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Principals Offer Advice to Job Seekers

Have a plan, a portfolio, and a good attitude! That's just some of the advice Education World's Principal Files principals have for soon-to-be college grads looking for their first teaching positions. Any educator who is involved in a job search will benefit from this advice from the people who are doing the hiring! Included: Questions to help any job candidate prepare!

It's springtime -- and that means a new crop of teachers is out pounding the pavement. School principals are busy interviewing candidates for open positions. But what are those principals looking for? How can a new teacher prepare for an upcoming interview? Those are the questions we asked the experts -- the members of Education World's Principal Files team. Here's what those principals said!

Show and Tell with Portfolios

"A portfolio is a must," principal Betty Peltier tells Education World. "These days, if your college does not require one, assemble your own. Include pictures if you have them, student teaching experiences, in-services attended. Hiring principals are looking for teachers who are computer literate. If you are, show it off in your portfolio."

A thoughtfully prepared portfolio can clearly demonstrate a candidate's teaching philosophy, ability to reflect on progress as a beginning teacher, and ability to create an exciting learning environment for students, says principal Julie Ryan. "Even if you interview with someone who is not interested in looking through a portfolio, the process of preparing it will help you think through your strengths and areas where you need to grow," Ryan tells Education World.

"This comprehensive notebook gives us a chance to see actual data," adds Patricia Moncivais. "I have even heard of a student who did a PowerPoint presentation that featured lesson plans and interactive work done by the students."

Experience Is the Best Teacher

Though principal John Grady's advice might be a little late in coming for those who are about to don caps and gowns, it is advice that any future teacher might consider: "As the parent of a daughter who is an education major, my principal's advice is the same as my fatherly advice -- make the most of your student teaching experiences!"

Grady advises future teachers to "put in as much observation and classroom time as you can, and get it in more than one area. As a middle level educator, I would suggest that your student teaching experience include both the middle level and another level, be it elementary or high school. That might mean extra days and hours, but in the long run it will be to your benefit.

"Volunteer for extra duties," Grady adds. "Do what you can to get noticed. If you are the non-paid adviser to the talent show or the co-chair of a celebration of cultures, it gives you excellent experience and makes a principal pay attention to your candidacy."

Principal Les Potter looks at the variety of experiences a candidate has had too. "The best indicator of future success is past success," says Potter. Those experiences -- including student teaching, substituting, and volunteer experiences -- can give principals a sense for how that candidate will do in the classroom.

Jim Clark is part of a team that travels to universities across Alabama in search of new teachers for schools in the city of Jasper. The key is to first decide what characteristics are needed in the candidate who will fill each opening, Clark tells Education World. Then Clark and his colleagues ask behavior-based interview questions. (See sidebar.) Behavior-based questions are designed to elicit information about past successes and problems, Clark says.

"The questions can be used to assess skills such as classroom management," adds Clark. "They can also be used to assess characteristics such as adaptability, communication, risk-taking, and teamwork."

Behavior-Based Interview Questions

Jim Clark and his team take a behavior-based approach to interviewing. Questions are meant to elicit candidates' experiences -- successful and not so successful -- as well as their abilities to reflect on those experiences. If you were a candidate for a teaching position in Jasper, Ala., Clark might ask you to tell about a time when you

  • achieved a great deal in a short amount of time,
  • worked effectively under a great deal of pressure,
  • were especially creative in solving a problem,
  • really had to remain flexible,
  • wrote a report that was well received by others,
  • had to make an unpopular decision,
  • were disappointed in your performance,
  • didn't handle a stressful situation very well, or
  • were unable to complete a project on schedule despite your best effort.


Have a Plan!

"My one piece of advice for a college grad looking for a teaching job would be to have a plan," Betty Luckett tells Education World. "One of the first things I ask candidates to do is to describe for me their classroom. What does it look like? What does it sound like? And, most important to me, what does it feel like? A person who is really interested in teaching already has a basic idea about some of things they'll do as teacher."

Bridget Sullivan asks potential teachers similar questions. "I listen to the candidate, and I look for common-sense perspectives," explains Sullivan. "I need to know that not only has that candidate learned a great deal about how to teach but has common sense to go with it. A new teacher has to be ready to teach from day one."

Sullivan looks for many things as she interviews, including these:

  • Does the candidate describe center areas, displayed work, interactive spaces, or bulletin boards?
  • Does the candidate describe seating for students in groups and an area for group meetings?
  • What instructional style does she or he use?
  • Does the candidate describe a constructivist process?

"A teacher tells me more about herself or himself in answering those question than in any others," Sullivan adds.

"I look for someone who has a classroom discipline plan," adds principal Marie Kostick. "I want to know if the candidate will attempt to resolve minor student conflicts in the classroom rather than be quick to send the student to the office."

Helene Dykes is looking for teachers-to-be with a plan too. "I have them review the six standards of the teaching profession and prepare to answer questions relating to those standards," Dykes tells Education World. Those questions might include How do you plan to engage and support all students in learning? How do you assess learning? What ways are you planning to develop as a professional?

A Willingness to Learn Too

Some of Education World's Principal Files principals sounded a note of caution to teaching job prospectors. "I'd like to remind 'newbies' that they truly don't know everything and that they must remember to ask for help," principal Laura Crochet tells Education World.

