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As I pour through the 250 electronic applications sent to me for the one opening in my department, I flash back to the 21-year-old me.
There were only a few social studies positions open that year, and I found myself driving around Rhode Island, hand-delivering my applications just to ensure they made it to the right place or person. Fast forward 12 years, and now I am the one narrowing down the candidates to the dozen or so I will interview.
In my career, I have conducted countless interviews, and I am often reminded of that nervous, newly graduated girl who was shaking in the suit her parents bought her as a graduation gift. If I could tell that anxious and excited future educator the secrets to getting hired that I now know, what would I say?
When I first began teaching, few districts had websites, nevermind Twitter. Today, you have access to everything about a district—from its test scores to curricula to school improvement plans. I often give myself a pass for not knowing this back then, but in today’s digital age there simply is no excuse.
Research the district and learn what new initiatives or programs they are exploring. In your cover letter and interview, highlight how you can lend to their pursuit. Find out what their successes and challenges are. What is their mission statement? Try to find ways to leave them intrigued about how you can help them achieve their goals, and assured of your own commitment to their values.
Many candidates try to flex their content muscles in order to wow the panel with their wealth of knowledge. Unfortunately, I have found that these are often the hires who don’t succeed in education. Why? Because it is simply not enough to love what you teach, you must love who you are teaching.
Typically, a candidate who does not have a background in or understanding of adolescent education will be moved to the bottom of the pile. Show that you know how students learn: be prepared to discuss your favorite (and hopefully research-based) strategies.
Take my first piece of advice and add it to this: learn about their curriculum and develop ideas you have on how you would teach a unit of study from it. The number one concern for districts is that their students are healthy and engaged. You have one chance to show that you have that same goal.
I knew so much at 21! So I thought…or at least I wanted everyone else to think I did. Show that you are reflective and that you frequently seek to improve your craft.
For example, be prepared to answer questions about your most recent read or identify an instructional strategy you would like to try one day. Most important, show that you want to learn about the ways and means of the district in which you hope to soon be employed. Identify areas about which you would like to learn more (Again! Go back to number one).
If you have had a student-teaching experience, show two lesson plans: one you performed and then an adapted one based on student feedback. Ask the panel about opportunities you will have to observe other teachers and if new employees will receive mentors.
Above all, in the midst of selling yourself, demonstrate your humility and desire to be both a good teacher AND a good employee.
It is as simple as that.
Aubrie Rojee is the educational leader for the humanities at Medway High School in Medway, Mass. An educator for 12 years, she is a member of the ASCD Emerging Leader class of 2014.
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