Friday, April 29, 2011

Winning a Teaching Job Starts Early

Winning a teaching job starts early for education students. When admitted to the education program, students can begin working with career counselors to map out their plans for career development, build and update teaching job résumés, create a structure for a hiring portfolio, and learn about the hiring process (e.g., what do employers look for in an application and during the interview?). During the final year of education program, students can fine-tune résumés and cover letters, set up profiles at a teacher recruitment and hiring system site, monitor job postings, identify references, attend job fairs, and submit applications.

After graduation, it can take anywhere from three months to a year or longer (depending on educator supply and demand) to win a teaching job. It depends on your job search, organization, preparation, persistence, and hard work.

I don’t advise “going solo” when you’re applying for teaching jobs. Involve career counselors in improving interviewing skills and developing high quality job application materials. Rhode Island College’s career center offers a range of workshops preparing students for job fairs, practicing interviews, and designing a professional image. And, they offer drop-in sessions for polishing résumés and cover letter.

I conduct a comprehensive, strategic workshop on the job search, application, and hiring process. It’s perfect for students who are six - 12 months away from graduation. Since January 2010, I’ve taught the course to 80 students. Most have been very satisfied with the experience. A former student wrote me last week after his first job interview: I have to tell you how much the course helped with this whole process. I truly did feel like I had the edge going into it. Things came rushing back to my mind as I was sitting in the interview, most of which were discussed and practiced in class.

There are 14 hours of meeting time. I schedule nine hours of face-to-face meetings for interactive presentations, small group discussions, and in-class journaling. Participants learn about the five winning strategies and important selection factors. They map their career pathways – connecting academic, work, and personal experiences contributing to their development as a teacher. Participants identify knowledge, skills, and experiences that make them unique and distinguish them from the competition. And, they create a set of “talking points” for the interview.

Next, participants establish an online account at teacher recruitment and hiring process web site. They apply for a "fake job posting” by posting their résumé, cover letter, and answers to two short essay questions. The application materials are available electronically to mock job interviewers to review prior to the mock job interview

Then, participants sign up for four one-hour "tutorials," small group work sessions in the career center. They improve drafts of résumés and cover letters, hiring portfolios and interview skills. The career center staff and I facilitate the tutorials.

During a 90-minute panel discussion, several hiring personnel from local districts explain their hiring processes. And, they provide advice for applying.

The highlight of the course is the mock job interview. A panel of interviewers (PreK-12 school personnel and RIC faculty/staff) interview individual students and provide immediate feedback following the 15-20 minute interview. Participants dress professionally for the interview. They enter a room and present folders of cover letters/résumés to each interviewer. They use hiring portfolio during the interview as additional evidence. The interviewers take turns asking questions related to the teaching position and to evaluate the candidate’s knowledge of teaching, critical thinking, and dispositions. After seven or eight questions, interviewers provide "balanced feedback.” Feedback is guided by important selection factors (e.g., knowledge of teaching and subjects, critical thinking, constant learning, personal responsibility, verbal communication, professional image). Each interview with feedback is digitally recorded and available to the student on a secure server shortly after the interview. Participants reflect on their performance and feedback before reflecting on their strengths and weaknesses.

I'll end with this fun video “spoof” called "How to Lose a Job.” We created it during the January course. Click here for the url. You may need to register with Vimeo to view.

NOTE: The one-credit course begins May 24. Click here to view the flyer. Click here to enroll!

Monday, April 25, 2011

References and Letters of Recommendation

A reference is someone you select for an employer to call and/or someone who writes a letter of recommendation in support of your application. References convey to employers their judgments about your knowledge, skills, and dispositions related to different aspects of teaching (e.g., interactive functions of teaching, building and maintaining a learning community, classroom management, materials management, long and short-term planning for instruction and assessment, school leadership and collaboration with colleagues, parent-guardians, and other members of the school community.

Select your references carefully. Ask permission before listing a reference on job applications. Provide your references your résumé, the job qualifications, and aspects of teaching to address in a letter of recommendation.

Below are responses to questions about selecting and working with your references:

How many references are required for an application? How do employers use references and letters of recommendation?

