Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What Schools Look for in a Teacher

When a school searches for a new teacher, they already have an image of the teacher they want. Every school has certain qualities they feel a teacher must have to be successful. Those qualities can be many things depending on the needs and location of the school. While the qualities that each school considers important may vary, there are usually shared qualities that all schools would consider important.

The experience or background of a teacher is the most important quality a school looks for so your resume should highlight the qualities they are looking for. If they are looking for an ESL teacher for kindergarten students, it may be best to highlight activities that you have initiated and prepared at your previous positions. In addition, if you are looking at a position for a content subject such as science, highlight your knowledge and education in that area. This is especially important if you are a new teacher with little or no experience. Regardless, you should also have all academic qualifications available for the school to preview before you go for an interview. Most schools want to review the qualifications while considering applicants and will sometimes pass on teachers who don’t submit these items for review when applying. Each school is unique so the best thing would be to have a cover letter that speaks to that school and the position they are looking to fill. Don’t just have a blanket letter and resume that you mass mail to any potential school in the hopes of gaining employment. It may be beneficial to have a list of professional highlights that you can copy and paste into a cover letter based on the requirements of the position.

Another important consideration for schools is the personal qualities of a teacher. Most schools are looking for a long term commitment from a teacher so they want to make sure that teacher will fit within their school. The obvious qualities that come to mind are personable, positive and flexible/patient because these qualities will carry over into the classroom with your future students. In addition, the school will look at a teacher’s qualities with regards to their professionalism because there is much that is required outside of the classroom. In other words, they will want a teacher that is organized and committed. If they feel that the teacher can’t be depended on, they may not consider them a viable candidate. One of the things that may highlight a teacher’s lack of commitment is a resume that shows numerous teaching positions over a short period of time. Remember that you will not be judged strictly by your qualifications but on the sum of who you are as an individual.

The factors that go into a school’s decision to accept a teacher are varied and many so it is impossible to cover them all. Regardless, cover the basics looked for in any teacher and identify the unique characteristics or qualifications of a particular position. Remember that looking for a teaching job, like many other employment searches, is about selling yourself and the best way to do this is by identifying what the employer wants.

The following is an abbreviated list of characteristics posted by a teacher in response to a UNICEF request to “What makes a Good Teacher?”:

Positive - Thinks positively and enthusiastically about people and what they are capable of becoming. Sees the good in any situation and can move forward to make the most of difficult situations when confronted with obstacles. Encourages others to also be positive.

Communicative - Shares with others in a manner that encourages effective two-way communication. Communicates personal thoughts and feelings on a wide spectrum of issues and can listen to students in an empathetic manner, assuring each that conversations will be held in confidence.

Dependable - Honest and authentic in working with others. Consistently lives up to commitments to students and others. Works with them in an open, honest, and forthright manner.

Organized - Makes efficient use of time and moves in a planned and systematic direction. Knows where he or she is heading and is able to help students in their own organization and planning. Can think in terms of how organization can be beneficial to those served.

Committed - Demonstrates commitment to students and the profession and is self-confident, poised and personally in control of situations. Has a healthy self-image. Encourages students to look at themselves in a positive manner, careful to honor the self-respect of the students, while encouraging them to develop a positive self-concept.

Motivational - Enthusiastic with standards and expectations for students and self. Understands the intrinsic motivations of individuals, and knows what it is that motivates students. Takes action in constructive ways.

Compassionate - Caring, empathetic and able to respond to people at a feeling level. Open with personal thoughts and feelings, encouraging others to do likewise. Knows and understands the feelings of students.

Flexible - Willing to alter plans and directions in a manner which assists people in moving toward their goals. Seeks to reason out situations with students and staff in a manner that allows all people to move forward in a positive direction.

Knowledgeable - Is in a constant quest for knowledge. Keeps up in his or her specialty areas, and has the insight to integrate new knowledge. Takes knowledge and translates it to students in a way which is comprehensible to them, yet retains its originality.

Creative - Versatile, innovative, and open to new ideas. Strives to incorporate techniques and activities that enable students to have unique and meaningful new growth experiences.

Patient - Is deliberate in coming to conclusions. Strives to look at all aspects of the situation and remains highly fair and objective under most difficult circumstances. Believes that problems can be resolved if enough input and attention is given by people who are affected.

You can also practice answers to typical teacher interview questions like the ones on the following sites:

Virginia Polytechnic Institute
Resumes-For-Teachers

Michael G. Hines is the founder of http://www.TotalESL.com, a free resource helping the ESL/EFL community for jobs, resumes, schools, resources, yellow pages, classifieds, information and lessons. There are even free user blogs and chat!

SAT Essay - 8 Ways To Write A Great Introduction

You can't afford to have writer's block since you only have 25 minutes to write your SAT Essay. So to help my students put pen to paper faster I created these 8 techniques for creating a compelling introduction quickly. Try them and they'll help you too.

