A Brutally Honest Review of Interviews and Demo Lessons

This week consisted of 2 demo lessons, 3 interviews, and answering online interview questions within 3 days.

That marks my 12th interview, 3rd demo lesson, and the 3rd district I’ve moved beyond the initial screening process with.

And I’m flat out exhausted. I am waiting to hear back for 5 different places, I’ve gotten 3 rejection phone calls, one rejection email, and one district I never even heard back from.

So I decided I am going to deliver my own experience of interviews and demo lesson.

When you Google “Teaching interviews” and “teaching demo lessons,” the search results will consist of beneficial tips and tidbits about how you need to make sure you bring your portfolio, enough copies of your lesson plan and resume, look the part, make eye contact. In a seminar held by my university, human resources representatives told us don’t mention our “student teaching” experience but just phrase it as our professional teaching experience.

While all of these tips have helped me immensely in this process, here’s the down and dirty from someone who is going through it at this very second.

THE INTERVIEW

  • While in the interview, I keep my hands under the table or holding on to my portfolio. Otherwise, I’ll be flapping them around. I’m Italian, what can I say? We talk with our hands.
  • I also ALWAYS wear a blazer in an interview. Not only does it make me look professional, it will also hide any sweat stains. Nervous sweat is a real thing.
  • I chew anywhere between 2 and 6 Altoids before I go into a school. They give me fresh breath, biting helps me work out some of the tension in my body, and the minty flavor helps settle my stomach.
  • Even after my 12 interviews, I have found that there is NO WAY to read the panel. There have been interviews I have left thinking that there is no way I will get a call back and then I do. Others I felt like I smashed and then a few days later I get an email saying they’re “moving in another direction.” Great.
  • Although there is no way to read the panel, it will not stop you from analyzing every move that you did. Did they think I fidgeted because I pushed my hair off my shoulders right before the interview started? Did they notice how many times I said “um?” Did I speak to the school’s mission statement well enough? Do they think I have enough experience? Will I be a good fit? The questions will not stop until I receive a phone call or email.
  • And if that call or emails comes with bad news, the analysis will continue. At least it then becomes a learning experience, but it still very much stings. Like my other post, it makes you question your own philosophy, your experience, your ability. It never ends. Until it starts all over again with another district.

THE LESSON

  • BE PREPARED. I am prepared for ANY circumstance that may arise. I have 50 name tags, 7 different marker, crayon, and pencil boxes, 12 lesson plans although the panel consisted of 5 people, 8 pieces of anchor chart paper with the objective already written. I will actually practice my script in the car ride over so I don’t stutter. I envision possibilities of the path my lesson may take.
  • Breathe. Right before I take over, I breathe. I introduce myself and set the scene. I also don’t ever ever ever look at the adults who are watching my every move. Because they will. The principal of one demo lesson followed me to the three different groups of students I worked with. Another one took pictures of my anchor chart.
  • Again, try not to over-think (which oh so easier said than done). I’ve had committees get up and walk out halfway through, another left before my closure. At the end, I just try to reflect on what I did well and what I could have improved on. There is no way that it will be a perfect lesson. Usually the topics given are vague and broad. The kids are not my kids. I don’t know if I have exactly what they are looking for. But I know who I am as an educator so my goal is to represent myself as best as I can.

At the end of the day, this process is the hardest thing I have ever done. I have had many opportunities to express who I am as a teacher and to feel over and over again like people don’t want me is incredibly harsh. Being a teacher is at the core of my being so to feel that I am not wanted is hurtful and raw and it stings. This is exhausting. I put my heart and soul and brain on the line every time I meet a new panel or teach a demo. You have to be 110% as soon as you walk in the school. Someone asked me if I feel like I’m getting better at this. Honestly, I’m not sure if I am. Parts of it, yes absolutely. But I’m finding that rejections are becoming harder to swallow. Is it early? Yes. It is also incredibly humbling. I really thought I would have been employed by now. I have a lot of wonderful teachers tell me how wonderful they think I am. And there have been a lot of schools who decided I am not as wonderful as I thought I was for them. I am in a waiting game to find a school who thinks I am as wonderful as I think I am.

So there you have it. Interviews and demo lessons 101 from someone who is living this stressful, hard, vulnerable, intellectual, exciting, nerve-wracking process as we speak.

