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Surviving and Thriving Through the Non-Renewal Process

Dealing with having your teaching contract non-renewed? Take a moment to process your thoughts, then read this informative blog post about how to survive and thrive through the non-renewal process. Tips include preparing for the job application process, interview questions, and creating digital teaching portfolios from the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.

Over the last few months, I have been opening up this blog to guest bloggers who have been able to bring their various strengths and experiences to share with my readers. Today’s blog post was written by Jessica who teaches in New Jersey.

I was very drawn to this topic when Jessica suggested it as her guest post topic. Where I teach you can earn tenured position (permanent status) after your first year of teaching. I was saddened to know that it is possible for a teacher to be given a non-renewal letter with no quantifiable justification. Jessica’s tips are honest and valuable to any teacher who has had to navigate the non-renewal process.

...the Board has decided not to renew your contract for the 2017-2018 school year…” These are the words no teacher ever wants to hear. I never thought I’d be on the receiving end of one these conversations, especially when I assumed I’d be receiving tenure the following September. But there I was, at the end of my fourth year of teaching, sobbing in the middle of our main office conference room. My principal passed me a box of tissues, as my union rep rattled off a list of explanations I couldn’t even comprehend. “...legally not obligated to provide a justification…could resign within 30 days...Donaldson hearing…

The days that followed were a blur of emotions and confusion. Like any teacher living in the 21st century, I immediately went to Google for answers. I was hoping that somewhere out there, some other teacher had gone through the same thing and that they could provide me with the hope I so desperately needed. All I found, however, were message boards from 2001, comment threads from teachers in other states, or blog posts from teachers who were let go after their first year. None of this was relatable to me. I had put in four wonderful years in my district, with not a single issue. I would have had tenure in the fall of next year. I was devastated, and I felt like there was no one in the world who I could relate to.

Flash forward five months, and I’m now preparing to start my first year in a brand new district. It has been a long, exhausting road to get here, and I would be remiss if I didn’t share what I’ve learned with other teachers so that they too could find their light at the end of the tunnel.

Non-Renewal vs. Resignation
One of the first things a union representative should tell you, at least in New Jersey, is that you have the option to resign, rather than “accept” your nonrenewal. There is a very small window of opportunity for this, so you’ll have to seriously consider the options quickly. My husband is in school, meaning I was the only source of income for our household. I accepted the non-renewal because it meant I could qualify for unemployment in the event I couldn’t find a new job. However, if you feel that you are financially stable enough, it may be in your best interest to resign instead.  A resignation will “look” much better when applying for new jobs than a nonrenewal will, but the choice is yours to make. What’s important to remember is that you do have a choice.

The Application Process
It is difficult to find a job after a nonrenewal. Many job applications are online, and they ask questions like, “Have you ever been asked to resign, or had a contract non-renewed?”, or “Have you ever been denied tenure?” You’re legally obligated to answer these questions honestly. It’s a gut wrenching process -  I applied to 87 school districts over a three week period, and I honestly thought none of them would get back to me. Many of them, did not. DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED. I learned fairly quickly that many districts will look past one, maybe even two, non-renewals, if they feel the candidate is a good fit for the position. According to several of the principals I’ve spoken with, it’s not until you’ve got three or four non-renewals under your belt that districts see you as a “bad bet.” BE PATIENT. Of those 87 schools, only 10 of them got back to me before June 30th. I had already accepted my new position and signed my contract when other schools began calling in July and August.

Your Resume
I was lucky enough to score several interviews, even after my non-renewal. The first thing every principal, supervisor, or superintendent said to me at these interviews was that they LOVED my resume. I learned that even with online applications, like Applitrack, your resume is the first thing they will see. Take the time to really highlight your qualifications, your experience, and your 21st-century skills. You might also want to include any professional development you’ve had. Many schools were excited to see that I had training in curriculum or software that they were hoping to implement, or already using. One superintendent at a job fair I attended was thoughtful enough to share this tidbit with me: I really liked that you listed your certifications first. So often you’ll find education, or degrees, or experience listed above all that. As someone looking for highly qualified candidates, it’s important for me to see right away if you have the right certification for the job.”  It’s honestly so important to take the time and make your resume stand out. Sell yourself. Highlight only relevant information, and adjust your resume for certain openings if necessary. If you’d like to go that extra mile, you can create a visual resume. This is the Etsy one I purchased and used in all of my applications.

