be family time. That is not to say I didn’t ever bring anything home, but it was often things that could be done without distraction, like laminating to cut while helping Ellie with homework, or easy papers to check that could be done quickly while she was doing something else.  There were many times I never touched my school bag once I crossed the threshold to my house, and that was fine too.  I always looked at whatever I got done at home as a bonus.

Set a routine and use a checklist.

Once you have determined a best practice for something, make a checklist or template and use it to help speed up a process.  For example, I have been blessed to have many wonderful volunteers in my classroom.  I had one parent that loved to work on displays and was very artistic.  I could tell her the basics of what I wanted, and she would create something beyond my wildest dreams—it really was a beautiful thing! ?

However, I had another parent that preferred to make copies and prep materials.  I made a template on the computer that I filled out and left with everything she needed the day before she came.  I had other volunteers from a program through the university that came to help tutor students who needed help in language arts or math.  I designated a red bin for language arts and a blue one for math.  I made a template for each area and had a folder for each tutor.  I put the directions in their folder and then placed that folder and any materials they needed in the correct bin. This way, they could come in and get started right away without having to ask me what needed to be done.  I downloaded a lesson plan template on my computer and used the same one every week to fill in my lesson plans electronically.  I only printed them out if I felt I needed them. I also had a template for sub plans.

I took some time at the beginning of the year to type up dismissal lists, children who left the room for some type of intervention, a daily schedule, etc. and then put them all in a sub binder, so that all I had to do was fill in the lesson template, grab the materials, and put them all together.  I also had a green bin that I put worksheets we didn’t get to in (I told you we would come back to that!) and this was great for extra work in case the sub got through everything I had left with time remaining.  It rarely happened, but it was a comfort knowing he or she had plenty to do if need be.

This should probably be the very first one I listed!

Seriously, there is always far more to do than can ever be done as a teacher, and even more so if you try to do it all yourself.  Sure, there will be some things only you can do—lesson planning and report cards come to mind—but there is far more that you can let go of.  As I mentioned before, I always utilized volunteers when I could.  If you are fortunate enough to have a student teacher, they will have to have tasks delegated to them, and it is never too early to start.  And let’s not forget about the kids! Even in all my years in kindergarten, I always had plenty of jobs that kids could do, often after the first few weeks of school.  I never passed a paper out after September 1st! There is plenty more that kids can do, of course, depending on their age.  It helps them feel a greater part of the community and makes everyone accountable for the success in the classroom.

My final tip is to utilize technology.

I am a huge believer in cross-age partners (I promise there will be a blog post on that soon!) and I remember working on a project with our fifth-grade buddies and hearing a timer go off.  My colleague had programmed timers in her phone to correspond with when students had to leave to see an interventionist or take meds, etc.

I love Class Dojo because that one thing takes care of so many tasks.  My printed newsletter went from weekly to monthly after beginning to use that app.  All the things I would normally send home each week – behavior reports and reminders—could easily be handled through features on Class Dojo.  I am sure there are dozens more, since technology is evolving all the time, but those were definitely my two biggest go-tos. I’d love to hear how you use technology to help you be productive in the classroom—leave them in the comments below! We can all help each other!

Let me end with this disclaimerby no means was my classroom ever perfect, but these six tips kept me pretty well on track most days, and I would call that a win!

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Nailing Your Teacher Interview

Nailing Your Teacher Interview

It all starts with this—nailing your teacher interview. Get this right, and you are on your way to a new career. Bomb it, and well, it’s hello retail–at least that is what happened to me after I graduated from college. I ended up working at Lerner and The Limited (popular women’s clothing stores at the time) for a year after I first graduated instead of getting a teaching position. In the end, everything happened the way it was supposed to, but it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. On the flip side, the year I interviewed at my current school, I had multiple offers. Whenever we are lucky enough to be called for an interview, we want to do our best, of course. Here are my top tips to help you to just that.

Dress for Success

The first thing we need to tackle is dress code. Like it or not, there is definitely a very distinct dress code for interviews. Messy buns and yoga pants just won’t cut it, much as I wish they would! When I had my first interview, over 25 years ago, you had two choices—navy suit or black suit. I am so glad that times have changed! A suit, for men and women, is still a viable option but now a dress or tailored pantsuit will work for ladies.

For men, a button down shirt and tie (no polos) is acceptable too. We have several openings in my school for the upcoming year, and I have yet to see any candidate come in a suit. I would say this even goes for the guys. If you are unsure, I would still err on the side of caution. I think it is much better to be too formal than too informal. For the ladies, hair, makeup and jewelry should all be understated. When you are on the interview circuit, it is not the time to have bold, trendy makeup or a giant statement piece of jewelry. For men, be sure there are no wrinkled shirts or crooked ties. Obviously, this is not earth shattering advice, but as the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so these are all things that must be considered.

