Saturday, September 15, 2012

My Own Class and Classroom, Plus Reflections on Landing a Teaching Job

Wow! I feel like it's been forever since I blogged. Probably because it has been quite a while. But I think I have a pretty good excuse. As many of you already know by now, I finally scored a full-time teaching job! Yay! I am starting today by telling you about my class and classroom my first week of teaching. Then I want to offer some reflections and suggestions for the many of you who I know are still looking.

My position is in fourth grade in an ESL class. I currently have 20 students, equally split between girls and boys. And, what was most surprising to me being in San Antonio is that the overwhelming majority of my ESL kiddos are not Hispanic. Most of then are Asian and Indian but have an excellent command of the English language already. I only have one little sweetie who seems to still have significant trouble with the language, but apparently she has made huge gains over the summer as well. I have one student with special needs in my class as part of his inclusion. He is wonderful! I am only responsible for his science and social studies grades, but he is doing so well, that we are trying out increased inclusion time, and so far so good. I have one sweetie with some pretty severe learning disabilities and (according to the notes some behavioral issues although I haven't seen them yet), but he gets lots of support through the learning lab. Essentially he participates in my lesson and then goes to the learning lab with a modified assignment to complete there. My biggest issue with students this first week is one little boy who lacks confidence in his own abilities (and he has lots because he has already shown me). If he thinks he can't do something, he will shut down and not even try at all. I am showering that sweetie with as much positive attention as possible hoping to build up that confidence.

I took the class over from a teacher who was leaving because she was offered a position as a math specialist at another campus. So, lucky me, she didn't need many of the things from her classroom. So even though I stepped in after school had already started, I took over an established class in a mostly set-up classroom. I don't think it gets better than that. She left student mailboxes, turn in bins, completed bulletin boards, a classroom library, and many supplies. My only "complaint" (if you could even call it that) is that she was not a cutesy teacher at all so nothing has any sort of a decorator or fun touch at all. Well, I wouldn't say I am super cutesy, but I certainly wanted my classroom to feel a little more homey and decorator-y.

I set goals for myself that I was going to do a little decorating at a time for several reasons: 1) It can be expensive to do all at once, 2) The students had a huge disruption with a teacher change, and I want to limit the surrounding changes, and 3) To conserve my own energy and prevent too many late nights at school. After a week, I now have a few of my own academic posters on the wall, have added my classroom management system, writer's process chart, and some curtains. One little tip on the curtains: I went looking for anything based on the bulletin board color scheme already in place, and what I found were shower curtains. Sound funny? Well, they are the plastic ones, but not the hard, crinkly, smelly plastic. And they were a lot cheaper than curtains and come in lots more cute designs. I found some with my reds and browns and fun tropical tiki designs on them. My only issue with them is they are about three feet too short since my windows go ceiling to floor. I was worried, but once I got them hung, it really doesn't bother me too much. The change in ambience outweighs the extra space at the bottom for me. And my students love them! I hung them when they were out of the room, and when they entered, it was a chorus of ooohs and ahhhs! They decided our room is now a tropical island paradise. Even the "ugly" light brown rugs now serve as our sandy beaches. So, now I guess I have inadvertently created a tropical beach theme for my classroom. Was that what I envisioned as my first classroom theme? No, not at all. But it works, and I love it!

*Classroom Pictures to Come Next Week*

The craziest thing about landing a job is how quickly it all happened. I was called for an interview the Friday evening before Labor Day. I had to wait the whole long weekend (which gave me soooo much time to research and prepare) before I interviewed Tuesday late afternoon. They gave me no indication on how I did except to say Human Resources was taking a while to contact new hires and to be patient. The next day, I tried to occupy myself by working on some products and accepting an emergency half-day sub job for a friend. As I was walking out the door to that sub job, I got the call from Human Resources... less than 24 hours after I had interviewed! I was so excited and surprised, when he said they would like to offer me the position, all I could do was yell, "Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay!" He laughed and said, "I'll take that as a yes then." So then I started by shadowing the leaving teacher on Thursday and have been on my own since. The only catch was that I then had to go this last Monday to sign the paperwork since they rushed me into the classroom, and I still am not officially set up in the system for computer log ins and such. I am set up in the payroll system, so that is all good.

Reflections on Landing This Job

Since I know many of you are still in the position I have been in for the last four years, I thought I would make this an extra long post today to be able to try offer some insight on how I landed this job. What was different between this one and all the others I didn't get.

1) I had lots of time to prepare, and I used it. Like I said, I had the whole three-day Labor Day weekend to prepare for the interview. I researched the school, the principal, the other teachers on the team, the fourth grade curriculum in the district, and the fourth grade state-mandated standardized tests. Through the blogging and subbing world, I have made lots of amazing teacher contacts, and I called on all of them. Once I had done the research, I studied like it was a test (interviews kind of are, aren't they). I went over and over my notes until I knew everything by heart.

2) I answered questions briefly and honestly, using as much of teacher-y language as I could. I think sometimes in the past, I may have been too casual about answering questions.

3) I interviewed with a panel of people... the principal, vice principal, and the other three fourth grade teachers. Although this can be overwhelming, I was thrilled that teachers were in on the process. I think in the past, I have always made good impressions with teachers, but have had more trouble making that same impression on principals (even though I have always gotten positive feedback).

4) I ended the interview my giving them a brochure I created about myself. It just included about seven bullet points highlighting my experience and photos of some student work. I think it just was a nice way to make sure they didn't forget who I was.

5) As soon as I got home, I sent thank you emails to every single person I interviewed with (not just the principal and vice principal). After I got hired, they told me they were very impressed with that.

Of course, as always, I dressed professionally. I wore a jacket even though it was like a million degrees outside that day. I arrived early. And I made eye contact with every person in the room as I talked.

Will these help you? Well, I hope so, but honestly my experience with the process for so long has told me that often it's more about being in the right place at the right time, or as I say it, getting the stars to align correctly. I am not even sure that it has much to do with who you know since I didn't know anyone who I interview with. And so much of that is out of your control. So many people told me the "right" classroom was out there waiting for me, but honestly I never truly believed that (the realist in me also thought, what if these are all signs that I wasn't meant to be a teacher). Well, I can happily say, I guess, that they were right and I was wrong. I am more than happy to admit being wrong if it results in such an amazing teaching position.

My favorite inspirational quote of all time is:

Well, I spent four years dancing in the rain metaphorically. And ironically, this week it actually rained for the first time in a long time in San Antonio. So, now I am literally dancing in the rain.

Happy job hunting to all of you! May the perfect job be just around the corner for you too.
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