Teachers’ Corner

Teachers: this is the place where you can exchange info on job interviewing, life as a teacher, any advice for the majors, quiestions, comments, etc.


17 Responses

  1. Edited message from Alison (Cooper) Miller
    I don’t know if this is blog-worthy, but I did get a chance this summer to attend NASA’s Microgravity University in Houston, TX at the Johnson Space Center. The program, which was previously available to undergraduate or graduate students, was opened up to educators this summer. I was on a team of educators from New Jersey studying the effects of varying gravitationsl conditions on pendulums and springs. This is the same program that the TCNJ physics DPX teams have participated in over the past few years.

    I did however just get an email yesterday about the application process for next summer’s program and I’m providing the link below…


    Feel free to pass that along to any current physics teachers – I’m sure they will find the program to be just as enlightening and fun as I did!


    Alison Miller (Class of ’02)

  2. Hi all! Although this experience happened for me at the beginning of the summer, I’m just finally getting to share it now. It was one of the highlights of my break!

    My mother teaches seventh grade Biology, Astronomy, and Chemistry in an inner city district. About a week after I moved out last year, my mother’s back gave out and she herniated a disk. After recovering, I received permission to come in and assist her in the classroom on a regular basis.

    From the month that I spent there, I learned an invaluable amount of information about classroom management and special needs students. When my mom returned, the students were finishing up their Astronomy unit with studying the moon phases and Earth/sun/moon relationships. Being that she teaches both general ed and special ed students, my mother incorporates many hands on activities into her lessons to try and meet the needs of all of her students. To wrap up the unit, we played a Powerpoint game with them that we created to review for their quiz and did an activity using Oreos to illustrate the progression of the moon phases. Both activities were done in groups.

    It was clear that when we played the game with them that my mother’s students take pride in competition and proving their intelligence. Unfortunately, that prompted many of them to cheat. Working in group in this case did not help them either, since usually one person in each group knew all the answers and the others in the group had no input.

    The Oreos activity, however, was one of the greatest things I’ve ever observed my mom do with the kids. Each group received cookies and a spoon which they used to carve out the cream to recreate each of the eight moon phases. This was especially beneficial for the special ed students who seem to often have trouble visualizing and organizing information. By seeing all of the phases lined up, they were able to see the logic behind the changes of the moon’s appearance. One student in particular who left to go to the bathroom and came back was shocked to see his group’s finished product upon his return and exclaimed, “OH, I see the progression now!” It was truly a lightbulb moment 🙂

    For any freshmen who are reading this, take any opportunity you can get to observe or assist any family members or friends in the classroom. It is a fantastic experience and you pick up so much from different people. It is also good to get comfortable with discipline. Believe it or not, kids seem to respond to change. Although the kids all knew that I was their teachers’ daughter and I was still in college, a lot of them seemed to fear me more than my mother because they didn’t know how I would react to their behavior (I’m also louder than my mom when it comes to getting their attention, hahaha). It’s one thing to write lessons out on a computer, but it’s a completely different one to see them in action with real kids who all have different learning styles and attention spans. Now when I go back and start subbing in the winter for them, I’ll know how to handle them and they’ll remember me.

    Not only is it helpful for you, but it can be inspirational for the students as well. This district has a low graduation rate and also a small percentage of students who go on to college. The kids asked me questions about what college was like and what physics was like. Encouragement from someone closer to their age often does more for these kids than advice from teachers since they feel like you can relate to them more.

    Hope this was helpful for anyone!

  3. thanks for all the advice 🙂 hopefully I’ll be joining you as a professional educator soon…

  4. Hello,

    Interviewing definitely becomes easier with experience – The best advice I can give – Be honest. If you do not know how to answer a certain question, just let them know you are willing to learn.

    Most interviewers will ask you to describe a typical day in your classroom, so be prepared to do this (. They like to hear that you will do lots of “hands-on” activities or labs with the students. Also, I would have about two labs that you can describe in detail (I’ve been asked to describe my one or two favorite labs in interviews). They also like to hear that you will be relating the material to “real-life.” Throwing in buzz words like “Bloom’s Taxonomy” always seems to impress.

    Things you should ask about? Class sizes, Block periods or standard bell schedule, Technology available (LCD projectors in the classrooms? Computers in the classroom? Computer lab? Document Reader? Smartboard? Etc.)

    Also something that was helpful for me – I had a binder from my teacher credential program, and I would bring it to my initial interviews – I contained my teacher goals, goals for students, lab examples, assessment examples, activity examples – It was mandatory for the program I was in and a pain to make, but it was worth it – especially for a first-time job.

