Author: laronstein

What Does Career Coaching Involve

Have you considered being coached to improve your resume and your performance during an interview and wondered what it entailed? As a successful coach of 100’s and 100’s of educators over the last ten years, let me give you an overview of my approach: (1) a preliminary review of your resume and cover letter; (2) an in-take conversation; (3) usually 2 to 4 one-on-one coaching sessions depending on need. The following is a brief summary of what takes place:

1. Preliminary Review of Your Resume (no charge)—evaluate the resume based on:           

   a. Is the resume to the point, simple and logical?

   b. Emphasis on accomplishments; not a Job Description

   c. Emphasizes your strengths

   d. Does your timeline make sense?

   e. Describes your skills and knowledge that match the scope of the job; omits irrelevances

2. 10-minute In-Take Conversation (no charge)

   a. What position(s) are you seeking?

   b. How long have you been applying for jobs? How many jobs have you applied for?

   c. How many first-round interviews have you had? Second-round? Beyond second-round?

   d. What do you think the problem might be in not moving on in the process?

   e. Information regarding fee; scheduling; brief feedback on resume; answer additional questions

3. Coaching Sessions

  • Review and edit resume and cover letter; how to prepare for an interview; and begin analyzing and crafting response to “Tell Us About Yourself”
  • Finalize and practice response to “Tell Us About Yourself”; strategize answers to 10 to 20 of the most frequently asked questions.
  • Analyze what your future supervisor is really looking for.
  • Mutually create your narrative that emphasizes your strengths and neutralizes any potential weakness.
  • Do mock interviews and get constructive feedback.
  • Learn strategies and tactics on “how to close the deal” and negotiate salary.


Over the years I have had the privilege of visiting a few of the most successful high schools in New York State. These visits were part of a study conducted by PLC, Associates. All of these schools are high need; meaning they have poverty rates of at least 90%. Their student populations are in excess of 95% Black and Latino. Yet they break the mold! Their 4-year graduation rates are over 90%. There are very few serious disciplinary incidents. And the vast majority of students indicate that they’re most pleased with their relationships with their teachers and school leaders. Here are just a few anecdotes drawn from what I witnessed in several high schools.