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Teacher Appreciation Day

When I began at the School of Education, one of my professors asked us why we wanted to become teachers and who had inspired us. Although I had many fantastic teachers growing up, it was hard to pinpoint one teacher who influenced my decision. But now, I can confidently say that the teacher who has made me into the teacher I am today is my mom.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Day and Mother’s Day, this one’s for you Momma.

Dear Mom,

I don’t think I can ever say this enough, but thank you. Thank you for being a role model inside and outside of the classroom. I look up to you as a teacher, mom, and woman; you are incredible in all of your roles.

As a teacher, thank you for being my support system when I felt lost, overwhelmed, and unsupported. Thank you for long Sunday afternoons at the kitchen table planning out Kevin Henkes author studies and water droplet experiments and thank you for phone calls on Saturday mornings discussing my week and helping me reflect. Thank you for urgent text messages halfway across the world when I was facing a tiny human revolt during nap time and homesick phone calls six or two hours time difference. Thank you for the many, many, school supplies and novels and teacher log-in passwords and tips and tricks and new Barnes and Nobles books and too many other things for me to even name. Thank you for pushing me to be my best, thank you for letting me observe what you do, thank you for inspiring me. Thank you for being you.

I wholeheartedly believe that you are the best teacher on the planet. I admire your ability to teach from the heart every single day even after thirty exhausting years. I enjoy Genius Hours and Inspirational Math and Animal Books and writers’ workshop and read alouds and plant experiments and country projects and The Best of Me writing. I enjoy reading your blogs and hearing what you do every.single.day. I love your letter to your students during SBAC; I love that they know they are more than a number to you, those little humans. I love that you are confidently who you are as a teacher and I am eternally grateful that you share your ideas with me. I love that you are enough, in fact, to me, you are more than enough. I am humbled that you have come to me for advice once or twice. I am honored that you are real with me. Real that this profession is challenging, it is hard, but it is also the most rewarding profession in the world. Thank you.

Outside of school, you are a fantastic mother and wife. Thank you for “playing” with me on our “playdates,” days where we just let the day take us. Sometimes to Vermont for a lacrosse game, or Massachusetts for a dance or cheerleading competition, or Mystic, or a 5K or a 10K or shopping for new work clothes or let’s be real here, happy hour after a long week before April break. I genuinely enjoy your company, roomie. Thank you for letting me come home after graduation and not getting sick of me yet. I appreciate everything you continue to do for me.

So Momma, on this Teacher Appreciation Day, I want to make sure you know how truly appreciated you are. If I am half the teacher you are, I know I’ll be alright. Words can never fully express how grateful and blessed I am to have you as a mom, a teacher, a role model, but I hope this blog post can give you a slight glimpse into my love for you. I love you to the moon and back.

Love you,

Punky Monkey

I Can’t Believe It’s Actually Over

Last year at this time, I wrote about the end of my student teaching experience. Those twenty-one little humans impacted me as a teacher and a human more than they will ever know and rereading those blog posts make me think fondly of the growth all of us experienced during that time.

Now, I am writing during the last week of my graduate career at the University of Connecticut. Wow. On Saturday, I will walk for the second time to receive my Masters of Curriculum and Instruction.

I cannot believe it’s actually over.

Five years ago, at the start of my college career in 2013, I was insecure, unsure, but full of excitement. Fast backward to December 2013, I was heartbroken and had lost my confidence, filled with thoughts of if college was even right for me. The only redeeming factor of those three months was the affirmation that I am an athlete.

Winter 2013-2014 was filled with classes, working, and commuting from home. I needed those extra months to realize that no, college is right for me, and I was ready to spread my wings and leave home. I decided I wanted to be a sociology major. I received my UConn acceptance.

Sophomore year was an adjustment. After three weeks of feeling like I didn’t belong, not making friends, I joined the field hockey team and everything changed. I met my best friend (who is still to this day), I fell in love with the sport, I fell in love with the school, I felt like I belonged, I found my major. I remember sitting in the Student Union, third floor, getting the email I had been accepted and bursting into tears because I felt the pieces coming together.

