If you have been following my education journey, this may sound like déjà vu, but I’m looking for a job again. Yes, for two school years in a row, I have been displaced from my job. The hardest part about being displaced back-to-back is the perception some people may have about you. Did the district or school eliminate her job to get rid of her or was the position eliminated for other reason? I know walking into any interview, this could be in the back of the interviewer’s mind, but I don’t worry about that. I know my representation, data, and hard work speaks for itself.
The first time I was displaced, I chose not to go to the district’s job fair. I don’t particularly like being in places with a whole bunch of people, so I skipped it. Skipping the fair did not deter the opportunities I had. I interviewed with five places (within and outside of IPS) and was offered four out of the five positions. The employer who did not offer me a job did reach out to me later about another position. This year, I decided I was not going to let a crowd deter me from attending the Indianapolis Public Schools certified displaced staff job fair. Although it doesn’t feel great to be displaced, I still think educators should be prepared. Below, I have shared a few tips for educators who are displaced or are considering applying for a different job.
Clean up your resume.
I’m probably a bit obsessive, but I reread my resume each month and revise if necessary when I am looking for a job. It should be concise and highlight you as an educator and person. Starting at the top of your resume, your name should be easy to find. Your contact information should be updated and you should only put down an email address or phone number you frequently use. I had an educator tell me once that she missed a job opportunity because she put down a phone number she rarely checks and that she lets go straight to voicemail. What sense does that make if you want people to reach out to you for an interview? My resume no longer has an objective but a statement highlighting who I am. Immediately following that is my education history, my areas of certification, professional skills, professional leadership/organizations, awards, professional job history, and a page with references the potential employer could contact. Don’t list any items on your resume that you cannot speak about. Last school year, I sat in on interviews with my principal and it would surprise me when I or another person on the interview committee would ask a follow up question based on something listed on the person’s resume and the person could not elaborate or speak well about it. Last, but certainty not least, your resume should not have grammatical errors. I have difficulty catching all of my errors when I write (hopefully there aren’t any in this blog post – no pressure right?). That’s why I like to have another pair of eyes on my work. Find someone to proofread your resume before you hand it out at a job fair or upload it to an online application.
Talk to your references before you use them.
As a literacy coach in the K-12 world and an adjunct instructor at IUPUI, I frequently am used as a reference. The worst is when I am called and I have no clue a person has used me. Why is this problematic? The number one reason is I might not be able to give the person a good reference. Secondly, if I do think highly of the person as an educator, it is good to know where the person has applied. This helps me tailor my feedback to the opportunity the person is pursuing. I do take my own advice. Earlier in this piece, I mentioned all of the jobs I was offered after I was displaced last school year. One of my references did not like that I chose to work at Crispus Attucks instead of choosing another opportunity. The reference had a problem with me interviewing with multiple schools to find the best fit for my family and me. After I became aware of this, I removed this person as a reference. I can’t have anyone as a reference that does not support my choices, understand the vision I have for my life, or who might not speak about me in a way that I desire.
Apply to jobs that you want.
When I was at the job fair last week, an educator I did not know, saw me looking at a sheet that I had in my briefcase and she told me, “You are doing too much.” IPS HR sent out a list of certified job openings before the fair. I downloaded the excel document and deleted every job I was not interested in even if I had the qualifications and licensing. Next, I deleted any job that was not on the west or north side of the city. I live on the NW side of Indy and I hate to drive. Every job currently listed on my resume is on the west side. There was no point in me talking to a principal whose school is on the far east side when I know I’m not going to drive that far away. Then, I researched the schools and spoke to people who used to or currently work at the school to get a feel of the school culture and then I looked at the school’s data on IDOE. Being a D or F school is not a factor that eliminates a school for me. Most people know I loved working at Wendell Phillips which has been rated a failing school for years. I was even there Friday facilitating the Black History Month literacy night and I’m still part of the school’s learning garden team. If my position had not been cut, I would be there now. Although being a failing school does not eliminate the school as an option for me, you should do your research to know the situation you are potentially entering. The list in my briefcase included highly rated schools and struggling schools. One principal I talked to seemed surprised that not only I came to inquire about a position opening at the school, but that I was able to articulate the background of the school and despite my knowledge of the school’s challenges, I still was interested. If you apply to a job that you really don’t want and then accept a job that you really don’t want, you might be back job hunting next school year.
Practice answering interview questions before you interview.
An insignificant fact about me is I won an interview challenge my senior year in college. Even before I participated in that challenge, I prepared for the questions I thought I would be asked. You should prepare before each interview. Questions I have been asked or have asked candidates when I was on various interview committees were:
- Why do you want to work at this school?
- Tell me what you know about our school?
- What would your principal tell me about you?
- What would your students say about you?
- Could you tell me about a time when you had to overcome a barrier in your school?
- Could you talk to me about your classroom data?
- How do you create a strong culture of learning in your classroom?
- What are your strengths?
- What are your weaknesses?
- What are your professional goals?
- How do you professionally develop yourself?
- What is the last professional book you have read?
In addition to those questions, I have also been asked to submit sample lesson plans, teach a lesson to students currently at the school, teach a lesson to the interview committee, answer timed short-answer questions or write an essay, role-play a scenario, or work on a problem with other interview candidates. Once for a coaching position, I was taken on a classroom walkthrough and asked to give feedback about the teacher. If you haven’t interviewed in a while (or even if you have), it is important to be ready to answer questions well. If I don’t have an immediate answer to an interview question, my go to is to repeat the question aloud and then say, “That’s a really good question. Let me think about that for a moment.” I think and then respond. Remember, it isn’t about answering questions quickly; it is about answering them well.
Do your current job well until you begin your next job.
It is easy to begin slacking off when you are job hunting willingly or job hunting because you are displaced. Even if I’m at a school for a short time, I don’t want anyone to be able to say that Shawnta Barnes didn’t bring 100% every day. I want the school to miss my absence, not celebrating and throwing up confetti when I walk out the door on my last day.
This is not an exhaustive list, but I hope it is helpful. The job fair went well. I already have an interview scheduled and promises from a few school leaders who said they would send me some dates for an interview in the upcoming week. I’m not worried about securing a placement, but I am looking for a school where I won’t end up displaced at the end of next school year; I want to put down some roots and stay for awhile.