Teacher Interview Portfolios: Top Five “Must-Haves” & “Should-Haves”

Here’s a question via Twitter from our EDU Edge friend Benjamin Fiddler @Bfiddler, an aspiring teacher preparing for the teacher interview process.

“What are the most important things to include in my teacher interview portfolio?” 

Benjamin – Thanks for contacting the EDU Edge.  First of all, “Good for you Benjamin!”  Our consortium of administrators at The EDU Edge, has the feeling recently that the teaching portfolio has become something that is considered an “add-on” during teacher interviews. We think those that have this mind set are incorrect and moreover, we strongly recommend that no one should show up for a teacher interview without a portfolio.  From our experience, we can safely predict that the other candidates who meet with the interview team and who are competing with you for the job will bring one.  Make sure you have one.  These days, interview teams and principals expect to see candidate’s portfolios and will use them as a determination of your qualifications, even if they don’t look at them extensively, or at all, during the actual interview!

Top Five “Must-Haves” in Your Teacher Interview Portfolio

  1. Have your portfolio held together in some way that looks professional. We have seen actual print shop bindings, leather three ring binders, artist portfolio cases, etc. All are fine. And, be sure that your portfolio’s overall interior appearance is consistent and properly reflects the investment that the district or school would be making in you.
  2. Include an educational philosophy. We know what you’re saying … “Really?” Yes … trust us … do one!  Make it personal but brief and concise!
  3. Include your Resume or Curriculum Vitae.
  4. Five letters of recommendation. Make sure at least three of them have directly supervised you. The golden standard of reference letters are those that have been written by individuals who have supervised and evaluated you in the classroom (see Chapter 4 of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview for a hierarchy of the best letters of recommendation to include).
  5. A plan on how you will leave your portfolio with the committee and how you will be able to get it back later OR a plan to provide each committee member a hard/electronic copy. We know this portfolio is a precious thing to you, but you are going to have to trust the committee with it and pick it up in a few hours or days if necessary. This may even give you another opportunity to informally speak with the principal when you pick it up.

Top Five “Should-Haves” in Your Teacher Interview Portfolio

We have seen some amazing and creative teachers come up with interesting ideas on how to present themselves through a portfolio. The ideas and options are endless. In education, there is no set way to do a portfolio so use your imagination and adapt it to your own personality.  You can find these and many more ideas in Chapter 12 – Portfolio Advice of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview.

  1. Artifacts of student work. If possible, it is impressive to include the lesson plan, task that you created for the students, and the work that your student’s produced.
  2. Classroom observation documents/evaluations that you have received from an administrator. These, if you have them, can be very powerful.
  3. Statement about classroom management theory and the steps that you take inside your classroom to create a safe and orderly environment.
  4. Letters from parents commending the work you did with their children.
  5. Pictures, Pictures, Pictures!  We cannot emphasize the power of pictures enough when it comes to portfolios. During interviews, committee members are trying to get to know you and trying to envision you teaching. Don’t trust their imaginations to do so, give them pictures. Pictures bring it together for committee members and verify the reality that you are meant to work with children. For this reason we recommend photos or newspaper articles of you: teaching students in the classroom, with students on field trips, learning excursions or outside class activities, with children while you are serving in advisor roles, with your students at musical or athletic events, coaching or working with children in a coaching capacity, as a leader and role model.

Good luck to you Benjamin!  Good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge.  Please come back and let us know how you make out so we can all learn together. 

Yours in a Partnership in Learning,
The EDU Edge

(Please feel free to contact us with additional questions … we’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at info@theEDUedge.com.  Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome.  We’ll do our best to respond and try our best to help you.)

Student Teaching

Here’s a question via Twitter from our new EDU Edge friend Elle a senior at Eastern Michigan:

“I’m going to be doing my student teaching next semester … any tips?

Elle- We’re thrilled to try to help. On December 13th our EDU Edge Twitter Tip was: “We cannot stress enough … your search for the job of your dreams starts the first day of student teaching. Take every day seriously!” Your high priority for your student teaching experience is right in line with our thinking. Because our mission is to help aspiring teachers successfully navigate the interview process, let’s focus on the things you can do during your student teaching experience to optimize your MARKETABILITY when you complete your degree in education.