  1. CREATING A CARING SAFE ENVIRONMENT–The first period starts at 8 AM. Upon entering the building at 7 AM, I encountered about 100 students already assembled in the large lobby and the adjacent cafeteria. By 7:30 the group has grown to about 500, 300 of whom occupying every seat in the cafeteria, most of whom are consuming breakfast. The principal, assistant principals and a handful of security guards are casually looking on. Scores of students come by and exchange hello’s and fist bumps with the staff. The staff seem to know everyone’s name. An assistant principal comments, “Our job is to be where the kids are to let them know we’re here for them.” The tone is relaxed and friendly. As teachers arrive, they scoop up small groups of students who accompany their teachers to their rooms for extra help or just to chat. At 7:30 the throng slowly disperses. Looking into the now empty cafeteria, there is almost no evidence that 300 teenagers had been there—no refuse on the floors, nothing left on the tabletops, and all the chairs neatly placed under the tables. A caring school culture cuts both ways—students recognize that the staff cares and in return students demonstrate that they care.
  2. PUTTING STUDENTS AT THE CENTER–An Anti-Gun assembly program was presented to celebrate the anniversary of the Parkland shooting. The entire program, attended by more than 300 students, featured student speakers who had suffered family losses to gun violence and a featured speaker. The 40-minute program was initiated, planned, led, and supervised by students. There were five staff members in attendance who passively observed the proceedings from the rear of the auditorium. The students in attendance were orderly, attentive and respectful. This was a remarkable event. At one point a student, who was obviously overcome emotionally, rushed out of the auditorium. As a staff member approached him, he flashed a small card, and the teacher backed away and following him at a reasonable distance. At the conclusion of the event, a female guidance counselor was standing outside the now locked bathroom, adjacent to the auditorium. After the crowd had dissipated, the now composed young man, accompanied by a custodian exited the bathroom, and went back to class. Why did the custodian get involved?  Because he lives in and is active in the community and the student know him and trust him. What was the significance of the small card he had flashed? The Principal explained that a “purple card” is issued to students who are known to be dealing with severe trauma in their lives. The students flash their card only when they are in emotional distress. The card signals that the student be allowed to leave his or her classroom without any questions be asked, and seek help while a security person monitors them, ascertaining that he or she needs help from a support person. There are about 25 such cards in circulation, and reportedly no one has ever abused the system. This is only one incident that illustrates how exceptional this school-community truly is. The students are responsible, are given space to be independent and express their social conscious and caring of one another. The staff listens to students’ wants and needs, and responds by trusting their students to do the right thing—and they do.
  3. FOSTERING AUTHENTIC RELATIONSHIPS—The High School Principal is not only visible but is a constant presence. He is an affable man with tremendous energy. As a result of his seven years of experience within the district, he has forged significant relationships with his students. As I walked the halls with him and witnessed his interactions with students, it is striking how he knows the names of the vast majority of his students, and that there is an authentic fondness between him and each student. He is a genuine cheerleader and advocate. He believes that a key role of the school is serving as the in loco parentis. He says, “The school has to replace things that are not taking place in their lives. This is their home away from home. So many get here by 7 AM and they’re still here until 6 PM.” A teacher reported to me, “Often times there are more staff members attending evening performances and sports events than parents. Many of their parents must work two jobs just to survive; they just can’t be home or be in attendance. We try to support our kids in every way we can. We have to make up for that.” He proudly goes on to say, “Not only do the adults in the school embrace the kids, but the kids embrace each other. They are accepting of one another. We have very little violence. I believe their parents understand what we have here, and in return the families choose to stay in the district. That’s how you build a school-community culture”.
  4. LISTENING TO PARENTS’ VOICES—During an hour-long conversation I had with about a dozen parents, there was a variety of viewpoints expressed during our frank, unfiltered discussion regarding how race and culture need to be dealt with in schools. Here are some of their comments:
    1. “I think it’s more important for students to have teachers of color at younger ages.”“Our children need to be exposed to diversity across the board.”
    2. “All teachers need empathy. If they don’t have it, then the school leaders have to train it.”
    3. “As a parent, I try to open my children up to other cultures and communities.”
    4. “Knowledge of self, who I am, is the key. We should try to provide equity. This means we should not only teach Eurocentric American History— ‘His Story’—but we must also teach and share our story, too.”
    5. “Schools do not fully recognize the need for all children to learn about the Black experience in this country. It should be integrated into the curriculum. There should be questions about it on the Regents. It starts at the top with the policy makers.”
    6. “Black history should not only be taught in Black schools, but all schools”
    7. “As long as there is respect for our children, and we have access to what is happening in the schools, and there is accountability, then the teachers’ color is of no concern.”
    8. “We need to add a course about the African diaspora from Africa through the Caribbean and into America.”
    9. “Students learn about the ‘dust bowl’ experience of the 1930’s by reading ‘Of Mice and Men’. Why don’t they read literature that tells about the Black experience of that era as well?  We need to get out of the box, and it starts with vision at the top. As for the future of this district, we need the continuity of good leadership.”
  5.   SETTING HIGH EXPECTATIONS–The principal presents a fatherly figure. He can be both stern and caring at the same time. His long and successful experience have earned him a deep respect by his faculty. He exudes a practical wisdom. Students and teachers cite his often-said motto: “School is a dignified place”. When students are asked what that means to them, they say: “It means that school is a workplace—it’s a serious place to learn”. “You don’t have to worry about anything that’s taking place outside of school”. “It’s all about learning”. “You just gave to keep your mind on your goals and what you want to accomplish.” When teachers were asked the same question, they said, “It speaks to our culture. That there is a structure here where students come ready to learn”. “It’s a mindset that the school is a safe haven. What goes on in here is different from what happens to them outside of school.”

