Week 5.1: Interviewing – Between the Lines

Week 5.1: Interviewing – Between the Lines

If you are looking for your first teaching job, you have probably found lists of practice interview questions on the Internet, heard the advice of everyone from your college professor to your student teaching supervisor to your parents, and bought your perfect interview outfit. So we’re not going to talk about that.

We’re going to talk about personality, finding the “right fit,” and how to read between the lines in interviews. Do school administrators lie during interviews – yes, they do. But they don’t call it lying, they call it “putting the best face on the situation.” But it’s more like lying. So, first bit of advice that you may take or leave: Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions.

If you have the nerve, don’t ask about salary, benefits, and moving expenses. As a teacher, quality of life in the classroom is way more important than that extra thousand dollars a year. (Yeah, teachers don’t make enough money. That’s a given.) So ask about the other members of the department who you will be working with, ask about the school’s record of teacher longevity, ask about the level of parental involvement in the school. You can ask about your department budget; but even better, ask about available funding for field trips, new technology, and new books. Ask about the school’s discipline policy (hey, you’re equally in trouble if they have one or if they don’t, but at least you know if you agree with whatever policy they do have.) Finally, try to get a vibe about experimentation – do you have the freedom to change how teaching is done in the classroom, and try new methods of teaching? Or are you restricted in curriculum, by policy, by parental expectations, and by the head teacher in your department? It’s worth knowing.

I could hear the despair when you read that sentence about an extra thousand dollars a year. Benefits and salary are important, especially if you have the spouse and kids. But finding the “right fit” job for you has nothing to do with money. Hopefully no one reading this became a teacher because you thought you’d be raking it in. Even before your first interview, you have developed strong reasons for how and why you want to teach. Keep that sense of purpose in your mind as you interview – finding the right fit is about understanding the students more than the administrator and policies. They are the people you will be trying to form working relationships with on a daily basis – so see if you can observe or teach a class as part of your interview. A few schools already do this, and it’s GREAT.

In typical “Miss Teacher” fashion, I have presented you with contradictory statements in this post. Money both matters and doesn’t matter, the personality of your administrator both matters and doesn’t matter. You’re a professional and should be able to work with any other adult professional, but that doesn’t change the simple fact that you will simply mesh better with some people than others. It is worth it to keep interviewing until you find those people. Administrators do lie, but keep looking until you find one you can work with and feel comfortable with – similar to previous posts about “mentors.”

I feel like a guru at this point, staring at you and saying in a deep, portentous tone, “KNOW Thyself.” Do that, but hey, the best thing to do is to go to multiple interviews and analyze them before making any decisions. Get out there! Good luck.


Extra resources: Please refer to paragraph 1 of this post.
Next week: What Do We Take Seriously?  

VIP’s: Very Involved Parents, Part 2

VIP’s: Very Involved Parents, Part 2: Young teachers try proving their worth.

Oh dear, the return of the VIP’s. They came back, as we knew they would. So before we lock our classroom door, turn out the lights, and pretend we’re not here, let’s recap a few things:

  1. VIP’s simply need to be convinced that you want as much for their student as they do.
  2. Communication is vital – take time to email parents, update your class website, or call parents to keep those lines open.
  3. For young teachers, parents may act surprised at your age and question your ability. This may chafe you like a 16-year-old being told they can’t drive. But unlike that teenager, you won’t get offended, because you know you actually are inexperienced. Right? So refer to numbers 1 and 2.

Okay, the parent is gone and you can relax now. In this sequel, we’ll talk about how young teachers are trying to prove their worth, how parents are “watching” you, and how to see a VIP in a different light.


Young teachers can be defensive about their choices for their classroom, especially if they are different from the previous teacher’s approach. All teachers have a reason for every choice they make, but since it takes time to get to know the students, the school, and the expectations they are required to conform to, the choice may not be the most popular at the time. A young teacher (or maybe every teacher) still gets a quiver in their stomach when they get called to the principal’s office. Luckily, we quickly realize that an effective principal is on our side – but the VIP that just called the principal may not be, yet! How can we learn to apply the Golden Rule to VIPs, and collaborate with parents as we wish they would collaborate with us?

Here is another real story for you, from my very first year of teaching. I call it the Baseball Cap Example, and it helps me remember how closely some parents are actually watching. Big Brother style, for sure! In this instance, I believe the parent was dedicated to helping me succeed as a young teacher – though of course, I did not think of that at the time, being a bit unnerved. The Baseball Cap Example is simple: I was at one of the school’s sporting events, I was wearing my high school mascot baseball cap, and I forgot to take it off during the national anthem. The next day, a parent approached me and reminded me that not removing hats during the national anthem would offend some members of the community. I said something along the lines of, “Oh, I’m sorry! I was thinking of other things and forgot!” Thereafter I was a bit more aware of Big Brother, whether at a school event or buying orange juice at the grocery store.



Orwell references aside, a VIP is a regular person, somewhere around your age or a few years older. So the advice for this VIP sequel?