Typically, employers require applicants to identify 3 -5 references and include letters of recommendations with applications. During the screening phase, references are viewed briefly. If you’re selected as a finalist, your letters of recommendation are reviewed more carefully and references may be called for further information. Employers seek other opinions about you as a teacher. Employers expect positive letters of recommendation. However, the content of the letter (or phone conversation with a reference) often reveals unique personal qualities, knowledge, and skills related to effective teaching.

Who should serve as references?

The best references are experienced educators who have observed you teach recently.

If you’re a recent graduate, ask your cooperating teacher, college supervisor to serve as a reference. Invite your principal to observe you and then ask them to serve as a reference. Other pre-student teaching professors and clinical instructors can serve as references.

The reference does not need to be a professional educator. For instance, a supervisor in another job who observed you in a leadership role can speak to qualities related to effective teaching (e.g., ability to communicate, organize, plan strategically, take initiative, delegate responsibilities, motivate, actively listen and respond). Parents of students you’ve taught can serve as references, especially if they can write about how you positively influenced their students and actions you took to build partnerships between the school, classroom and home. And, consider other professional teachers you have worked with and supervisors from previous careers can speak to your personal qualities related to effective teaching (e.g., interpersonal skills, leadership, organization).

Before listing the references in the job application, it is customary to ask your references if they would be willing serve as a reference. If they agree, request their contact information (e.g., mailing address, phone, email) during the academic year and the summer. Employers may contact the reference by phone or email during the summer when they are not on the college campus or in school.

When should I ask for letters of references? How should I work with my references in order to receive great letters of recommendations?

When you ask people to serve as a reference and/or write a letter of recommendation, send them your résumé and a job description. Next, request an appointment to talk about the teaching position, criteria for selecting applicants, and your qualifications. When you meet in person or talk on the phone, talk enthusiastically about the teaching position and why you believe you’re a good fit for the position. Draw attention to your unique skills, knowledge and experiences. Refer to your résumé. If you have a hiring portfolio, show them evidence of your abilities. This is also good practice for the job interview.

How much advance notice should I give my references?

Contact your references a month before you plan to submit your application. They need adequate time to write the letter. Inform them of a due date - when you need the reference so you can submit your application materials. If you haven’t received the letter, politely remind them and explain that you would be glad to pick up the letter.

Do I list the references on my résumé?

At the end of your résumé, type “References available upon request.” If an employer requests contact information for references, you can attach a separate file to the résumé or enter into the section of the online application. Include the reference’s title (e.g., Dr., Ms., Mr.), first and last name, role (e.g., cooperating teacher, college supervisor, principal, parent of student), school, organization, or company, mailing address, phone, and email.

How are references handled when I’m applying online at a teacher recruitment and hiring system?

You will need to learn about the process at your teacher recruitment and hiring system web site. At, you enter the names and contact information of references. After granting permission, sends your reference an email for online submission or verification. References enter the letter as text (i.e., copied and pasted from Word document). References cannot insert scanned JPEG or PDF files. Monitor your account. Follow up with your references to see if they received the email requesting submission or verification of the letter. If the references do not receive an email with the link to the applicant’s page, you can re-send it.

Stay in touch with your references!

Send thank you letters to your references shortly after they write the letter of recommendation. Later, contact them when you win a teaching position!

BOOKNOTE: See The Guide for additional advice about working with your references to write winning letters of recommendations. You can view an examples of a letter requesting a letter of recommendation and an example of a thank you letter to a reference.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Want to Teach in Another State? Know the State’s Certification Requirements

If you're planning to teach in another state, you may have these questions:

“Is my teaching certificate recognized in other states? How do I find out which states will honor my certificate? How can I learn what the certification requirements are for different states?”

Teacher education graduates earn a teacher certificate/licensure in that state of the program. If you live in New England, chances are good that you will apply for jobs in several surrounding states to increase your opportunity. Before applying, learn about your home state’s reciprocity agreements. Visit the state department of education educator licensure site (where you’re applying for a job) to learn about specific licensure requirements. You may need to pass the state’s standardized basic skills test, demonstrate subject area competence, and/or take additional courses for an educator license.

1. To learn about national teaching certification reciprocity, go to NASDEC.

2. Use Certification Map, an interactive map of the United States with information about each state’s certification requirements, reciprocity agreements, and teacher salaries. Or, check your college or university college of education or career center web sites. They may have links to the 50 states department of education teacher certification offices (e.g., University of Kentucky’s College of Education).