6. THE PAST IS NOT AN EXCUSE—Over the last decade, this school has gone through a seismic shift from a suburban to an urban-suburban school. The principal recognized the necessity to shift the culture of the school.  It meant that the teachers would have to make fundamental changes regarding their teaching styles and how they related to this evolving student demographic. “Previously, teachers tended to react punitively to students’ non-compliance, without explanations; to be confrontational”, the principal explained. The principal grasped the need for the faculty to be more tolerant by demonstrating respect for students. “Teachers needed to learn to say, ‘please, and thank you.  They needed to stop directing sarcasm to students. It starts with their language, and it had to change.” In addition, the principal instilled a culture of high expectations for scholarship and behavior, accompanied by the necessary support to fulfill those expectations. In order to support teachers in their mission to have students attain high expectations, the principal created policies to remove all impediments to teaching and learning. Specifically, teachers are not expected to stand corridor duty between periods. Administration and security take care of those duties, including enforcing that students exhibit their identification badges. “There needs to be fewer opportunities for confrontations”, according to the principal. What might be perceived as a contradiction, nevertheless, the principal insists that school rules (no hats; no ear plugs; zero tolerance for violence, drugs, bullying, and insubordination) be rigorously enforced. He feels that this is his way of demonstrating support for teachers, and that is maintaining control of the building, and focusing teachers’ energy on teaching and learning.

These are just a few experiences I witnessed. I believe they get to the core of what needs to be done in all schools. This requires strong visionary leadership, persistence and patience. Are these common experiences in your school? How does your school compare to what I have described? And yes, the mold, the stereotype, it can be broken. Why can I say that, because it has been broken.

Systemic School Reform Is a Marathon

When one comes into a new leadership position, the deficiencies of the organization become pretty apparent after a few months. I have had occasion to participate on visiting committees for purposes of school accreditation, and identifying meritorious schools for grants and awards. Visitations usually last a few days during which time I would meet with a whole range of groups and individuals within the school. After two or three days, I would usually have a fairly clear picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the school.  It doesn’t take long. There’s no place to hide 800 pound gorillas. Coming into a new job as a school leader is very much the same thing. Within a few months, you could usually scope out about 90% of what’s right and wrong within the organization.

However, I have learned over the years that the hidden 10% is really the most difficult to figure out and even more difficult to fix. Painting a room is a fitting metaphor. Ninety percent of the job is the space on the walls. Ten percent is the area around the floor, ceiling, windows, and outlets. Painting that 10% usually takes as much time and requires even more effort than the 90% of wall space. We judge the quality of the paint job by looking at the hard to paint parts. The same goes for schools.

I had a friend who was an engineer. He told me that there was an engineering principle that said that it took the same amount of energy input to do the first 90% of a job than it took to do the next 10% of the job.  In other words, to get from 51 to 52 takes a 1% effort of input, but to get from 90 to 91 or 97 to 98, it took ten times the input to gain the additional one percent. 

What does all of this have to do with implementing systemic school reform as a school leader? If my theory works, to improve upon 90% of the deficiencies that you find takes a couple of years on the job. It is called “picking the low hanging fruit.” Working on the next 10% requires at least the next four years. Creating and institutionalizing systemic changes involve elevating the organization to new standards. System theory calls this process “growing the conditions of the organization”.  Systems thinkers tell us that for every “growing action” there is an opposite “slowing action”—those actions that resist changes. Most people who work within the organization are usually quite content with the predictability and equilibrium of the existing conditions of the organization. This doesn’t make them bad people or necessarily bad professionals. In fact, they are usually good people. Most of us like the security of working within an organizational structure that is comfortable and predictable. However, comfort and predictability do not lead to excellence. So, when leaders develop strategies which are intended to lead to growing actions, many people in the organization respond with strategies and tactics that frustrate those actions. The greater the intended reforms, one should expect the greater the resistance. In my experience, the greatest challenge for school leaders is how to overcome resistance and oppositional behavior which exist throughout the organization and in the school-community.

