The New York City Department of Education clearly states what they are looking for in a teacher:
“We are committed to hiring only the most highly qualified and dedicated teachers to work with our students. We look for candidates who are strong communicators, use data to make informed decisions, have deep subject matter expertise, and are deeply committed to student achievement.”
To determine if you are the type of teacher they want, they request you to write two essays: one seeks information on you as a teacher and one seeks information on you as a person. Below are examples of the questions used and comments on what to consider as you compose your answer.
Essay Question 1
It is the third month of the new school year and you have just finished a week-long unit of study that covered key grade-level standards for your students. Prior to teaching the unit, you invested significant time and effort into preparing lessons, activities, and supporting materials. However, over 50% of your students failed the end-of-unit test you administered at the end of the week. To keep up with the pacing calendar, you are expected to move on to a new topic the following week. Please describe what next steps you will take to address this situation.
This is a question that requires you to apply many of the educational theories and best teaching practices you have learned at Hunter. As you read the question, the first thing you should have noticed is the fact that half of your class failed the end-of-unit test, and therefore lack the prior knowledge needed to move on to the next unit of study. This is a learning bottleneck that teachers often face.
The first point to consider is whether or not there is alignment between the assessment given and the material taught. It would be essential for you to look at the items that were not passed and ask yourself a number of questions such as:
• How much time did I spend on this item?
• In what way did I present the information on this item?
• Did I pre-assess students to know where they were “at” before teaching the concept?
• Did I consider all learning styles when presenting the information?
• Did I make accommodations for all learning styles?
Did I use multiple presentation styles to assure there was a connection between all parts to the whole?
Your response needs to portray your knowledge and expertise in various areas, such as:
• differentiated instruction with awareness of and accommodations for the varying needs in your class (i.e., ELL or Special Education students);
• a learning environment that organizes the room and structures lessons to maximize learning and minimize confusion and disruption;
• clear learning objectives;
• use of graphic organizers;
• use of learning centers.
Your students’ lack of prior knowledge can be addressed by reinforcing needed information from the prior unit and linking that information with the new content you will be presenting. For example, a semantic representation could be created using a mapping tool application (i.e. Inspiration) that could visually link the content relationships of the two units. As you introduce new content in the lessons, reinforcements of what you taught in the prior unit would be embedded. These reinforcements could include:
• having students refer to notes they took in the last unit to answer a question in a homework assignment;
• providing students with interactive website(s) that reinforce understanding of the learning standard(s) associated with the content of the unit;
• organizing activities that require the use of knowledge from the prior unit to meaningfully apply the new information. Since it is a 50:50 ratio, each group would be comprised of half who passed and half who did not pass.
Essay Question 2
The New York City Department of Education is a diverse and dynamic system of 1,450 schools. The principals who lead these schools are searching for great teachers to meet the needs of their students. What are the THREE most important qualities you would want a principal to recognize in you as a potential staff member? Please focus on personal and professional qualities, talents, or experiences unique to you and provide examples and other evidence to support these. As you search for a place to teach, what are the top THREE characteristics you are looking for in a school?
This question is related to what you wrote for the “Objective” and “Skills and Interests” sections of your resume. The fact that you have completed a Hunter School of Education Program clearly defines you as an exceptional teacher. You need to extend this to show how you will link what you learned at Hunter with you as a person. Are you a team player? Are you flexible, able to work with others, innovative, creative on your feet, a self directed learner? Today’s teachers must be self aware of their own strengths and challenges and committed to continual learning. Be sure to emphasize those skills.
• if you have an interest in language, travel and visiting other cultures, discuss how you will bring this love of other cultures into lessons and activities;
• if you have an interest in technology, discuss how you will meaningfully engage children with interactive lessons and activities that are linked to specific content learning standards;
• if you have a background as a professional in another field discuss how you will bring real world applications to classroom curriculum;
• if you have expertise in a particular subject (i.e. your major) discuss how you will use this as a teacher;
• if your personal background or experiences have given you particular insight into working with students, describe this;
• if you gained expertise and experience through your student teaching, describe what you gained;
• try to be specific, rather than giving broad generalities (i.e. I love children) that could apply to anyone.
If you've been applying for online jobs, chances are good that applications have included the dreaded essay questions. You know...they're the ones that ask about your reasons for wanting to become a teacher, the components of a lesson plan, your strategies for dealing with diversity or differences in learning styles, and more. These questions can be problematic for new teachers who aren't sure what sorts of answers are expected.
Do districts really look at the responses? Of course they do. Do they expect candidates to come up with responses that will revolutionize the teaching profession? Of course they don't. What, then, constitutes a good response? How can you make the best impression possible? Here are some hints:
• Think before you start writing. Organize your thoughts and jot down some notes.
• Answer the questions honestly. The goal is to provide an accurate verbal snapshot of you as a teacher...your values and your character.
• Be sure that you are answering the question that has been asked. You can begin by repeating the wording of the question to make sure that you are on the right track. For example, a question might be "What two core teaching strategies do you use most?" You might begin your answer with "The two core teaching strategies I use most are..." Then, you can continue by listing and describing the strategies, indicating how you use each one.
• Give examples. When responding to the question about core teaching strategies, illustrate the strategy with a case where you successfully applied it.
• Don't wander. Once you have answered the question, don't go on about something else that may be unrelated. Stream-of-consciousness writing loses the reader - and it may lose you the job.
• Remember: clear, direct language is best. You aren't writing a thesis. You don't need to try to impress the reader by using the biggest words and the most elaborate sentence structure possible. Doing so, in fact, is a very bad idea. The reader may get the idea that this is the way you'll be speaking to your students.
• Use spell-check. There is no excuse for misspelled words.
• Check for grammatical errors. Competent teachers should be able to avoid run-on and incomplete sentences.
• Never copy your answers from someone else. The purpose is to provide insight into your personality, not that of your friend.
Create your responses in Word (or a similar word-processing format) and SAVE them. Many districts use AppliTrack to manage the hiring process; therefore, you may see similar questions on multiple districts' applications. If you've saved your answers, you won't have to re-create them each time you complete an application.
Once you've finished writing your responses, have someone else read through them. Others may notice errors that you've missed in your own writing. Ask your Career Services Office for assistance if you need a second opinion.
So...relax. Write from your experience and from your heart. Ask for help if you need it. The good news is that essay applications get easier with each one that you do.
Dawn S. Jones
Online Advisor, Career Services
Northern Illinois University