Monday, July 30, 2012

First Impressions - "Get a Teaching Job!" Series

Now that you’ve got your resume fine-tuned to display your wonderful talents and a cover letter that blends your own teaching goals with the goals of the school you are applying to, it is time to think about going to the school to drop it off! Making the first impression is critical. You may think you’ll be trying to impress the principal in this first part, but no. My experience (in South Carolina) demonstrated to me that the principal was not the person I met first; it was the SECRETARY.
Think about it. The first person to greet most visitors to a school is a secretary or a parent/volunteer manning the desk at the front door.

For this impression you’ll need a few things:
1.)  A smiling face (You’re never fully dressed without a smile!)
2.)  Patience (There is a lot going on in the office, no matter what time of day it is. Be respectful. If you want these strangers to become your coworkers, go ahead and treat them like a friend.)
3.)  Introduce yourself (smile) and hand over a copy of your distinguished cover letter/resume. Smile again, thank them, and wish them a blessed day.

What? I’m not suggesting you wait around all afternoon until the principal has a free moment for you to tell him how great you are? Nope. You do what you think is best, but I believed my cover letter and resume spoke strongly for me, so I let it do the work. This may not be what works for you, but to each his/her own.

Another key note about this is the fact that I simply went in person to do it at all. Applying online for a position is great, but going in person is much, much better. I DID apply in a district that discouraged applicants from going in person... but I did anyway... oops! (winky face) And guess what? I got interviews at the three schools I broke the rules for. So, if you're feeling adventurous, go for it. Otherwise wait for them to come to you?... ... ...GO there! Good luck!


I had an incredible experience applying for jobs – learned A LOT – and now I am excited to share some of my experience with you! Several teacher friends have asked for advice and tips with applying for jobs and the interview process, so by the third request I thought it might be easier to put it all in one place and not have to give it a go every time someone asks! Hence, my series titled “Get a Teaching Job!” (my motto throughout the entire spring of this year).


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions Document - "Get a Teaching Job" Series

Resume preparation is everywhere on the web, so I’m not going to waste your time talking about what to include and how to format and all of the other small things. I’m going to recommend you look at some samples from friends and go from there. However, I am going to add a sprinkle of advice regarding something to go WITH your cover letter and resume combo… a third sheet! Within my “Hey! Check me out!” packet I left at schools I included:
1st: Cover letter (individualized)
2nd: Resume
3rd: Frequently Asked Questions document 

What is a “Frequently Asked Questions” document? Well, let me tell you!
As I applied online I found the same questions coming up. After my first interview I had this overwhelming feeling that preparing a document with answers to some of the “biggie” questions would be good for me to put time into. I decided that I’d ‘get crazy’ and include the FAQ document behind my cover letter and resume, and I believe it worked to my advantage. I also took the FAQ document into my interviews, so the interview team could add it to my file and perhaps (my thinking anyway) remind themselves of why I’m so great for the job when comparing candidates. Let me state here: I have no direct proof that this helped me stand out from the crowd… but it didn’t hurt!

The Frequently Asked Questions Document in my interview notebook... Yes, I didn't want people stealing my answers so I smudged them out... sorry!
So, without further ado, here are the questions that I included in my FAQ document. The state, county, district, or school may have different trends than the pool of districts I was applying in, but hopefully my list will give you a start!

Frequently Asked Questions
What is your philosophy of education?
What are your areas of certification?
Describe the skills and attributes you believe are necessary to be an outstanding teacher.
How would you address a wide range of skills and abilities in your classroom?
Describe how you integrate learning standards within the instructional day.
Describe the procedures you use to engage parents in their child’s education.
Outline the process you use to plan for a week of instruction.

Some other ideas I had for questions to answer but did not include:
Elaborate upon your knowledge of the Common Core State Standards and their impact on your teaching.
How comfortable are you with collaborative planning among grade level peers?
(Or something about working collaboratively with co-workers)

I hope this post gave you some ideas. Having these answers prepared was appreciated by the interview teams (because they could refer back to them later) and allowed me the opportunity to thoughtfully craft my answers in ways that nerves and time constraints don’t allow during formal interviews!
If you use this idea in your job search I’d love to know how it works out for you!

About this Series...
I had an incredible experience applying for jobs – learned A LOT – and now I am excited to share some of my experience with you! Several teacher friends have asked for advice and tips with applying for jobs and the interview process, so by the third request I thought it might be easier to put it all in one place and not have to give it a go every time someone asks! Hence, my series titled “Get a Teaching Job!” (my motto throughout the entire spring of this year). 