Let me give you just a few typical examples.  What happened when a leader attempted to change the textbook in a school, at a grade level, or teachers’ favorite text?  What happened when you tried to transition from methodologies where the teacher was the center of instruction to one where the student became the center? What happened when we put computers into classrooms? What is happening when we want to emphasize student thinking into the instructional program? In every case, there are slowing actions– some call it “push back”.

So how do we cope with slowing actions? Short answer, we attempt to neutralize each tactic with a counter tactic. When a new technology platform is put in place, you send around a trainer who spends time with every individual in the organization who uses the system demonstrating to use the new system. Not only do you provide training, but you give the people who are using the new system several months notice as to when the new system will take effect. You leave both systems up and available, and then you wean folks off of the old one and eventually remove it at the pre-designated date. Change requires providing additional energy inputs into the system. In effect, you might still be using the old system which operates at the existing cost, while you are simultaneously designing and implementing a new system at significantly extra costs.

What are the mega changes taking place now? I would place the effective use of remote learning, and dealing with issues of equity and racism at the top of the list. These are sweeping structural changes and cannot be confused with school improvements because of the scope and complexities of such structural change. Sweeping structural changes demand seismic efforts and require more than a four-year cycle.

Sustained, systemic structural change often requires about six to eight years. To finish a marathon demands effective, sustained and committed leadership. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.


At this time, many leave replacement positions are available. Should you consider taking a leave replacement position? Like most other complex questions, the answer is, “It depends”. It depends on your set of circumstances. It depends on the conditions related to the leave.

What are your circumstances?

  • Are you trying to start a new career as a teacher? If you have been unsuccessfully seeking a position in teaching, then a leave replacement makes sense. A leave replacement is a far better alternative than substitute teaching or being a teaching assistant. You will be fulfilling all the responsibilities and getting all the experience of a teacher, and the pay is usually better.
  • Are you currently dissatisfied with your teaching job and have not been successful in your new job search? Or are you currently teaching and unsuccessfully seeking a leadership job? Resigning a secure position in order to take a leave replacement job is a high risk move. Getting your first leadership job can be a career breakthrough. Leaving a job in which you are unhappy, can appear attractive.
  • Are you currently unemployed, working outside of education, in the process of being laid off, were denied tenure, or ready to quit your present job? If you find yourself in any of these circumstances, then you have a lot more to gain.

What are the conditions of the leave replacement position?

  • Are you an internal candidate for the position and will you be able to return to your present position if and when the incumbent returns or things don’t work out for you? As an internal person who can return to your job, there is little downside and lots of pluses. You will gain experience and acquire new skills, and positively position yourself should the incumbent not return, or a different position opens up.
  • Are you an external candidate and is the incumbent who is taking the leave expected to return and, if so, when will he or she return? Most leave replacements are due to maternity or sick leaves. Most of these folks do return to their jobs. You need to find out the reason for and the expected duration of the leave if that information is even available before accepting the job. If the job does become open, you will have had an opportunity to prove yourself and forge relationships. You will be in a very strong position to get the job.
  • Is the incumbent ambivalent about returning? In most cases incumbents do not announce their intention to return until the contractual deadline. This uncertainty leaves the replacement in a difficult and nerve-wracking situation. You will need to figure out if and when to initiate a new job search and if and when to inform your supervisor that you are seeking another job.

What are the consequences, positive and negative, of taking a leave replacement position? The most dire consequence is winding up on the unemployment line. Needless to say, it is extremely difficult to revitalize a career with a gap in your employment record. Any gap or step backward on your resume will be viewed as red flag and invite interviewers to closely question you about the circumstances of your employment timeline. On the positive side, if things work out, you can propel your career ahead. Taking a leave replacement position needs to be carefully considered before deciding. You should probably get sage advice from an experienced and knowledgeable mentor or coach.

Laid Off, Resigned or Denied Tenure

It can be devastating to your career to be laid off, asked to resign your position, be denied tenure, or resign because you are very unhappy in your job. These events can be career ending. Leaving a job before getting tenure is a bright red flag on your resume. During every interview, you will have to answer the question, “I see you only worked in Happy Hollow for two years. Were you asked to leave? What is the story regarding your leaving?”

