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ASH Hosts Panel Presentation on Teaching Careers and Jobs

Mar 27, 2009

Three education professionals provided honest advice and answered students' questions on obtaining teaching positions at a professional development panel, "So You Want to be a History Teacher?," sponsored by the Associated Students of History (ASH) on the evening of Thursday, March 26. Panelists Lonny Lemon (Superintendent of Schools for Quincy Public Schools), Rick Parker (a History teacher at Brown County High School), and Brock Bainter (a Social Studies teacher at Macomb Junior High School) spoke to a group of approximately 45 students and faculty members in 121 Stipes Hall, the auditorium of the WIU College of Business and Technology's auditorium. Abby Lagemann, President of ASH, organized the program and moderated the panel.

After introducing themselves and speaking briefly about their backgrounds in the field of education, Superintendent Lemon (who holds the MSE in Educational Administration and the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from WIU), Mr. Parker (who holds a BS in Social Studies from WIU), and Mr. Bainter (who holds a BA in History Teacher Education from WIU) responded to questions submitted to ASH prior to the program as well as to follow-up questions from the audience. At the conclusion of the evening, ASH raffled off a television set donated by History Advisor Ralph Heissinger. ASH Vice President Dan Mieszala announced that History Teacher Education senior Amy Kallenbach was the lucky winner.

The speakers stressed that what school boards and principals are looking for are smart people who have demonstrated that they are student-centered in their approach to education. They are interested in both "academics and character," Superintendent Lemon observed. In terms of academics, doing outstanding work in college classes is a major plus - employers pay a great deal of attention to candidates' GPAs, and having C's (or lower) in History or social studies classes is a significant red flag to school officials. Having additional endorsements (middle school or reading endorsements, for example) and in some cases being able to speak a foreign language makes an applicant more flexible and therefore potentially more desirable to schools. Active participation in community and college volunteer service activities is also important, as it is seen as an indication of "character." Teachers are also expected to be good role models for their students, which means, among other things, having no criminal record.

In answer to a question about how to write an effective resume and what pitfalls to avoid in resumes and cover letters, the panelists stressed the need to present a comprehensive, well-organized, truthful, neat, and impeccably formatted and spelled resume and cover letter. The speakers emphasized that nothing gets an application thrown in the "rejection" pile faster than being messy or containing spelling errors. Community and college service activities should be included on the resume, as well as specific information about course projects and undergraduate research projects the student has completed; one never knows, they pointed out, what a particular school will be looking for in an applicant. Clubs, service activities, civic organizations, and other extra-curricular activities with which the student has been involved should also be listed, as should study-abroad experiences, involvement in Peace Corps, and military service or other national service activities, as all of these provide applicants with a broader perspective and are seen by potential employers as indicators of "character." Having worked one's way through college also shows dedication and organizational skills, and should be listed on the resume, even when the job(s) are unrelated to one's degree. The speakers also pointed out that it helps to get to know the superintendents, principals, and teachers who might know of hiring opportunities, and that attending conferences is one way to develop that networking skill.

When invited for a job interview, it is important to do your research first, Mr. Bainter stressed. Know who the school board members, district superintendent, and school principal are, and be aware of their approach to education. For example, do they use a middle school or junior high model? How is the school's schedule arranged - do they use 8-block? Check out the school's report card for the last 5 years for trends. (The web sites of both the Interactive Illinois Report Card (IIRC) and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) contain useful information on individual schools and their districts for those preparing for interviews.) Mr. Parker stressed the need to have thought through one's philosophy of education before the interview.

During an interview, the speakers emphasized the need to demonstrate to those who are conducting the interview that you have a student-centered (not teacher-centered) approach to education, that you want to make a difference in students' lives, and that you are eager to collaborate with other teachers, administrators, and parents to help the school do the best possible job educating its students. Candidates should always be honest in answering questions ("always look them in the eye," Superintendent Lemon advised) and should be aware of the values and expectations of the school district with which they are interviewing. Being an alum of a district may well work to the applicant's advantage in this regard. All three speakers told the students that they should be prepared to respond to specific "scenarios" about classroom management issues, how to deal with angry parents, etc. When on the job market, candidates should always be conscious of the impression that the outgoing message on their voice mail or answering machine gives to potential employers, as well as anything they may have posted on Facebook, My Space, or similar on-line networks or elsewhere on the web, which might turn off potential employers.

In answer to a question about on-line recruiting and on-line applications, the speakers observed that this is becoming more and more common for teaching positions. They advised being concise when answering questions in on-line forms, and attaching a resume electronically, when possible. Superintendent Lemon recommended that after completing on-line applications, candidates still send a resume through the mail with a cover letter which refers to the on-line application already submitted. (WIU Career Services includes an electronic recruiting service for all WIU students and alumni.)

When asked about the value and timing of earning the M.A. in History, the speakers advised that it would not hurt a candidate to obtain the graduate degree before going on the job market, as it means the applicant would be much better prepared academically; as far as the school district is concerned, the added value of the stronger academic credentials outweighs the additional cost to the district of hiring someone with an advanced degree. It also demonstrates that an applicant has goals and is able to achieve them. Superintendent Lemon also stressed that it was less difficult to do the graduate work when not also working full-time as a teacher. On the other hand, if a teaching position is available upon graduation with the BA, there's no reason not to take it and work on the MA later. Pursuing an advanced degree while teaching has the added advantage of allowing teachers to apply in their own classroom the knowledge gained from the MA, as well as allowing teachers to bring their classroom experience to bear on their graduate studies.

The panelists next addressed the importance of experience with or ability to lead extracurricular activities in school districts. All three gentlemen have or do serve as athletic coaches, and pointed out that often, experience or ability with coaching will get applicants an interview. Mr. Parker observed that in some small districts, coaching ability is often more important that teaching credentials when making hiring decisions. However, all three speakers also pointed out that schools need people to advise Quiz Bowl, Student Council, various clubs, and the school paper, as well as coach athletic teams. Mr. Bainter emphasized that getting to know students outside the classroom in these different venues also helps teachers connect with them inside the classroom and can help one become a better teacher.

The final portion of the program was dedicated to the panelists' advice for new teachers in their first year. "Expect to be overwhelmed!," warned Mr. Bainter, a comment echoed by Mr. Parker and Superintendent Lemon. Mr. Bainter also emphasized the need to establish one's classroom discipline from the first day of class; new teachers should be tough from the start and not worry about trying to get the students to like them. He also advised setting a routine for the classroom and sticking to it, which helps the students adjust and know what to expect. Mr. Parker added that teachers needed to be honest with their students; if the teacher doesn't know the answers to students' questions, they shouldn't try to pull the wool over the students' eyes. He also emphasized the need to be prepared for one's lessons - if the teacher is not, the students will see right through you. Superintendent Lemon reminded those present that high school students are not adults and "you can't be their buddy." New teachers need to find ways to separate themselves from their students. It is also vital, he said, to be honest not only with the students, but with their parents, as well as with your colleagues in the schools and the community which employs you. He recommended finding a peer you can trust to talk with regularly, whether it is someone you went to school with, someone in your school or district, or someone you met through professional development opportunities.

The speakers closed by emphasizing the tremendous gratification that teachers get from teaching their students well, and received sustained applause from the appreciative students and faculty in attendance.

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