  1. Before defending your teaching methods, get to know the parent a bit. After all, they have their own personality and interests that exist outside of their student.
  2. Learn to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I think the “kill them with kindness” approach actually works way better on community members than your students.
  3. Collaboration can be extremely helpful. When talking to a parent; it may be useful to plan one thing that you will do, such as taking a moment to ensure that the student understands the homework assignment; with one thing the parent will do, such as checking your classroom website once a week to see the current homework assignment.

Hopefully, you found this post amusing and true, rather than blunt and annoying. But either way, share your advice and stories about VIP’s by leaving a comment below or emailing teachingismadhard@gmail.com.

Interesting Reading:

Parents and Teachers:

  1. http://www.educationworld.com/a_curr/profdev/profdev103.shtml
  2. http://teaching.monster.com/benefits/articles/9861-what-do-parents-really-want-from-teachers

Next week: Discipline is not Bipolar…

Week 2.4: The Great Communicator

Week 2.4: The Great Communicator

Why does communication keep popping up? It appears in the previous seven posts in some form or other – being a well-rounded person, talking to your administrator and co-workers without fear, etc. Communication may be the most important part of your teaching job – a happy fact for some, a not-so-thrilling fact for others.

At work, I was recently part of a discussion on super-powers! If you could have one super-power, what would it be? I invariably go for being able to fly (think how much money you could save on plane tickets!) but the majority of the group voted for a more communicative power – being able to read minds, for example. The most double-edged sword of super-powers! Can you imagine being able to read your students’ minds? I shiver just thinking about it.


But the point is that communication is difficult in every career and relationship. Pretty much everything we do relies on others. So here are some no-holds-barred recommendations for communication in teaching:

  1. Send at least 10 parents an email update on their student’s progress every week. You can write generic and short notes and use them to save time; as long as you don’t forget to change the names. You can proceed alphabetically through your roster, if that is easiest, or develop your own system. Parents appreciate the recognition even more than the students do!
  1. Before parent-teacher conferences, send a personal email asking parents to attend. Keep it enthusiastic – you can’t wait to meet them and tell them about everything that is going on in class. It is well-known that the 15% of parents that show up to conferences are generally the parents of the straight-A students. Parents, we miss you. Come talk to us.
  1. Choose a day about a month into the school year and invite parents to attend your class with their students on that day – this isn’t just for elementary and music classes!
  1. Send your administrator an update on your classroom progress and on your teaching ideas every month. Also let him/her know all this communication with parents you have been doing.
  1. Have a classroom blog, website, announcement page, Facebook page, anything. Be that person at your school who the other teachers come to for communication advice.
  1. Actually DO these things.

Seem overwhelming? But by taking an hour a week to do these six things, think how much time you will save explaining yourself later. Remember how your students will not be able to fudge to their parents about your classroom assignments and goals. (Students are trustworthy, but that doesn’t mean they take the time to communicate.) Consider that you are creating a positive foundation before any misunderstandings take place, as they are bound to do. (Remember how much time you will save with a super-power like flying.)

And please share your communication stories/recommendation stories in a comment below or email them to teachingismadhard@gmail.com!


Enjoy these resources about communication:



Click to access Effective_Communication.pdf


Next week, we’ll talk about “Blowing off Steam” with some statistics of teacher-dropout rates. Hey, students aren’t the only ones with dropout rates! And for those of you who only have one week until school is out for the holiday season, Happy Holidays to you!

Week 2.2: VIP’s Very Involved Parents (part 1)

Week 2.2: VIP’s Very Involved Parents (part 1)

The influencers of child development are family, friends, and teachers. It would be a beautiful world if these three groups could work together, and occasionally, that does happen. But as any teacher could tell you, there are some parents out there who are SCARY. Parents that blame teachers for every low grade and moment of out-of-control behavior. Parents that call weekly, and if given your cell phone number, call on weekends too. Parents that KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE and WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER. These are VIP’s – Very Involved Parents.

Now, many teachers are parents themselves. They know both sides – unconditional love for their kid and the challenges that teachers face. It is often said that parents make better teachers and vice versa, and because of this, a teacher’s kid is generally the most well-behaved student in your classroom. Hey – expectations really do matter.

However, reaching a common ground with VIP’s can be extremely difficult, regardless of how much the parent knows about teacher life. Parents see every moment of their child’s frustration and sadness at home, and the protective instinct can kick in immediately and ferociously. Then the protective instinct can be taken out on teachers, and since teachers are human, they can react by only seeing a scary confrontation instead of where the VIP is coming from.

The first thing that teachers need to remember is that the love parents have for their children is an unreasonable one. There is no talking a VIP out of their belief that their child is in the right, and the teacher is in the wrong. You will save yourself heartache and sleepless nights if you do not worry about VIP behavior. Suggestions:

  1. Take a step back, give it a day or two, and then communicate briefly and politely with the parent.
  2. Let the parent talk it out first without interruption.
  3. Ask questions to clarify the parent’s concerns.
  4. BEFORE you explain that the student has not turned in their homework, or that the student was pestering a fellow classmate, tell the parent that you want their child to succeed.

