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Effective Teaching...

by Harry and Rosemary Wong

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at http://teachers.net.

Applying for a Teaching Job in a Tight Market

You're graduating from college and you want a teaching job. Yet, you've heard all this talk about tight budgets and teachers being given pink slips.

But, thanks to the Internet, you can actually find jobs, complete applications online, and even find out about the district that will be interviewing you.

It is essential that you differentiate yourself from the rest of the pack.

The marketplace has become stiff again and you need to put your best foot forward. You can do this by impressing the interviewer that you are knowledgeable about the district. Write ahead or call personally and obtain literature about the school district. Go on the Internet as many school districts have their own web site. Go to a search engine, such as Google or Yahoo, and you may find hundreds of articles about the district. In fact, if you go in with some information that the interviewer may not know, that will enhance your chance for employment. People like to be noticed, just as you like to be noticed.

Researching a school district is essential. It's best not to walk into an interview not knowing a thing about the prospective school district. For one, how will you even know if you want to teach in a particular district if you are not knowledgeable about the district? It's like taking a trip and not knowing a thing about where you are going. Always walk into your interview having done your research, because the next person who has done so will have an advantage over you, if you are unprepared.

Before stepping into an interview, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What are the demographics of the school population?
  2. What is the district's mission?
  3. How many employees does the district have?
  4. How do the district's test scores compare with the state average?
  5. Does the district have a new teacher induction program?
  6. Does the district have a curriculum guide?

When you go in for an interview, the obvious item to have with you is your portfolio. Perhaps you've seen people with these rather large, thin folders that have a handle at the top. Artists, architects, designers, and graphic artists carry them to show samples of their work when they go to see a prospective client. This is their portfolio. The district where you are going for your interview is your prospective client and they will want to see samples of your work and even read letters from your past administrators, parents, and students. Bring your portfolio---organize it, tab it, and be prepared to turn to a few salient items.

Now for the insider tip! This is something we've learned from new teachers. Several have told us that they walk in for an interview with a copy of The First Days of School. These teachers told us that they didn't wave the book around; it just sat on top of their portfolio. Since over two million copies have been sold, most all administrators know this book. If they find out you are knowledgeable of its contents, you will have enhanced your employment opportunity.

If you are asked to demonstrate your knowledge of The First Days of School, produce a first day of school script. (June 2002 http://teachers.net/gazette/JUN00/covera.html and March 2003 http://teachers.net/gazette/MAR03/wong.html) If you really want to impress the interviewer with your knowledge of effective teaching, produce an Action Plan similar to the one Sarah Jones had on her first day of school. (September 2001 http://teachers.net/gazette/SEP01/covera.html)

Two Questions to Ask

Because they affect your success as a teacher, there are two questions you must ask during the interview.

  1. Does the district have a new teacher induction program?
  2. Does the district have a curriculum guide that is aligned to state standards?

Induction Program: It is imperative that you ask if the district has an induction program. First, a district with an induction program demonstrates that they care enough about you that they will train and support you with the intention of retaining you. That concept is inherent in the title of the book, New Teacher Induction: How To Train, Support, and Retain New Teachers. (http://teachers.net/gazette/FEB03/spotlight.html)

A district that simply gives you a teaching assignment and sends you forth to teach is a district with the attitude that you are expendable and another teacher can be found to replace you. Many of you have invested tens of thousands of dollars, if not over one hundred thousand dollars, in your education and you want to use that investment to make a difference in the lives of your students. You can be as successful as the many teachers we have described in our monthly Teachers.Net Gazette columns. However, do not be so naïve as to think that you can go it alone without an induction program.

Second, here are some eye-opening statistics. The following districts devote three or more years to an induction program. In the 2000-2001 school year

Lafourche Parish Schools, Louisiana
Lost 1 teacher out of 46 hired

Islip Public Schools, New York
Lost 3 teachers out of 68 hired

Leyden High School District, Illinois
Lost 4 teachers out of 90 hired

Geneva Community Schools, New York
Lost 5 teachers out of 67 hired

Newport-Mesa School District, California
Lost 5 teachers out of 148 hired

The truth is, up to 17 percent of the new teachers in urban schools will leave the profession in their first year and 50 percent of all other teachers will leave the profession within five years. There is absolutely no reason why any of you should be one of these statistics, because there are districts with organized, sustained professional development programs in place to train and support you as you develop into an effective teacher. Teaching is a developmental process and it takes five to seven years to grow into an effective teacher.

Since it takes years to develop into a successful teacher, the successful teachers are the ones who can't sop up enough information at induction meetings. Tragically, many districts do not provide organized opportunities for teachers to learn and grow. So, these teachers leave the profession after a few years believing that they do not need to learn. If you dare to teach, you must never cease to learn.

Mentoring Is Not Induction

Beware if a district tells you they will only give you a mentor. A mentor is important, but to succeed you need more than a mentor. You need a comprehensive induction program.

