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Dr. Joanne Meier

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne every week as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Four questions new teachers should ask

March 23, 2011

Lots of May graduates are looking for jobs right now. School job fairs and district openings are full with pre-service teachers looking for their first teaching job. While these soon-to-be college graduates are busy worrying about what the interviewer might ask them, I've always encouraged prospective new teachers to ask a few questions of their own. I told my UVA students to realize that they are interviewing the school and principal just as much as the school is interviewing them (although they told me it didn't feel that way!)

Most reports suggest that somewhere between 40-50% of teachers leave teaching within the first five years. Much of the research shows that lack of planning time, too heavy of a teaching load, and student behavior are at the root of teachers leaving. And, despite increased salaries, promises of professional development and other incentives, it's really what happens at the individual school that makes a difference for a teacher deciding to stay or leave the profession.

The answers to these four questions may not land a teacher in the absolute best classroom, but they will help a new teacher understand a lot more about what their new job may be like.

  • What reading curriculum does your school use?
    Teachers should understand the instructional climate at the school. Some schools use very explicit, scripted approaches to teaching reading. Others use home-grown methods in which the majority of planning and sequence work is up to the teacher. It's important to know what you're getting into, and to find a spot that matches with your own teaching philosophy.
  • How many teachers are at a grade level? How many kids are in an average class?
    Having an experienced colleague at your grade level can be a lifesaver. The hours are LONG that first year, and if you've got a teammate who is willing to share resources with you, you won't have to create everything from scratch. If she's willing to share her monthly calendar decals and bulletin board borders with you, let her. That will give you more time to focus on instruction.
  • Does your school have a mentoring program for new teachers?
    The research on new teacher mentoring programs suggests that there's more work to be done in understanding what makes a good one. But here's what I know: your first year is tough, and you need someone to help you through it. An experienced teacher who's committed to helping you get your feet on the ground is important.
  • Can you describe your school population?
    Good applicants have done their research about potential schools, but it never hurts to ask the principal about the population. Consider the match between your pre-service training and the population at the school. Is there a high ELL population? Is it a urban school? Do you feel prepared to teach kids within those settings? If not, you may be setting yourself up for a difficult first year.

Teaching is a great job. Your class will give you reasons to smile every single day. You'll love your kids, and you'll sigh like a parent when you see just how much they grow in a year. Many teachers survive and thrive and can tell you why. But give yourself every advantage you can. Understand what type of situation you're getting yourself into, and make sure it's the right one for you.

Comments

I think it's also important to ask about resources and support available for professional development.

as a teacher looking for a job in a very challenging climate for teachers right now, these questions are really important to ask. thank you so much for helping me jump start a list of questions to bring with my to interviews!

Those question are very helpful to my future teaching career. Thank you.

As a graduate student who is still in the education program found that these are good guidance questions that I should ake for my interview.

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"The things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who'll get me a book I [haven't] read." — Abraham Lincoln