Student Teacher, Temporary Teacher or Substitute Teacher? What to do if a Teaching Job is Rumored to be Available in Your School

Here’s a question via Twitter from our EDU Edge friend Khristen @officialK_money, an aspiring teacher.

“I’m student teaching and there’s a job supposedly coming available.
People are advising me to write the principal a letter expressing my interest.
Is this good advice?”

Khristen – This is a good question and you are smart to be cautious in your approach.  If the rumored opening is due to the departure of a faculty member and not an expansion in staffing, you do not want to get involved with the situation.  When someone is leaving or retiring, it is confidential personnel information until formally announced and is not something an administrator can legally discuss.  Asking a principal or other administrator will put them in an awkward position if they know about the departure but cannot speak about it.  If they have not heard about it yet, you could embarrass them by knowing more about their school than they do (all administrators like to think they have a decent feel for the pulse of their school, sometimes it is best not to go near this bubble with too sharp a needle).

In addition, asking about the opening has very significant potential to inadvertently frame you as a ‘gossip’, overly aggressive, or insensitive person.  The opening could be due to a retirement, resignation or health issue of a faculty member the administrator or school community thought of very fondly.  There are many other scenarios that could play out.  Even if you are a temporary teacher and privy to information about the teacher who is on leave and may not return, discussing or disclosing another person’s personnel information is not something you want to get into.   Our advice is not to jump the gun before the announcement is made official and public.  The potential for an edge is limited and the risk is significant.

Regarding the advice you have been receiving- A letter or even a handwritten note of appreciation or farewell is a fine idea.  You can thank them for approving your placement with one of their faculty members, thank them for the opportunity to student teach in their school, tell them how much you have learned, praise the school’s faculty and students, and mention how honored you would be to be a member of the school and community if a position were to come available in the future.  In this way, you are highlighting who you are again and putting yourself right on the tip of their mind as someone who they should think about were a position to truly come available.  This approach certainly is not going to hurt.  

We also recommend that you read our Blog Post “Student Teaching Now? To Ask or Not to Ask the Principal to do an Observation… that is the question.”  This addresses some important related material that goes along with your question.  Please take note of another option suggested by The EDU Edge consortium, which was to plan an excellent lesson and to invite the principal by to see his/her students in action.  If you decide to go in this direction, you want to plan these out so you are ensuring that the principal is seeing you at your best.  With an invitation (with advanced notice) the principal can add the visit to her calendar easily and stop by during normal walkthroughs observations.  Once she’s seen you in action, you can ensure that the principal knows you are interested and have already (per-interview) had an opportunity to show off your talents. 

Good luck to you Khristen!  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  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.)

How to Deal with ‘The Price is Right Effect’ After the Successful Teacher Interview

EDU Edge friend Jennifer tweeted us a question … “Any advice on when you know the job is right for you and when you should wait for another offer?” … “I’m struggling with the size and location of the school.  I want to make sure I secure a job, but I also want to wait for larger school districts to complete their interview processes.”

Jennifer- Congratulations!  Teaching jobs are hard to come by these days.  The fact that you have an opportunity is absolutely fantastic!  It is likely that you have worked very hard to arrive at this point and you should view it as an accomplishment.

Although it may be taboo for many administrators or college professors to discuss such topics, it is a legitimate issues that many teaching candidates are faced with.  We like to refer to it as ‘The Price is Right Effect.’  You remember when Bob Barker would open up door number one or two, revealing a decent grilling and patio table combo?  The contestant was then faced with the decision of going with the grill combo, which was pretty good, or taking what was behind door number three.  If they went with number three, they risked getting a pack of tube socks, but they also had the possibility of winning a new Cadillac.  It can be a truly gut wrenching situation. You want to make the right call and we understand your anxiety.

So here is our view on these situations.  First, if the position is so detestable to you that you would be absolutely depressed getting out of bed every day to go to work, you should not do it.  Now keep in mind, this had better be a seriously uncomfortable situation for you to back away from a position.  This is not a threshold to take lightly.  You are giving up a lot by walking away from a job in hand including:

  • The opportunity to build your resume, experience and references
  • Regular income
  • Possible service credits in a state pension system or 401k savings
  • Years of experience that would translate to extra teaching steps if you eventually move to another school
  • And much more

If you walk away with it, you must also be completely at peace with the possibility that you may go another year or few years without another opportunity.  In other words, you better have opened the door with the tube socks in order to consider walking away from a job.