The reason that we feel so strongly about the connection between student teaching and landing a job is because our network of administrators works with dozens and dozens of student teachers every year. Some student teachers maximize this opportunity and some don’t. Those that come to learn, work hard, listen, reflect, and connect with the staff and students in the school, in essence, the ones that do everything they can to go above and beyond and stand out, are the ones that get hired … plain and simple. One of the greatest dangers is to conceptualize student teaching as another task to check off your list and believe once you get to an interview or an actual job you’ll show people what you are made of and define your style. Moreover, we know that your student teaching experience is sooooo important because there are a lot of important “firsts” during this experience. How you handle them when they happen to you (trust us … they will) and how you build upon them matters when it comes time to apply for a job and be successful in the teaching interview.

First #1 – During your student teaching experience, you get your first opportunity to put into practice (with real children for multiple weeks) all the coursework and ideas that you have spent learning in your education program. This is the first time that you will (on a daily basis) build lessons, put them into action, feel the thrill of having spent hours planning a lesson and have it succeed with students learning and enjoying what you have created. It will also be the first time you feel the internal disappointment when one of those well planned lessons falls flat. This is the first time you will really feel a taste of the pressure that comes with being THE teacher. During this journey you begin shaping who you are as a teacher and what you bring to the profession.

First #2 – During your student teaching experience, you will have your first opportunity to develop contacts and get letters of recommendation. Principals are not going to read the letter from the pizza joint you worked at during the summer. At this point in your career you have very limited references that really mean anything to a potential employer. Consequently, your cooperating teacher and your college advisor’s recommendation COUNT! The educational community is a close-knit and people talk. If your cooperating teacher thinks you are stellar, she will let those in other districts know … the same goes for the principal and your college advisor. Their opinion of you and what they say about you matters. Do yourself a favor and do everything possible to ensure that these individuals see you for what you want to be- someone who will do everything they can to become a master teacher and will make a difference in the lives of their students. You want and need their recommendations to reflect this positive outlook (see our comments in Chapter 4 – Resume Advice in The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview audiobook ©2011 – theEDUedge.com).

First #3 – Teacher Interview Portfolio. You get to put First #1 and First #2 into First #3 – your first complete teacher interview portfolio. During student teaching you will be designing lessons and assessments that will actually be implemented with students. When you do, think about your portfolio! Think about your future interview! What we mean is create great lessons, assessment, and tasks. Then take pictures of your students in action in the classroom (with appropriate school and parental permission of course). Keep copies of the lessons, the assessments, and examples of student work. Reflect on what worked and what didn’t work and put in writing what you would do differently in the future. When student teaching is over, you will have beautiful artifacts to add to your portfolio. Visual representations where individuals on interview teams can actually see you as a teacher and see the work that you have done inside the classroom with students goes a long way in the hiring process (see our comments in Chapter 12 – Portfolio Advice in The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview audiobook ©2012 – theEDUedge.com)

Finally, during your student teaching experience you are constructing and framing your answers to future interview questions. You are dealing with difficult students, implementing successful lessons, giving different types of assessments, dealing with and managing parent communication, etc, etc, etc. All of these will give you a base from which to grow as a professional and most importantly a reference point on how to tackle the difficult questions that interview teams will throw at you (see Chapter 8 on how to master hundreds of interview questions through our ‘Umbrella Approach’tm). Keep a written or audio journal each night of the prominent students, events, successes and failures of your experience. Review these prior to each interview experience. Not only is it a great way to grow and reflect from your student teaching experience, when you get interview questions that ask you to reflect upon situations you have encountered in the past, you will not need to hesitate, search your memory or wander in order to find an applicable experience.

Good luck to you Elle! Good luck to all of you following the EDU Edge. Please come back after your student teaching experience and let us know how it went so we can all learn together.

Yours in a Partnership in Learning,

The EDU Edge

 (Please feel free to contact us with additional questions. We’ll do our best to respond. The EDU Edge community is growing on Blogger, Twitter, Facebook. You can email us at info@theEDUedge.com. Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome. We welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)

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