Principals’ tips for teacher interviews

Tis the season for teacher interviews across the country. Retirements, relocations, and layoffs all lead to teachers looking to land a new gig. Prepping the resume, application, and letters of rec are the first steps in the process, but when you are granted an interview, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Just be yourself.
Getting the interview is a huge step, because it means that your experiences and other paper credentials must line up with whatever the school is looking for. The interviewers probably like what they’ve seen on paper, so now it’s just a matter of them deciding which of the candidates will be the best fit for the school. Curriculum and instructional practices will keep changing over time, and all teachers will have to adapt to those changes. With all of those changes occurring, what will it be like to have you as a person as part of their team and sitting across the table from them during the lunch hour? Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be polite and professional, but let your true personality show during the interview. Some teams already have obnoxious jokesters on the team, so adding a subtle low-key person is not a problem. You need to be sincere and engaging with the students, but having a variety of personalities (positive ones!) among the staff is good for everyone.

Same thing goes for your level of experience. If you are a newbie, don’t try to pretend that you are Super Teacher. They’ve read your application. They know you are new. Just be honest about what you know and have done. If being new or old to the profession were a problem to the interviewers, you wouldn’t have been granted an interview.

Get yourself in the right frame of mind.
Certainly be yourself, but also be happy and confident during the interview. Go buy a new outfit that makes you feel like a million bucks (but only costs you a minute fraction of that). If you are wondering how dressed up you should be for the interview, the test for your clothing is if you would wear the outfit again at school (parent conferences, concert night, employee banquet, etc.). Look professional, but also be comfortable during the interview. Don’t suffer in a suit or skirt that just isn’t your style. Don’t be so uncomfortable in your fancy duds that it has a negative effect on what you say to the interview team.

On the day of the interview, give yourself plenty of time so you don’t have to rush anywhere. Get up early, get some exercise, and eat a good meal (you need energy, but don’t eat so much that you are sluggish). Make sure you absolutely know where you are going for the interview. Find it on Google Maps and then drive there ahead of time (day before on a scouting mission if you are able) so you are certain where you should be, ON TIME. Get to the interview site ahead of time, but don’t walk into the building until about 15 minutes before your scheduled time. A tip for settling yourself and feeling positive is to listen to your favorite music in your car right before you head in to the interview site. Hum your favorite tune as you walk in, but save your Megadeth humming for another occasion. (A good friend has made some made some videos on how to use music to motivate yourself. See them here and here.) Turn your phone off as you wait for your interview. Get your brain in gear and don’t let your phone distract you from what lies ahead. The interview team won’t care that you just finished level 3-15 of Angry Birds right before you walked in.

Finally, walk into the interview room, smile, shake hands with the interviewers, and start with a simple “Thank you for having me here.”

Common questions to think about ahead of time
Some interview questions are so necessary and helpful that they are asked in most interviews. Be ready for these and have a prepared statement in mind for questions like “Tell us about yourself” and “Do you have any questions for us?” These two questions are like the opening and closing arguments in a trial and have a lot of sway with the interviewers. Be ready for them so you have strong first and last impressions. Another common question is, “Tell us about your strengths and weaknesses.” The interviewers may not really care what those strengths and weaknesses are, but they will care that you are a reflective person and that you know why you are good at some things and what you plan to do to take care of your weaknesses. Whatever you do, don’t respond to the weakness questions with, “I care too much, I give too much, don’t know when to say ‘no,’ and I am a perfectionist.” Teaching is a tough job with extremely high expectations and these things are expected, not weaknesses that need to be changed. You better care a lot, work hard, be a team player, and have high standards for yourself. Be honest about your weaknesses and show that you really understand yourself.

What to say when you aren’t sure about a question
You can predict some of the questions that will be asked, but you won’t be 100% prepared for them all. If you are unclear on how to adequately respond to a question, be honest and upfront. This often happens if the question is asking about a specific program that you don’t have experience with, but a great teacher looks forward to learning something new. Just simply respond with, “I’m not familiar with that, but I would be eager to learn more about it.” If you aren’t sure what the question was getting at, ask a clarifying question like, “Are you asking if…?”