Assuming that you have not been involved in any serious wrong doing, you should be assured that the situation need not be hopeless. Once you clear your mind and harness your anxiety, then focus and plan your course of action. There are effective strategies available to you. However, let’s be clear that no matter how desperate you may feel, NEVER LIE. The field of education is small, especially throughout your region, and information about you may be on the internet. Sooner or later, a lie will be uncovered and you will be terminated for lying. That said, here are some suggestions:

  1. Get out in front—you may have some control over the timeline. If you are told that you’ll not be getting tenure, then you’re better off resigning. Do whatever you can to get assurances that a positive letter of recommendation will be forthcoming and good things will be said about you if someone calls for a reference check. In return, promise that you’ll submit a letter of resignation, and then do what you can to submit that letter as late as you can. Start applying as soon as you can. If you get interviews you can honestly say at that point in time, you have not resigned.  
  2.  What happens if you resign and you don’t have a job? You need to answer the question why you resigned without hesitation– you can’t appear as if you’re covering something up. You must tell the truth. Most leaders have been through their own career crises and can be very understanding. Just take a breath and briefly tell your story. Your narrative must be credible and evoke empathy. A good coach can help you craft your narrative. Never say anything critical of your present or past employers or supervisors. Always make a brief positive final statement beginning with: “I’d like to leave you with a final thought”. This will leave them with a powerful last impression. I suggest you say something like: “I just want to assure you that I have never done anything that I’m ashamed of. I am an honorable, hard working and sincere person who would never do anything that would discredit or embarrass me or my employer.”
  3. What if you are laid off because of budget cuts? You will be in a strong position to get excellent letters of recommendation and references. Your supervisors will undoubtedly be sincerely sorry to cut you lose. Don’t despair. You are now an experienced candidate looking to make a parallel move. Your potential new employer will have empathy for your plight. If you have a copy of a newspaper article that verifies that your position was lost based on budget cuts, then present it at your interview as documentation. It will immediately quell any doubts.
  4. What if you can’t find a comparable job? You still have options. If you are a supervisor, you can go back to the classroom. You can explore employment at a private school or a charter school. You can seek employment opportunities in a nearby big city. You can re-locate. In exploring these opportunities, you might find that you might move up the career ladder, from assistant principal to principal for example.
  5. What if you are accused of a serious infraction? If you have committed a serious infraction, then you should probably find a new line of work. If the charges are false, then find a good lawyer. Hopefully your union will provide you with one. Do everything you can to keep the situation confidential. Stay off social media. Do not respond publicly or in the media. In the interim, you should probably try to apply elsewhere.

As a final thought, you should remind yourself that your career is a marathon and not a sprint. Going through a career crisis or transition can be growthful. You learn how to be more resilient, and you’ll find out who your real friends are and how supportive they can be.

Larry Aronstein is a career coach who works one-on-one with clients preparing them for interviews and perfecting their resumes. Find out about Dr. Aronstein at


Congratulations, you got your new leadership job. Now what? What should you do to maximize your success in your new position? You have been a successful teacher or entry-level leader who enjoyed a reputation of being friendly, supportive and collegial. Now, in a new leadership role, you are expected to deal effectively with new and/or old colleagues who may be resistant to your leadership, and parents who are dissatisfied with how their child has been treated in the past, and more senior administrators who assign you new and demanding responsibilities (student discipline, supervising resistant faculty members, revising a curriculum, lunchroom and bus supervision, parent complaints, etc.).

You may be a new principal who has successfully served as an assistant principal. As an assistant principal, you essentially had only one constituent to satisfy, and that was your principal. Now, you are faced with satisfying multiple constituencies, which include the faculty, the student body, parent groups (PTA, athletic booster, music boosters, and special education parents), Central Office administrators, and various unions.

