Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hiring the new me

In my last post, I mentioned all the craziness that has been going on recently.  On Thursday, we had our exhibition night, which was the culmination of a huge, all school physics project we've been working on for 2 and a half months as a school, but I and the other math and science teacher have been planning all year.  It turned out really beautifully, but boy was it a lot of work.  We gave each separate grade level a different engineering challenge.

(1)  The 4th/5th graders had to design and build an electromagnetic crane to move nails from one bucket to another.  The group that moved the most nails in a minute would be the winner.
(2) The 6th/7th graders were asked to design a generator.  The one that could produce the most voltage was the winner.
(3) The 8th/9th graders designed trebuchets to hit a target
(4) the 10th-12th graders had to build adjustable launching devices to hit a target that wouldn't be announced until competition day.

We had competition day a week and a half ago and the last week and half has been spent making tri-boards, decorating the school and making documentaries of the development process (each group had to video the whole building/competition process).  We premiered our videos and showed off the tri-boards and engineering devices to over 200 parents and community members on Thursday night.

Now that the event we've been working on all year is over, I feel pretty deflated.  Throughout this project, we've been interviewing people to take over my job because my husband got accepted to a graduate school in New York and we're moving.  Watching the students take such pride and ownership in their own learning makes me so nervous to start over somewhere else because where else would I have such amazing students.  I'm so in love with my school and my students and my job that I just can't believe I won't be back next year.  It's time to move on.  I'm exhausted.  15 preps my first year, 14 my second and 9 this year.  Along with planning 3 of these all school projects a year.  I've been working 10+ hours a day 7 days a week all year round.  Every once in a while I get half a Sunday off.  This past summer I took a week!  I only worked a few hours a day during spring break which is a new record.  So the work is getting less and if I were to stay next year, it's the first year so far where my curriculum is already in place and I wouldn't have had to start over from scratch in several of my classes.  But now instead I'm moving to start all over again somewhere else.  I'm not sure I should even look for another job because I'm so tired, but at the same time, I know I have a lot of experience now, and I don't know what else I would do with myself if I weren't teaching.  Half of me is excited to move on and to maybe have some down time, and half of me is sure I won't be able to find another job and even if I did it would take forever to feel good at it and maybe I won't ever feel as part of a purposeful educational community as I do now.

Anyway, enough complaining.  What will happen will happen.  I wanted to post because I've been finding the process of replacing myself fascinating and horrifying at the same time.  First of all, the horrifying part: I'm surprisingly resentful of replacement mes.  I shouldn't feel resentful at all because I desperately want to find someone who will do a good job and will help the students that I care so much about succeed, but at the same time a small, mean, evil part of me doesn't want my students to love my replacement as much as they love me.  I know I've done a poor job in a lot of ways because I've had so much on my plate and just couldn't keep up.  What if my replacement shows students what real math teaching should be?  So much of my curriculum is ramshackle because I had to throw it together so fast.  If the new person can build on what I've done, the students will have truly high quality math instruction that will totally overshadow what I've accomplished.  What an awful, selfish feeling.   I've got to squish it.  I've got to be warm, welcoming, friendly and helpful to my replacement.  I want them to succeed, I really do!  For my students to succeed they need a good teacher.  And this replacement teacher needs my help because when I arrived the school had NOTHING.  I didn't even know what level my students were in, let alone if they'd actually learned anything in their previous levels.  I will not leave the school in that state again.  I'm handing everything I've made over.