The goal is to establish the open-mindedness and forgiveness that everyone needs in order to move past worry or anger. If the behavior of the student or parent is dramatic enough to require a conference, make sure the student is in the conference. This way everyone knows what is going on – the student will be less inclined to over-exaggerate the unfairness of the teacher; the parent will be less inclined to overreact in front of their student, and the teacher can let the student know that they are on their side despite the problem.

There are no two ways around it – your behavior when dealing with VIP’s has to be above reproach. The teacher has to take the high road. Because again, a parent’s love for their child is bat-eyed blind. Here are some examples to let you know you’re not alone:

  1. When I was a first-year teacher, parents would challenge my knowledge on a regular basis. I was “too young” to teach. In a way they were right – but in a way, they were wrong too. It’s not your knowledge base that is the issue after 4 years of teacher school – it’s your behavior. See Week 1: Taking the “Student” out of Student Teacher.
  2. A parent never responded to emails or phone messages until March, when they called the principal to express their unhappiness with the lack of special attention their student was receiving in the class.
  3. A parent who was also a teacher at the same school would “stop in” to my classroom during my plan hour every week to check on their student’s progress in my class.


Got your own VIP story? Please share! Please also share your preferred method of talking with VIP’s. (Not “dealing with,” “talking with.”)

And here are some great resources:

This blog has many useful posts: http://4u2nomore.blogspot.com/2014_09_01_archive.html

And more help on using technology to communicate with parents: http://www.learnnc.org/lp/pages/6639

Don’t forget other wonderful teacher blogs on scholastic.com and teachhub.com!

Week 2: Learning to Trust

Trusting the people you work with is more difficult in a teaching position than you might think. Job security is also different in a teaching profession. Finally, while teachers are not necessarily competitive, they are human. Check out the following scenarios and imagine how you would feel or react:

  1. One of your students tells you that you aren’t as nice as another teacher in the school.
  2. An administrator has gone to one of your coworkers and asked them questions about how you are “working out” for the department.
  3. You are having trouble with a student (homework is not turned in, causing interruptions in class) and the student’s parents tell you that you are the only teacher who thinks their daughter/son is a bad student.

These scenarios are not unusual. In fact, they all occurred for me in one week of teaching. But these are the types of incidents that make it hard to establish trusting relationships with coworkers. They are the types of incidents that can escalate quickly and make your life far more miserable than it should be. Read on for the trust problem of each scenario:

  1. Jealousy does not naturally inspire trust. Every teacher would love to be the favorite; but by definition, only one teacher can be. Children will be children – just imagine some of the things you said to your parents. Every teacher also wants to do a good job – and a student will work harder in a class if they like the teacher. (There will be a future post on teacher popularity!)
  2. The administrator is likely simply checking on how you are working with your coworkers, making sure that you have the support you need to do your job – that is THEIR job. But hearing about a “secret conversation” secondhand can make a teacher unreasonably fearful, and does not inspire trust.
  3. Will your administrator and coworkers back you up when you talk to the student and parents, or not? If you do not trust the people you work with to be in your corner, you can feel extremely alone at work. Worse, if you do not trust your administrator enough to go to them for help, you may not get the issue resolved. Oh no! The student and their parents will hate you forever! You will be fired!

Okay, we jumped to the worst-case scenario there pretty quickly. The point that I would like to make is that a school is a shared community – every student, parent, teacher, and administrator NEEDS to be connected to each other in order for ANYTHING to work. I honestly believe that building trusting relationships will help, significantly. Here is one more example for you:

Back when I was pursuing a graduate degree, I conducted a research study in which I went to several different schools to interview a principal and a teacher from each. The interview asked the same questions to all participants, but from principal and teacher points of view. The questions regarded the relationship between teacher and administrator; and included inquiries about teacher observation and evaluation, as well as communication throughout the school year. Without fail, each participant responded that they would like to know more about the others’ perspective and that they would like to have more communication with the other. Also without fail, each participant seemed to be waiting for the other to make the first move. Which brings me to my major recommendations this week:

One: Communicate expansively from the very beginning of your teaching job. Ask questions of your co-workers, let the principal know if you have any worries, let the principal and parents know your plan for your classroom, email several parents with personal updates each week.

Two: Continue communicating honestly with your mentors – your former teachers, for example. They know teaching, and they also know YOU. They can help you find more ways to be successful in your position.

Three: Let the people around you know that you trust them, to be good workers and good humans. Do not be afraid to admit you are having trouble – after all, you get what you ask for.

Next week’s post, “Why Discipline is Dangerous,” will begin the discussion that you never got in college. In honor of Halloween week, I may share some scary stories from my own classroom – but all in the name of empathy and progress. In the meantime, if you want more, see below!

Have your own stories or advice to share about building a strong communicative foundation? Please enter comments below, or email teachingismadhard@gmail.com if you have a post you would like added to the guest posts section!

Want more? Check out Education Northwest’s booklet on building trusting relationships: http://educationnorthwest.org/sites/default/files/trust.pdf