Ok, so we answered your basic question and now we can hear all the “Edgies” tweeting their next question already, so we might as well tackle it right now: Assuming the job you take is not completely detestable, can you still keep an eye out for your dream job in the same hiring season?  We say yes, with some VERY significant asterisks added.  Here they are:

*One: You must first research the laws in your state about leaving a teaching job once you have made a verbal or written commitment to an employer.  These vary from state to state and can vary within state for private, charter and traditional public schools.  In some states, you do not have to have the blessing of the school you are leaving, but they can choose to impose a waiting period (usually around thirty to forty-five days).  In other states, you cannot leave at all during that school year unless released by the school or district.  If you are not released and you leave, you could face the school filing a complaint with the state education department and suspending your certification for a period of time.  Be sure to also carefully read the language of any contract you sign.  You may face certain financial penalties for an early departure.  If you are not familiar or comfortable with the repercussions, do not explore another position during the same hiring season.

*Two: Do not apply or interview for any job after you have secured the first unless you are confident it is your dream job.  Your moment for taking any interview just for the experience has ended.  You should only look at something you consider to be a significant upgrade from what you have been offered. 

*Three: Be sure if you are offered an interview, you are upfront about the fact that you have already accepted a position at another school.  Any surprises could be viewed as deceit.  You need to be honest at the right moment and let them know about the other offer.  They need to weigh this as a part of their decision because there may be implications for how soon they would be able to employ you.  This must be done delicately and worded very carefully.

*Four: Be prepared for the possibility that the school you have committed to may find out you are interviewing, and if they have the ability, may separate with you.  Unofficially it could play a role in your tenure status and relationships with colleagues.  Again, the laws of when and the thresholds for employers to separate from teachers vary from state-to-state and you should become acquainted with the risks.

There is no doubt this is a dicey affair.  Only enter into it if you have calculated all of the risks and benefits.  At the same time, our experience has been that most, but certainly not all, administrators would rather move on to another candidate than force a person who does not want to work for them to be at their building or district.  Forcing people to work for you does not generally yield a highly motivated employee or an effective addition to the team dynamic.

Finally, it is certainly a difficult decision to decide whether your current offer is a fit for you and the safe bet to take.  But, teachers become attracted to different settings for different reasons.  Some people aspire to teach in small rural schools, others city schools, and still others in suburban school districts.  Some feel a calling to teach in schools with faith communities, while others are energized and rewarded by serving in public or non-sectarian settings.  While you may have that perfect setting in mind, be sure you are evaluating the setting based on what satisfies your needs and preferences and not what other people tell you is important. And do not forget that multitudes of teachers out there found themselves being forced to accept a teaching job in a school they thought they would be less than perfect … and now could never be dragged away by a team of a thousand horses.  If you take the job offered and that dream job does not come by this hiring season, it is likely you will know by year two or three whether you have fallen in love with your current setting with all its imperfections or whether you need to more aggressively search for another position.  In the end, if you do leave, you will have gained many benefits for having worked a full-time teaching job prior to the dream job.

Good luck to you Jennifer!  And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge.  Please come back 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’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at  Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome.  We’ll do our best to respond.  We welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)

Teacher Assistant or Aide Positions: An Overlooked Stepping Stone to Success in the Teacher Interview

EDU Edge friend (Dan) at West Virginia University sent us a question via email … “I’m going to graduate in May and there are very few teaching jobs open in the state that I am originally from. There is a teaching assistant position available near my home town. If I’m unable to land a teaching job, are these positions good to take? Can they be stepping stones to fulltime teaching positions?”

Dan, thanks for contacting The EDU Edge. Yes … yes … yes! We think you’re smart to consider a teaching assistant or teacher aide position to start if you are unable to find a teaching position. Subbing is certainly an option that gets you in the door, gaining contacts and meeting people who can help you in your goal of securing a full time teaching position. But an idea that is often overlooked is taking a teaching assistant or teacher aide position. Many people don’t even consider this as an option, perhaps because they see it as beneath them, but we feel that this is a big mistake.