Let’s start with the assumption that the failure of administrators is often rooted in the inability to (1) establish trusting relationships, (2) solve problems by developing and implementing workable solutions, (3) get the staff’s “buy in” to your decision-making process and leadership style, and (4) earn respect. Here are my suggestions as to how you can be a successful new leader:

  1. Conduct one-on-one get acquainted meetings with all faculty members and leaders of each constituent group. Ask, “What in your opinion are the greatest strengths and greatest needs of the school?”
  2. Make yourself visible and accessible to all members of the school-community. This means get out of your office and into the classrooms and corridors, and interact with attendees at school events.
  3. Demonstrate that you respect the school culture and the past practices of those who have preceded you.
  4. Seek out honest feedback and advice from staff. Listen, assess and act based on relevant feedback.
  5. Communicate realistic and fair expectations with clarity; provide opportunities for discussion.
  6. Recruit effective staff members whenever possible who will strengthen your team. This includes secretaries, custodians, and aides.
  7. Keep your personal, political and religious views to yourself.
  8. Limit socializing with the staff after school. Alcohol tends to loosen inhibitions and can lead to inappropriate behavior and speech. Alcohol and leaderships do not mix.
  9. Avoid offering your opinions or take sides in matters of district and/or school politics.
  10.  Do due diligence regarding important problems that you encounter by walking around them 360 degrees and examining the issues and their implications from every perspective before deciding.
  11.  Don’t be reluctant to ask for help or seek advice. Help can come from supervisors, experienced peers and outside coaches.
  12. Keep a reflective journal in order to process and reflect upon your thoughts and actions


“I’ve applied for over thirty leadership jobs over the last two years. I got five screening interviews; two of them were ‘courtesies’ due to contacts inside those districts. I moved on once to a second interview and was then cut. I need your help.” This is a typical email that I often receive. My advice to those of you who are frustrated in your job seeking, and to those who are considering or in the process of getting certified is to practice the 3P’s of job seeking—preparation, persistence, and patience.


Financial advisors will tell you that preparing for a secure retirement should begin early in your career, and if not early, then now. Athletic coaches know that good preparation is the key to winning. Similarly, early and sound preparation is essential to your school leadership career, and that includes your education and where you attend graduate school. If you are considering enrolling in a school leadership graduate and/or certification program, you should think about attending the most prestigious university in your area. I understand that tuition costs and commuting long distances are serious concerns. However, a degree or a doctorate from a place like Columbia Teachers College, or even NYU or Fordham, will go a long way in making you a highly attractive candidate in the most desirable and best paying school districts.

Another major component is your accomplishments. Serving on a committee, chaperoning school dances, and participating in the PTA sponsored fashion show, although good things to do, should not be confused with significant professional accomplishments. Accomplishments may include: initiating a new course or program that addresses student needs; chairing an important committee, writing a report, and doing a Board and/or community presentation; winning a prestigious award or gaining community, professional, and/or student recognition; writing and being awarded a significant grant.

Of course, preparation must also include preparing an effective resume, and preparing for job interviews. A great resume requires meticulous crafting and editing. It must be tweaked to make it better and better. Giving a great interview means constructing and delivering a compelling narrative that goes beyond what’s on your resume and letting the interviewers know who you are. Seriously consider getting quality coaching and feedback from a knowledgeable and experienced coach in order to prepare a great resume and giving a winning interview. Just blundering through the search process is a formula for failure. Instead, you must design strategies that are tried and tested and will successfully work.


Persistence means you stick with it; you must be determined and diligent. Over the course of my career in public education I could have wall papered every inch of wall space of my living room with letters of rejection from school districts in four different states. I was runner up in scores of jobs. It took me 24 years from the time I got my doctorate until I got my dream job. I jokingly say that I was an “overnight success”. It is terribly disappointing and demoralizing to repeatedly experience rejection. Nevertheless, if you are determined to achieve your career goal, you must be persistent in your belief and your actions. If you are not getting interviews, enhance your qualifications. Chalk up impressive experiences and accomplishments. Become a summer school or evening school principal. Volunteer for important and difficult assignments. Re-write your resume. Have a career coach review your resume and suggest changes. Once you get more interviews, reflect upon and diagnose why you came up short. Adjust your responses to often asked questions. Again, work with a career coach to hone your interviewing skills and strategize your answers.