    Also I would agree that taking on something like a coaching job for a major sport at the school might be too much the first year (of course nothing is impossible, but it would be tough). Taking on a club or two would be ok, but try and work on your lessons for a year or two before doing too much.

    And once you are a teacher: Save everything, borrow from other teachers, and always have a smile for the students!

    Hope some of this will help,


  5. I thought of another marketable strategy that might make you cheaper in terms of benefits (medical, etc) offered by local contract and NJ law. If you consider what I am about to suggest you should first get the advice of your local districts NJEA representative IMMEDIATELY AFTER the job offer. If you are married to a NJ public school teacher in the same or another NJ school district, you may be able to “coordinate” your two seperate benefits and still have exactly the same total benefits package. This is highly desirable to school boards and administraions because they may save lots of money on what they pay one of you for your benefits. As of October 2008, NJ Law allowed the district who saved money in the coordination to give their teacher spouse up to $2,500 a year more in their salary (The board still saves mucho money). However, rules and laws change and the only institution that you can trust to give you good advice is the NJEA.

  6. During part of my 40 year teaching career I served as a Rutgers faculty supervisor to physics student teachers. I also helped place physics students in teaching jobs throughout NJ. touched on in previous comments is that physics teachers are very much in demand and you have a better opportunity than all other teachers to negotiate your first contract once you are offered the position. Once you are hired into a NJ school you may never negotiate your contract again unless you change school districts. DON’t attempt to negotiate your contract until after the offer. Typically first year physics students have been offered “signing” bonuses (up to $9,000 in one case) or they were offered the alternatitive of starting at a higher step on the teacher salary guide. The typical offer was starting at the fourth year step level. If given this offer resist the immediate riches of the signing bonus as this is a one shot bonus. Compounded over time, if you start on the 4th step that could mean around a $100,000 earnings over a twenty year period. Perhaps your bonus could be wisely invested and you could earn more then this, but (although you are not thinking about the pension end of your career now – you should) because those first four steps give a retirement option for four years earlier if you needed to retire at a higher pensionable salary and that lasts for the rest of your life.

    Another suggestion: let your first year be committed with honing your trade and try to avoid any committment to a highly visible or highly time consuming extra-curricular activty. I would also suggest avoid graduate school until your second year or later.

    While at Rutgers we had each of our pending teacher graduates (and at Rutgers they are involved in an at least five year masters in teaching program) make a CD of a class that they taught in their student teaching experience. Some edited the CD, others did not (no opinion here) and then massed produced them and either sent them to their target school ahead of the interview, or left it at the interview to be viewed at a later time. Some interviews actually viewed it along with the student at the interview. It was a good introduction for the purpose of measningful discussion relative to observable performance. You should also critique some of it to say what you would do different the next time and why.

  7. Wow there is a lot of good advice on here. By the way I want to say hi to Doug Larkin and Steve Meigh.

    Here is my two cents,

    1. As far as Chem, be ready to teach it. I have my physical science cert. It helped me get my job, because they needed me to teach physics and physical science. EPS was not too bad, but this year they have me teaching chemistry! I hated it at first.. it has been years since Chem in college. The class has kept me on my toes… The keys to teaching the Chem are:
    Be prepared and keep moving forward… plan ahead
    Stay a few days behind the Chem teachers and use their help. If you did your scouting right, your job will be at a school with a very helpful and collaborative faculty.
    Keep at it, it only gets easier

    2. On an interview I would ask about the current technologies available to teachers and/or the ability to apply for grants to improve the technology/facilities you work in.

    3. Also, show interest in coaching or other extra-duty positions, teachers who get involved outside of the classroom are highly valued by the admin’s and the students.

    4. The most important career/interview advice – be genuine. If you stay true to yourself you will impress any potential employers as well as your future students.

  8. Just to add to the previous responses:

    I absolutely agree with them that it is very important to ask about the communication between department members. Also, if you are interested in coaching or being an advisor for a club you should ask if the school has these activities and express interest in being involved in the future. If they do not have a particular activitiy like a physics club, science club, physics olympics, etc. then you could show interest in starting them at the school in the future.

    If you have the option and ability to get certified in physical science then do it. Most schools will want you to teach classes other than physics. Even if you teach only physics classes your first year this does not mean you will do that in years to come. They want to hire someone with dual certification so they can use you for multiple courses. In other words: if the position comes down to someone with dual cert. and one without then they will most likely hire the one with dual cert.