Now for the fascinating part.  I've noticed a few things about the resume, cover letter, interview process that is very revealing about the hiring process.
(1) I read through the whole resume, cover letter and recommendations.  Maybe they say most people hiring just glance at them, but I've been reading them all the way through, which makes me hope that other educators who are hiring really do consider these documents carefully.
(2) BUT, these documents are flat.  Even good ones (and a lot of them aren't very good.  I think formatting is important to highlight essential information, but many of the resumes we've gotten are devoid of formatting- no bold text or underlined text, no dividers.  They use bullet points and that's it.  It makes it more difficult to find what I'm interested in finding.)  Even really well written cover letters sound stale.  They're often so full of I will statements and I believe statements but I don't know if the person will actually do the stuff they're advocating.
(3) So personal impressions are the most important.  This is bad for me because I'm an awkward interviewer.  I'm hopelessly shy when I first meet people.  When I'm comfortable, I'm quite gregarious but until I'm comfortable I freeze up and can't make interesting or witty comments.  But while personal impressions are important, interviewers who are too smooth are harder to trust.  Our hiring committee has gravitated towards favoring the less polished/more honest candidates.  They still need to seem professional, enthusiastic and driven, but they don't need to answer every question the way we want them to.  Instead, we need to feel that they're genuinely interested in teaching at our school.
(4) Strangely enough, the above has been more important even than experience.  At least at our school, we need really determined, driven and passionate educators.  Experience comes in time, but there's no replacement for a true love of teaching.  This is nice to realize because when I was first looking for a teaching job, it felt hopeless because everyone seemed to want 3+ years of experience.  The truth is if the hiring committee personally likes a candidate, that seems to outweigh experience.
(5) Transcripts are important!  A lot of people talk big.  They have good ideas but little follow through.  Be it fair or not, transcripts seem to reveal the true dedication someone has for learning, and a passion for learning is essential in being a good teacher.  Candidates that have weak grades to begin with but get stronger over time show dedication.  Candidates that have a lot of As and Bs are appealing and are probably hard workers.  Candidates that have As and Cs make us nervous because it seems to say that they're very smart but not necessarily hard working.  Candidates with Cs and Bs all the way through with little improvement are not in a good position.
(6) Letters of recommendation aren't very helpful.  They're all the same.  They're all dripping with positivity which makes them hard to trust.  I remember thinking about letters of recommendation written for me by professors that they were pretty biased and contained little useful information.  And thinking of letters I've written myself for students I realize how I never really said what I thought.  Some students really deserved glowing letters and I tried to make them glowing.  Other students didn't deserve glowing letters, but I still tried to cast that student in the best light possible.  No one wants to be the reason someone doesn't get their dream job.  So all the recommendation letters are the same.  When interviewing my potential replacement, I want to see how that person has learned to live with their faults, their mistakes, their inadequacies.  Are they still trying to overcome their weaknesses?  Do they have a good picture of where their teaching needs work?  Are they constantly reflecting or are they content with where they are?  When interviewees admitted their weaknesses, we as a hiring committee usually felt more favorably towards that candidate.

In my small fraction of the world, this is what I've observed.  I'm sure each hiring committee is different, but I'll try to keep all this in mind as I think about getting a new job of my own.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Can't Keep Up

I have loved blogging so far.  It's only been a few months, but it has given me a space to reflect that I haven't had before.  Unfortunately, time is always an issue and work has eaten me alive.  Over the last few weeks I've desperately wanted to share a few things but I haven't had time to write a post.  Among these is:
(1)  what I did for Pi day because we had a few really amazing activities.  We made mathscots (like mascots, heh heh).  Enough said I think.  Here's our wall of mathscots:

(2) I've wanted to discuss how my students did on their most recent state tests (every one of my high school students passed, only half of my 8th graders did.  I think I know why my 8th graders didn't do so well, and I don't think it's my fault, but I have to plan an emergency 3 weeks of test prep material thus contributing to my lack of time to blog.
(3) I've really wanted to share and get advice on several lesson plans including my feeble attempts to teach the FTC for the first time.
(4) And finally, I've really wanted to share about this amazing all school science project we've been working on for two months.  The whole school is grouped into four large, multi age teams and each grade level in each team has an engineering challenge they must complete.  Then they will complete with other age levels in other teams in a grand competition.  The large multi-age teams will have to make documentaries of the entire process and present these documentaries to 200-300 community members on Exhibition night.  Our kids are building large generators, trebuchets, catapults, and balistas.

Unfortunately, as cool as the exhibition is, it leaves me with less than no time for outside activities like blogging.

On top of this all, my husband has been accepted into a PhD program in Stony Brook, New York so I'm going to have to leave my job and move across the country.  Listening to all these reports of teachers losing their jobs right now, it's really scary to leave a job that I'm so secure in for the unknown.  Plus the New York education department might feel like an anvil falling on my head compared to how lax the Oregon Department of Education is.  No one here is looking over my shoulder.  My impression of education in New York is that teachers are watched a lot more carefully and that they run a much tighter ship over there.  I'm terrified.  What will I do if I'm not a teacher?  If I can't find a job?  My whole identity is wrapped up in my profession.

I hope I can write a real post soon because I'm desperate for advice on some of my lesson plans, but for now, this will have to do.  If anyone has any advice about getting a job in New York, I'm all ears.  I'm frantically trying to pull together my resume and cover letter, but I'm so used to easy going Oregon.