I’m that guy. I’m the youth league coach watching instructional DVDs, making PPT playbooks, and video-taping other teams to see what works and what doesn’t work. I’m the guy looking for an edge. I’m crazy competitive.
What’s really weird though is that if you know me: as a student, friend, relative etc…I also want to help YOU gain a competitive edge. For some weird reason I think that if I help you succeed, then I have succeeded. So here’s the deal. I’m going to give you an edge in getting hired as a teacher. Not only getting hired, but making the most of your student teaching experience and your first few years so you can get re-hired if pink slips come around.
This is going to be my longest blog post, but it’s also my most important, because let’s face it: you can’t do anything interesting as a teacher until you get hired. My brother just moved to England because he struggled to find a teaching job in the states. It killed me to watch him move half-way across the world to find a job. Let’s see if we can avoid that.
I’m going to miss that cool guy on the left. Dear schools in London- you would be lucky to hire this young man.
I have worked with twelve different student teachers and I have been on the interview panel as department chair or lead English teacher ten different times. I conduct a training session with student teachers (we run a student teacher academy at our school) every semester on this subject. Here is what I tell them:
Gone are the days of picking a student teaching program because it’s close to you, or because it’s the cheapest, or because of its reputation. You need to find a program that will give you the freedom to maximize your student teaching.
I hear horror stories all the time about master teachers: master teachers who never leave their classroom, master teachers who make the student teacher do EVERTHING they do, master teachers who roll their eyes and talk to their students and make fun of their student teacher. You CANNOT leave your master teacher up to chance. A great master teacher will not only teach you how to teach, but will give you the freedom to develop your own style. I tell my student teachers that their student teaching experience is a learning lab and I want them to take risks and try something new. I want them to discover who they are and what they want to become.
Before I student taught I substitute taught for an entire year in three different districts. I did this to discover the culture of the school and to learn which teachers actually cared about teaching. I did my initial observations at Edison, but when I found out that Fountain Valley had a student teaching program and a student teaching coordinator, I knew that that was where I needed to student teach. My teaching credential school, Chapman University, wanted to place me in a school in another city (not even Edison), a school I was completely unfamiliar with. Instead I talked to them about how I was already working with the teachers at FV and had developed a rapport with them. Chapman listened and let me pick my own school and my master teachers. That made a huge difference in my development.
You must do research on where you want to do your student teaching, and if your teaching candidate school will allow you to choose what works best for you. Universities are desperate for the money that teaching candidates bring. Use that leverage to create a self-chosen plan/path to a great experience.
Take pictures, take pictures, take pictures.
You must do engaging and interesting activities in your class. Make sure that you document everything. Collect student work, take pictures of labs, bulletin boards that you create, student presentations, posters or anything else you want to show or share. If possible, create a teacher webpage and build an online presence for your class so that when schools search for you they will find something. A teacher webpage or blog is also an excellent place to collect all of your ideas, plans, and handouts. You can also put the URL of your teaching page on your resume or send it as a link.
While student teaching you must get used to the idea that TEACHING IS HARD WORK. You must turn in lesson plans early. You must research great lesson plans and anticipate sticking points in your lessons. You need to over-plan for every day. The worst thing a student teacher can do is end class fifteen minutes early because you didn’t over-plan. Those fifteen minutes are always when a principal walks in the door to check in on the student teacher.
Most student teacher programs require their student teachers to do additional observations. Remember those observation hours you did before student teaching. Well now they make twice as much sense. Once you have been teaching for a while, doing observations is awesome. You start seeing little things that you would’ve never noticed before. Go out and do more observations than you are supposed to. Find out who the great teachers are and go watch them. You will learn more in an hour than in three hours of a college class, and it’s free. Oh I see you are already thinking my next thought: “Hey Theriault, that would be a great opportunity to network and meet more people who can help me find job leads and who might say something nice to whoever is doing the hiring decisions.” Excellent job grasshopper. You learn quickly.
It is CRUCIAL that you make positive and lasting impressions on as many people as possible. You never know who knows who, or who will know of a job opening.
- I went in the lounge before school and after my teaching assignment and became friends with the department chair- not friendly- friends. I also became friends with Jim Dunn. He was not my master teacher. He told me about an opening at Mayfair. He was friends with the principal. His spoke to her about me and that conversation carried a ton of weight. If I had stayed in my room during lunch, or went home right after teaching, I would have never made that connection with Jim or known about the opening.
