Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Teacher Interview Tips & Tricks

Well, it's that time of year! The days are winding away and you're busy thinking about your plans for next year.  While I'm sure most of you are looking forward to having the same position next year, some of you have inevitably been doing what I've been doing this spring.....job hunting!

It's stressful and time-consuming.  It's definitely not fun, but it has to be done.  I am  happy to announce that after many, many interviews and multiple job offers, I have accepted a position at a great school in southern Illinois!  My husband and I will be moving as soon as this school year is over and I couldn't be more excited.  If you don't know my back-story, I'm originally from Illinois and moved out to Utah temporarily so my husband (who's originally from Utah) could finish school.  Now that's he's done, I finally get to go back home!

I thought it might be helpful for those of you doing some teaching interviews to know the details of the fifteen interviews I participated in.  This post will be most helpful to newer teachers and I welcome those veterans out there to add anything I missed into the comments section. I'm in no way an expert on this subject, but I'm happy to share my experiences with the interviewing process in the hopes that I can help you nail the job you want too! :)

Pre-Interview Tips
  • When you get that joyous call (or email in some cases) inviting you for an interview, ask pertinent questions so you'll show up prepared.  Possible things to ask include:
    • Who is conducting the interview process?  Is it just the principal or a team of teachers? It helps to know beforehand so your nerves aren't shocked when you walk into a conference room of eight people when you were only expecting one.
    • Should you bring anything?  Some of the interviews I went on asked for a sample lesson plan.  Others told me just to bring myself.  I always bring a paper copy of my resume, however, just in case!  It's also not a bad idea to bring a notepad and something to write with so you can jot down pertinent information about the position, names of colleagues, contact info, etc. that is given to you mid-interview.  When I'm nervous, any and all information enter one ear and fly right out the other so this has been a lifesaver for me more than once!
    • Where will the interview take place? More often than not, it's usually at the school where the position is being offered. However, I did have one this time around that was at a district office. The person calling should give you this information, but it never hurts to double-check!
  • Research, research, research! Most schools have websites that are a treasure trove of information. Check out the PTA page or calendar to see any community events that your potential school is a part of.  See if there's a school disclosure form posted so you can read up on the school atmosphere. This will prepare you for my least favorite interview question of all time: Why do you want to work at our school? (And no, I don't think "I need a job" or "your district pays well" are considered acceptable answers!)
  • Practice answering interview questions aloud.  Have your spouse or parents ask you some questions from the section below and go through your answers.  If no one is available, say your answers into the mirror while maintaining eye contact (harder than you think!). This will give you a chance to work out the kinks in your answers and show you where you need to focus your efforts before the interview.
  • Clean up your social media pages.  Jobs are looking at those now.  Remove any photos that do not portray you in a professional light or set your profile settings to the strictest option so only people you know will be able to access your information. No principal will be impressed by the photos from your college keg party. You have the right to do what you want in your personal life for the most part, but teaching is a public profession and your reputation really does matter.
Interview Questions
All of these questions were asked at my interviews this year. Some were asked multiple times.  Those questions are denoted with an asterisk and might be more worthy of your attention. Some are general and others are more content or grade-specific.  Your interview questions will most likely include a few from this list that you can prepare for and many more that will be new and require you to think on your feet.
  • Tell us about yourself.  Why did you become a teacher?*
  • A student comes into your classroom visibly upset because he will be moving to another school next week.  What do you do?
  • What is your biggest weakness when it comes to teaching?*
  • If we were to look you up on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, what would we see?*
  • How do you know your students trust you?
  • What is it that makes your work as a teacher meaningful?*
  • A student in your class isolates himself from other students, both in class and during recess.  How do you handle this student when it comes time for cooperative learning?
  • Another teacher at your school states that all teachers should use the district map given to them by the district in order to teach the curriculum.  Do you agree?
  • What does your classroom management look like?*
  • How important is parent communication to you? What does it look like in your classroom?*
  • How much of your personal opinions and feelings about a topic should come through when you are teaching your students?
  • If we contacted some of your past students, their parents, or colleagues, what would they say about you?*
  • A student with a different ethnic or religious background from the rest of your students joins your class.  How do you make that student feel welcome?  How do you prepare the rest of your class for this student's arrival?
  • What classroom technology are you proficient in?*
  • Give an example of a lesson you taught that relied heavily on technology.
  • What is the Common Core and how is it changing what we expect from students?*
  • If we walked into your classroom during an excellent lesson, what would we see?*
  • Why would you be a good fit for our school?*
You can always Google "teaching interview questions" to get a much longer list, but these were the questions I was asked during my interviews.

Other Advice
  • Come up with a list of questions to take with you to an interview.  Almost every interview I've been to has given me a chance at the end to ask the administrator or team some of my own questions.  Even if you don't really have any, asking something will show them you're legitimately interested.  (I would not recommend asking about the salary schedule at this time.  When they call to offer you the job, ask them to send you a packet of employment information for you to look over before you make your decision.) Here are some questions I've asked in the past:
    • What is your school's average class size?
    • What kind of technology can I expect to use on a daily basis at your school?
    • How are teachers evaluated in your district?
    • What does your school's PBIS look like?
  • BE CONFIDENT! Like they say, "Fake it until you make it!"
  • If you're offered a job, do not put in your resignation for your current position until you've signed a contract for the new position.  Sometimes things happen and the position is no longer available.  It's rare, but I've seen it happen to a colleague, so protect yourself, just in case.
  • Know your situation and if you can afford to be choosy.  If you're a brand new teacher, you might need to take the first job that is offered to you.  If it's not your ideal position (I've still never taught my dream grade), remember that it's a crucial step to getting your foot in the door.  I've often lived by the motto that I can do anything for a year.  It's helped get me through some tough jobs.  On the other hand, if you have options, don't be afraid to turn an offer down if it's not the right fit.  I turned down two 5th grade jobs in March (one for a reading intervention class and the other was co-taught) because they weren't what I originally applied for and I knew I would be happier sticking it out in my current position for one more year.  You're also interviewing the school, so don't be afraid to tell them you'd like to "discuss the offer with your family first" if you  need some time to decide if it's going to be the best choice for you.  I'm a people pleaser and that concept was really hard for me to understand, but I see the wisdom in putting your needs first when it comes to finding a new position.
Well, that's about all I have on the subject.  I am incredibly relieved that my search is over for the time being and I can now get back to spending all my time on less stressful things.  Hopefully you've found this post helpful.  Good luck in all your job hunting endeavors!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Black Death Investigation