When times are tough and the teaching positions are limited, working as a teaching assistant or aide has become a legitimate and smart option. The administrators in The EDU Edge consortium can point to literally hundreds of examples where individuals with teaching degrees have taken a teaching assistant position and then jumped into the next available teacher position in that school or district. The same thing happened as if I they had been a substitute teacher. They:

• took advantage of their opportunity

• proved their competence, value and talent

• interacted with the teachers and administration, who got to know and like them and then, voila, they were in the candidate pool and being recommended for the next available position.

Yes, many times these positions pay a lot less than a full time teaching position would, but they do come with benefits and most importantly, opportunity. They also provide daily employment at the same location each day.

We have never seen a perfect teacher who was firing on all cylinders right out of college. Everyone needs time to grow and hone their practice. Like subbing, these positions provide great opportunities to refine your skills. As teacher aide and assistant positions have less to do with basic student supervision and are increasingly oriented toward instructional support over the past fifteen years, we have seen more and more examples of students right out of teaching schools taking these positions as a pathway to full time teaching positions. They also provide a great insider view of how schools operate with less pressure while you are getting acclimated to working in an educational workplace. This understanding and ease with school operations will come in handy at interview time.

Finally, if you feel there is a stigma attached to working as an aide or assistant, get with the times and get over it. While you are sitting by the phone day after day waiting for the chance for a mere interview, your competition is working as a teacher assistant proving themselves and making contacts. They are also earning wages, benefits and possibly service credits toward a pension. They are doing what it takes to get ‘the edge’ in landing a teaching position.

Good luck to you Dan! And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge. Please come back 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’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome. We’ll do our best to respond and we welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)


Student Teaching Right Now? To Ask or Not to Ask Your Principal to do an Observation… That is the Question.

EDU Edge friend (Melissa) at Penn State sent us a question via email … “I’m presently doing my student teaching and a few people have suggested that I should ask the principal of my school to do an observation of me before I leave.  Why should I do this?  Do you think this is a good idea?”

Melissa, what these people are getting at is that having a formal observation done by the principal of your school would:

A. be excellent feedback and benefit your personal and professional development
B. be an excellent artifact to put into your interview portfolio
C. could potentially result in the principal being a quality reference on your resume. 

At first glance, appear to be some pretty reasonable assumptions here, but are they valid?  To test drive them, we forwarded your questions to the school administrators in The EDU Edge consortium.  We received mixed responses with mixed emotions.  Half responded that it was perfectly fine, but the other half worried about their own professional time constraints to do this for student teachers. 

The principalship is a very demanding position.  Time is always scarce and if classroom observations are done well, they take time.  For a typical observation, the principal would have to:

  • schedule a pre-observation conference
  • review your lesson plan
  • take the time to discuss it with you
  • actually observe you in action for at least a class period
  • write up the observation itself
  • give you specific written feedback
  • meet with you afterward to discuss the lesson
  • suggest how it could be improved upon, etc, etc.

Our point is that you need to know that, as a student teacher, you are not a permanent member of the principal’s faculty yet.  With all the other responsibilities the principal has to take care of, this is asking a lot, even of the most willing and generous school leader.  That doesn’t mean that you don’t ask (we’ll get to that in a second) but please know that it is not a small favor.  The fact that you are questioning the advice that you are getting, shows us that you are considerate and respectful and we commend you for this. 

With the input of our EDU Edge colleagues, a quality answer on whether to ask or not hinges on a couple variables:

1.  Do you know the principal?  Not just who he or she is, but do you know and have a relationship with them?
2.  How comprehensive and time consuming is the school’s/district’s teacher observation process?  The process that we described above is an example of the process that principals work with in many schools and districts across the country.  Not all are this time consuming though.  If they are check boxes or your school has a process that can be done more efficiently, this definitely helps.
3.  How large is the school?  Our EDU Edge consortium members state that a 200 student K-3 Elementary building is going to have a much more intimate feel and be easier for that principal to do a full-blown observation than a high school of 3000 students and a faculty of 200 teachers.  We’re not saying one job is easier than the other, simply stating that the ability to extend this opportunity to a student teacher may be different.
4.  How are the responsibilities of the administrative team divided?  If there is an assistant principal for curriculum and instruction or one who supervises all of the teachers in your content area, then asking the principal is unlikely to produce the best observation or one at all.

Many people may disagree with us on this one Melissa.  But our advice comes directly from the consortium of administrators that make up The EDU Edge so it is important to weigh these variables in your specific situation and then go from there. 

