College of Education > News and Publications > 2018: 10-12 news > Helping prospective educators land jobs goal of Alumni-Student Teacher Network

Helping prospective educators land jobs goal of Alumni-Student Teacher Network

Student teachers at Penn State are being taught the finer points of securing a job after graduation by the College of Education's Alumni-Student Teacher Network (ASTN).

Student teachers at Penn State are being taught the finer points of securing a job after graduation by the College of Education's Alumni-Student Teacher Network (ASTN).

ASTN-5
Alumni-Student Teacher Network facilitator John Czerniakowski, left, speaks with students at a recent seminar for student teachers in the Centre Region.
Seminars such as the one ASTN held earlier this month at Mount Nittany Middle School in Boalsburg provide current student teachers with guidance on what to expect in the upcoming interview process and in the classroom from people in the know – College of Education alumni who have not only been there and done that but are still there and doing that.

Nearly 30 future educators heard from ASTN facilitator John Czerniakowski, State College Area School District assistant superintendent Vernon Bock and four other teachers who broke the students into groups and asked questions they might hear in just a few months during a mock interview session. Better yet, they also provided informative answers and sage advice based on years of experience.

"Let's face it, we're entertainers," said Bock, also the supervisor of elementary education who sits in on all teacher interviews the State College Area School District conducts. "Whether we like it or not, we're entertainers for six, seven hours a day and we have to entertain.

"The biggest piece of advice I would give you is to sell yourself," Bock said. This is my 18th year as an administrator and I can't tell you how many interviews I've sat in on. I've seen so many people come into an interview and not sell themselves. I think it's because people worry they are going to come across as arrogant. Look, you're there, bring it, bring your 'A' game, be prepared. We want to hear what you have; bring it to the table."

He got into specifics by telling the students who are teaching in State College and surrounding areas from Altoona to Mifflin County to be able to speak to the major components of literacy. "If you're interviewing in State College, I'll be in the interview and I'm going to ask you the five components of literacy," Bock said. "If you can't do it as an elementary teacher, you're in trouble."

Bock and the others stressed how demands on a teacher today are much different than from previous years. 

"We're talking about planning for five preps — writing, math, reading, science and social studies. When you're talking about differentiating within each one of those preps ... that's some high-level planning," Bock said. "Talk about how you would go about planning your lesson and the detail you would put in. The best thing we can give our kids is a well-planned teacher."

As the clock winds down on their college experience, these teachers-in-training will take all the help they can get.

"I think it was really helpful to also hear what the other student teachers have experienced and what they would answer," said Bridget Miller of Pittsburgh, a student teacher at Wingate Elementary in the Bald Eagle Area School District. "I even wrote down a lesson idea from one of the other teachers. It was also helpful to meet people from the (State College) district and people with other teaching experiences."

The late-afternoon session also drew a favorable reaction from Andrew Conyers, a graduate student in curriculum and instruction who is teaching English seniors, AP American government and AP comparative government at State College Area High School. "It's good to talk to people who actually do hiring and things like that. It's good to meet more people actually involved in hiring; that's why we find it valuable," Conyers said.

"I think it was really helpful to also hear what the other student teachers have experienced and what they would answer. I even wrote down a lesson idea from one of the other teachers. It was also helpful to meet people from the (State College) district and people with other teaching experiences."
-- Bridget Miller

One of the teachers, and Penn State graduates, who volunteered to ask questions, Jonathan Klingeman, said one of the goals of the session was to take new methods of education and the new ideas in education and put them into what the students are going to be working with in the field.

"A lot of these interview questions and experiences have been happening for years and years and years," Klingeman said. "As we're starting to see them shift and having higher expectations for our teachers, we're trying to meet them where they need to be. Some of these questions are very different than those who some of us who have been in education for five, 10, 15 years will have experienced."

One of Klingeman's questions was "what is your vision for your development as a teacher?"

"Just that even understanding and wording is definitely going to be a stretch, and these are the types of things we hope that they'll feel confident in," he said. "That's ultimately what our goal is, to supplement the experiences that can't happen in the school on a day-to-day just because of their busy schedule with their course for student teaching and being a teacher. We want them to peel off and get jobs. That's why we're really excited to have them here today.''

Czerniakowski, the ASTN facilitator, said their network, part of the College of Education's Alumni Society Board, provides an excellent opportunity for alumni to share their experience and expertise with student teachers and for the students to network with education professionals. They schedule something for the students on a monthly basis.

"Our third event this year in the Centre Region will be a seminar where we'll have a person from certification from campus come over and talk about the importance of certification and what steps you need to take," Czerniakowski said. "You also need to be certified to go out there and secure your position.

"And then we're going to have a session on professionalism, just what it means to be a professional in this day and age of education. We also have a school law workshop, and we'll have our pinning ceremony where we recognize our student teachers, our mentors, all those involved with helping to create a great experience for our student teachers," he said. 

And that it does, according to Allison Sands of Scranton, a seventh-grade English student teacher in the Altoona Area School District.

"Yes, it's definitely been helpful. I've done professional development meetings this semester and the semester before this and it's definitely helps me feel more prepared going into the student teaching," Sands said. "I'm very happy for how the semester's going and it's helping me feel more ready for December when I graduate."

Conyers also cited the messages delivered and the frequency of the ASTN seminars.

"This is our second seminar like this and we're going to have another one … definitely beneficial," he said. "Last week was good because they had some recent Penn State grads who came and talked about their experience … people who were doing their first year of teaching right now, so that was really valuable, too. It was, 'hey, this is what I'm going through right now.'"

And if students want to get through the upcoming interview process successfully, they can heed helpful hints from Bock.

"Don't wear flip-flops to an interview," he said. "Dress like a professional. And nobody wants to look at a two- or three-page resume. Keep it clear, keep it succinct. Highlight what you've done and please put your references on your resume."

Jim Carlson (October 2018)