Getting that first job can be a tough experience. For me, it was mainly because I had no experience. I’ve had previous jobs before, but I got them through networks like my college campus, or connections, like family friends. I’ve written resumes and submitted them, but I’ve never really had to interview, or do follow-ups. So I thought it would be a good idea to write and reflect about my job search history.
Three months before graduating from teacher credential school, I started sending out applications for jobs all over the globe. It was 2009 and the recession’s effects were taking a toll on any civil servant job. Teachers were getting pink slipped left and right, even those who had been with their district for 5+ years. It was a rather grim time.
My credentialing program took some initiative and encouraged their pre-service teachers to expand their credentials. Some of the people in my program got added credentials in foreign languages, science, P.E. I think I was the only one who got one in math. My credentialing program also spent a good amount of time training us on job application processes, resume writing, and interviewing (if we were ever so lucky to land one).
Fast forward to August 2010. At that point, I had sent out nearly 200 applications on Edjoin (the US’s major job posting site for all types of jobs in elementary and secondary schools, public, private, and charter). I got a total of 4 interviews that summer:
- An upper elementary position in Roseville, where 16 people were crammed into one dinky room. The door was to my back and there was just enough space for me to step in and sit down. I had apparently interviewed well, and was on their final list, but they were looking for someone with more experience.
- A long-term sub position in Lancaster, for which I drove 10 hours in one day.
- An English tutoring gig in Hong Kong [interviewed over Skype]. The English tutoring gig accepted me, and it seemed to be the best option at the time, so I had booked a flight everything.
Then, exactly 5 days before I was to board that plane, I got a call to interview for a public middle school math teacher position. I thought I should have disclosed that I had an offer already, but I didn’t say and went anyway.
It was the easiest, most candid interview I’ve ever had. The principal and I talked for over an hour. I didn’t feel awkward or stiff like the other interviews. I didn’t even get that feeling of needing to impress anyone. The principal asked pretty much the same questions that the Roseville panel did, but for some reason, I didn’t answer in exactly the same way. My practiced, pat answers for classroom management and engaging students and families felt less robotic, even if the meaning in my answers were the same as before. I was just able to be a bit more comfortable about it. He did ask some questions I had never been asked before, not in a previous interview and not for interview prep. Here’s one that I remember the most:
Principal: What is the one word you would use to describe middle school students, and why?
Me: ::thinks for a moment:: I’ve never thought about this question until now, but I think I would use the word ‘searching.’ Middle school students are not little kids anymore, they are coming into their own and starting to be aware of things outside of their immediate consciousness. They are searching for what they are good at, who they get a long with, what their role in their family and friends circle could be. It’s a pretty exciting time to explore, but it can also be rather intimidating. Yes, I would describe middle school students as ‘searching.’
Principal: That’s a really good way to put it.
As the last part of the interview, I was asked to teach a mini-lesson on factoring a trinomial. Which is the usual. And I thought I did ok, considering that most of the math teaching I was doing up until then was 4th and 5th grade level stuff. Unfortunately, I made a mistake, and I didn’t realize it until I was already on the road home.
However, the next day, the principal called me and asked if I could come in for a second interview the following day. So it ended up that 3 days before I was to board a plane for my secured job tutoring English in Hong Kong, I found myself sitting in front of the principal and both assistant principals. The very first question I was asked was to reflect on my previous interview:
Principal: So tell us what your thoughts were on your previous interview. You can also do a summary of it for the APs.
Me: Well, first off, I would like to say that I made a mistake on the mini-lesson.
Principal: ::grinning broadly:: Yes, you did.
AP1: What happened?
Me: The mini-lesson was on a problem about factoring a trinomial. There was a common factor of 2 in all three terms to start with, and I had factored that out as my first step. But in the middle, I forgot all about it, and didn’t bring it down in the final factored form. The factor of 2 had dropped off the face of the problem when it should have been there and accounted for.
Principal: ::still grinning:: Yes, exactly right. If that had happened in your classroom, what would you have done next?
Me: Well, I would tell my students that mistakes happen, and mistakes are ok. It would be a teaching moment for me to help students understand how and why a mistake happened, how to fix it, and then how to prevent it from happening next time.
The APs asked me a few other questions about my other skills (Cantonese and technology), and whether I would be willing to coach clubs and sports (yes, math clubs and tennis or volleyball).
I was rolling onto the freeway entrance not 15 minutes after the end of the interview when the principal called me to offer the job. I said yes right way. I’ve been at this job and this school since.
Four years into my career, the principal who hired me retired. When he retired, he told me that he knew 100% that he would offer me the job from the moment I mentioned my mistake in the mini-lesson. That every other interviewee that year had also made a math mistake, but I was the only one who caught it and spoke up about it on my own.
My first principal, the one who hired me, has been my favorite principal to work with. He was always supportive, checked in on not just my classroom and how teaching is going, but with me. He made sure I had everything I needed, from something as small as a pen holder for my desk to something as grand as colleagues who I could work well with. He backed me up when parents complained about my classroom policies. He gave me opportunities to grow and develop professionally. I got into the habit of going to conferences and seminars because of that. My two favorite education quotes from a person I actually knew came from him. When speaking of behavior management:
“Manage the little things – the gum and food in class, tardies, dress code, cell phones – and most big behaviors – fighting, stealing, substances, weapons – will take care of themselves.”
When speaking of the workplace environment:
“No matter what, I’m on the teacher’s side. If they want a fridge in their classroom, get them one. If they don’t want individual codes for the copy machine, make that happen. The teacher is the first line of defense. When they know I’m on their side, then both them and I get to focus on fighting the battles that really matter.”
Since then, I’ve seen 2 other principals and 4 other APs. They all have their own strengths of course, but I have yet to learn as much from them as I did from my first principal. And I know that the fact I’m more experienced myself when I met these other admin has a role in how much I can learn from them. But still. No other admin has inspired quite as much.
What was your job search like? Are you living through a job search yourself right now? Share your stories in the comments below!