Jack suggests you have a few friends look over your answers before allowing potential bosses to see them!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Cover Letters - "Get a Teaching Job!" Series

I had an incredible experience applying for jobs – learned A LOT – and now I am excited to share some of my experience with you! Several teacher friends have asked for advice and tips with applying for jobs and the interview process, so by the third request I thought it might be easier to put it all in one place and not have to give it a go every time someone asks! Hence, my series titled “Get a Teaching Job!” (my motto throughout the entire spring of this year).

The first installment in my series is about your cover letter. I believe the key to a great cover letter is to first stalk the school's website and/or promotional things to get an idea for what is valued within the school culture. Then, carefully adjust your template letter to include this important thing with a brief reason why you should qualify for it.

Here is what I suggest:
1.)  Write a cover letter that you could send to any district human resources person, principal, or school.
2.)  Find a section within the letter that you can state what you know is important to a specific school. State that important thing and…
3.)  Describe how you are capable of contributing to that goal.

You may be reading this and thinking, “That will take a lot of time. Surely I don’t have to create a new cover letter for each school?”
Yes, you do!
Isn’t the point of a cover letter to catch the principal’s or interview team’s attention? You stand out when you show that you genuinely think you can contribute to the school’s culture. Knowing your strengths and being capable of fine-tuning those strengths into the right place, in the right way, is also key, but that takes time and lots of editing. 

Each school has a mission statement, right? Well, pull a couple key words from the school’s mission statement and then create a list of things you do that meet that.
Let’s take a look at some examples.

School 1: Motto statement includes phrasing, “challenging and innovative curriculum” -- My response: “…strive to incorporate higher-order thinking skills and standards-driven instruction by engaging my students in collaborative problem-solving units.” – Notice how I didn’t use the exact words from their motto? I applied my knowledge of best practices and stated honestly elements within my teaching style that meets their school goals.
School 2: Website had the word “differentiation” all over it! I also had prior knowledge about this school having high standards. -- My response: “School Name’s reputation for academic excellence and a focus on differentiation aligns closely with my own philosophy of education.” – Simple, yes. But notice how I lightly seasoned the statement with a compliment and their key word?

To help you with this I recommend you write down a list of things you know you do well. What are some best practices you use? What do you truly believe makes for awesome teaching and REAL learning?
Next, and I can’t say this enough… Be honest with yourself! If you include a statement about how much you LOVE cooperative group work but really you just stick the kids’ desks into groups of four or five… you might find yourself in a pickle when they ask you to “describe your application of cooperative group work in your teaching” during the interview!

Now that you have your list, keep it close by. Each and every time you see a position at a school come open: hop over to their website, find one or two key goals to the school, analyze your list about your strengths, and go from there to develop the one statement that you believe works best.

Individualized cover letters make a difference. So go forth and individualize those cover letters like you individualize instruction!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

My sweet dog Jack!

Introducing... Jack!
If you're looking at this blog and wondering, "Why is there a winking dog as the profile picture?" I get it. The truth is, I am VERY new to this blogging thing and creating a catchy theme and image that matches is a little daunting for week one. So, I chose to use my sweet pup!

This is Jack.
 I found Jack on Pet Finder back in December of 2008. We met on New Year's Eve and I took him home on January 2, 2009. I don't really know how old he was when I got him, but the estimate is 1 1/2, maybe two years old. Jack is a rescue in many, many ways. First, he was found roaming the streets and taken to the nearest Humane Society. He was in bad shape because he had a terrible infection in his right eye. The infection was so bad the Humane Society had to remove it. I believe this is when he was given the name Jack... as in, "one-eyed Jack." Our story doesn't stop there. Jack was not adopted during his time at the Humane Society. He was put on the... the... well, you know, "...the List." A wonderful couple took him in and cared for him at their shelter. I would put a link to the no-kill, non-profit shelter, but I can't find an active site. However, they are called Project Zero and are located in Gaffney, SC.
When people first see Jack in pictures, they always comment with things like, "Aww. He's winking in this picture." Then I explain his story, and they inevitably fall more in love. Our first Halloween together we entered a costume contest... He won!