Brevity vs. boring
If you can answer a question with one word, dont! State your yes or no, and then give a quick explanation with an example. Cover the questions, but don’t go on and on, even if you have encyclopedic knowledge on that question. Pay attention to your interviewers to see if they are engaged in your response. If you see them fading away from you, wrap up your response and move on to the new question. Portfolios can be helpful to give details and examples to questions. Have your portfolio with you to refer to in response to one of the questions, but don’t try to just pass it around the table. No matter how wonderful your scrapbooking skills are, portfolios just aren’t that interesting on their own. They do become interesting when they show how reflective you are and can speak to how much you’ve learned on a particular topic.

Your main message
Everyone wants a job, but why do you want this job? Do your homework to find out what makes this school/district unique. What specific skills do you have that would pair well with the school’s strengths and challenges to make it a better place? Devour their web site to learn as much as you can. Call your friends or family who might be familiar with the school and community to get their insights. Achievement scores are often listed online, so find them and get a feel for how well the school is doing.

After the interview
A written thank you note won’t have much of an effect at all on whether or not you get the job, but it does speak to your professionalism and courtesy. Whether it’s a hand-written note or email, a sincere thanks from a candidate is appreciated. If you don’t get the job, certainly stay professional about the decision. There are lots of fantastic candidates out there, and schools can’t hire them all. Principals from different schools and districts frequently network with one another to gauge candidates when they are filling similar positions. They might call a colleague up to say, “I see you just hired a new teacher. Who else was in the pool who is worth an interview to us?” Your post-interview professionalism to a school that didn’t hire you can lead to good things with another.

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Comments and questions to this post are absolutely welcome. If you have other interview tips, please leave them in a comment. For those of you with upcoming interviews, best of luck!

This post was a group effort from 3 Wisconsin elementary school principals (the Three WImigos!). They are Jessica Johnson, Jay Posick, and Curt Rees.

What Are You For?

There is a lot of turmoil and conflict in the world right now, and we are quick to share our ideas and experiences on all sides of contentious issues. We wear our stances like badges on our Facebook posts, tweets, bumper stickers, protest signs, and lapel buttons. Due to technology and social media, these statements, no matter how accurate or appropriate, spread quickly.

The world of education has found itself at the center of much of this conflict, and it seems that everyone has an opinion and is not afraid to share it, often leading to even more conflict. A lot of what we see clearly states what people are against: educator unions, charters, vouchers, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, lawmakers of both parties, corporate tycoons turned education reformers, etc. You name it, and someone is against it and is not shy to tell you about their thoughts. You log on to Facebook to check in on your room mates from college, and before you realize it, you are deep in a flame war about education funding. While we may be short on funding to satisfy every need and want in our society and economy, we certainly are not short on negativity and criticism.

Thoughtful, civil, and passionate debates about education are necessary to help us find resolution, but what seems to be overlooked is what we really believe in. We are very quick to state what we are against, but do we take enough time to share what we are for? If we take that time to state our positive beliefs, we’ll be better equipped to find common ground and make progress for our students and our society.

I’m for educators being treated like professionals and feeling proud and secure about their careers. I’m for parents being deeply involved in the education of their child, no matter where that education takes place. If that education takes place in a school, I’m for strong and meaningful communication between parents and teachers for the benefit of the students. I’m for our businesses and employers as they work hard to provide important services to our communities. Above everything, I’m for all students being able to grow academically and socially each and every day.

Trout Fishing with a Red Zebco

I love my family, fishing, and education. This post is about two of those things.