1. Understand the prompt first

The number one thing you must do to write a great introduction is to make sure you know what you are writing about first. The biggest mistake I've seen in scoring SAT Essays is that many students misread the prompt. To avoid this I have my students underline or circle important words and phrases to make sure they have truly digested the prompt. I suggest you do the same.

2. Use an analogy or metaphor

Analogies require creativity. A trait that SAT Essay graders love to reward. For an essay in which the prompt was "Is it true that to make progress people must make sacrifices?" A student created the following analogy,

"To climb a mountain a person must struggle and strain. And this is the case with any worthwhile goal..."

3. Tell a brief anecdote

You can create an engaging introduction by telling a brief (1-2 sentence anecdote) such as the following.

When I trained for my first marathon it was difficult and often painful. But I wanted to have the accomplishment of running 26.2 miles so I did it anyway. To make progress in life requires sacrifice.

4. Use a quote that was not used in the prompt

It is useful to memorize quotes that you love. You never know when they can come in handy on the test. For example for the essay topic "Do mistakes lead to growth?" one of my students wrote

Someone once asked Edison, "how can you feel good about your work, having failed nine-hundred and ninety-nine times to make a light bulb?" To this Edison replied, "I have not failed so many times, I have merely learned nine-hundred and ninety-nine ways not to make a light bulb. Why did Edison react this way? Because he knew that mistakes are always experiences that lead to learning and growth."

This was a great quote to begin his essay with and would definitely impress SAT Essay graders.

5. Mention a topic in the news

SAT Essay Experts will often say to stay away from news in the body of your essay. And they are right. However, in the introduction it can be very useful IF you have the facts straight AND it's even better if it is a news story that isn't well covered. If you use this idea make sure it clearly fits the topic.

6. Make up an anecdote using very specific details

I don't recommend this as you don't need a creative introduction badly enough to take the trouble to make one up. I had a student insist on trying this and his were so bad at first anyone could guess they were fictional. Finally, however he started to put details that were so specific that I couldn't tell if it was real or not. So you can fool graders if you want to but I don't recommend it.

7. Use a cliche in an inventive way

Most books and articles on writing say to stay away from cliches however, it's a secret of professional writers that if you change a cliche it captures people's attention.

One student used the following cliche to make a great introduction for the topic "Which is a better indicator of a person's true character, their actions or their words?"

"A picture tells a thousand words" is a saying that applies to the newspaper industry but which also applies to people. The picture created by a person's actions tells us a thousand words about him or her and goes much farther than words do in telling us about a person's true thoughts and feelings. Several examples from literature and history demonstrate this point.

Using the cliche "A picture tells a thousand words" to make the point that actions speak louder than words is very unique and very powerful.

8. When all else fails just do a quick summary of what you will cover in your essay

Make sure you clearly state your thesis and state which categories of information your examples are from

For example, "Examples from history, literature and science will prove that people care far too much about what others think of them."

Most of all remember, you do not need to write an impressive introduction so badly that you sacrifice the rest of your essay. In fact I taught my students to write great body paragraphs first as these are just as important. Then when they could write them quickly I taught them how to write great introductions and powerful conclusions.

Rodney Daut is a former public school teacher, SAT instructor and author. Did you find these tips writing the SAT Essay useful? You can learn a lot more about how to write well for the SAT Essay by visiting SAT Essay.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Classroom Management - How to Handle Minor Classroom Management Problems

As a full-time middle school teacher as well as a part-time adjunct education professor, I know quite well how important it is to have strong classroom management skills.

Personally, I am a big proponent of the using a "proactive" approach to classroom management. My goal is to stop classroom management problems BEFORE they start. I do this by using teaching strategies that increase student motivation, increase class participation and basically keep my students involved throughout the entire lesson.

However, regardless of how effective a teacher uses proactive classroom management strategies, minor disruptions will still occur in the classroom. Before we go any further let me make one thing perfectly clear here...this article is about stopping MINOR classroom management problems such as talking while the teacher is talking, writing or passing notes, and minor roughhousing.

There are two common ways in which teachers usually deal with these nagging classroom management issues...

In order to avoid being the known as the tough disciplinarian, some teachers choose to simply ignore minor misbehaviors altogether. The problem with this approach is that the misbehavior will most likely NOT go away. In fact, the misbehavior will most likely escalate and the teacher will be forced to deal with it anyway. Therefore, ignoring the misbehavior is just too risky.

On the other hand, some teachers use the strict approach and react to every minor disturbance regardless of the severity of the misbehavior.

The problem with this approach is that it presents the teacher as a negative role model, and it may lead to an overall negative feeling in the classroom and towards learning and school in general. Furthermore, the teacher's response may actual cause greater disruption to the lesson than the student's original misbehavior.

