Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interview Questions

I recently interviewed for a Long Term Occasional position in Ottawa but did not get the job. After the interview, I was debriefed by the principal and she instructed me on how I could have better answered the questions. It was a very useful conversation as I have had very little experience interviewing for teaching positions and have come to recognize the very unique skillset required to be successful at it. Now all I need is practice. A few days after my interview, I met with some fellow teachers, people I graduated the Education program with, who are also working on securing permanency at a school. We met to discuss interview techniques and strategies, share some resources, and brainstorm on possible answers to the questions we had been posed in interviews. It was extremely helpful and I would encourage anyone who is applying for temporary or contract work to do the same. Or, share your thoughts and reactions to this post.

What follows are the five questions I was posed in my interview, some notes about my answers, and the suggestions from the principal. Following that are five more questions that my colleague received and some notes on our discussion of possible answers. (in teaching interviews in Ontario you are given five questions and fifteen minutes to prepare your answers. Then, you enter the interview room, the principal reads each question back to you, and you recite your answer based on your notes)

Interview for 100% English LTO position

1. Describe your teaching experiences and why you are a good candidate for this position.
- two parts to the question, be sure to address both: teaching experience, why you are a good candidate
- briefly outline teaching experiences and main skills/philosophies you developed during
- include experiences outside of teaching that contribute to good teaching skills
- good candidate because: enthusiastic, professional, team worker
- mention personal interests and hobbies and how you can contribute to extra-curricular happenings
- if younger, plug age as an ability to relate to youth. conversely, plug age as life experience and wisdom

2. Explain a time when you collaborated with a colleague to improve student learning.
- an ongoing process
- use a couple of specific examples, or specific instances when you plan to work with others and for what
- collaborating and communicating with colleagues on students' progress and work in every class
- developing lesson plans with others results in thorough and dynamic lessons

3. Share the ways in which you plan assessment and evaluation to accommdate for student learning and success.
- backward design concept, plan for evaluation
- multiple intelligences, recognizing diversity of learning styles, languages, culture, etc.
- differentiation: know what students are to achieve by end and offer choices to achieve those end.
- use of technology in classroom
- formative assessment
- communicating with other staff on student assessment

4. Explain how you communicate effectively with parents/guardians to keep them informed of student progress and achievement.
- start at beginning of course, open lines of communication: phone call, letter, email
- communicating when student is succeeding/exceeding expectations
- invite parents to be part of the learning process

5. What are some ways in which you have shown leadership in a school community?
- specific examples of how you make the school and your classroom a welcoming environment
- school teacher not a classroom teacher: recognize that job does not stop after leaving the class
- mention outside community participation, volunteer work: recognize the importance of "community"

Interview for Social Studies EOT position

1. Explain your philosophy of assessment and evaluation.
- assessment is FOR learning, always trying to improve how students succeed
- backward design, working towards an end
- recognize diversity in students AND between classes
- student centered
- culminating tasks: problem based learning
- evaluating most recent and consistent performance

2. How would you plan for teaching _______________? (in this case the blank was filled with "social studies", but this question could use any course title)
- informing yourself of curriculum expectations
- backward design, create culminating task first
- talking to other teachers, collaborating
- differentiation: providing choice, opportunity to exercise skills
- recognize classroom consciousness and have plans for altering material/lessons
- technology in class, field trips, guest speakers, specific materials

3. What is your classroom management plan?
- create boundaries and rules with students
- have clear expectations at beginning
- spend time establishing routines
- teaching importance of learning communities: mutual respect, building relationships
- creating a learning environment
- engaging lessons that address student interests and culture
- importance of body language and eye contact
- always be a role model for good behaviour and composure

4. What would you do if a student was not meeting the expectations?
- review expectations together, one on one
- talk to other teachers, communicate recognition of problem
- offer opportunities to make up work at alternate time (after school, lunch, etc.)
- offer incentives for performance
- communicate with parents: not putting child down, looking to work together
- be a reflecting practicioner: show how you assess your own learning as an educator

5. How can you enhance the school community?
- outside experience, volunteer work in communities
- other work experience and professions, the skills you learned and how they can help the school community
- working with other teachers, recognizing importance of socializing in building a friendly atmosphere
- personal hobbies and interests and how they can help the students/staff