Once your look is on fleek (as my daughter would say), then it is time to get your head in the game. It’s an interview, so naturally, there are going to be questions—ideally, both to you and from you. Never let the opportunity go by to ask a question of your interviewer, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Common Interview Questions

Some common questions in a teacher interview are no different than any other interview—tell us about yourself, what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses, etc. However, in a teacher interview, you should also expect to be asked about your philosophy of education, what your behavior management style is, and how you would involve parents in the classroom. It is best to prepare your answers to these types of questions ahead of time. If possible, get a friend to practice with you, because often what sounds completely intelligent and spot-on in your head, can come out a jumbled mess when you are actually saying the words out loud. It’s only worse when you are nervous and the pressure is on to do well, so prepare as much as possible before going in to the interview

One of the hardest questions in any interview is always “What is your greatest weakness?” If you are too hard on yourself—for example, “I am really working on my punctuality, but I’m still chronically late to everything!”, you likely blow any chance of ever talking to that interviewer again, but if you answer something like, “I am totally OCD! I have to have everything just in its perfect place,” then you haven’t answered much better.

While true obsessive compulsive disorder (or any other type of mental illness for that matter) is nothing to joke about, having an organized classroom is the goal of every principal for every classroom, so it’s really not something that would be a true weakness. Here is how I answered that question, and it definitely seemed to resonate with my interviewers: “I often struggle with exactly how much support to give students. I don’t want to give too much support, because I definitely believe in fostering independence, but I also don’t want them to struggle unnecessarily and feel frustrated either.” This truly is a dilemma many teachers face, and a weakness in the sense that it is something you should work on to improve, but not something so awful it would blow the interview. The caveat to this is that it must be true for YOU.

As great as my advice or anyone else’s may be on how to answer interview questions, if they don’t apply to you, they are worse than no answer at all. In general, think back to issues you may have had in any of your classroom experiences (student teaching, volunteering, etc.) and see if you can word it in such a way so as to show that it is something you recognize you need to change, and how you are going about doing just that.

A Child Centered Approach

As far as the other questions go about your philosophy, behavior and parents, these are going to be unique to each person. Only you can explain what your teaching philosophy is, but I think most administrators want to hear that it is a child-centered approach and that you believe in differentiation for your lessons. A one size fits all approach with the teacher just spewing information to students just doesn’t cut it in today’s education climate. Again, though, whatever you say needs to be true to you—don’t just pick a few education buzzwords and throw them in a sentence that sounds good. If you talk the talk, you must be willing to walk the walk.

When it comes to behavior plans, if you had a positive student teaching experience, then you could mention that your cooperating teacher did xxxxx program/idea/etc. and say that you feel that would be what you are planning to try also. If you disagreed with your cooperating teacher’s plan, then you will have to research other ideas. Personally, my all-time favorite classroom management tool is Class Dojo, but you will have to do your own research to see what seems manageable for you.

Involving Parents

I’ll be doing another blog post soon all about parents and how to involve them, but in general, some good answers would be that you have an open door policy and that you plan to do specifically xxxxx (Class dojo, Remind, weekly newsletters, a class Instagram account, etc.—whatever you think will work for you) to keep parents informed. Getting parents on your side will be a key factor to your success and having a clear plan for how you intend to do that will go a long way towards winning over whoever might be interviewing you.

One other thing that must be mentioned is that very often in teacher interviews, you will interview with a panel. I have had a few interviews with just the principal of the school, but I have also interviewed with multiple principals at once because the job was a traveling position between three buildings in the same district. I have interviewed with a principal and one other teacher from the grade level, and I even interviewed once with a panel of about 5 teachers and then the principal by himself. That was extremely nerve wracking, but practicing with friends and knowing what I would be facing up front helped a lot.

Portfolio

Another thing to consider is whether or not to bring a teaching portfolio. There are many schools of thought on this. Some people say absolutely bring it, and that it made all the difference. Others say don’t bother, because no one looks at them anyway. Still others say to have it available online and reference it in the resume and then bring it up in the interview. Every interview session is unique. There were plenty of times I didn’t have anything and the interview went just fine. Other times, I brought it and it basically sat in my lap. Still other times, administators or other panel members were very interested in it and it sparked great discussion.

My best advice is if you have one, by all means bring it along—you will know instinctively whether or not to bring it out. The worst that could happen is that you carry it in and leave it at your side, but it may just make all the difference in whether or not you are the candidate they choose. If you don’t have one, I wouldn’t stress about it—focus your time on practicing answers to probable questions first. I think that will pay off much more than a portfolio, but do what feels right to you.

Believe it or not, there is still plenty to say on this topic, including those questions you should ask your interviewer, so I will be back again tomorrow with more interview tips! I know no one likes to read a blog post that is a mini-novel, so I think it is best we wrap this one up right here. Until next time, thanks for reading and all the best to you!

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