Job seeking is not a 100-yard dash. It is usually a marathon. It requires patience and endurance. You must believe in yourself. Your mantra should be, “Sooner or later, my time will come.” When it does come, I predict it will come effortlessly.

Dr. Aronstein is a career coach who works one-on-one with leaders and aspiring leaders in their preparation of resumes and preparing for interviews. You can purchase his ebook:

Learn more about Dr. Aronstein by visiting his website:


Here is a list of words and phrases you should never use on your resume or during an interview; why you shouldn’t use them; and what to say instead:

1. “UNEMPLOYED”—It makes you sound like a loser and nobody wants to hire a loser. Let potential employers figure out that you are “between jobs” and be prepared to explain what happened.

2. “HARDWORKING”—The word is over-used and therefore trite. Instead, provide accomplishments that document your work ethic and diligence and let the interviewer conclude that you’re hardworking.

3. “AMBITIOUS”—Making personality claims comes off as bragging. You want to project a modest image which is backed up by progressive accomplishments and activities.

4. “OBJECTIVE”—Stating your career objective at the top of your resume is superfluous. It is clear what position you are applying for. Stating an objective in flowery language only slows the reviewer down. He/she is probably speed reading through 100’s of resumes. Just leave it out.

5. “DEDICATED”—This is another over-used, stale personal claim. Describe your passions and your actions over a period of time to fulfill them.

6. “UNION”—Remember that unions often sit on the other side of the table pushing back on leaders’ decisions and actions. Leaders make personnel decisions and may not welcome people who are “union-friendly” on their team. Leave out any mention of unions.

7. “LIFE-LONG LEARNER”—Another trite expression. Your participation in professional development opportunities demonstrates your willingness to learn and grow. During the interview, ask about professional development opportunities and who would be mentoring you. That question implies that you want to grow and learn.

8. “ROCK STAR”—No one likes a braggart. You’re not Elvis, Justin Bieber, or Lady Gaga.

9. “DABBLED”—If it’s important enough to mention, then you know or done something significant . Who wants to hire a dabbler? Use strong verbs like led, created, directed.

10. “EXPERT”—Be careful what you claim. A skillful interviewer may probe or challenge your expertise. “What does the research say on the topic of…? What research and literature have you studied?” If you claim to speak a foreign language, don’t be surprised if an interviewer asks you a complex question in that language and asks that you respond in that language.

11. “A BIG FAN OF…”—Speak like a professional. I’m a big baseball fan, however I wouldn’t tell a group of professions that I was a big fan of differentiating instruction. I would describe how I go about differentiating.

12. “Like”—Using the words “like” or “you know” at the beginning, the middle, and the end of every sentence as a “filler” makes you sound juvenile and will hamper your professional image. Work to change that speech pattern.

These are just a few examples of words and phases to avoid. There are many others. I would also caution you about referencing anything related to politics and religion, or what might be perceived as controversial topics. Needless to say, never use any words even bordering on profanity. Everything you write and say as a candidate creates your narrative and your image. Choose your words carefully.


You are a finalist; down to two or three candidates. How can you distinguish yourself to become the most attractive contender? You’ve been asked to provide a short list of references. This is what you can do beyond prepping for the last interview.

  • Find out as much as you can about your competitors. Which of their experiences are and/or are not a good fit for the position? Are there gaps or weaknesses in their skill sets? Are the nature and the culture of their workplaces a good match for this school-community?
  • Contact your references and prepare them for the reference call. Ask that they emphasize the experiences, skills and knowledge that you possess that are superior and/or competitive to those of your competitors.
  • Send a follow up email or text message to your references providing each of them with a summary list of characteristics and descriptions of experiences that you’d like for them to speak to.
  • Try to have each reference speak to different aspects of your strengths or express them in different words and phrases so that they describe a coherent and integrated picture of you.
  • Never ask your references to lie or falsify any information about yourself.
  • Ask them to contact you asap after their calls and review the conversation.
  • During your final interview, emphasize the same assets that your references have or will have said about you.

