Sunday, March 27, 2016

Testing Motivation!

I've been working on some motivational products to use in my own classroom during this year's state testing.  Since Growth Mindset has become a focus in classrooms this year, I want to make sure that my words of encouragement fall in line with it.  I've made a set of bookmarks that I am going to run on colored cardstock and laminate for my homeroom/testing class.  Feel free to grab a copy if you'd like!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Interviewing Tips (Part 2): Brand, Spanking New Teacher

If you haven't read my earlier post on 8 interview tips, make sure to peruse those as well, but these are specific for newbies.  For those of you heading out to your very first teaching job, interviewing may be a little tricky since you have limited experience to draw from.  Below are a list of suggestions to help you up your chances of landing a position.

1. Get your ducks in a row
Ducks, Facebook, Instagram, get the picture (no pun intended).  Unfortunately for young professionals, your choice of what you've shared online can come back to haunt you.  Lock down your social media and be careful who you invite into your inner circle.  What you share provides great insight into your personality and personal choices, and for some it is not something that you want H.R. to get a hold of.  Do schools scan the internet for information about you, in addition to your resume, you betcha!   I've known candidates not to get a job for talking about how they have students as friends on Facebook, and these aren't inexperienced teachers.  I've also seen teachers lose their jobs after inappropriate use of social media.

2.  Put your ego in check
New teachers are so excited to get in the classroom and even more so when they find success with students.  However, regardless of your natural talent as an educator, you should be humble. New teachers are so raw and lack so many experiences; it's not that they aren't good at their craft, it's that there is so much they don't yet know.  When working with preservice and beginning teachers I find that they often times will deflect any critical feedback, and this can make working with them especially challenging the first few years.  If the interview team sees that you come across as arrogant, you have probably lost the job before you walk out the door.  Before leaving, you might ask if you would have a mentor for your first year, or what professional development classes are available to help beginning teachers.  This shows great maturity and that you are open to suggestion and learning new skills.

3.  Letters of recommendation
At the end of the interview you might consider leaving a copy of your updated resume and letters of recommendation with the interview team.  You should get a letter from your cooperating teacher and university advisor.  If possible, collect letters from previous bosses and teammates you may have worked with during student teaching.  Toward the end of your student teaching you may have the school's principal come in and do an observation and provide feedback.  This could be another piece to bring to the interview.

4.  Have questions lined up
It is really important, especially in your first few years, to find a supportive school for you.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  You will need support, period.  I nearly quit teaching after my very year because I didn't have the type of principal beginning teachers need.  She would undermined me with parents and with colleagues until I just couldn't wait for the year to end.  I wasn't effective, I knew it, and I needed out.  Luckily my husband insisted that I give it another year at another school.  My second school ended up being a much better fit.  I felt valued and supported, and as a result grew into a confident professional.

Ask questions about support and mentors, ask questions about the team you will be on and how they operate, ask questions about the resources you will be provided and training you might need.  If there are quite a few teachers leaving, ask why that is.  Don't be afraid of asking the hard questions.  If it doesn't feel right, it's not the place for you.  It's taken me nearly 20 years, but I now understand that although I may be qualified for a job, it might not be the right place or time.  And that's okay.

5.  Show your potential
No one will hold your inexperience against you if you have other "potential" characteristics.  After interviewing new teachers, the team conversation will eventually turn to your inexperience.  Everyone has to start somewhere and so the team looks at your potential.  Our team will ask questions like, "How open does he/she seem to training, mentoring, suggestion, critique?"  "How confident are we that she is well spoken enough to deal with parents?"  "Does she/he seem organized and have a plan to prepare?"  Flexibility, being open, organized, and well spoken are foundational characteristics on which great teachers are built.

As the interview wraps up, don't forget to ask when you might hear from the school regarding the position.  Make sure to thank the interviewing team and follow up with a thank you note, even if you find out you don't get the job.  When the principal calls to tell you that you weren't selected, there is nothing wrong with asking for some feedback or suggestions.  If there was something that prevented you from getting the position, they will let you know.  And if they say inexperience, it may just be that the current team already has that so the school is looking for a veteran to balance things out.  Always be gracious, poised, and professional.  Remember principals talk.  If you were good but not the right fit, your name might be passed along to another school.

Good Luck!!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

8 Interviewing Tips (Part 1)

Trying to land your dream teaching job?  Wondering how to prepare for your first interview ever or have you not interviewed in a long time?  Below is some insight into interviewing for a teaching job. I've tried to break the sections down into, "For Everyone", "Brand, spanking new teacher" and "Been around the block."  Having set in on countless interviews over the years, it amazes me how many people have given very little thought to preparation.

