As the end of the school year quickly approaches, the job search is in full swing as districts everywhere are beginning to interview candidates for the 2015-16 school year. It’s no secret that jobs in education are tough to come by these days. School districts typically receive well over two hundred resumes for any given position and it’s getting tougher and tougher just to get a foot inside the door. If you’ve gotten a call and have successfully made it through both a screening and a committee interview (see post on 3/6/15), you are now one of a few remaining finalists and are likely preparing to teach a demonstration (“demo”) lesson. If this is you, congratulations! You’re doing well. But don’t start celebrating just yet. There’s still a lot of work to do.
In many ways, the demo lesson is the most important aspect of the interviewing process. This makes good sense since it is the one and only opportunity to show that you can actually teach. I’ve observed hundreds of demo lessons over the years and have seen candidates who have completely blown it and others who truly transformed when placed in front of students. Simply stated, it’s the phase where jobs are won and lost.
So as you prepare for your next demo lesson, consider the following tips and you will hopefully be well on your way to a position that is right for you…
Do Upfront Work: When you receive the call for your demo, it’s always a good idea to ask for the email address of the teacher whose class you will be teaching. While you definitely should not inundate the teacher with questions, it would be helpful to your planning if you knew the make-up of the class, the number (if any) of special education students, what the students studied before (readiness), and any other factors that the teacher might want to share. Again, there’s a fine line here so don’t “over ask” to the point where it puts up a red flag. However, a little initiative says a lot and goes a long way.
Provide a Detailed Lesson Plan: I’m always shocked when candidates do not provide the observers with a lesson plan before the start of a demo lesson. But it happens. Having a lesson plan not only helps the observers to keep up with what is going on, but also provides you with an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the key elements of a lesson. It also provides insight into some of the elements that you might consider if you were teaching one of your own classes. Key elements to include are as follows: An essential question (objective), specific CCSS to be addressed (two primary and two secondary), a clear procedure (pacing), an informal assessment, opportunities for differentiation, and a conclusion that brings it all together.
Vary the Activities: The trick in any demo lesson is to keep the students engaged and the lesson moving while showcasing both your instructional repertoire and how you interact with students. Too often, candidates will overdo it with one activity and end up with a lesson that drags. For a typical demo, I would recommend an opening context setting activity, a mini-lesson (direct instruction), small group work or pair-shares (application), and a concluding whole class discussion or activity (informal assessment).
Stick To What You Do Best: While it’s important to vary the activities, this is not the time to experiment with new technology or other instructional approaches that you’ve never used before. The demo lesson is stressful enough. Throwing addition variables into the lesson will only increase your risk of coming off as disorganized or lacking in confidence. Of course, some schools (like ours) have SMARTBoards in every classroom and all teachers use them each day. In cases such as this one, it’s important to quickly learn how to use the tool (if you don’t know how) since observers will likely view this as a general skill that is required for the position.
Choose Content Wisely: The “what” to teach aspect of the demo lesson varies from school to school. Some schools (like ours) will provide a general topic (ex. graphing linear equations) while others will leave it for you to decide. What is most important about the “what” is that you choose material that is appropriate to the audience from a skills and readiness perspective. This is where the upfront work comes in (see above). I’ve seen great plans fall flat because the material went right over the students’ heads and others that have gone beautifully because the material was appropriate based on the learning needs of the students. If you’re not sure, the best bet is to aim for the middle and provide opportunities for either enrichment or additional support. This approach will allow you to demonstrate an awareness of your audience and an ability to respond (and differentiate) to the needs of your students throughout the course of a lesson.
Know Your Content: While this seems like a given, I still have to say it. Know your content. The greatest instructional strategies in the world will not save you if you make content related errors. The implications of teaching incorrect information to students are too many to list and it’s inexcusable. That’s really all that I have to say about that.
Smile and Have Fun: “Bueller, Bueller…” Remember him? Don’t be him.
Parting Words from 3/6/14 (worth repeating)…
It goes without saying that finding a full-time job in education is a challenge. You need to know your stuff, have great timing, and be a little bit lucky. As you go through the process, you will likely send out a countless number of resumes, will go on many interviews (hopefully!), and will find that looking for a job can quickly become a full-time job. Hopefully you will get the first job that you interview for and will be on your way to a long productive career. More likely, you will face some rejection despite your qualifications. That’s okay! Just stay positive, don’t give up, and proceed with the knowledge that your hard work will pay off and that you will ultimately land the job that is right for you. Good luck!