Junior and senior year flew by. Both years led to experiences of heartbreak, illness (a relentless 3 months in which I never felt completely healthy), observations and student teaching. Those two years I grew into myself. I met more friends who are my best friends today. I fell in love with classes. I researched. I worked at a job I adored. I student taught. Student teaching was hard. It was hard but rewarding and challenging and full of reflection and so many other emotions I struggle to put into words.

Then came this year. 3 days after graduation I flew to Costa Rica, where I fell in love with the country, my familia, my students, my school. I left a piece of my heart in Guanacaste Province, and am aching to return. The summer flew by as I became a camp counselor for 15-year-olds, an age group I hated had little experience with until that point. Before I knew it, I boarded a plane for a 15-hour flight to Cape Town, South Africa. That experience flipped me upside down, shook my whole world, and made me grow like I never have before. I came back in December to begin my internship, which I just finished last week, reaffirming that relationships are so incredibly important, something that every. single. one. of my placements has taught me.

And now, I will walk on Saturday, in front of my family, to receive my final degree (for a while) and this whole wonderful, crazy, challenging, roller coaster, amazing, growing, experience will be over. I will be a college graduate.

UConn was the right place for me. It forced me to get out of my comfort zone and try new things and meet new people. The opportunities it gave me I will forever be grateful for. The university took an insecure teenager and challenged and shook her until she is graduating as a confident young woman who knows she still has a lot to learn but is ready to change the world (starting with her own classroom).

There are too many people to thank. My family, Mom, Dad, and Sissy, who have supported me through every endeavor, every major switch, every study abroad, every teaching experience, everything. My mom, who encouraged us to start this blog over a year ago and has taught me how wonderful, although challenging, this profession can be.  My dad and sister for putting up with my education talk, and always being there for me. My UConn people, my professors, my best friends, my study abroad people, you made UConn what it is. You helped me through it all. Without you, the experience would have been half what it is. I am forever grateful that my life led me to all of you.

So there you have it. These past 5 years have been the hardest of my life, that is easy to say. They have also been the best. I have learned so much, I have grown, I have changed, I am becoming the person and teacher I have always wanted to be.

Congratulations Class of 2017/2018. It’s actually over.

Rejected

I’ve been meaning to write about the job search process for a while now but today gave me the perfect opportunity.

Why?

Because I got my first rejection phone call.

Up until today, I had been living in some sort of fantasy world. At the career fair, I talked to 13 districts, and got 3 interviews. A week later, I had 3 scheduled interviews.

Yesterday was my first. I won’t give details about which district it was, but I felt prepared to tackle my first professional interview.

After, I called my parents, excited. I felt that I had spoken clearly and concisely, and had answered all the questions to the best of my knowledge, including ones I got stuck on. The principal walked me out, saying I was articulate, it was a pleasure to meet me, I would hear back soon about moving onto demo lessons.

Of the 10 people interviewed for this position, I was one of the 6 who was not chosen to go on. I received a call a few hours ago while out to lunch with mom, from the principal, saying at this time the hiring board had decided to move forward with other candidates.

“Okay. Thank you,” was all I could mutter before hanging up the phone, feeling tears form in my eyes, and stare at the meal before me.

Rejection stings. It hurts. It makes me reconsider every word I said. It makes me doubt my future. It makes me angry and upset and disappointed and sad. It is an ugly emotion, one I don’t like feeling. But realistically, I will probably feel again and again during this process.

This process is tough. Elementary positions are hard to come by, and the few that do can receive hundreds of applications. And sometimes, it can come down to just not being a good fit for the grade or school or district or administration or curriculum or kids. And that is a really hard, uncomfortable, disappointing, pill to swallow.

So although I felt all of those ugly, negative emotions, I also felt something else. Sitting there, unpacking and analyzing with my mom, I began to feel relief and confidence. Yes, rejection stings. But it also means that there is something bigger and better waiting for me. Yes, the hiring board may not have thought I was a good fit for their school and position. But, what if I didn’t think the school was a good fit for me? I am a very passionate, enthusiastic, open-minded, well-traveled, well-experienced (although preservice) educator. I bring strong views to the table on how I think children should be educated and how I will do that. I am willing to collaborate and grow and learn from everyone I work with and I am also willing to share my ideas as well. Going to the university I did, I have been fortunate enough to learn nontraditional ideas about education and that only makes me more excited about what I am going to do in my future with my new kids. If that ultimately means waiting as a Teacher’s Assistant, I think I can handle that. I know that bigger and better is waiting for me, I know there is a school out there which fits me and I fit it, I know I am experienced and ready to learn, I know there are groups of kiddos who will be mine and I will be theirs, I know I have the support of my family throughout the ups and downs of this roller coaster of a process, I know that my school is out there, and I am willing to wait for it. If anything, this first rejection taught me two things: 1) ask the principal what I can improve on and 2) there will be some schools that I am not fit for and some schools that are not fit for me.