    If you truly only want to teach physics then I would suggest looking for school that require all students at the school to take physics. I work at one of these schools and have taught only physics classes for three years now. Also, schools that offer physics first (9th grade) will require all students to take physics.

    Best of luck!

  9. Hi everyone.
    Dr. Ochoa gave me the heads up that a few people had posted questions. I thought that I might be of assistance.

    On the subject of the Praxis. Definitely study for it. I took it back in 2000 and unless it has changed there are no calculators allowed…get used to solving things by estimation.

    Do some research into the district that you will be interviewing at. Most schools haave mission statements available on their district website. Be prepared for a question in the interview that loosely relates to it and how you might fit into the puzzle.

    The dynamics of the department (and the rest of the school) are huge. If you work with people that you like, the job is that much easier. On second / third interviews, ask the supervisor/principal if you can meet some people who work there. If they’re willing ask them questions about how the school works. Also ask if there is usually collaboration between members of the department. Some colleaugues can be very helpful.

    Important questions that you can ask to your interviewer are:
    Why is this position open? (growth positions or retirement replacements are good signs).

    In what direction would you (the supervisor) like to see the department move?

    In later interviews you should ask if the district reimburses for continuing education. Districts that reimburse see teachers as a long term investment. They want good people and are willing to help them develop.

    With regards to the Chemistry/Physical Science questions. If you can get a dual certification, definitely do it. It makes you so much more marketable, plus it may help you land a job in a great district. My experience is that the Chem needed in a Physical Science class is not usually very high level and probably won’t cause much anxiety if you have to teach it.
    Keep in mind that nobodys schedule is set in stone from year to year…so don’t necessarily pick one school over another based solely on the classes tat you will be teaching.

    Remember to sell yourself. Be confident, be well dressed, don’t be monotone. You want to be memorable (in a good way).

    Finally (and this is for when you’re meeting with human resources/ the business administrator / the superintendant) remember that steps on the salary guide are not supposed to be negotiable, but they are. As a science teacher you may be able to start above step1 on the salary guide. This is a long term thing, because once you come in you move one step a year.

    Good Luck!

  10. David and Brianna,

    I don’t know any physics teacher hire who is teaching only physics, so yes, I would say that being prepared to teach chemistry and physics is a good idea. My chem background was weak, but I was hired anyway, and the first few months were a scramble to stay a few steps ahead of the students. If you get hired to teach chem, my advice is to make sure you leave some room in your schedule for your own professional development in terms of the content.

    As for follow-up interviews, it’s a rule that you never really know what the interviewer is looking for, so it’s most important to be authentic and not try to package yourself. You might be asked to share your professional goals, and how you might reach them–and this is a fair question to turnaround to the interviewer. What school-wide or district initiatives are currently underway, and what might be your role in them? What are some of the school’s “front-burner issues”? I’d also recommend going online to the state report card to look up all of the public data on the school.

    Good luck to both of you!


  11. Some important things to inquire about when interviewing:
    1. What classes will they be expecting you to teach. When I graduated in 2005, the state only had a physical science cert, not one exclusive to physics. Luckily for me this wasn’t an issue, but you ideally won’t want to teach Chemistry if you can avoid it.
    2. The age/experience of the staff.
    Someone early mentioned this I believe, but I work in Wayne and the science staff is pretty young and excited about their jobs. It makes going to work much easier. On the other hand, if the staff is too young, its a good indication that the turn over rate is high and it’s not going to be a good place to work.
    3. What new technology or special programs is the science dept implementing?
    Physics teaching positions are in high demand, so you have a nice luxury of getting a few schools to choose from if they offer you a position. Make the school sell themselves to you. New LCD projectors, lab equipment, etc shows the district holds science as a priority and will give you much more materials to use in the classroom. Don’t feel like you need to settle for the first job offer right away.

    Hope this helps.


  12. Hey all!

    I sincerely doubt that this question will be read in time to be answered by wednesday, but answers at anypoint will still be applicable-

    I went to an Education Interview day this past friday, and now have a follow-up interview with a district that i really would like to work at.

    What advice do you have for the interviewing process? what are important questions that i ought to ask/ how can i phrase them?

    i know i can find lots of guides online, and i’m definitely visiting career services for portfolio advice,

    but i would love to hear from our alumni on this.

  13. Okay, I have gotten enough e-mails that I have been successfully guilted into posting (but I really have a couple of things I want to ask the teaching alumni and some advice for the younger PHYT majors).