Arrgggh! Captain Jack wins first prize!
 Now, let's get to why I have photos of Jack in my classroom. Simple! I quickly realized that my students connected with Jack as soon as they learned about him. I thought, "May as well make this work to my advantage!" I brought Jack with me to school one summer day and took pictures of him doing morning routines my students do every day. Then I used the photos to create a simple Power Point slideshow that explained each routine and what to do. My students loved it, and it kept their attention. I'm including a few images (below).

It's okay to be nervous to start the day. You're not alone. Jack was a little nervous too.

After unpacking, Jack puts his book bag in the book bag bin for his table.

Good job, Jack!

When Jack sits on the rug he remembers to sit crisscross, keep his hands to himself, and look at the teacher.

Jack loves working with Mrs. Hray at the group meeting table!

This is Jack's favorite book about going back to school.

Jack loves to curl up with a good book in the Author's Library!

When Jack works at his desk he remembers to be quiet so he and others can do their best work!
Those are just a few examples of how I used Jack to help introduce classroom procedures! I love them. My students loved them! I also used pictures of Jack on reminders home about parent teacher conferences and in our class newsletter. I found the students were much more likely to pull the reminder flyer out of their folder if a picture of Jack in his pirate hat was on there!

I'll have to wait and see if the administration will go for this idea at my new school. If I can swing it I plan to take the "Jack Goes to First Grade" idea one step further. In addition to the powerpoint, I want to print out some of the pictures and include captions of text stating the procedure. I'll post the pictures around the room as a reminder throughout the year. I'll also do this using pictures of my actual students.

How do you help your students make connections to the daily procedures you expect of them?

Newbie Bloggers Blog Hop

I'm participating in my first Linky Party! Janis at Grade Three is the Place for Me is hosting a "Newbie Blogger" Blog Hop, so I felt it appropriate to link up.
Here are the rules:
 Answer the following questions: 

1.  what state you are in
    2.  your current teaching position
    3.  your teaching experience
    4.  when you started blogging
    5.  share a blogging tip / blogging resource

    1.  I live in the beautiful state of South Carolina.
    2.  I teach first grade, and I love it! Watching my students grow (in every way) throughout the year is so fulfilling.
    3.  I have been teaching for five years. I spent one year in fourth grade and four years in first.
    4.  I started blogging last Tuesday...  Yes, less than a week ago. So I think I fit into the theme of this blog hop very well.
    5.  My "newbie" status leaves me high and dry on "blogging tips," but I have found a million blogs I love to visit. How did I find them? Pintrest, of course. My go-to favorite blog is Clutter-free Classroom. She's straightforward with her writing, takes pictures (I'm visual), and posts EVERY day! I aspire for my classroom to be as organized and welcoming as hers. 

Okay! Now let's see if I can link this post up! (Newbie's last words)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

What to do?

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with something in your classroom? Well, I'm in that situation now.  

Can you spot what I'm talking about? (Please tell me you notice the giant red cabinet.)

While most of me looks at this and... shrieks, I also see so much potential. What to do?
Let's look closer, shall we?
And closer again...

Now can you see my "problem?" This cabinet has seen better days! It has literally been taped shut! There is some water damage on the sides and the drawers don't exactly close (hence the tape, I guess). But, again, I LOVE love love that it is in the room at all. Storage is awesome!

Okay, let's get down to it. What to do?!
My first thought was to take off the doors and leave the large storage space open up top. The only catch with this idea is that it means I will have to keep everything in tip-top tidy shape. I've also considered removing the doors and installing a suspension rod with a curtain instead. This would hide the storage space and add a touch of softness. My concern with this idea is that I'll have to find a fabric that pulls in the room's colors AND accommodates the red... Oh! I completely forgot to mention the biggest "problem" of all... I HATE RED in my classroom. Like, seriously, can't stand it. I know, I know. Red is a color that impossible to avoid in the school market, but I do as much as possible. 

Are you ready for my big epiphany? Contact paper! Kristen at Ladybug's Teacher Files has not one, but two tutorials about how to use contact paper to cover desks and other smooth areas around the classroom. I'm hoping this can solve my little dilemma. I'm thinking I'll only use the contact paper on the drawers and maybe on the side... 
What do you think I should do? I would LOVE ideas and feedback!

New Classroom [Before]

This is the view beside the road that leads to my new school. Yes. That is a field of sunflowers! I am so excited to begin and end my day with such a beautiful drive.