First and foremost: Don't feel like if you don't get the job, you wouldn't be a good candidate for the job.  There is a great deal of politics behind getting a teaching position.  Sometimes there is a situation outside of your control that will ultimately hand the job to someone else.  A teacher may be on a terminating contract because she/he was a late hire, so interviews are required even though everyone sitting in on the interview knows the current teacher will get the job back.  Sometimes districts will downsize and must first fill open spots with teachers being displaced.  However, this is still an opportunity.  Principals remember candidates they like and will call them back if something else opens up in the future.

After it is said and done
Yes, we talk about you.  Yes, we know within minutes, usually, if you are a good fit or not for the team, school, position, etc.  Make sure to ask when you might have an answer so that you aren't waiting around. I'd say you should know within a week unless the school is interviewing someone from out of state.

Today's tips are FOR EVERYONE!
Here are some of the tips that come out of the conversations that occur after you leave. Below are a list of suggestions based off of situations where teachers actually talked themselves out of a job.

1.  Be specific and succinct
Make sure when someone asks a question that you answer that question and do it within an appropriate amount of time.  I've been in interviews that by the time the candidate was done talking, I forgot the original question.  Talking in circles cannot hide a lack of experience or an answer you do not know. A potential employer will get a general sense of your communication skills by how you answer, not just what you say in your answer.

Try answering the hard questions...

"I'm not sure about _______ but love reading and learning about new ideas in education.  If that is something I will need for this job, I'd be willing to attend workshops, research, learn more."

If the question includes an acronym you are unfamiliar with say, "Can you tell me a little about _____?  It may have been called something else at my former school.

2. Be positive
No one, I repeat, no one wants to hire someone that is negative.  Think about it.  Would you want to add someone to your own team that always sees the glass as half empty? I've worked for several principals over the years and am married to one, and not one of them has said, "Well since they are so creative we can work on the attitude."  No one, period.

Try turning a negative into a positive...

Negative:  "I've had a rough year with dealing with __________."
Positive:   "I've struggled with _____this year, but have focused my time on _____________and have learned a lot from the experience.  In the future I plan on implementing ________ so that this isn't so difficult."

Negative:  "The student is failing because parents don't care about making their child do homework/study for tests, etc."
Positive:  "Since I don't always seem to have support at home, for whatever reason, I focus on what I can control within the classroom to try and make students successful."

Negative:  "I couldn't work for my current principal, Mr. So-n-so because _____________."
Positive:  "I'm looking for a fresh start with colleagues that offer new ideas and perspectives about how to work with _______________"

3. Turn weaknesses into potential strengths
Every single interview I've ever been to, on either side of the table, will ask you about your perceived strengths and weaknesses.  Don't lie here because often the principal will call and check in with previous employers, but try and spin a weakness into a positive.  I will use my weaknesses as an example and show how I try to spin it in an interview situation.

Weakness: Messy work space
"My greatest weakness is that throughout the day I pile student work, notes from the office, and files on my desk. I feel that my time is better spent focused on students in the classroom than making sure my desk looks perfect all the time.  Then during prep or after school I try to tidy things up and make sure everything is organized for the next day."

Weakness: Not immediately answering emails throughout the day
"One thing that I'm always trying to improve is how to manage daily emails.  I want to make sure that my time is focused on students rather than replying to every email the moment it comes in.  I do let parents know at the beginning of the school year that this is how I handle answering emails.  I also let others know that if there is something that is needed immediately that they are welcome to call my room."

Weakness: I've never taught this grade/at all before
"Although this position is brand new, I plan on doing ________________before school starts next school year.  I have/would like to have a mentor that I can call on to help me with _____________ when I'm struggling.  I know I have a great deal to learn, but am open to all the help and suggestions I can get!"

4.  Check the ego at the door
This is a tough one for some people.  There are so many outstanding teachers out in America's classrooms, but every last one of us has something to learn or improve upon.  Principals and teams of teachers are looking for flexibility and teachers that are open to suggestion.  Don't get me wrong, play on your strengths, but remember that you are a cog on a wheel that helps make a school run effectively.  Talk about how you work effectively as a team rather than about how you are so much better than any other teammate.  Seems like common sense, but believe me I've seen some of the most self-centered personalities come out during a 30 minute interview.

5.  Dress for the interview
It always surprises me that some people don't dress appropriately for a job interview.  Showing up wearing a nice shirt and tie, suit, or business dress lets your perspective employer know that you care about your appearance and will do so when appropriate at school.  I've seen people show up in jeans, flip flops, and tank top dresses with bras showing.  Some schools will encourage you to not have shown tattoos or unusual piercings, so know your school.

