The New York City Department of Education clearly states what they are looking for in a teacher:
“We are committed to hiring only the most highly qualified and dedicated teachers to work with our students. We look for candidates who are strong communicators, use data to make informed decisions, have deep subject matter expertise, and are deeply committed to student achievement.”
To determine if you are the type of teacher they want, they request you to write two essays: one seeks information on you as a teacher and one seeks information on you as a person. Below are examples of the questions used and comments on what to consider as you compose your answer.
Essay Question 1
It is the third month of the new school year and you have just finished a week-long unit of study that covered key grade-level standards for your students. Prior to teaching the unit, you invested significant time and effort into preparing lessons, activities, and supporting materials. However, over 50% of your students failed the end-of-unit test you administered at the end of the week. To keep up with the pacing calendar, you are expected to move on to a new topic the following week. Please describe what next steps you will take to address this situation.
This is a question that requires you to apply many of the educational theories and best teaching practices you have learned at Hunter. As you read the question, the first thing you should have noticed is the fact that half of your class failed the end-of-unit test, and therefore lack the prior knowledge needed to move on to the next unit of study. This is a learning bottleneck that teachers often face.
The first point to consider is whether or not there is alignment between the assessment given and the material taught. It would be essential for you to look at the items that were not passed and ask yourself a number of questions such as:
• How much time did I spend on this item?
• In what way did I present the information on this item?
• Did I pre-assess students to know where they were “at” before teaching the concept?
• Did I consider all learning styles when presenting the information?
• Did I make accommodations for all learning styles?
Did I use multiple presentation styles to assure there was a connection between all parts to the whole?
Your response needs to portray your knowledge and expertise in various areas, such as:
• differentiated instruction with awareness of and accommodations for the varying needs in your class (i.e., ELL or Special Education students);
• a learning environment that organizes the room and structures lessons to maximize learning and minimize confusion and disruption;
• clear learning objectives;
• use of graphic organizers;
• use of learning centers.
Your students’ lack of prior knowledge can be addressed by reinforcing needed information from the prior unit and linking that information with the new content you will be presenting. For example, a semantic representation could be created using a mapping tool application (i.e. Inspiration) that could visually link the content relationships of the two units. As you introduce new content in the lessons, reinforcements of what you taught in the prior unit would be embedded. These reinforcements could include:
• having students refer to notes they took in the last unit to answer a question in a homework assignment;
• providing students with interactive website(s) that reinforce understanding of the learning standard(s) associated with the content of the unit;
• organizing activities that require the use of knowledge from the prior unit to meaningfully apply the new information. Since it is a 50:50 ratio, each group would be comprised of half who passed and half who did not pass.
Essay Question 2
The New York City Department of Education is a diverse and dynamic system of 1,450 schools. The principals who lead these schools are searching for great teachers to meet the needs of their students. What are the THREE most important qualities you would want a principal to recognize in you as a potential staff member? Please focus on personal and professional qualities, talents, or experiences unique to you and provide examples and other evidence to support these. As you search for a place to teach, what are the top THREE characteristics you are looking for in a school?
This question is related to what you wrote for the “Objective” and “Skills and Interests” sections of your resume. The fact that you have completed a Hunter School of Education Program clearly defines you as an exceptional teacher. You need to extend this to show how you will link what you learned at Hunter with you as a person. Are you a team player? Are you flexible, able to work with others, innovative, creative on your feet, a self directed learner? Today’s teachers must be self aware of their own strengths and challenges and committed to continual learning. Be sure to emphasize those skills.
• if you have an interest in language, travel and visiting other cultures, discuss how you will bring this love of other cultures into lessons and activities;
• if you have an interest in technology, discuss how you will meaningfully engage children with interactive lessons and activities that are linked to specific content learning standards;
• if you have a background as a professional in another field discuss how you will bring real world applications to classroom curriculum;
• if you have expertise in a particular subject (i.e. your major) discuss how you will use this as a teacher;
• if your personal background or experiences have given you particular insight into working with students, describe this;
• if you gained expertise and experience through your student teaching, describe what you gained;
• try to be specific, rather than giving broad generalities (i.e. I love children) that could apply to anyone.