And if anything, this just reaffirms to me how much I truly love my career and how ready I am to have my own classroom. It will be worth this heartbreak and the wait.

We Need To Do Something

Mom and I have kept this page strictly informational about our teaching lives. But as most people know, it is hard to completely separate work and reality. I think as teachers, it becomes even harder when we give our hearts to those tiny souls who walk through our doors five days a week.

That’s why I am torn up. I’m not sure about even posting this, but I need an outlet to process my thoughts. On Wednesday, there was yet another school shooting. And I am feeling all sorts of emotions.

First and foremost, I am heartbroken. 17 people lost their lives on a day they thought was just like any other. Well, not even any other regular day. It was Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love, love to our partners, love to our families, love to our friends, love to anyone and everyone. But instead, it was a day of loss and mourning.

I am frustrated. SOMETHING NEEDS TO BE DONE. After reading newspaper articles and reading Facebook posts and instagram pictures, it is apparent that the rational-thinking OF BOTH SIDES agree something needs to change. The United States, the home of the free and home of the brave, leads the WORLD in death by shootings. How is this something we can be proud of when patriotism is one of our great idealisms? Things need to change, policy needs to change, support needs to be put in place. So these are my thoughts.

I believe in gun control. I believe that background checks should be incredibly strict. I also believe that no civilian should have access to an assault weapon. I DO NOT believe that TEACHERS should have to CARRY in their schools. Schools are and should be safe havens for all who enter those doors.

I also believe in mental health reform. I believe that mental health is as important as physical health and should be taken just as seriously. I believe that in order to go into a school, movie theater, ANYWHERE, with the intention to kill means that there is something mentally wrong with that person. I believe in taking bullying and violence seriously as an educator and ensuring my students receive the supports they need as soon as they need it.

Truthfully, I am also scared. The schools I go into have security checks but that hasn’t stopped students from trying to smuggle in a gun before at different schools across the nation. I am scared because I have many family members in the education world and we are living in a world where school shootings are becoming regular. I am scared for them, I am scared for my students (past and present), I am scared for my friends, I am scared for myself.

This time, I am motivated. I am tired of this being our norm. I am tired of watching the news and seeing scared students run out of their building. I am tired of seeing the Prayers and Thoughts posts circulate and then fade out. I am ready to see change. I am ready to fight with other educators and people who are as equally frustrated and scared and motivated as I am.

 

It Was All Worth It

Yesterday I went into my old student teaching school and left feeling 50 pounds lighter and with a full heart.

I started by saying hello to my cooperating teacher. She began with a hug and an I miss you and ended with anything you need, you were phenomenal. It was incredibly encouraging to hear those things from her after a rocky spring semester together. At our core, we are different people, but to hear her acknowledge my hard work with our second graders made me realize I am so much more capable than I realize.

Then I set off to meet my little ones. The ones from these former blog posts, the ones who made me happier than I’ve ever been, made me see the comedy in everyday, who frustrated me until I thought I would burst, who made me cry during our last goodbye. The ones who made me realize every.single.day that teaching is my calling.

As I walked up the stairs, I heard a little voice say behind me, “Miss Iwanicki?” The next thing I know I’m being ambushed by one of my second, now third, graders. She led me to the cafeteria, where eighteen out of twenty-one of my nuggets looked at me with joy and shock in their eyes. I walked up behind one of my boys and as he turned around, his eyes bugged out of his head and he ran over to me, smiling bashfully as he gave me a side armed hug. Sitting in their classroom, one of my girls didn’t let go of me during GoNoodle because she just simply wanted to stand with me, her arm wrapped around me. Saying a quick goodbye to another classroom meant that those five students stood up out of their chairs and barreled over to me, smiling in a group hug. Walking by a third grade class in the hallway led to kids tripping out of line as I repeatedly said I miss you so much and held them tight.