Each year I've taught 6th grade, I have done a fun simulation activity for the Black Death that I just LOVE.  You can see my previous post about that by clicking HERE.  I fully planned on doing that this year, but because our curriculum maps for Social Studies and Language Arts have a lot in common, the LA teacher beat me to it.  Needless to say, I was very disappointed because this activity is what gets me through the year.  I seriously love doing it with my students so much that I maybe cried just a little when I found out they had already done it in another class.  Don't judge me.

So, I had to come up with something else to do that would get me excited to teach the late middle ages.  I went perusing through TPT and found a product from one of my favorite Social Studies sellers, Mr. Educator.  The product is called 'The Black Death, 1348 CE: A Bone-Chilling Investigation' and the students were playing the role of FBI investigators trying to determine whether or not the Black Death was really caused by the Bubonic Plague like many people believe.  I liked how much inquiry was involved and since we're an AVID school, we focus on using WICOR with every lesson: Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization, and Rigor.

I, of course, had to add my own flair to the mix.  I put all the exhibits into file folders with labels as if they were really FBI documents.  I burned a few of the documents to make them look old before laminating.

Oh yeah, and I made myself a cape and plague-doctor inspired mask.  It was awesomely creepy.  If you'd like to make your own, I modeled mine after this tutorial online.  The instructions weren't very detailed so I felt like I was winging it most of the time, but I think it turned out really well!

Overall, my kids really enjoyed it.  I still think I like the other simulation better, but it's nice to have back-up activities in case of emergencies.  If you haven't seen this activity before, be sure to check it out in Mr. Educator's shop.  I don't usually blog about other people's projects, but this one was worth sharing!  Hope everyone is hanging in there.  Only 2 more weeks until Spring Break for us and then it's the final stretch.  Can't believe this year is almost finished already!

Monday, March 10, 2014

'Pin the Armor on the Knight' Activity

It's been awhile since I've posted.  My husband was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis around the new year and we've both been going through a lot of things, especially emotionally.  I haven't felt up to doing much blogging, but today I had the kids do an activity that I thought would be fun to share.

We're on our Middle Ages unit right now and the students LOVE learning anything they can about castles, knights, etc.  We've spent a few days learning about a knight's job and training.  Today we focused on his armor and weapons.  We read a short reading passage followed by a matching worksheet to get down the names of the different pieces of armor.  Then, we played "Pin the Armor on the Knight," which is just like "Pin the Tail on the Donkey."  A very simple concept, but the students loved it.

This is one of those activities that I'll look forward to each time I teach this unit, especially now that I have all the materials made up.  If you had asked me last week how I felt while I was tracing, gluing, coloring, laminating, and cutting, I would have told you I was an idiot for coming up with this idea.  Has that ever happened to you?  All the work paid off though today because my students had a lot of fun and it got me excited about teaching even on the Monday after Daylight Savings Time.  (Trust me, my body KNEW it was 5:30 instead of 6:30 when I was driving to work today.  No amount of caffeine could fool it.)

You could use this simple party game for a variety of topics.  A few that come to my mind for Social Studies are the different states in the U.S. or different countries on a continent.  Science could do the planets in the solar system or the parts of an apple, pumpkin, etc.  Here's the process I used to create this game:
  1. Project a picture of a knight onto a large piece of butcher paper.  Use a black permanent marker to trace and make all the kids think you're an amazing artist. :)
  2. On another piece of equal-sized butcher paper, trace just the outline of the knight's body.
  3. Color the knight.  Apparently the cheap boxes of crayons I have for my room do not include gray, so I had to use some extra chalk the art teacher had.
  4. Because butcher paper is so flimsy and I wanted this to last, I glued the knight onto gray pieces of construction paper.  I probably used about 10 pieces total to cover the entire picture.  If you plan on using the pieces more than once, I highly recommend making the paper more sturdy so it'll hold up longer.
  5. Cut the knight into pre-determined pieces.
  6. Laminate and cut out again.
If you do something like this in your classroom and blog about it, leave the link in the comments section.  I'd love to see what you did and how it turned out.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Technology Day

Today was technology day at our school.  Every teacher was supposed to use their 1:1 technology while people from the district showed up for an open house to observe how we're using our grant money.  Despite the fact I have strep and felt like I was breathing through a straw (when do these antibiotics start working???), I showed up and did my lesson.  It went really well.  My achievement coach said one of my observers asked if they could video tape my lesson to show at the district, so that was flattering.

The best part of my day though was when I was reading through my students quick-write responses online.  We had a current events lesson and learned about how some scientist is claiming King Tut died from a chariot crash after analyzing his remains.  Some people believe it's very disrespectful to mess around with Egyptian mummies because ancient Egyptians believed that would affect their experience in the afterlife.  So I posed this question to my students: Is it ever okay to step on another person's beliefs in the name of science or education?

I got a lot of really great responses.  This was not one of them, but the feedback left from another student made me LOL in front of the whole class so I thought I'd share.

That's some quality discussion right there!  :)