3. To learn about an individual state’s reciprocity agreements and certification requirements, visit the state department of education educator licensure site. You can learn about additional licensure requirements such as passing the state’s standardized basic skills test or subject area competence and/or taking an additional, required course. When searching, use keywords such as teacher certification, educator licensure, reciprocity, reciprocity agreements in addition to the state name.

Examples: State of Rhode Island, click here; State of Massachusetts, click here.

States are continually revising their teacher certification and licensure rules and requirements. So, contact the state department of education for the latest requirements.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tips for Improving Online Job Searches and Applications

Increasingly, school districts are using online systems to post openings, receive applications, and handle all of the recruiting/hiring communications. For employers, online recruitment reduces the cost and time of advertising in newspapers and the paperwork of managing the hiring process. Hiring committees can easily review, share and screen online application materials. There is no need for photocopying and mailing materials.

Job applicants can save time and money and stay organized by setting up a profile, centralizing application materials, submitting applications and conducting job searches. Gone are the days when you would hand-deliver or mail applications. Job applicants receive immediate emails when employers receive an application. Employers schedule Interviews online and send notifications as soon as the job has been filled.

With this technology, job applicants are submitting many more applications. And, employers are receiving a lot more applications. It’s still easy to make mistakes if you submit documents with poor formatting and improper written communication or you don’t enter correct information in your profile.

I contacted (an online teacher recruitment and hiring system founded in 2001) to get advice for job applicants about applying online. Here are 15 tips to improve online job searches and applications.

1. Read the job posting and qualifications carefully. Learn about the school/district’s mission, initiatives, hot topics and challenges. Don’t apply if you don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

2. When you create your profile, don’t type in ALL CAPS. Use upper and lower case letters properly. Be consistent in use of fonts. This will improve the readability of the application and professional image.

3. When entering information online, use your browser’s spell-checker. Firefox, Chrome and Safari browsers have built-in spell checking. For Internet Explorer, download and install the add-on called IE Spell.

4. In addition to the résumé, cover letter, and transcripts, determine what other information is required such as responses to essay questions.

5. Develop offline your résumé, cover letter and responses to application essays using a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word. Save the Word document for future job applications.

6. Proofread your documents carefully before inserting into the online application sections. Typographical errors, formatting problems, and low quality written communication will prevent you from moving to the next level of the hiring process - winning an interview!

7. When using Résumé Builder, build your online résumé from your Word document. Enter Education and Experience in the appropriate areas. Create separate sections for other information. SchoolSpring allows you to include custom sections and change the order of your résumé sections.

8. To improve the appearance of an online résumé (so it will stand out from other job seekers’ résumés), use HTML tags to create bold or italicized text and bulleted or numbered lists. You can learn basic HTML tags with a quick Google search. It takes about 5 minutes to learn.

9. For cover letters, use business letter-style formatting (e.g., block, semi-block). Customize the letter by addressing the letter to the school/district person in charge of hiring. In the body of the letter, relate to the specific job posting. Communicate your knowledge of the job, school/district’s mission, initiatives, hot topics and challenges.

10. Save a cover letter template in My Account so you can access and customize it when you apply for another job posting.

11. Add your state certifications in the My Account section. Many employers will search for qualified applicants with the appropriate certifications. You will miss opportunities if your certification information is missing or incorrect. When adding certifications, check off the correct job categories.

12. Before entering the name and contact information of references, contact them and request permission to use their names and to write letters of recommendation. Explain that they will receive an email for online submission or verification. Monitor your account. Follow up with your references to see if they received the SchoolSpring email requesting submission or verification of the letter. If the references do not receive an email with the link to the applicant’s page, you can re-send it . Also, letters must be entered as text (i.e., copy and paste from Word document). References cannot insert scanned JPEG or PDF files.

13. Create a Search Agent so employers can find you. Provide full access to this information (unless there is a reason not to release this information). Adding a personal introduction increases your success. When an employer conducts a search for an applicant, the search results place job applicants with introductions above those without introductions.

14. When searching for jobs, use Advanced Search. Narrow your search for teaching jobs that you meet the qualifications.

15. To increase your chances of winning a job, apply to many positions. Submit complete applications. Check your account often and monitor the progress of your applications.