- I baked cookies twice for the department, and I ate in the cafeteria and got to know people in other departments. Now I know what you are thinking… “he just baked cookies to brown-nose everyone” well that might be the case for some people, but that’s just who I am. I bring donuts to work, breakfast burritos for the lounge etc… happy co-workers make for a great environment. Instead of baking cookies, you can offer to help clean the lounge microwave (ugh) or organize the book room. I want to work with people who are helpful and who enjoy spending time with each other.
- I volunteered to judge track and field events; I went to dances and sporting events. These not only help the school, but they become something you can put on your resume and talk about in an interview. You are going to be in a hiring pool with veteran teachers who have lost their jobs. How can you stack up with them, if you haven’t done anything outside the classroom?
EdJoin-EdJoin-EdJoin: (Edjoin is an online job pool in California) Check often/make sure that your paperwork is easy to see and read- spell check, ask someone to read etc… Get your paperwork in early. When we have an opening it only stays open for 24 hours. In those 24 hours we will have over 200 applicants. If you aren’t checking EdJoin every day you will miss opportunities. Don’t check the newspaper. The best schools and districts don’t need to advertise.
Get three good letters of recommendation- give them a sheet of accomplishments when you ask them to write it. Then send a thank you note. You better make sure you did something memorable to write about.
I would also recommend joining various online teaching communities. Join Twitter and network with other teachers, participate in Twitter chats. Put your job status in your profile. Join an online community like Jim Burke’s English teacher Ning, or one of the discussion forums hosted by the College Board for AP teachers. The NCTE has discounted rates for student teachers.
Getting an interview:
Send out a resume and cover letter to the principals, and department chairs of all interested schools and to the head of certificated personnel at the district. If they’re not hiring, ask them if they know of any leads. Send thank you notes to everyone who helps.
Everyone who helped me or gave me a lead got a thank you note. People love and remember a thank you note.
Turn in everything early- hand carry if possible so you can make more face-time. Late applications or paperwork tell people that you don’t care as much or that getting a job there is not your priority.
You have to be willing to commute for your job; you have to be willing to move for your job; you have to be willing to accept a difficult assignment. The best schools don’t advertise or send people to job fairs- you have to find a way to get into their system. Go to a school that NEEDS teachers. Get in, get experience, and get paid. I’d rather be a full-time teacher at a difficult school then doing substitute work at the cushy school.
You can always switch to a school that best serves your personality and talents but first, get hired and then make sure to dominate and shine so when you apply elsewhere your recommendations and resume say “he will do anything, and do it well.”
Be involved, take classes, and volunteer to teach so your resume has something relevant on it, even if you’re just a student teacher: I had taught a TESOL seminar (while student teaching) at UCI and found other “teaching” opportunities to put in my resume. Can you do research for your department; can you help at tutorials, or homework club? Find out what people need and help them. Be involved.
Make getting hired your number one priority. Go to job fairs. Show up for everything early, turn in everything early, have professional outgoing messages on your cell phone and home phone, no movie quotes or songs. Double check your Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram and other online information. Make sure they don’t have anything crazy on them. I don’t care if you have silly pictures or unique hobbies, but there are some situations and pictures that might make a difference in a tight race for a job opening.
If I do a Google image search on your name I want to see something like this:
Make your webpage amazing. Watch what you do in class every day. You never know who will stop by. Invite a principal to watch you teach while you are student teaching. I regularly invited a vice-principal to my class and he wrote me a great letter of recommendation. Have a professional email. I prefer a Gmail account. Gmail is a powerful collaboration tool and if I see that you already have an account, I’m impressed.
When we go to hire someone we are usually looking to fill a particular need. We may say: “We need to make sure they can teach honors, or AP” or we may say, “We need to hire someone who can teach reading or ELD classes” but there are other needs as well. The vice-principal of activities might be looking for a new MUN advisor, or a freshman football coach, or there might be four periods of English and one period of Spanish open. Whatever you can do to show us that you can fill specific and multiple needs will help us big time when it comes to filling out our interview candidates.
Here is a link to a document with some common interview questions. Make sure you go over those several times. Have a current teacher listen to your answers before the interview.
Don’t be too nervous in the interview. Everyone should be extremely nice to you in the interview. We always say nice things about you after you have left the room. Honestly. If people aren’t nice to you in the interview, I’d think twice about taking the job.
You will probably have a chance to show just one or two things in your portfolio. Make sure you can find them immediately and that they matter. There must be pictures and examples. Don’t make your portfolio too large.
Be careful about relying on technology in the interview, unless it’s foolproof. Too often computers don’t start soon enough or programs don’t load and then you look sloppy and get nervous. I’d use a portfolio.
Here is a picture of my professional portfolio.
