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Professional Development Opinion

Response: ‘Applying for a Teaching Position Is a Job in Itself’

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 04, 2019 19 min read
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(This is the first post in a four-part series)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are your suggestions for people applying for their first teaching job?

Every year, thousands of people apply for their first teaching job. This four-part series will consider what might be some good tips for them to keep in mind.

Today’s column will include recommendations from Valerie Ruckes, Sanée Bell, Dr. PJ Caposey, Candace Hines, Mary Cathryn D. Ricker, and Rinard Pugh. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Valerie, Sanée, PJ, and Candace on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

You might also be interested in previous columns on this same topic at Entering the Teaching Profession, as well as The Best Sources Of Advice On How To Get A Teaching Job.

Response From Valerie Ruckes

Valerie Ruckes is in her 18th year of teaching and currently teaches 1st grade with Rochester Community Schools in Rochester, Mich. Val is involved as a mentor for the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) in her district, and she serves as a member of the Instructional Leadership Team in her building. On Sunday nights, you can find Val on Twitter (@valruckes) where she co-moderates #1stchat and connects with other 1st grade teachers:

When you are applying for your first teaching job, I think it’s important to have a plan. I’ve had the privilege to be on many interviewing teams when new teachers were being hired in our building. I’ve also mentored several student-teachers over the years.

Here are my suggestions for people applying for their first teaching job:

  • Make the most of your Practicum/Student Teaching Experience.

    Start planning for your first teaching job, now. Get involved by volunteering for as many school-related events as possible. Make an effort to meet the school principal and make a good impression. He/she will be watching. (Believe me when I say this.) The same holds true of your cooperating teacher. A great student-teaching experience could lead to a permanent job at that building or another building in the district. Principals share resources and those include “human resources,” too.

  • Be willing to work as a guest teacher/sub

    . Subbing will provide you with an array of classroom experiences. It also provide you with an opportunity to network and find out about potential teaching positions in the building. It’s important to make a good impression. Teachers refer great subs to their principals, and principals are always keeping their eyes open for good subs. Many teachers have started their teaching careers by subbing, first. Prepare business cards that you can leave behind after a day of guest teaching. I’ve passed along many business cards from people who have been guest teachers in my classroom.

  • Create a great resume

    . Your resume will give the principal and the other members of the interviewing team their first impression of you. Be prepared to back up and explain anything that you have shared on your resume. School teams look for members that are humble, hungry, and people smart.

  • Get creative

    . If you have had an opportunity to sub in the same building on a number of occasions, you may have been able to develop a relationship with the principal. If you feel comfortable enough with the principal, you might want to approach him/her directly and ask this question: “What does someone have to do to get an interview?” This will not only take them by surprise but it will more than likely knock their socks off!

  • Create a Professional Book Stack

    . Professional reading is extremely important. If you are not sure which professional books to start with, ask college professors, other teachers, and school principals for recommendations. You might also check with you PLN on Twitter and explore suggestions from Amazon. Professional reading often comes up during interviews, and I’m always surprised by how little teachers are reading. If we want to encourage our students to read and be lifelong learners, we should continue to learn and develop our teaching practice. One of the ways we can do this is by reading professional books. Professional resources also include reading professional articles, websites, and blogs.

  • Do your research

    . Find out as much as you can about the building and district that you are interviewing with. You can browse websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter Accounts associated with the school. During an interview, it helps if you have some knowledge of the building’s mission and the district’s strategic plan.

  • Stay positive. Applying for a teaching position is a job in itself. It’s easy to get discouraged but try your best to stay positive and productive in the interim. A positive attitude goes a long way.

Response From Sanée Bell

Sanée Bell, Ed.D., is a middle school principal and adjunct professor who resides in Houston. She has experience as an elementary principal, middle and high school teacher, and basketball coach. Dr. Bell recognizes her impact as a leader and uses her role to inspire, motivate, and empower others. Sanée shares her thoughts on leadership on her blog saneebell.com and via Twitter @SaneeBell:

I spend a great deal of time interviewing teachers, and there are three areas that always make a lasting impression on me when reviewing and interviewing applicants. Teachers who hit the target in these three areas are the ones who become members of my school family.