At a recent convention of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), Susan Moore Johnson, director of the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers at the Harvard Graduate School of Education said,

"Mentoring is all the rage. But the truth is that mentoring pairs seldom are anything but haphazard. They are driven by the schedule. They are often not pairs of people who really know the subjects that the individual is teaching. All the teachers in Massachusetts were supposed to have mentors, and we would say, 'Do you have a mentor?' 'Oh, yes I have a mentor.' 'Well, tell me about the mentor.' 'Well, I have not seen the mentor since the first week of school. My mentor teaches across town,' or 'My mentor teaches on the other side of the building. I am science. She is special ed.' It is just story after story of people who, within the context of a school and the schedule and the constraints of space, never saw their mentors or got very little assistance, or felt like their mentors taught in ways that were totally alien to them."

Jon Saphier, in his book Beyond Mentoring (note the word "beyond") says this about mentoring:

Leslie Huling, who has written extensively on induction and mentoring says,

Simply assigning a mentor teacher does little to remedy the situation of teachers becoming discouraged and leaving the profession. Induction and mentoring must go hand-in-hand. You cannot do one without the other.

But some educators continue talking about using mentors to retain teachers as if this method has received the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," yet no one has ever been able to produce "scientifically accurate" data to substantiate its success.

Educators never talk about what happens to the new teacher after a year when the mentor has outlived his or her usefulness; what happens if a school loses 50 percent of their teachers annually; and who is in charge of orchestrating the entire mentoring process. In many schools the principal acts like a taxi company dispatcher, dispatching a veteran teacher to buddy up with a neophyte teacher. Since teacher development is a continuous process, what is needed is a formalized, sustained process known as induction. Mentoring is not induction; it is a component of induction.

Those of us who are knowledgeable about the induction process know that teachers learn best not from mentors, but from watching others teach. Thus, many induction programs have model classrooms. We also know new teachers learn much better in networks and collegial sessions, where the viewpoints of veteran and neophyte teachers are respected.

What Everyone Else Knows and Does

We are not going to attempt to understand why it has taken education so long to recognize what other industries recognize almost from the start---training matters. Formalized, sustained training matters. For instance, in the private and non-profit sector, training is a part of every company's plan.

For instance, when Kyle Taylor graduated from California State University at Northridge with a degree in finance and accounting, he considered and entertained offers from such renowned companies as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche, and Sobul, Primes & Schenkel. His final decision was not based on pay, location, or position. He selected the company he felt had the best training program. He knew that the training plan would prepare him for his next job.

In education we do not provide nearly enough, if any, training, for our teachers. And many new teachers do not realize---until it's too late---just how lacking they are in basic teaching skills. As they begin their life's career, college graduates in the business world look to the companies that offer them the best training, for they know their future successes and rewards are contingent on their initial training. Company executives also know they can retain well-trained employees who will reward them. New teachers should expect no less!

Nicole Tripi will graduate from the University of New Orleans next year. She has already asked us, her godparents, where she should go to teach. We know where there are job openings. We know where the good salaries are---starting at over $40,000 a year. We know where she can find supportive administrators. We know where she can find affordable housing. We know where she can raise her child in a good community.

Nonetheless, we know of a school district where the salary will be average. Some students will be challenging. The heat and humidity along the bayous can be unforgiving. But we can't think of a better way for her to receive her initial training and get started correctly than to be trained by the four people who run the Lafourche Parish induction program in Louisiana. Her future is dependent on starting successfully, under the tutelage of caring and supportive people. And because their attrition rate is less than 8 percent, she will succeed in the Lafourche Parish Public Schools. In the 2000--2001 school year, they only lost one teacher and all of their teachers passed the Louisiana State Teachers Assessment test. What a wonderful way to begin a career!

Therefore, in your interview, ask if the district has a formalized induction program. Ask how long the program runs. Most importantly, ask what is the attrition rate of their new teachers.

Second Question to Ask

It's a tragedy. When a teacher leaves a school, that teacher takes everything with him or her and leaves nothing behind. So, when the new teacher comes aboard, that teacher has nothing to reference and has to start all over again at square one. There is no file, no box, no notes, nothing. You would think that all of the past teachers would have left copies of their lesson plans, activities, and tests. That seldom happens.

Worse yet, the school district often times has a mismatched set of concepts that are labeled curriculum guides. Beginning teachers usually have to ask for these items as they have been boxed up and carted away with the departing teacher's belongings.

It is not your position to develop the curriculum. That is the district's responsibility. It is your charge to deliver the curriculum. Can you imagine American Airlines telling their pilots that they can make up their own flight plans?

The second question you need to ask is: Does your district have a curriculum guide and

  1. is the curriculum guide aligned to state standards, and
  2. are there suggested activities and lesson plans for you to follow?

In next month's column, we'll talk about the importance of teaching in a school with a well-defined curriculum guide.

Preparation, Preparation, Preparation

Employment times are tight. If you truly want to be a teacher, you must make your potential employer realize your desire. The fact that you are reading this Teachers.Net article puts you far ahead of many of today's candidates. You are eager to learn, informed, and dedicated to self-improvement.

During your interview be a namedropper---mention Teachers.Net, The First Days of School, even Harry Wong! Show what you're capable of producing with your portfolio. Dress professionally. Project confidence. Sparkle with passion. Speak positively of children and their potential.

Your thoroughness in the interview process will reward you with the noblest of all careers. The teaching profession wants you and needs you. Welcome!

Harry & Rosemary Wong products: http://harrywong.com/product

This printable version is provided for the convenience of individuals.