Another option suggested by The EDU Edge consortium, was to plan an innovative lesson and invite the principal to come by to see their students in action.  If you decide to go this route, you want to ensure that the principal is seeing you at your best.  With an advanced invitation, the principal can easily add the visit to her normal walkthroughs observations.  Once she’s seen you in action, you can then more comfortably ask her to be a phone reference for you.  Ultimately, this is a much less time consuming option for the principal and you don’t put them in a tough spot.  At the same time, you get an administrative reference on your resume.  Chapter 4 of The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher Interview ©2012 discusses selection of appropriate teacher references in detail as well as how to keep them useful for your job searches during many years to come.

Good luck to you Melissa!  And, good luck to all of you following The EDU Edge.  Please come back 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’re on Twitter, Facebook and you can email us at  Tell us what interview obstacles you’re dealing with and trying to overcome.  We’ll do our best to respond and we welcome dialogue from others going through the same process.)

Most Common Question Asked in Teacher Interviews

Here’s a question via Twitter from our EDU Edge friend Jenna Meloni @JennaJenna1014, an aspiring Elementary Education teacher: “What is the number 1 question asked during teaching interviews?”

Jenna – Our EDU Edge consortium of administrators across the country have done literally thousands and thousands of teacher interviews.  Additionally, while doing research for our book, The Insider’s Guide to the Teacher interview’ © 2012, we collected hundreds and hundreds of questions that administrators reported asking in interviews around the country and all of them (well over 300 questions) are included in our book.  After all this, there is only one common question to all these interviews and that is usually the first one of the interview (the ice breaker): “Tell us a little bit about yourself.”  

The icebreaker may come in different variations and flavors, for example, “Welcome … Begin by telling us a little about yourself, your experience and background.” OR “Let’s start by asking you to describe yourself and your teaching experiences.” OR “Tell us about yourself and your experiences working with students at this age level.”

But, the point is that in every interview, the interview team needs to get to know you, break the ice, and begin the interview in some way.  The vast majority of the time principals and interview teams do this by asking this question.  Sorry Jenna, but after this first question, it’s rolling the dice! No one can predict the answers YOU will encounter in YOUR specific interview, for YOUR specific job, in YOUR specific school. 

But, here’s the GOOD NEWS for you and everyone following the EDU Edge, after studying literally thousands of questions, we have been able to identify commonalities and patterns that have allowed us to divide over 300 questions into twelve domains. Each of these domains is addressed by what we have called an “Umbrella Question.”  From our experience coaching aspiring teachers, we know that if you write out, prepare, and practice for these 12 Umbrella Questions, you will be able to use them as a springboard for other answers to similar questions in the domain. We feel very confident that by mastering responses to these twelve umbrella questions, you will have responses ready for any question an interview committee might throw at you.

Please understand, our “Umbrella Questions” are not the “Top Twelve” questions that are asked during teaching interviews. They are the twelve questions that, when practiced, will best prepare you for any question that may be thrown at you during the interview.  Practicing and preparing for these twelve questions will give you the edge in any teacher interview (see Chapter 8 – Interview Questions: The EDU Edge ‘Umbrella Approach’).   

Let’s take a closer look at how this works. Domain Six is, ‘Beliefs on Assessment.’ Jenna, assume you have followed our recommendation to write out a thoughtful and researched response to the umbrella question for this domain. You have also rehearsed the response for this Umbrella Question, which is, “Define the term assessment and tell us what strategies are most effective for assessing student progress?”

You are now in the interview and you are asked one of these questions that fall within the same domain. Your practiced response is easily adaptable or used to answer all of these questions:

  • What evaluation techniques do you use?
  • Describe your grading policy and philosophy.
  • How do you measure student performance in your classroom?
  • Describe the types of quizzes, tests, projects that you give.
  • How should a student’s educational achievement and progress be measured?
  • How do you know whether your curriculum is appropriately matched to your students’ needs?

Preparing and practicing The EDU Edge’s Twelve Umbrella Questions will make you more confident and help you answer any question thrown at you.  Jenna and everyone reading this … jobs in education are hard to come by these days.  If you are lucky enough to get an interview, DO NOT BE FOOLISH and go in unprepared.  Have confident, concise, and professional responses. Our ‘Umbrella Approach’ will help you to do this. 

Good luck to you Jenna!  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  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.)

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