Build a reflective resume. Candidates who are looking for their first teaching position should have a resume that reflects the job they are seeking. For example, spending a great deal of time highlighting jobs not related to the field will not give the hiring manager any indication that you have the skills and traits necessary to teach unless those jobs were related to working with children in an instructional role. Take a look at the job description and think about your experiences in the areas that are outlined in the description. Use your resume to highlight specific things that have been done while student-teaching or subbing. If student-teaching is not a requirement in your preparatory program, seeking opportunities to work in a classroom is highly recommended. The first step in getting a job is being invited to sit at the interview table. This will only happen if your resume speaks for you.

Share examples. When I am interviewing candidates, I use behavior-based questions. These are questions that require candidates to give specific examples in their response. As a hiring manager, I am interested in certain behaviors. Candidates who struggle with these questions are not able to give specific examples, which demonstrates that what I am looking for may not a part of their regular behavior. It is my belief that I can send a teacher to training to learn the technical aspects of teaching or how to improve their pedagogy, but I can’t train behaviors. Be sure to give a specific example that illustrates your response. Let the interview committee see who you are and how you behave in certain situations. Think of the interview as a conversation. Be formal but comfortable.

Know your why. Spending some time reflecting on your personal why is something all educators should do. Teaching should be a personal career. For example, when someone asks the question, “What do you do?” the natural response would be, " I am a teacher.” The what is insignificant when you think about the the why and the how. When you know your why, the answer to that question should be something like this, “I educate, motivate, and inspire greatness in others by helping them to achieve their goals in a supportive learning environment.” When you know your why before sitting at the interview table, you will be able to respond to any question that is asked because you will be speaking from the heart.

Remember that you only get two shots to shine—on paper and in person. Leave a lasting impression. Make the interview committee excited that you crossed the threshold of their door!

Response From Dr. PJ Caposey

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, speaker, and author ofsix books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for Meridian 223 in Northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe:

Advice for new teachers applying for their first job

If you are looking for a teaching job right now, I encourage you to focus on being the best possible teacher you can be and not the best possible interviewer. Of course you should Google top-teacher interview questions and practice. Of course you should be dressed to impress, arrive at the interview early, engage the secretary in conversation, and not be chewing gum (personal pet peeve). But to me there are only two rules and pieces of advice for someone seeking a job in the greatest profession in the world (teaching):

  • Be authentic. If you attempt to be who you think they want, it will never be a partnership either side is content with.
  • Focus way more on improving your craft and being the best possible first-year teacher—not the best possible interviewer.

Below are four tips I give all of my first-year teachers, and I think everyone from veteran to preservice teachers could use these as a reminder.

  1. What is best for kids? What is best for these kids? What is best for this kid?

    This cycle of questions should ring through everything you do as a teacher. Every lesson-planning session should start with a focus on your kids, and you should work through these questions each day. To be a truly game-changing teacher—you will do what it takes to what is best for each kid, each day. This is a process and a goal—continue to work toward it.

  1. If I had to tell you to focus on one thing—it would be student engagement.

    Year One in any district is difficult. If I were to tell you to focus on becoming better at any one thing (without ever seeing you teach), I would encourage you to work on improving and focusing every day on Domain 3, Component C of Danielson (Student Engagement). Really study it, read about it, and practice it. If you become better at engaging your students in deep thought every day, your life will become easier, and students will be better served.

  1. You must remain unfinished to be great. You were hired to be great.

    It is hard to learn how to swim when you are drowning. This is something I say a lot to people when they are “just trying to make it through” Year One. The really successful—great teachers know focusing on personal and professional growth when times get hard is difficult, but continue to invest in their own growth anyway. If you want to be great—stay unfinished. Invest in yourself. Read. Connect online. Observe others. Ask questions. Allow yourself to be vulnerable and open to new ideas.