Getting a Teaching Job: When All Else Fails

         “I’ve done everything I can think of; now it’s the summer, and I still don’t have a job. What should I do now?” Well, this calls for extraordinary measures. Basketball coaches motivate their players as the game draws to an end and the score is still close by telling them, “Leave everything you’ve got on the court.” This means exhaust all possibilities. Most school leaders are on vacation during July and the first two weeks of August. Upon return they almost always find that a few staff members have notified the district that they’re not returning. Some staff members decide to retire, others find new jobs or might be re-locating, some decide they want to stay home to raise their family, and still others reach the conclusion that education is not their forte and resign.

         Use your time in June and July to get prepared. Polish up your resume; read a how to get a teaching job guide… Get coaching from an experienced educational career coach.

        Administrators are faced with the challenge of filling these jobs within the next two to three weeks before schools open for the new school year. There is a real urgency to find new staff. Therefore, this is a great opportunity to get hired. So, here is my advice. Sit down with a local map and decide how far you are willing to commute. Draw a circle from your location using that maximum commuting distance as the radius. Identify every school district within the circle, find the websites of the districts, research the names of the assistant superintendents for human resources, and try to find the names and phone numbers of their secretaries; you might even call the district to find these names and phone numbers. Put your fear of rejection on hold. Call every one of those secretaries. Introduce yourself: “Good morning, Mrs. Fisher, my name is Carol Hines and I’m a certified elementary school teacher who’s recently graduated from Curtis State College. I understand that you may have several vacancies, including a K-5 position. I would appreciate it if I could make an appointment with Dr. Charlton, so that I could introduce myself, give him my resume, and tell him why I’m the right person to fill that position. I promise not to take more than five minutes of his valuable time.” Now, we really don’t know if there’s a pending K-5 position available. The only thing that’s important is that you get in and meet Dr. Charlton. And yes, this actually works. But, don’t be surprised if the secretary brushes you off, “I’m sorry Ms. Hines, we only accept on-line applications, and I do not believe there’s a vacancy.” Still, you are far from finished.

        If you get an appointment, that’s fantastic. You must then get in there and convince Dr. Charlton that you should get further consideration. He might just pick up his phone and call the principal and tell her that he’s sending you over to meet her. Remember, they are in a hurry to fill that job. But, if your phone calls to the secretaries all result in rejections, you must now take the next step. Put on your most professional looking outfit, plot your route, and visit as many district offices in your circle as possible within the next few days. You may encounter a security guard or will certainly have to go through a receptionist. Now, this is what you say, “Hi, I’m Carol Hines and I’m here to see Mrs. Fisher (remember, she is Dr. Charlton’s secretary).” The receptionist will either direct you to the Human Resources Office, or she’ll pick up her phone and tell Mrs. Fisher that you’re here to see her, or she will tell you that Mrs. Fisher is not available. Even if you can’t get in to see the secretary, ask the receptionist to take your resume and give it to Dr. Charlton. There is a chance that Mrs. Fisher may tell you to come up. If you get to see Mrs. Fisher, be as personable and self-confident as you know how to be and ask her if you can meet Dr. Charlton and personally hand him your resume.

        I have actually hired people who walked in off the street in July and August. I assume that these candidates are committed and are the kind of people who aren’t afraid to do whatever it takes to succeed. I like “go getters” and want them to work in my organization. However, there might not be a position available. Nevertheless, you might ask Dr. Charlton about other available opportunities. The following are possibilities: a long-term substitute position; a teaching assistant position; a regular substitute who is permanently assigned to a school. These may not be your dream jobs, but it is a foot in the door and an opportunity to impress school leaders. Just go for it. Nothing to lose; everything to gain.

Dr. Aronstein prepares teachers for interviews and their preparation of resumes.