Principal Judy Burt echoes Crochet's advice: "In the interview, don't act like you know it all already. You don't. You can't. As a seasoned interviewer, I much prefer to work with a candidate who openly admits to being a neophyte, who will embrace the idea of having a mentor or two, and who is willing to learn. In this profession, none of us ever knows it all, and we have to keep sharpening our own blades to keep up."

Cyndi Patterson also looks for signs that a candidate recognizes the need to learn more than college taught them. "I want to hear candidates say how excited they are about the upcoming first day and how much they know they will need a good master teacher to tutor and mentor them as they make those dreaded first-year mistakes," says Patterson. "They need to realize there will be mistakes."

"My advice to grads would be to remember that what they see in the classroom does not come from the books," adds Bonita Henderson. "Don't attempt to tie the children to a chapter in a textbook. Children are unpredictable."

Honesty Is the Best Policy

When it comes to interviewing, a number of Education World's principal advisers emphasized the importance of honesty. "Be honest during the interview about your capabilities," says principal Katrina Moore. "Don't make promises you cannot live up to."

"Don't try to answer what you 'think' the interviewer wants to hear," advises Norma Chenevert. "If you don't know the answer, say so. If that particular question is important to the district, offer to do research to find the answers; then add where and how you would go about finding answers."

Ralph Lowe looks for honesty too. "If the candidates have had a strong practicum experience, they should just be honest, direct. They should be able to articulate why they were successful -- and to provide evidence to support that they were first rate."

More Principal Pointers!

Show your love for children. "I look to see if a candidate has a natural love for kids," says Cyndi Patterson. "I believe I can help them learn to teach, but I cannot train someone to love what they do and who they do it with."

Share real stories. "Think of some very personal stories to share, perhaps a story about a student you helped or an outstanding lesson you taught," advises principal Deborah Harbin. "Personal anecdotes enable the interviewers to see into your heart." Harbin loves to see a few pictures of the applicant working with children as well.

Tell about your special skills. "Over the years of interviewing candidates for teaching positions, there are several critical questions that I always ask," explains Walter Lutz. "The most important question is Why should I hire you instead of the other 30 candidates who have applied?"

Principal Tim Messick asks a similar question. "Have a specialty in which you have additional training, experience, or skill," recommends Messick. "Be articulate in what you will bring to our program. Share your gifts, talents, and strengths."

Be a team player. "We want colleagues who are able team members -- who are willing to participate, are eager to grow and learn, and have a positive and enthusiastic approach to this wonderful profession," says Tim Messick.

Marie Kostick concurs: "One of the most important things that I look for is someone who is willing to be a team player, someone who does not have his or her own agenda, someone who is excited about teaching and about children, someone who is not afraid to take on a challenge or accept a couple of extra duties."

Project confidence. "Go into the interview with confidence in your ability. Project confidence and enthusiasm." That advice is from Les Potter.

John Welsh adds, "Come to the interview with the offer to teach in the school. That's right! Be prepared to offer your service that day as a substitute," explains Welsh. "Be anxious for the administrator to see you perform. Be willing to 'strut your stuff.' Be confident about your ability to teach and manage a classroom."

Do your homework. Know something about the school and the community where you are applying before the interview, advises Larry Green. "Don't go in cold, as if you are applying generically to any school that has an opening."

Brian Hazeltine agrees. "Doing your homework will impress the interviewer. Find out about the philosophy of the school to which you are applying. Are you looking for a place to earn money or a place to develop as a teacher and launch your career? Don't try to make yourself a 'fit' if you really aren't."

Principal Bobby Templeton advises, "Remember that you are interviewing the school too. Be prepared with questions and know as much about the school as you can before you sign on the dotted line."

Mary Ellen Imbo suggests that candidates request literature about the district before interviewing there. "That literature will help the candidate answer questions on the applications. It will provide clues about approaches to curriculum, such as reading instruction. What students learn in college is not necessarily what districts are doing," says Imbo, who knows firsthand about the importance of research because she has moved frequently over the years.

Carefully prepare that application! "I believe that prospective teachers should pay particular attention to their application packages," recommends Jon Romeo. "Incomplete packages, missing paperwork, or sloppy resumes really standout in a negative way!"

Brian Hazeltine adds, "Don't waste time submitting resumes with spelling errors and cover letters with spelling errors -- including my name. My name isn't spelled B-r-a-i-n!

Be a skillful teacher of reading. "I think any aspiring teacher would have a big advantage if he or she were able to articulate a philosophy related to the teaching of reading and an understanding of research-based methodologies," says Lyn McCarty. "That is critical in elementary school, of course. But in secondary schools ... we are finding ourselves rethinking how much of the time traditionally spent teaching core content can be shifted over to the direct instruction of functional reading in all of our classrooms. ..."

The First Job Sets the Tone!

In many parts of the country, teachers are in short supply. That means that a candidate for a teaching job can take a little time to find a job that "fits" well. "Remember that your first job really determines much of your professional direction and philosophy," advises Bobby Templeton.

Janell Logue-Belden recommends to candidates, "Speak as much as you can about how you can adapt lessons for special education students, and use examples of how you do or would do things when answering questions."

Les Potter has some additional advice too:

  • Have diploma will travel.... Be willing to go where the jobs are!
  • Dress and look professional.
  • Make sure you have good references who are reachable.

Finally, have a positive attitude. "Don't listen to all of the bad press and negativity about the profession," adds Bobby Templeton. "The job really is a good one."


Attention New Teachers!

Before you start interviewing, check out these Education World articles:



Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World®
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Last updated 08/16/2017