Madurai-based Aravind Eye Care hospitals are known all over the world for their philanthropic work in the fiercely commercial world of healthcare. They hold the world record of conducting over 4 million eye surgeries, a majority of them done at cheap cost, or free of charge. Chairman P. Nalperumalsamy, a Padmashri, has been the leading light of this institution for long, so much so in 2010, Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In a relaxed interview with Arindam Mukherjee, the 73-year-old group patriarch stresses that the government needs to tighten control over private sector educational institutions while simultaneously strengthening public sector colleges. Excerpts:
What is wrong with the education system we follow today in the country?
The general education system is focused only on examinations rather than training students for the future and really testing their knowledge. Because of this, students are forced to take tests that show only their retention powers, not their actual capacity or knowledge. So engineers today cannot do actual work in technology and doctors do not go to people who need their services.
Is the problem with the system or the approach towards education as a whole?
Today, students are completely professionally-oriented and they take examinations for the same rather than to gain knowledge, or do research in the subject. In our colleges, we have infrastructure and good faculty, but there is no motivation to do research. Even in the field of medicine, no one is motivated to do research because everything is so examination and job-oriented.
But that is also a requirement of today’s times.
Yes, but not at the cost of real learning. India’s education system looks at commercial gains only and students are trained to look at their monetary future. The curriculum is also built around clearing an exam and getting into particular professions. Learning is not a priority.
So who is at fault for this mess?
Those regulating and those making policies are equally responsible. If the system has deteriorated to this level where learning has been substituted by a race to clear an examination, regulators and policymakers are to blame for not acting on time to correct this anomaly. It’s also not enough to have rules and regulations, it is important how they are implemented. Government bodies are not controlling institutions. That should become a priority. Also, for good institutions that are promoting real learning, there should be no interference.
Is the present practice of allowing the private sector indiscriminately into education the right approach?
Most educational engineering and medical colleges owned by the government are not equipped in terms of infrastructure and faculty and their quality has been suffering. The better government institutions cannot accommodate the vast number of students who are seeking to get into them. So the need for the private sector comes in. They are filling the gap.
But private sector institutions also charge very high fees.
Yes, many of the private institutions take advantage of the situation and charge high fees. There are very good students in rural areas but they can’t afford good education today.
In some states, the government does regulate fees, including your state (Tamil Nadu).
Yes, but instead of concentrating on just the private sector institutions, the government should strengthen and improve the quality of the government educational institutions. Once that is done, quality education will become affordable and everyone would be willing to join them. Now the standard of these institutions, barring a few leading ones, has gone down so much that no one wants to go there. Everyone is going to private sector colleges, even at a much higher cost.
What’s the solution? How can we put the system in order?
One way to do this is through public-private partnership. It has succeeded in many sectors, so why not in education? The private sector can develop the institutions and provide infrastructure and the government can build the curriculum and run them. In fact, policymakers, professionals and the public should come together with an aim to build good educational institutions. It is good to have as many universities as possible, because many students do not get an opportunity to get into good colleges. But the government should have a strict control on every aspect, like infrastructure, faculty, facilities and curriculum, right from the time they are set up. There should be a periodic accreditation system where once every two years institutions seek accreditation and the regulatory bodies check if all norms are being followed, for it’s often seen that once a sanction comes through, institutions openly flout norms.
Corruption is rampant at institutions as well as regulatory bodies.
Yes, and seats are today sold for a lot of money. This is because private institutions spend a lot of money to set up infrastructure and they try to get that back in any way—scrupulous and unscrupulous. This is something that needs to be totally weeded out.
There is a big debate on the combined engineering examinations. Is that a healthy idea?
It is a good proposal and should be extended to the medical colleges too. Without the entrance exams, many rural students cannot get in because those from the big cities have the advantage of coaching and scoring high marks. With a common exam, everyone will be on an equal footing.
Your institution, Aravind Eye Care Group, has set examples of fair play and stands out in this system with values and principles. How do you continue to do that?
We have set our own standards and we select purely on merit. Our tuition fees are not enhanced to suit our needs and we provide value-based education. We ensure that adequate facilities like infrastructure and faculty are available before we start a course. We cannot forget that students sacrifice a lot to come to learn. And we do periodic evaluation.
Is there anything you want to tell today’s students?
They must remember that college education is the basic foundation. It’s the only place they will get to learn. Once they are outside, they will have to practise what they learnt here...they will not get a chance to learn outside. So they should seize the opportunity, make the most of it.