Personal communications with Clark Baker, Lisa Barden, and Susan Fitzpatrick,

BOOKNOTE: See The Guide for information about different online teacher recruitment and hiring systems and the process of searching and applying for jobs online. Students in CURR 480 Winning a Teaching Position course set up online profiles and submit "fake" job applications before submitting their first real job application. To view the course flyer and register, click here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Applying for Jobs Without Required Certifications and Degrees

Here's a question from a student teacher preparing for the job search.

I'm student teaching and nearly completed with my teacher education program. Can I apply for teaching jobs now when I haven’t earned a teaching certificate or education degree yet?

Yes and no.

You can apply for substitute teaching positions. Public school employers usually honor “student teaching certificates.” You will present the official teaching certificate to the employer when you receive the document.

Non-public schools usually do not require teaching certifications. So, you can apply for these positions.

During initial screening of applications, public school employers quickly examine your résumé, cover letter, and evidence of required certifications.
If applying for a “low demand” public school teaching position (and a high supply of applications), you are more likely to pass the initial screening with an earned degree and certification.

If applying for a “high demand” public school teaching position (and nearing completion of your teacher education program), you may pass the initial screening without holding the degree or official certification. When you apply, indicate on your résumé and cover letter that your certification and degree are “pending (expected date).” After you earn your degree and teaching certification, then update your résumé and cover letter. Submit revised application materials and official documents and/or update your online account.

If you lack the required degree and certification and the public school/district can prove to the state that there are no other qualified applicants, the district will help the selected applicant get an “emergency certification.” Before offering a teaching contract, the public school/district will require evidence of your degree and certification.

BOOKNOTE: See The Guide for information about educator supply and demand and where to go online to search for teaching jobs.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Teaching Job Fair – Making Good Impressions

The teaching job search is described as “shameless self-promotion.” You are your Number One Promoter. A job fair may be your first opportunity to market yourself. Teacher recruiters often pre-screen applicants in a brief 10-15 minute interview. If successful, applicants are invited to a second interview.

You need to make an immediate, good first impression. Dress professionally. When greeting a recruiter, use a firm a handshake, smile, and provide eye contact. Offer the recruiter a folder with one-page cover letter and a two-page résumé printed on high quality paper. Include a CD of electronic hiring portfolio. Know something about the school district by visiting their web sites prior to the teacher job fair. Prepare and practice a 1-2 minute presentation about your career objective and qualifications that introduces you to the hiring personnel.

Another marketing tool is the business card. Distribute the card to teacher recruiters at job fairs and other people you meet. Attach the card to your résumé and a cover letter packet. Bring business cards everywhere you go. If you substitute teach, leave a cared with the principal and classroom teacher.

Hire a professional graphic designer
to create your business cards and send the file to a printing company. The cost of printing varies from about $50 for 200 cards or $50 for 500 cards.

Or, you can do design and print the business card for yourself. If using Microsoft Office, go to Project Gallery and search for business cards. To print a business card using Word, go to Tools > Labels >Options>Business Cards. To view business card designs and templates, Google “business card templates for teachers.”

Grab the readers’ attention with color, unique images or symbols that relate to the profession of teaching. Middle or high school math teachers might use a math symbol. For elementary teachers, common card images include the apple, teacher at a chalkboard, alphabet, or schoolhouse.

Provide your name, your title or position (e.g., Elementary Classroom Teacher, Mathematics Middle and High School Teacher), phone number, e-mail address, URL to web-based hiring portfolios, and titles of state certifications/endorsements.

The reader should be able to read the information easily. Don’t cover the card with text and an image. Leave some “white space” in the card. If your text superimposes an image, use a contrasting font color.

Use the highest quality printing options on your home inkjet printer. Use business card paper. Each sheet holds eight to ten cards and can be separated manually.

BOOKNOTE: See The Guide for more advice about designing a professional image, preparing for a job fair, composing a résumé and cover letter (templates and examples).

Friday, April 8, 2011

References: Inviting the Principal to Observe

Teacher job applicants often wonder, who are the best people to serve as references?

An important decision in preparing job application materials is identifying your references. Many employers require applicants to list 3-5 references. Clearly, your cooperating teacher and college supervisor know you best, but also consider the principal or building administrator as your third reference.
Principals are experienced evaluators. Principals know other principals and administrators who may be hiring. It’s a great way to expand your network.

Building administrators are really busy people. Some administrators have a policy for not observing or writing a letter of reference for student teachers, especially if there are several student teachers in the building or large school such as a middle or high school. Observing student teachers is not required nor is it expected of a principal.

