Thursday, June 7, 2012

So you want a job eh?

As a 12 month employee, I'm often asked what I do in the summer.  One of the most critical tasks I usually need to complete is some hiring.  The market is terrible in many places right now for teaching jobs, making the few openings that do occur to be even more competitive.

I interviewed yesterday for roughly seven hours.  I didn't find anything.  No skin off my nose.  There are over 1000 applicants for this position.  I can afford to be picky, and I will (a mistake many administrators make- NOT being picky/critical).  But the quality of the interviews was almost unsettling to me.  These candidates, most of them younger, simply interview terribly.  It's an embarrassment.  How did it get to this?  I have to believe the universities have to take some blame for level of preparation these people have.  Regardless, and all kidding aside, please consider these basic points if you are interviewing for a teaching job this summer.

1.  Can the stale buzz terms and flowery language. 

If hear 'life long learner' more one I might kill myself.  What the hell does that even mean?  I know I didn't hear it coming out of the mouth of any of the retirees at their goodbye speeches a couple weeks ago.  When you sit and talk like you are trying to remember the bullet points of a journal article you read in college (reluctantly), you don't set yourself apart from the other candidates- you blend.  That's a bad thing if you want to get hired.  Further, I have no idea who I'm talking to thus making hiring you even more of a crap shoot.  None of my teachers walk around talking about the 'cognitive domain' while at work.  Neither will you, and I know this.  So cut the shit.  Tell me what you really think.  I might like it.

Same goes for your resumes.  Objective: To get a job.  Not: Objective: To maximize my interpersonal skills in an environment that allows me to blah blah blah.

2.  Your portfolio is highly unlikely to help (and may hurt you).

Look, some interviewees ask for these things, I get it.  If you have one, bring it along.  But you don't have to push the thing like the secret to life is housed inside your plastic binder.  Again, these things all look the same.  If you think pictures of you during student teaching, copies of lesson plans you did during your clinicals, and notes your cooperating teaching sent home and added your name to are going to get your hired you're nuts.  Perhaps universities are telling you these things are real game changers.  They're not.  Of course, if you hand me something with spelling errors, transcripts with low grades, or other otherwise unimpressive items, it might hurt you.  I'd advise keeping that in your bag until it is asked for (the arts would be an exception here).

3.  Be honest.

Be honest with your self.  Obviously don't tell your interviewer that you speak Spanish when you don't.  But also don't tell them you do things or are going to do things you know you're not really going to do.

"When I begin to make lesson plans, I always begin by consulting the state standards."

Really?  Well, then you'd be the first teacher ever.  What do you really do?   Don't tell me that method to motivate students to be enthusiastic yourself.  "Then the kids will be enthusiastic too!"  Go walk around a school in March before spring break and let me know how enthusiasm is holding up.

So what do I say?

The stale terms, the have truths, the desperate pimping of the portfolios: all these things are a result of not really knowing what to say.  Obviously, each administrator is different and may be looking for slightly different things, but I'd like to think most are simply looking for great teachers.

Make sure your answers talk about the students- not yourself.  Administrators want to hear that your want to to help kids learn- not YOU'VE always dreamed of bring a teacher and that your mom was a teacher.  You want to let it be known that you are interested in finding out what the kids like and adjusting lessons accordingly.  Administrators want to hear about the great relationships you want to form with students, staff, and parents (and how you're going to do it).  They're interested in your creativity, and humble confidence.  Notice, none of these things are specific to experience level.

It's not a fair process.  Don't beat yourself or over think things.

Over time, you'll interview for a lot more jobs than you'll actually get.  When you get the letter or call letting you know you didn't get the job, that hurts.  If you've interviewed at several places and gotten several of these letters you begin to feel like a failure or question yourself.  It's always good to be reflective, but it's also important to acknowledge this isn't a fair process.  Getting a job is often about who you know.  You don't know who you are competing with.  Often times districts require that X number of candidates be interviewed, but the principal already has an internal candidate or someone from a former district that's basically already got the job.  You could wow their pants off and still be told 'no thank you.' Superintendents, mayors, other administrators, teachers, college professors, and even parents offer names when openings occur which create an playing field which is not level for all.  This is at times an unfortunate reality.

Even beyond connections, you don't know who you are competing against.  If a National Board Certified teacher relocate or decided to return after a maternity leave, even a great interview is going to have a tough job competing with such credentials.

Be persistent.

Apply everywhere.  A common mistake is prospective teachers only apply at schools who's teaching jobs are highly desired.  Everyone wants those schools and jobs are nearly impossible to get.  Huge districts in tough neighborhoods have high turnover and usually have positions to fill.  These school need good teachers too.  Don't be afraid of what you read in the paper.  Kids are kids.  And they're awesome at ALL schools.

Good luck!  Oh, and if you do speak Spanish, make sure they know that.... :)