I had long awaited the day when my kids were old enough to go fishing with me. I have great memories fishing for and catching many walleyes with my dad and two brothers on the Missouri River in South Dakota. We all became pretty good fisherman and were rarely skunked. By the time we were teenagers, we were skilled enough to take the boat out on our own and land a limit of fish. The good memories certainly stick in my mind, but I think I know why Pops had a head full of white hair by the time he was in his mid 30s. Taking young kids fishing is not always a Rockwell moment.

My son Gavin is 8 and my daughter Harper is 5, and I have taken them both fishing with me a few times this spring. They each have their own rod with a spincast reel and know how to cast. Of course, most of our casting practice had been in the front yard with few snags and plenty of room to whip around their hookless practice lures. Our first foray on the stream this spring consisted of me saying, “You two fish right here. Don’t hook each other in the face, but if you do, please don’t tell Mom. I’ll be way over there fishing.” My thought was that they would busy themselves casting and I could use my fly rod, get some peace and quiet, and hopefully land the fish I saw working upstream. It didn’t work out that way. Within the first 10 minutes of our outing, each had casted across the stream, snagged up, and broken off their spinners. I grumpily trudged back to them, retied their lines, told them exactly where NOT to cast, and then tried to escape back upstream to the good water. Round 2 lasted about 11 minutes before one had embedded their hook in their stocking cap and the other had broken off on a tree behind them. I could feel my own hair turning white with frustration.

Harper Rees, die-hard fisherwoman

Harper Rees, die-hard fisherwoman

Gavin had given up at this point and ran off to do some exploring, but 5-year-old Harper was determined to keep fishing. I tucked my rod safely away and stuck with her to help fine tune her cast and ideally avoid any trips to the ER for hook removal. We developed a pretty good system as I’d cast her lure upstream, pass the rod back to her, and tell her to crank hard to keep from getting hung up. To my great surprise, she connected with a brownie after about 5 casts. There was a lot of commotion and squealing (I’ll be honest, I did the squealing) as we netted the little fellow and she got to hold it for a quick picture. I know TU and the DNR don’t promote hugging and kissing a fish before release, but special considerations should be made for a kid’s first trout.

Harper and her first trout

Harper and her first trout

That was the only fish of the day, but Harper and I have gone out a couple other times since. I didn’t even bother to bring my own rod so we could continue our cast, pass, and crank method with her Red Zebco. While there is a tremendous sense of accomplishment (and self-congratulation) in landing a trout after delicately placing a fly in just the right spot, it has been rivaled by being the net man to an eager angler wearing a pink hat and polka-dotted mittens.

Thank you Dad for teaching me to be a fisherman and father, and thank you Harper for making me better at both.

Someone I met on the internet

My wife asked me recently, “So, who is this person?” My response was a nonchalant, “Oh, someone I met on the internet.” Not so long ago, the phrase “someone I met on the internet” was likely only a scary and problematic thing between spouses.

Angry spouse, “What, you’re leaving me? For who?!”
Other spouse, “Someone I met on the internet. We met in a Star Wars chat room. She is the Princess Leia to my Han Solo.”

This certainly was not the case between my wife (also a Twitterite @ompeace and blogger) and me. My “someone on the internet” is actually two fellow Wisconsin principals I connected with over Twitter and with whom I plan to do state presentations with this fall and winter (Jessica Johnson and Jay Posick). We first connected through Twitter and then our “relationship” progressed to emails and then writing presentation proposals via shared Google Docs.

I often hear people talking about 21st Century Skills and the importance of students and staff using iPads, Flip Cams (RIP), IWBs, etc. What these people are overlooking are the skills themselves–mainly, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. Technology itself won’t advance your professional practice on its own. It’s the connectedness that is enabled by the technology that will help you reach out to like-minded educators.

Just in the past few weeks I’ve gained so much from the experience and knowledge of fellow educators I’ve found through Twitter and blogs. I’ve learned the pros/cons when comparing Nooks, Kindles, and PanDigital e-readers. I’ve learned some of the intracies of the rules for spending Common School Funds when considering making a technology purchase. I’ve been led to a bunch of great literacy intervention resources that have been used successfully by other educators. I’ve learned a lot about how political policy greatly influences what we do on a daily basis in the world of education and then how to influence those politicians who make those policies. Finally I’ve learned that there are thousands upon thousands of educators who care greatly about their students and their profession and have a desire to better their craft each day.

