It’s summer, the season of baseball, ice cream, the beach, and road construction. It’s also the hiring season. Districts everywhere are working to fill their open positions and the competition at some is at hot as the sand on the soles of your feet. Many aspiring teachers enter the interview season with fear and nervousness. They scour the web for anything that might give them a leg up. There’s a lot of advice out there, some good and some not. For this article I reached out to eight school administrators to find out what sets apart those teachers they hire from those they don’t.
Before you even sit down to write your resume, there are a couple of things you should do. First, clean up your social media. If an administrator can find a scandalous picture of you, then so can any parent, student, or future colleague.
Next, take advantage of relationships. If you substituted after student teaching (and you should have), then now’s the time to call school secretaries, teachers whose rooms you subbed in, and principals who are familiar with your work. Almost all of those people want to help young people succeed (that’s why they’re in education!), so don’t be afraid to ask them for letters of recommendation, to put in a kind word to administrators they know, or to use their names as references on your resume. These connections don’t guarantee you a job, but they can often lead to an interview.
First impressions are almost all that matter. Your resume will, if you’re lucky, get a couple minutes of consideration before it’s put into one of two piles. The administrators I talked to want a professional looking resume with well-organized credentials. Each of them said that grammatical errors and disorganization will disqualify you. Keep it brief; you needn’t include things that every teacher does in the course of their job.
You need something to separate your resume from the rest of the pile. A principal in Florida said he wants, “A resume that is eye-catching in organization, clarity, and content. Too many resumes are boilerplate and have no presence or personality.”
Another principal said, “Just ALWAYS try to find at least one thing to help you stand out among the others, ANYTHING. An international internship, bilingual, volunteering at schools while you are doing your undergrad, anything to help you get a leg up.”
A former principal and Superintendent told me, “The most attractive candidates pop out as a person who authentically cares for children. Something unique. At least one thing that separates you from others. Communicate that you’re willing to do the work of an educator–pd, meetings, parent communications.”
Andrew Phillips, the principal at Brandon Fletcher Intermediate in Ortonville, Michigan said, “I want to know what he or she did to go above and beyond. Did a candidate do the optional stuff, like help coach, or participate in an optional book study, or tutor kids? I want to hire someone who will come to after-school activities without me having to beg, who will do optional learning to better themselves and our students.”
Even the paper can help. One principal said, “The use of colored resume (parchment) paper always stands out to me that the candidate took the extra time to print their documents on something other than the traditional white copy paper that happened to be in the printer.”
If your resume does what it’s supposed to do, you’ll be called in for an interview. In addition to obvious things like looking professional, not chewing gum, keeping your phone in your car, and smiling, there are a few things you can do to increase the odds you’ll get called back for a second interview or even offered the job.
It’s About Your Attitude
“Show me that you are interested in the interview,” said one principal, but don’t, as one former Superintendent said, “be a basket case.” Smile, be enthusiastic, be happy to be there (even if anxiety is eating away at your stomach) and sell yourself. It’s about attitude as much as knowledge. One principal uses the “cup of coffee test.” Would they want to have coffee with you? They have to be able to see themselves working with you for many years.
Be confident, but not arrogant. One teacher who has served on multiple interview committees said, “There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. If your attitude comes off as you “know everything” you may be a turn off to teammates and difficult to coach if the need arises. Ultimately, nobody likes a “know it all.”
I’ve served on five interview committees over the years, both for teacher and principal jobs, and the one thing that kills candidates is a lack of specificity in their answers. The administrators I heard from echoed this. They said:
“I want to see how the applicant has applied the necessary skills in the real world with meaningful examples. I just don’t want to see one’s goals or skills. I want to see how they can demonstrate those skills.”
“Talk specifically about the way you operate math and literacy in your classroom. It’s great to make all the kids feel like your classroom is a home, but everyone says that. Not everyone can talk about running a true math workshop or guided reading groups.”
“Talk about what you will do, not what you did while student teaching. Too often, candidates talk about what their master teacher did and how they witnessed that. It leaves the impression that they don’t have any ingrained beliefs or thoughts independent of that teacher.”
Some knowledge of the district is good — it shows you want the job badly enough to do some research — but you’re not expected to know everything, so admit when you don’t. Listen carefully to the questions, and answer directly. If you are not sure about an answer, be honest. Don’t try to make an answer up just because you think you should. Say, “I really can’t address that question, but I’d be glad to learn about it immediately.”
One principal explained that, “Asking intelligent questions shows reflection on the part of the candidate.”
Many administrators would prefer the interview to be a two-way conversation, so don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions if you’re unsure of what the interviewer is asking. You can also separate yourself from the competition by asking questions that serve a dual purpose by satisfying your authentic curiosity about aspects of the job as well as communicating your willingness to go the extra mile for students. Questions about what extra-curricular opportunities exist for new teachers, or whether or not the school has after-school clubs run by teachers are always impressive.
I hope this helped. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to the current and former administrators who shared their thoughts for this article.