The problem is if the teacher stops the lesson to discipline 1 or 2 students for some minor misbehavior then the class went from 1 or 2 students being off task to 20 or 30 students being off task. While, the teacher may not have caused the original minor disruption, the teacher can certainly be blamed for the other 20 to 30 kids being off task.

So what's a teacher to do?

The key to handling these minor classroom management problems is to make sure the lesson itself does not stop.

Many experts call this the "Law of Least Intervention".

The basic concept is simple...the teacher uses a series of steps that require the least amount of teacher time and the least amount of disruption to the lesson. The teacher starts with the first step requiring the very least intervention and if that doesn't work quickly moves up the ladder to the next step which requires slightly more intervention and so on.

By using this approach the teacher can maintain a positive learning environment while at the same time maximize time on task. And, as I have stated time and time again, when students are on task they are much less likely to disrupt the class.

Remember, the intervention should take the least amount of time...the least amount of teacher effort...create the least unpleasant feeling for both teacher and student...and have the least disruption to the lesson.

Download your FREE report that shows you step-by-step how to handle minor classroom management problems: http://www.TeachingTipsMachine.com/least-intervention.htm

How To Deal with an Oppositional and Defiant Student

We all know the type of kid; he or she may be your biggest headache. They are hostile to you and their peers, they don't seem to listen, and don't do what they are told. Its almost like they want to upset you. It seems like the more you try to manage them the more they resist....

Sound Familiar?

Students with oppositional and defiant behavior tend to have a pattern of negative and abrasive interactions with others (including you) in the classroom.

These guys are special and must be carefully approached...but don't give up! That willfulness can be channeled in good ways. But the trick is to take the focus off of them and carefully monitor your responses to them. You must become a Jedi master...you must master yourself!

So you find yourself in a power struggle. Take a minute and reflect on the last one you were in. How did you try to control the situation? What happened? What was the outcome?

The Trap of the Power Struggle

Things you may do to make it worse:

  • Lose your temper (yelling or using sarcasm tend to escalate oppositional kids)
  • Engage in the interaction in front other students
  • Try to persuade the student or worse...bribe the student
  • Threaten the student
  • Adding more and more consequences
  • Trying to embarrass the student or put them down
  • Not following through with consequences or being inconsistent
  • Letting the struggle go on way too long
  • Crowd the student
  • Get annoyed at every little thing they do wrong...always focus on the big battle.
Things you can do to make it better:
  • Use a calm neutral voice no matter what
  • Give clear directions to the student
  • Discuss things briefly and in private to remove the audience
  • Making sure to listen to the student and consider what they are saying
  • Have clear boundaries and predetermined consequences for problem behavior
  • Remove yourself from the interaction if you cannot keep it together
  • If you have a teacher's aid, have a plan for who will take over the class when a defiant student must be spoken with.
  • Analyze the power struggles you have been hooked into...what hooked you?
  • Creating Change

Monitoring your tone

With negative and defiant students you may become triggered to be negative too. This is a mistake. Use your Jedi powers to keep your tone neutral when the child is negative, and be positive when the child is neutral or positive.

Reinforcement

Oppositional and defiant behavior is often driven by the student's resistance to being under someone else's control or authority. Therefore, reward systems may not always work, especially if the child smells your desire to tame them or manipulate them.

Reinforcement that may prove more successful includes:

  • Giving praise briefly and discreetly as you walk around; or a quick whisper in the student's ear when they are on task (do not draw attention).
  • Write some good comments on a note and leave it on their desk.
  • Reward them with a leadership role.

What else can I do???

Make your oppositional student a helper and a leader. Because oppositional children have a strong need for control, helping them find pro-social ways to channel that need can be a great strategy to help them gain a sense of self-worth and community. Of course, make sure that your student is appropriately prepared, trained, and supervised in the activity. If the student's academic skills are below grade level, you may consider creating opportunities for leadership or mentorship with younger children.

Great roles for oppositional students are:

  • Leader of a small group, or co-leader of a small group with an adult.
  • Caretaker of the class pet.
  • Tutor or read-aloud buddy for peers or younger children.
  • Buddy, lunch pal, assistant, or mentor to a younger or new student.
  • Conflict mediator to help others solve a problem.
  • Have them help create and/or lead a community service project.
  • Have them construct something for the whole class to use.

Most important, take care of yourself outside the classroom, this is not an easy job! Set realistic expectations. Set the bar low enough so that your student can definitely clear the jump. Build slowly from there! Good Luck!

Read related "How To" teaching articles on TheApple.com:

Classroom Discipline Tips: Dealing With Difficult Students and Parents

Or Check out TheApple's Lesson Plans for all Age Groups.

Katherine Richert Ph.D.


 

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