To serve as your third reference, your principal needs to know you better and observe your teaching. So, if you haven't done so, invite her/him to conduct a formal observation. You have nothing to lose by requesting a formal evaluation from the principal. She/he will recognize your effort to improve your teaching through observation and feedback. Every principal was a student teacher at one time. He/she may appreciate the invitation to observe and want to give back to the future generation of teachers.

Schedule the observation well in advance at a time - when you are more comfortable in your role and teaching full-time. When you first meet with the principal, set a positive tone by recognizing your cooperating teacher’s contributions to your growth as a teacher and how much you enjoy working in this school. Next, explain that you are seeking additional feedback – insights to your teaching. Then, identify a specific day/time for a formal observation - when it's convenient for the principal. Consider using the school/district teacher evaluation model (i.e., present lesson planning in advance, identify desired teaching behaviors to observe related to a specific professional teaching standard, and reflect together after the observation) or your college’s student teacher evaluation model. Schedule a time to meet briefly before the observation to share your lesson planning and discuss what the principal could focus on while observing. Email the lesson planning materials before the meeting. Write a formal, detailed plan and include other high quality instructional materials such as a PowerPoint and handouts for students. Be sure to proofread your materials. Finally, schedule a time to meet briefly after the lesson to debrief, reflect, and receive feedback.

After the debriefing, send a thank you card. Explain one or two significant things you learned from the observation/feedback. If the observation goes well, ask if she/he will serve as a reference and request a letter of recommendation.

In addition to observing a lesson, you could invite the building administrators to special events or performances by your students - such as a classroom “learning celebration.”

What NOT to Communicate:
-Don’t say to principals that you want them to observe so they can write you a letter of recommendation. Every principal understands the reason, but it’s not tactful.
-Don’t recommend a “drive by observation” (dropping in anytime).

BOOKNOTE: For more advice, see “Contact References” in The Guide. You can also view models of a letter requesting a person to write a letter of recommendation and a thank you letter.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Interview Questions - Rating Applicants

The successful job applicant (featured in the March 20, 2011 posting) shared interview questions, criteria, and rating system used by the hiring committee. Notice how the committee posed a wide range of questions to help them uncover applicants' dispositions, knowledge of teaching, and critical thinking. Themes included knowledge of content/curriculum, middle school concept, teaching/learning strategies, assessment, differentiating instruction, technology, classroom management, engaging parents, and school improvement.

Interview Questions
1. Tell us about yourself, your experiences, and why you want to work at (this middle school)?

2. What are your expectations as to the nature and ability of middle level students?

3. Describe your student teaching experience. What are some of the most significant things you learned from our cooperating teacher(s)?

4. Our math curriculum centers around mathematics skills and problem solving, how would you ensure that math skills and problem solving were the focus of your instruction? And how would you know the students are engaged in each process?

5. What strategies do you possess and would use to develop a strong number sense in middle level students?

6. How would you know when students are not understanding a skill and/or a concept and what would you do to clarify these misunderstandings?

7. What strategies would you employ for students who are not "getting it?" And what techniques would you bring to the program to help struggling students?

8. Please tell us about your experiences with assessment...formative and summative, evaluations, pre-post testing, etc.

9. How do you vary instruction for the individual needs of students in math? Please give specific examples.

10. What role does technology play in your instruction? Please give specific examples.

11. How would you involve parents as active partners in the student's progress academically, socially, and behaviorally?

12. Please describe how you would manage your classroom for instruction. Under what circumstances would you refer a student to the principal's office?

13. What competencies do you possess that would improve our school?

14. Is there anything else you would like us to know what we have no asked? Do you have any questions?

Qualifications for Position:
-appropriate certification
-teaching experience in the middle level grades preferable
-knowledge of curriculum
-well versed in best middle level practices
-willingness to work cooperatively with curriculum team members to solve problems and make decisions in the best interest of students

How Applicants Were Rated:

Applicants were rated on a scale of 1 (low) to 3 (high) on the following criteria:

Knowledge of Middle Level
Knowledge of Content Area



BOOKNOTE: See "Prepare for Interviews" in The Guide. This section includes 30+typical interview questions with responses - what to say, what not to say, common interview practices, common interview mistakes, and what employers are looking for during an interview.