Those forty minutes weren’t nearly enough. My little humans aren’t so little anymore. All of them have a new student teacher, a new year, new friends. But to walk into that school and feel the outpouring of love from those eighteen kiddos…..words can’t describe it. After I texted my parents about the visit, my dad said “this is what you were made to do.” Although I’ve felt inklings of that before, nothing has ever reaffirmed it like that visit. Teaching is what I was born to do.

Home.

My first blog entry since I have landed in the United States. My first blog entry since October. I am struggling with what I want to say, how I can summarize this experience in a few paragraphs, how I can convey the emotions I am feeling and have felt. I will do my best to express what I am thinking, five days removed.

Welcome home! How was it? has been the most common question I’ve been asked. I find it difficult to sum up everything I experienced and learned in a few sentences, which is why I wanted to write this post. Truthfully, it was

  •  Hard. It was on of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I have become so much more independent in this past year than before, but I still missed my family with every fiber of my being. Not being home for Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, made me heartbroken. Getting infected with a severe stomach bug for five days and having to solely take care of myself, on a different continent, was exhausting. Lacking wifi so FaceTimes were few and far in between was tough. It was hard missing my family.
  • Eye-opening. In my other few entries, I talked about the income disparity. I was ignorant before this; I was unaware of how little some people survive off of. I was unaware that there are children, my students, that come from those conditions. Children who don’t have running water, children who live in informal houses, children who live in townships where there are shootings every night, children who lack basic hygiene.
  • Exhausting. I saw the poverty almost every single day I was there. I saw people on the streets begging, I saw people going through trash, I drove on the highway and saw townships, I saw my littles and talked with my teacher about their home lives. It is exhausting to be exposed to those kind of situations and feel so utterly helpless. It is exhausting to be in a country and a city that is known to be progressive but yet I saw day-to-day the reality of extreme poverty that the majority of the population faces.
  • Humbling. I was shocked. The longer I was there, the more I realized how incredibly privileged I am. Is the United States flawed? Absolutely. However, am I privileged enough to fight against inequalities in the system? Am I privileged enough to be in a country that has a union to protect teachers? Am I privileged enough to be proud to be labeled feminist and participate in a third feminist movement? South Africa does not have those movements. There are an abundance of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) fighting for those without a voice, but the impact nationally is still unseen.
  • Challenging. Everyday I was challenged. In my classroom, I have never been tested like I have by those 30 little humans. It made me reflect on my teaching practices. On my teaching philosophies. Every. Single. Day. Working with my mom and my other housemates, I had to think about what I was doing and how I could improve. And I had to improve hard. I had to repeat expectations every single time I was in front of the classroom. It tested my patience and I lost it more than once. Even though those Grade Rs were the hardest group of children I have taught, I fell in love with each and every one of the little anklebiters.
  • Life-changing. Was this experience exhausting and hard? Yes, 100%. Everyday I was challenged. Cape Town challenged my views of the world and flipped me upside down, 180 degrees, and shook me on the way down. I am a completely different person than when I left in August. It gave me passion to fight for those can’t. It taught me the importance of getting to know my kiddos. It slapped me in the face with perspective and privilege.

Yesterday, a few of my friends from Cape Town went to talk with the current seniors in Neag. At the end, I closed with this:

“This was the hardest experience of my life. However, I would do it all over again. Was it great? Absolutely. There were some things that I have never been able to experience and things that I crossed off of my bucket list. But I am not going to lie to you, it will be hard, I can guarantee that. But if you go, and I hope you do, it will be the most eye-opening and life-changing experience you will ever have. It has made me so much more passionate about fighting for those who don’t have a voice, fighting by using my privilege, fighting for those not just in Connecticut, but those across the world. It has made me a better teacher, but most importantly, it has made me a better person. It is challenging, oh boy it’s challenging, but one thing I can promise you is that it will be worth it.”

So, thank you Cape Town, for shaking up everything I thought I knew about this world. You have a piece of my heart. I’ll end this entry with:

“A little part of everywhere I go becomes a big part of everything I do.”

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