  1. Lastly, and most importantly—you were not hired to maintain the status quo

    You were hired to make a difference. You were hired to change the lives of children. You were also hired to change the lives of those who work beside you. You will notice as you begin to do wonderful things that others may seem resistant to your new ideas and energy. This is common in any workplace. Do not let this deter you. Let your light shine and always remember our kids deserve a better tomorrow than you gave today. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.

Response From Candace Hines

Candace Hines is an elementary educator and a regional presenter, training teachers across various districts in Tennessee. She also serves as a Collaborative for Student Success-Teacher Champion Fellow and aHope Street GroupTennessee Teacher Fellow; engaging her colleagues in providing classroom feedback to the Tennessee Department of Education on public education policy issues:

“The sparrows jumped before they knew how to fly, and they learned to fly only because they had jumped.”

― Lauren Oliver

You have just graduated, and a relaxing summer vacation seems to be calling your name! Although this can be tempting, summertime is often the best time of year to land that brand-new teaching job. So leave the luggage put away for now and head on over to your computer.

We have all been there, nervous, unsure, second guessing each and every decision. Try not to let this overpower you or break down your confidence. However, the best thing you can do when applying for your first teaching job is to jump right in. Begin with cleaning up your social-media accounts. Perception is key; rid your page of anything that doesn’t represent you in a positive and professional manner. After all, if your administrator can find an outrageous picture of you, then so can parents, students, or future colleagues.

Now you can begin to gather your resources and check up on schools. I have learned that timing is everything and that “the fortune is always in the follow up.” When searching for the perfect school, always remember that word of mouth can go a long way. Chances are that you recently left a school student-teaching and consequently formed several connections with the students and the staff. Make the most of this opportunity and restart relationships and rekindle connections. Sometimes it is all in who you know and not the experience. In addition to this, visit local schools to inquire about job openings and stay active on media platforms that may list new positions, such as Linkedin, Teach For America, and your state’s official Education Website.

Do not forget that in order to land the perfect teaching position, you must do your research. When you go to an interview, be sure to ask the administration questions regarding their school report card, staff turnover rates, school culture, and state test results. Asking these types of questions will help you paint a well-rounded picture of the potential work environment, thus aiding you in making an informed decision. As educators, we spend so much time at school that it is important to work in a comfortable work environment. Follow up by doing your research on their school’s media platform. A lot can be said about a school’s digital presentation and how they communicate with families, via the media. Not to mention, it also gives you a physical and tangible glance as to what may be your new school family.

While you are waiting for an interview or a follow-up phone call, be sure to continue modifying your teaching portfolio, resume, and volunteering. Experience is not always the most important thing; however, it is invaluable! Staying fresh, current, and effective can be the difference between your first year being an enjoyable flight or a nightmare that haunts you forever. When creating your teaching portfolio, be sure to include student work samples and ALWAYS have a video clip of your teaching available for viewing and/or sharing with the administration. This can be captured while you are volunteering or substituting, if you have not collected one already. In our media-driven world, there is nothing worse than being asked if you have a video of you teaching and not being prepared.

In conclusion, take that jump so you can soar. As one unknown author once said, “Your wings already exist, all you have to do is fly.” Think short-term, long-term, and back-up plans. Always have multiple options when trying to land the perfect teaching job. The summertime is often one of the most lucrative periods for recruiting educators. Remember to stay flexible and do your homework. You have what it takes. Be confident and go forth!

Response From Mary Cathryn D. Ricker

Mary Cathryn Ricker is a national-board-certified middle school English teacher. She was appointed Commissioner of Education by the Governor of Minnesota in January, and was executive vice president of the American Federation of Teachers from July 2014 to December 2018. Ricker served as president of the Saint Paul (Minn.) Federation of Teachers from 2005 to 2014, as an AFT vice president since 2012, and a member of the AFT K-12 Teachers program and policy council 2006-14. A native of Hibbing, Minn., Ricker has taught in classrooms in St. Cloud and Saint Paul, Minn.; Camas, Wash.; and Seoul, South Korea. Ricker also serves on the boards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP):

Applying for your first teaching job is like a fresh page in a new notebook. After studying, taking classes, observing, practicing teaching, this is your moment to step out of being a learner and become the teacher you have been learning to be. While there are all the traditional preparations for interviewing to keep in mind (Arrive early. Have a lesson ready to teach your interview panel in case they ask. Always write thank-you notes. What are your weaknesses that will actually turn out to be strengths?), I have advice for someone applying for a teaching job with a career in teaching in mind.