Here’s an insider tip about putting dividers in your portfolio. Since the paper in your portfolio is probably inside of plastic page protectors, the page protectors stick out so far that you end up not being able to see the dividers. Therefore, you have to put the dividers INTO plastic page protectors. Use an Exacto knife to make a small slit in the edge of the plastic page protector right where the divider needs to stick out.
You can see that there are only a few sections.
the paperwork for a large blood drive that my club (Red Cross Club) organized
samples of my school newspaper
pictures of bulletin boards in my class (this bulletin board had index cards of students and their favorite books)
this was drawn by two amazing young ladies (11th graders) with pastels
pictures of my classroom walls
pictures of me participating in school activities (this is a picture of me with my Powder Puff football team, I was the annual coach for the 11th grade team- it was 10x more brutal than a varsity boys football game)
Make it easy for them to picture you in a classroom and on their campus.
Dress for success- don’t give them any reason to misjudge you. Your clothes and your appearance should be conservative.
Let them know that you are trained or willing to do anything. Then find someway to actually be trained during the summer. I watched videos on how to use Photoshop and PageMaker so I could be the newspaper advisor. I had worked on a college newspaper as a writer and editor, but I had never used Photoshop or PageMaker, but since I needed to teach students how to use the programs, I learned before school started. Stick to your commitment (coaching, advising, reading teacher etc…) for at least five years. I don’t ever want to find out you got a job by promising to do something, and then you quit as soon as you earned tenure. Don’t be that teacher.
Sometimes you are the pretend interview because they already know who they are going to hire. Don’t take it personally. Sometimes the principal has some weird wish in the back of their mind- don’t take it personal and just keep plugging away. I’ve seen a principal turn away an amazing candidate just because he wanted to hire someone from outside the area to bring “diversity.” Sometimes the principal doesn’t even read your stuff- don’t count on them doing their homework. When I interviewed I thought the principal knew that I was already department chair in my third year of teaching… he didn’t. He asked the department chair at FV to ask the Mayfair department chair what he thought of me. I told Mr. Caforio that I thought David Theriault was the best teacher I had ever seen. We both laughed.
Have a nice colored folder (I did a school color) for the interview panel with one letter of recommendation and your resume for each person in the interview panel- attention to detail matters when you are a teacher. In addition it becomes a take-away so they have something to look at while they talk about who they are going to hire.
First two years of teaching
So you got hired. Awesome. Now you must dominate and shine. You need to make the thought of firing you, or pink-slipping you seem like the stupidest decision in the world. Make yourself indispensable. If they need a coach say YES, if they need a cheer-leading advisor say I’D BE HONORED. And then honor those commitments by serving at LEAST five years in that role.
In my first four years of teaching at Mayfair I:
- Became the department chair
- Earned teacher-of-the-year twice, including being named one of Los Angeles’ most inspirational teachers.
- Started an academic academy at Mayfair (MAP). We took the kids on a plane to Stanford and UC Berkeley. For some kids it was their first plane ride ever. Here is a picture of our students in San Francisco and a picture of one of those students (NBA player Josh Childress) in front of the Stanford University chapel. (He eventually attended Stanford)
- Doubled the AP pass rate and eventually tripled the amount of students taking the AP Lang and Comp exam
- Taught at a continuation school at night where almost half of my students had either social workers, or a probation officer.
- Ran the journalism class and regularly produced a twelve to sixteen page newspaper.
- Helped write the WASC report and served on the School Site Council.
- Dressed as Elvis when I was chosen to be the Grand Marshal in the homecoming parade. (I wanted to spice it up a bit)
- Volunteered to act crazy for any assembly.
Josh C. pre-Stanford
I’m not bragging here and I’m not some crazy type-A over-achiever. In high school I was a sub-3.0 student who moved out of his house at eighteen, worked almost full-time while paying my own way though college, and wandered far-too long in a junior college until I found my calling. And that’s what teaching is: a calling. Not just a job, but a vocation. If you are truly passionate about your career and working with kids, then getting stuff done will be fun and rewarding.
Continue to network and make connections. Get to know teachers, department chairs, and principals at other schools in the district, so that if they have an opening they want you transferred over.
Even if you do get pink-slipped you will be able to make your resume shine. More importantly, you will have maximized your teaching experience. All of those accomplishments that I listed above were fun. I had a blast teaching at Mayfair and I still miss and think about my time there every week.
So get out there and hustle. Be a rock-star teacher. Maximize your student teaching and early teaching years and enjoy the ride, because it gets better and better every year and while great teaching is an exhausting experience, it’s the best job in the world.