So go out there and find your special someone on the internet. Read their tweets and blog posts, but make sure you interact with questions, compliments, and challenges. You’ll be glad you did.

I guess we are going to try ignorance

“If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” This quote is attributed to Derek Bok, who was President of Harvard from 1971-1991. I haven’t researched Mr. Bok’s detailed intentions for this quote, but what it leads me to think about is the comparison of one’s life with an education versus one without that education. In this analysis, I would define ignorance as a lack of knowledge as a result of the lack of education.

I think this is a very appropriate quote for these times, because the “expense” of education is something that is being passionately discussed and dealt with across the country. The cost of education can be quickly assigned a dollar value, while the benefit of education is not as easily quantifiable (at least in the minds of those who typically get to make these budget decisions). State governments are trimming, slashing, and gouging education budgets (and other public services) from coast to coast. These cuts go far beyond employee compensation, and these reductions will negatively effect services and choices for students and their families.

While these cuts are being made, the word “reform” is thrown around to describe what lawmakers are doing. Does this reformation have an end product in mind? Is there a model system of education that these reformers are working toward? To me it looks like many of our elected officials don’t have a plan and don’t really care. They know that they don’t like what they are currently getting and are complacent with debilitating what is in place. Rather than working toward a robust and dynamic system of education, we might be forced to see what happens without a coordinated system at all.

I would hope this doesn’t occur, but it’s going to take more than my hope to get our leaders together to make a sensible plan to prepare all of our citizens for an unforeseeable future.

ignorance

The “10 Picture Tour” from @WiscPrincipal

A great idea from Cale Birk to strengthen connections and share information among educators.

5 Easy Steps How to make a “10 picture Tour”…

1) Use a cellphone camera, then you won’t have to pack/find another electronic gizmo

2) Take 10 minutes. That’s it. Then you won’t find a reason not to do it. And it won’t be too “staged”. And you won’t take a 100 pictures and spend hours going through them.

3) Take pictures around your school that you think showcase some pretty cool things. They don’t just have to be of kids learning, we believe you when you say they are.

4) Put them into a blog post with basic captions so we know what we are looking at.

5) Put it as a link on your blog page, so that when we come and visit, we know that when we see a link called “10 Picture Tour” we will learn a little bit about what your learning environment looks like.

Here is my school in Onalaska, WI.

Northern Hills Elementary in Onalaska, WI

Northern Hills Elementary in Onalaska, WI


Photos of fabulous educators

Photos of fabulous educators


Schematic of a proposed battery experiment from a very smart 3rd grader

Schematic of a proposed battery experiment from a very smart 3rd grader


C'est moi

C'est moi

Our Mission, Vision, Values -- so important to keep the focus on kids and learning

Our Mission, Vision, Values -- so important to keep the focus on kids and learning


A 5th grader's view on the importance of math

A 5th grader's view on the importance of math


My awesome crafty art teacher turned a dozen plastic water bottles into this chandelier.

My awesome crafty art teacher turned a dozen plastic water bottles into this chandelier.


5th grade show choir learning some new choreography

5th grade show choir learning some new choreography


Artwork from my own kids that adorns the back of my office door

Artwork from my own kids that adorns the back of my office door


Jedis need no explanation.

Jedis need no explanation.

Live bald eagle video from Decorah, IA

My students and own kids love to watch this pair of eagles as they prepare for their three eggs to hatch. One of my friends is a kindergarten teacher and she says that she enjoys streaming this video because the kids really calm down. One of the little ones hushed the rest of the class for fear that their noise might frighten the eagles away.

[[[[[EGGS ARE THOUGHT TO HATCH TODAY 4/1/11]]]]]


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