Be intentional about demonstrating your reflective practice. Research shows that teachers improve with experience, so how can you differentiate yourself as a novice teacher when the pool may contain experienced teachers as well? Show that you know how to reflect on a lesson. You will establish your expertise with skill that will serve you for your entire career in teaching. Additionally, reflective practice establishes you as both a lifelong learner and a dedicated educator.

Read the contracts your prospective employers have with their teacher’s union. These agreements most often go beyond wages and benefits. They also contain the professional working conditions you can expect as you teach. The agreement can indicate the priorities that currently exist for teaching and learning and can serve as a source for smart questions that also demonstrate your commitment to your future students. If hours or days for professional development are outlined, you can ask about the nature of what your experience during professional-development time will be like. If a commitment to student conferences is mentioned, you can take that opportunity to discuss your ideal family and student communication practices. Additionally, they will outline an evaluation plan that will provide an insightful indication of how you will be supported to be as successful as possible meeting the needs of your students as a new teacher and as you gain experience. The contract may also mention the path to earning national-board certification (it definitely will if I had anything to do with it), which is a strong indication of opportunities you will have to grow as a professional.

Applying for your first teaching job is exciting. Let that excitement show. Your enthusiasm, coupled with demonstrating your serious commitment to teaching and learning, will not only make you an attractive candidate to prospective employers, it will also set the stage for your successful and fulfilling career in teaching.

Response From Rinard Pugh

Rinard Pugh is currently an elementary principal. He lives with his wife and two children in West Michigan. He’s a graduate of Western Michigan University. He is currently working on his Ed.S degree at Central Michigan University:

I recommend candidates applying for their first teaching job follow what I call the NET strategy:

N-Network: Candidates need to push on all of their resources starting with their university supervisors. Make sure they have their letters of recommendation from professionals that can speak to their work. Also, candidates should be sure to ask the partnering teacher supervisors during their student assisting and student-teaching to write letters of recommendations.

E-Educate: Candidates stand out when they are in interviews, and they can speak to specific initiatives and experiences that are part of the district they are applying for. Take time to peruse the district website and familiarize yourself with it. Look at the district improvement and school improvement plans to better understand student data, instructional strategies, and resources available in the school. The more you know and can reference during an interview, the better off you will be.

T-Talk: The third and final tip is to talk. There will be many candidates vying for the same teaching job so you have to make yourself stand out. You can do this by talking. Use electronic talk like email. Send a brief (few sentences) email to the school administrators expressing your interest in the teaching job. It wouldn’t hurt to upload your resume and a letter of recommendation as well. Also, use this as an opportunity to tell the administrators something relevant to the position you are applying for (having volunteered in the school, experience at the same grade level, etc.). Although teaching applications are almost exclusively online, it’s still special making a face-to-face stop in the school. Bring your smile and business-casual attire along with copies of your credentials to drop off. Be sure to be polite, energetic, and fun so you can leave a lasting impression.

Thanks to Valerie, Sanée, PJ, Candace, Mary Cathryn, and Rinard for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder;you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first seven years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn’t include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Race & Gender Challenges

Classroom Management Advice

Best Ways to Begin The School Year

Best Ways to End The School Year

Implementing the Common Core

Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech in the Classroom

Parent Engagement in Schools

Teaching English-Language Learners

Reading Instruction

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Education Policy Issues

Student Assessment

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

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Advice for New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering the Teaching Profession

The Inclusive Classroom

Learning & the Brain

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships in Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

Best of Classroom Q&A

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Two in a few days.

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.