    So the job application/interview process has just gotten underway for me and I must say it is a bit overwhelming. I am looking in a large radius from TCNJ that basically sticks around the Trenton/Philadelphia area, but still that is a lot of schools. Even though our degree allows for a certification in physical science (and I had to take 4 Chemistry courses), I originally was thinking that I would only want to teach physics. I just finished my first few Education Interview Day interviews and realized that most of the “foot in the door” jobs are in the physical science realm. It simply gives schools more flexibility. So I finally registered for the Chemistry praxis exam, even though teaching chem is not my real passion. Did this happen to any of the teaching alumni? What advice do you have for me going forward?

    Finally, a tip for the younger PHYT’s – take your praxis tests early (junior year even) because the way they schedule it you cannot complete all the necessary tests on one testing date.

  14. Alright Dr. Ochoa…
    I’m going to use a few of my 1382400 minutes of teacher vacation time to represent the “quiet” teaching majors.

    I graduated in ’06 and am currently teaching at Monroe Township High School. It has a pretty laid back administration and a science department with teachers who get along quite well. In other words, I like working there. Unique to the school is that all students in the school are required to take physics.

    A few things to keep in mind as you prepare for your teaching career:

    1. Rachel, I never got recommendation letters and I never encountered a school that asked for them. Just make sure you have a few professors listed as references in case they want to contact someone.

    2. Make sure you actually study for the Praxis. If you spend the whole test deriving formulas because you haven’t used them in a while and can’t remember them, you’ll never finish the test on time. I used the Science Content Knowledge Study Guide book which you can order from ETS. It gives a list of every possible topic you will see on the test.

    3. When you are looking for a place to work ask your interviewer about the dynamics of the science department. You want to find one in which the other teachers communicate well and are willing to trade material with you. The interviewer should be pretty straight forward and honest with you.

    4. I found that schools in the northern part of NJ wanted a model lesson if they liked you after the first interview. Southern schools just seemed to interview.

    5. I did my student teaching at Montgomery High School. They have the Physics First program (9th grade physics). It was a very good experience because it forced me to teach physics in a different way since the students were just taking their first Algebra class. After that I felt like I could teach anyone physics.

  15. Hey people, I have a question…

    So all my friends going on to grad school are getting recommendation letters from their professors. Will the schools that I’m interviewing at be asking for those?

    I went to the info session on TCNJ’s Education Interview days and learned all about submitting my resume and going to the interviews, but they didn’t mention anything about this so it left me wondering.

    k thanks,


  16. Okay Dr. Ochoa, Consider me goaded into posting.

    I’m not sure what advice I could give now, not being sure of how the teacher prep experience at TNCJ has changed since 1993 (except that I went through the teacher prep program at Trenton State College! Would you believe I tangled with a funding agency as recently as last week, trying to convince them that my transcript came from a real college?).

    I’d be happy to chat with anyone going through the program. I’ll try to at least be mildly helpful here by posting a few favorite books/ resources on teaching physics.

    1. Arnold Arons, “Teaching Introductory Physics.” I picked up a copy of this for $20 on Amazon, and I can honestly say I consulted it daily.

    2. National Research Concil. (Bransford, Brown and Cocking). “How People Learn.” A great underpinning for understanding student learning, how to build on prior knowledge, etc.

    3.Page Keeley et al. “Uncovering Student Ideas in Science. Vols#1-3.” By far the best batch of intro activities for units I’ve ever seen. Simple, yet elict student ideas and then gives you guidance on what to do next. The amazing thing is that it works on a k-12 level.

    4.Jonathan Kozol–he made me want to be a teacher. Read anything written by him.

    5. Gloria Ladson-Billing. “The Dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American Children” Okay she’s my advisor at UW-Madison. But I’m working with her because of this book.

    Hope that’s helpful!

  17. “the mostly quiet teaching majors and graduates.” – Romulo Ochoa
    SAY WHAT?!
    I don’t know what’s going on at “The College” nowadays… but as I recall our “quiet teaching majors” (c/o 2000) were the rowdy ones. Teaching HS Physics, you definitely can’t be quiet. You have to perpetuate the “Physics teachers are crazy” stereotype/reputation. So, if you’re in the Physics (teacher prep track) at TCNJ now… let that be your first lesson. (also, if you know anyone from Rahway HS that is going to TCNJ now, tell them Mr. Keat says “Hi!” and ask them if i’m quiet.)

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