Now, let's look at the room as it was the day I signed my contract. The first thing that stands out to me is the yellow accent wall. Yellow is also painted on the air conditioning ducts. The second thing I notice are the big, wonderful windows! The final BIGGIE that won't leave me alone is just how much work I'm going to have to put into going through materials. Please don't view that as a complaint. The BEST way to figure out what we have to use as we learn is for me to go through it, all!

The school set-up is unlike any I've seen before. The rooms are set-up as "pods." This means, they connect... kind of. There are two doors in my classroom. One door goes into a hallway that leads to three other rooms and has restrooms. The other door leads to a small hallway that links with another classroom and also has a door to the outside. If this sounds confusing, it is. There is no way for me to possibly begin to explain how the building is structured, because I think it'll be until November before I understand it all myself!

Door to the pod hallway (bathrooms and three other classrooms are acessed through this door).
Door to the small hall (door leading outside and connection to the other first grade classroom). There are some hooks on the wall and storage cabinets up high for me to store a few things.

Wall between the two doors. The shelf on the far left has some math materials and word games. Based on the things in and around the desk, I think it belongs to the associate teacher.

 Next topic, the "focus wall." Can you tell that the Smartboard is located at an appropriate level for students to reach? Yay! This wall is both exciting and intimidating. I do not want to clutter it with stuff, but I want to make it function for daily procedures and instruction.

Central wall - notice the accent color?
This was the teacher's corner (from what I can tell). The teacher desk, a filing cabinet, and bookshelf with random things led me to this conclusion. Notice the little rolling table? That is for me to link my laptop with the Smartboard!
Wall on the far side of the classroom. Notice all of the built-in cabinets?!
Corner (I see lots of possibilities with those white shelves.)
Windows and computers. I haven't checked, but I think the location of the computers is predetermined based on cord-connection boxes in the wall. We will see.

Meet Lucky! She is a sweet Golden Retriever that comes to school with her owner every day. She just hangs out with the kids! I love it!

I am so excited about being able to start over with a blank slate! There is SO much to do, but I know it will all be worth it come August!

What ideas do you have for me? Where do you think I should begin? I'd LOVE some feedback!

Bookshelf Revamp

I was inspired by several pins on Pintrest last month and actually followed-through on one of the ideas in less than two days! (Let's be honest, completing projects alone is an accomplishment but in two days? Yes.) My parents let me have these old bookshelves when I was in college and needed them to store books for my future classroom. When I finally got all of my books into my room I found that I still needed more storage space for all of the books in the room, so I took the shelves to school. If I could identify one area in the room that was most popular, it'd be the Author's Library (thank you hand-me-down shelves). I loved the placement of the shelves in front of my desk because it hid my piles.

Bookshelves in their classroom element (Author's Library).

Blah Bookshelves (Can you tell the back board needed help?)
Boring, brown bookshelf
So! Back to my summer project. When I moved the shelves out of my classroom I noticed how much wear and tear they'd gotten over the years. The bottom of one side is warped from wet mop water and the back boards had seen better days. I took my inspiration idea literally and painted the shelves with some white paint I had in the garage. Then I searched high and low for cute fabric or some other kind of inspiration. Well, I found it in the form of a rectangular vinyl tablecloth from the Dollar General store right up the street from my house!

Here is a tutorial of the steps I followed and photos!

Gluing the tablecloth to the back board.

Before you do anything: remove the backboard from the shelf.

Step 1: Paint the bookshelf! I did not use a primer and it took three coats. (The paint I used was just sitting in the garage. I realized later it was leftover from a house painting project. It is a high-gloss white paint for molding and trim... I like using high gloss paint for school projects because I can wipe down the surface easily.)

Step 2: Cut the vinyl tablecloth into two equal pieces. The tablecloth was the perfect size. Look at all of the excess material I had around the sides!

Step 3: Fold over and hot glue the edges, one side at a time. I had a washcloth nearby to help me press down on the vinyl (so that it wouldn't burn my fingers). Try to keep the vinyl tight as you move from one side to the next so that it won't sag or droop when it's attached to the bookshelf.

Step 4: Lay the bookshelf face down on the floor. (I recommend doing this on carpet, so that you don't scratch your pretty new paint job as you hammer.) Place the backboard on the bookshelf. Carefully line-up the backboard so that it is even on the back of the shelf (not hanging off to one side). Nail down the backboard.

Step 5: Stand up the bookshelf so that you can OOoo and Ahh at your accomplishment!