6.  Know the school
Try and do some research about the school you are going to.  The admin and hiring team have certainly done research on you if you land an interview.  The hiring principal may have contacted former colleagues and superiors before you ever walk through the door, so it is in your best interest to  know the environment you are walking into.  It shows that you care and that you are interested in the school, not just the job.  Know programs that are used, the philosophy if it is school-wide, and how classes are organized (teams, departments).  Most of this information can be gathered by visiting the school's web site.  If you know someone that works at that school, ask them for information about what is important at that school.  Also think about how your teaching style will fit in there.

7.  Be prepared with examples
Whether you are new or not to the profession, give some thought to examples of things that work for you and things that didn't go as planned.  In fact, knowing how you handle the unexpected provides much needed insight into you as a professional.  Teaching is not easy and it certainly doesn't go as planned.  Everyone sitting in on the interview knows that.  What the interviewing team would really like to hear is how you perform under pressure and in unexpected situations. If you plan on bringing in samples, make sure to use examples from different students.  One interview I sat in on not too long ago had a teacher with actual products of things from his classroom.  They were great examples of work, but they were all from one student.  We know not all kids perform the same.  It would have worked in his favor to have brought in a variety of example levels and then explained how this student grew in the course of a year.  "When this student stepped into my classroom, she only provided one word answers that were often vague.  So although this may not be the best piece among the class, it shows a great deal of progress."

8.  How do you stand out?
One of my favorite questions that my husband asks in interviews is, "How do you keep current in (insert grade level, content area, educational practice) today?"  It isn't something expected by most potential employees, but it does give him a sense of your passion and dedication to teaching.  For him, it's passion.  He wants passionate teachers.  They are loyal, willing to go the extra mile to make sure kids are learning, not just being taught, and they tend to be engaging teachers. Whether it is passion or experience, make sure you have something to offer that no one else or few others can.  Sometimes it is your willingness to coach, but sometimes it is how honest you were about being a work in progress.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Math Giveaway 5-12!

Congratulations to Brittany Kiser over at 123 Teach!  She is celebrating a TpT milestone with a pretty big give away over on her blog.  I am happy to take part along with so many others. Check it out and sign the rafflecopter for a chance of winning.  She has so many participants, there are 3 different packages that can be won!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Fall Break House Cleaning and Sale

Tomorrow, Monday October 5th, I will be running a Fall Break Sale in my store.  Some of my growing bundles are about to get much bigger so it's a perfect time to save before the price goes up.  I will also be starting to clean up the store and remove items that either don't sell or need updating.  Some items will disappear for good on October 9th and some will be gone for a while as they are getting a much needed update.

Newer items:

Items about to be updated will include additional pages.  Get them right now at this price and enjoy the updates soon:

Friday, October 2, 2015

The Power of TED

I've used TED in my classroom since I began teaching junior high.   The videos are brief, engaging, and unique.  They cover so many topics that I teach in my classroom and are the perfect length for a warm up or a break in a lecture or an extension.  Each quarter I require students to complete a weekly literacy assignment in science.  Last quarter, students had to respond to current events but this quarter I'm going to have them choose their own TED Ed to listen to and analyze.  Feel free to snag a copy of the weekly response sheet I'm using this next quarter.

Monday, September 7, 2015


My 8th grade classes are finishing up our chemistry unit in the next couple of weeks and I will be sorry to see it go.  I think of all the units I teach for 7th and 8th grades, it is my favorite.  There are so many interactive activities and so many labs for them as they discover the basics of how matter works, why some atoms bond with others and what is actually happening during a chemical reaction. This past week, students completed their Reaction in a Bag Lab.  Students can see all of the indicators of a chemical reaction within a short amount of time and it is one of the most memorable activities of the year!

I use the GEMS series a LOT when I teach since it falls in line with my teaching style and it encourages inquiry without me having to come up with it all on my own.  This particular lab is in "Chemical Reactions" and is appropriate for 6-8 and it is only $10.

Click on the picture for the link.

To go with this lab I created these cute mini books that you can pick up for free by clicking on it's picture.  I've decided to use these this year as a way to help students organize their notes and make a topic easy to find in one specific area.  If you think these are something you can use too, I am working on a growing bundle that will include mini books for all the areas I cover in chemistry.  Right now the growing bundle of at least 10 mini books are on sale for $5 in my store.  Once I begin adding others, the price will go up.  I'll include 2 versions of each topic, one for students that need desk notes or that are absent and the other is a blank version.  I actually use the first version as I scaffold what my expectations are.

Click on the picture for the download.
It can also be found in the freebie section.