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Book Review: Children's Mind, Talking Rabbits and Clockwork Oranges

I'd like to add "& Strange Coincidences" to the title of Kieran Egan's book. I started to draft up this book review on Friday afternoon and took a break to prepare dinner. I turned on the radio in the kitchen, CBC radio one, in time for the end of the six o'clock news. My ears perked up when the host mentioned "kids across the country getting back to school" and I turned up the volume to hear the story of an elementary school in Langley BC where students in grade one are assigned a single topic that they will explore for the following twelve years of their education. The idea, the host informs, comes from the research of Kieran Egan, an educational theorist at Simon Fraser University. Check out the radio clip here (the feature is near the end of the clip, move the cursor 1/4 from the end).

And after you've heard the news clip, go out and find a copy of this book. Egan's essays will enlighten your thinking about the education system and force you to ask yourself how you can better teach children and youth by addressing their emotional and cognitive states. On the title of his book, Egan explains that "Children's Minds" refers to how the thinking of children and adolescents is both similar to and different from the thinking of adults. "Talking Rabbits" is a symbol of the imaginative worlds that children have the capacity to so easily create, and which prove to be "the most engaging features of their thinking, and the ones least easily dealt with by the dominant conceptions of children's minds and their development that have influenced curricula" (xiv). "Clockwork Oranges", as Egan so eloquently phrases, "refers to the confusion that inevitably follows when we treat organic things as though they are mechanical" (xiv). What follows after an introduction from Elliot Eisner - who reinforces the importance of Egan's claim that knowledge is not an object, it is a process - is a series of essays that move from theoretical understandings of children's minds; to issues in curriculum design and an advocacy for the arts and social sciences as a primary learning platform; and finally to an analysis of educational research and the systems that neglect the thinking of children. The book, while heavy in theory and analysis, also includes clear examples of lesson plans that illustrate the ideas discussed: for example, a lesson on punctuation that engages the romantic mind of the adolescent learner by having students research the history of each punctuation symbol and what new punctuation developed as culture shifted and language transformed. Egan's writing challenges, inspires, and excites. You will look at the thinking of students in a new way and will have a new perspective on your role as a teacher.

Shortly after reading this book I taught a summer school class, ENG3U make-up, and put some of the theories into practice. I was looking to equip the students with critical thinking, research, and organization skills that would help them succeed in their 4U classes and would develop into effective habits that they would carry through their adult learning. Lofty goals, I know. One day I gave a lesson on note-taking. I was inspired by Egan's idea of engaging the romantic minds of adolescent students in something that traditionally seems mundane and trivial. I had the students clear their desks of everything but a clean piece of paper and their pen. I then romanticized their paper for them: I had the students pick up the piece of paper and instructed them to study it. They turned it over, most haphazard and listlessly, and sent waves rippling through it. I told them that what they were holding was someone's legacy, the product of a life's work of research and development, and I asked them to imagine the person who designed and created what we know today as lined paper. We discussed why paper is important, how paper is different from culture to culture, and why the lined paper that we know is designed the way it is (the blue lines specifically spaced, and the red margin in the location that it is). I then instructed them on how the design on the paper can help us with our note-taking: title at the top, our ideas and comments in the margins, a new line for a new piece of information. Before they practiced their new skills, I further romanticized their paper, telling them that once they have written on the page it will never be the same and will forever be a record of their thinking. They watched a CBC interview with Russell Peters to practice their note-taking. We then discussed what everyone had written, what they had included and why. Their assignment at the end of the class was to listen to another interview with Etan Thomas, an NBA player, poet, and activist, and to use their notes to construct a personal response to the issues Thomas addressed. Their responses were passionate and well-supported with quotes and information from the interview.

Egan's ideas, that learning is an organic and lifelong process, is important for today's youth. Media has become increasingly chopped-up; commercials last only a second, music is consumed by the song rather than the album, and internet video streaming of clips lasting only a few minutes is the go-to form of entertainment. Against this the idea of researching a topic for twelve years seems unimaginable, but perhaps the success in Langley shows us that children are hungry for an approach to learning where their knowledge is not as disposable as a computer file.

Egan's homepage here

Buy Children's Minds... here

Egan Youtube discussions here