Total cost: $4.00 + tax
I am SO excited to include these beautiful bookshelves in my new classroom!

( Did I mention that the book basket labels I use in my classroom match perfectly?! )

Classroom Photos (Older)

My classroom when I first began teaching first grade was VERY different from the room that I moved out of last month. I was REALLY into trying to create a calm, simplistic room for my students to play, work, and grow in. Throughout my Master's degree program I was ObSsEsSeD with trying to implement a Reggio Emilia / Montessori feel into the regular public school structure. Over the course of the year I found that my idealistic philosophy and the school's traditional expectations didn't exactly mesh to my advantage, so I became more "traditional." Fitting the more traditional mold meant several things, including switching from tables to desks and putting more "stuff" on the walls. However, when I look back at these photos I cannot help but think, "Wow! What an inviting room!" I'm hoping to try to blend both types of rooms in my new classroom. I want to ensure at least one space in the new room has the same calm, simplicity as this.

The reading area (foreground) and my desk / storage cabinets (behind).

I did a LOT of art-integrated lessons, so the kidney table being on tile was perfect. I love the light wicker baskets on the shelf in the corner.

Original whole-group meeting area.

Original small group conferencing table.

Original whole-group meeting area (from another angle).

Oil-pastel dogwood tree on the door. (It was really sad taking that down after four years.)

A shot of the room from behind my desk. I ended up using one of the kidney tables as seating.

Whole-group meeting area after I moved it to the other side of the room. I later downsized this even more to accommodate how many students I had (more students = more tables, chairs, and general stuff).

Whole group meeting area from a different angle.
Looking back, there is so much more WHITE in this room compared to when I moved out! I also had very little furniture in the beginning. The room had been an ISS room, so I was working with a blank slate (teacher desk and chair). Over the next few years I brought in furniture from home (bookshelves mostly) and collected discarded tables from other teachers (for centers around the room and non-traditional seating option). In one photo you can see I was SO intent on being simple that I didn't even put fabric on the bulletin board!

Want to know something amazing?! I was able to have fake flowers/plants in this room for 3 1/2 years before the Fire Marshall told me to remove them. That's amazing! Yes, yes, they DO collect dust, but wiping them every few months resolves that. Plus, I believe it makes things feel softer in the space. I'm really excited to be able to place the hydrangeas around my room again!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Classroom Tour [Reflections Edition]

Today I'm going to do a virtual walk-through of how I set up the classroom I just moved out of. Let me begin by stating that I do not believe I set the room up "perfectly." One of my worst habits is organizing the spaces I love the most and avoiding the spaces I wish would go away... I'm not alone in this, am I?
Whole-group carpet area. At the beginning of the year (when this picture was taken) I only have two book baskets out. Over the course of the first few weeks I bring reading baskets out by topic as we've discussed procedures and expectations for using and returning books. I highly recommend this if you have room to store your books other than your shelves. In this case, I did, but I know it's not typical to have as much hidden storage as this room had.

Calendar wall in 2009

Calendar wall in 2011 - Can you tell I took out as much of the non-essentials as possible? Even just looking at the older picture bothers me... too much red I think.

Small white shelves were used to define the space as well as store individual math manipulative-containers (one of the best investments I've ever made!)

Bulletin board behind the small group table (2011 - used for rotational literacy centers and CAFE menu)

The Author Library! Each book box was labeled with the author's name and a picture of a character they are known for! (My students and I mutually loved this space.)

A picture of our word wall. My desk is conveniently hidden by the shelves of the Author Library, just the way I like it! (My desk was usually not photo-worthy.)

Another reading area tucked in the corner beside the Author Library. This spot had shelves on one side (shown) and two huge windows on the other. It is a wonderful spot to read rain or shine.
This shelf was originally a cubby unit I found in the "I don't want" pile at school. I turn it sideways, removed the hooks, and waa-laa! a functional shelf! Oh, and it was originally yellow, which didn't match my color scheme, so I slapped some "Spa Blue" on there to match the large shelves on the other side of the room.
 Okay, so I'm not super sure of formatting a blog, so I'll just start typing my thoughts.
When I look back at my room my eye goes to clutter. I purposely did not upload a few because of this problem. As I prepare to set up my new classroom I hope to intentionally prevent clutter opportunities. We will see. Looking at these pictures also helps me realize I  prefer spaces where the colors are similar and clean-lined.