The Interview
This is where you really shine. You’re not a first-year teacher - you have experience under your belt. Use this knowledge and confidence to really make a great impression on your interviewers. Be prepared; many of them will ask you the specifics of your non-renewal. This is normal, don’t panic. The important thing to remember is that you should never trash talk your previous district. This will only make you look bad in the eyes of your interviewer, and many districts will decide then and there that you’re not the right fit for the job. Be humble. This is the best piece of advice I can give you. Own your non-renewal, and admit that you’re still growing as an educator. I was not given a reason for my non-renewal, as many teachers aren’t, so it was a real struggle coming up with an answer for their questions. Here’s what I’ve found worked best: “I wish I had a better answer for you than ‘I don’t know.’ It’s just as frustrating for me as an educator to not have answers. I want to know what my mistakes were and own them, so I can grow and improve and use them to further myself as a teacher. All I can do is reflect, and try to move on knowing I gave my best every single day in my classroom.”  Interviewers appreciate honesty, and can tell when you’re trying to avoid an issue or ‘talk your way out’ of a question. Don’t lie. Be yourself, and use what you do know to guide the interview in a positive direction. “I learned so much from my last district, and I’m eager to build on that with the resources your district can provide. I want to give your students the best education possible.”

Bring a 21st-century portfolio!
This is the second most important thing I can tell you about interviews. No interviewer wants to flip through your 100-page teaching portfolio or has the time to. I was given the advice that most interviewers don’t want something bulky, or something they have to hold on to. They’d like something quick and appealing that gives them immediate insight into who you are as an educator. My advice? Create a slideshow: fill it with photographs, videos, positive observation notes, letters from your students  - anything and everything that highlight you as a person and educator. Bring this slideshow with you, either on an iPad, a Chromebook, or even your smart phone. Have it open prior to entering the room, so when it’s convenient, you can quickly demonstrate your awesomeness.  I cannot tell you how many times I received the question, “If we could take a snapshot of your classroom, what would it look like? What would we see or hear?” My response was always, “Can I show you?” It was always so reassuring to watch them genuinely smile as they swiped through photos of my students and my classroom. When you send your follow-up thank you email (always send this email!), include a link to the slideshow so they can review it again whenever they’d like. It’s a great way to help you stand out for other interviewees, and it gives the interviewers something to remember you by. You can find Jessica's digital portfolio on Teachers Pay Teachers.

Final Advice
My final piece of advice is the hardest to implement. Being “let go” really shakes your confidence as a teacher, as a person. I remember sitting at some of these interviews, next to girls fresh out of college and thinking, “They’re never gonna’ give me a second look.” This kind of attitude will get you nowhere. The first few interviews I went on, I know I screwed up because I lacked the confidence and positivity I knew they were looking for. I was in my own head. I was bitter, I was angry, I was depressed, and interviewers can really pick up on things like that. It wasn’t until I really took a step back, adjusted my attitude, and remembered why I got into teaching in the first place that I started getting callback, after callback.

Get off social media for a while.

Stop comparing yourself to other teachers, and stop thinking that there’s something wrong with you.

Stop thinking about all your friends who may or may not be getting tenure now, and don’t worry about the other teachers you didn’t like who “got to keep their job”.

Find your zen.

Believe in yourself.

Fill your life with positive people and positive thoughts.

The moment you believe that you’ll succeed is the moment everyone else will believe it too.

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Dealing with having your teaching contract non-renewed? Take a moment to process your thoughts, then read this informative blog post about how to survive and thrive through the non-renewal process. Tips include preparing for the job application process, interview questions, and creating digital teaching portfolios from the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.


Holiday Season Survival Guide

The Christmas season in the middle school classroom can become chaotic unless some planning is done to ensure routines are maintained while enjoying the season. Find some great ideas for staff and student gifts, as well as festive lessons and assignments from the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.

It’s almost time for the holiday season in our classrooms. As much as I love the holidays, it is also a time when many teachers feel run down and are exhausted from the business of school start up and the ensuing months.

Use the ideas in this blog post to plan early so you can spend the holiday season with loved ones instead of staying up late lesson planning.

Festive Ideas For the Classroom
Promotion Joy During The Holiday Season from 2 Peas and a Dog
Holiday Cheer Through Music from Reading and Writing Haven
How To Be Festive in the Secondary Classroom from B’s Book Love
Holiday Lessons and Assignments from 2 Peas and a Dog
Positive Reinforcement Cards from The Sunny Sunshine Student Support Store
Christmas Themed Classroom Bucket List from EB Academic Camps

Teacher Self Care
Tips for Teachers on Reducing Holiday Stress from 2 Peas and a Dog
Avoiding Teacher Burnout from 2 Peas and a Dog

Staff Gift Ideas
Holiday Gifts from 2 Peas and a Dog

Student Gift Ideas
Jolly Bookmarks from Nouvelle ELA
Community Building Bookmarks from Language Arts Classroom
Zen Doodle Bookmark from B’s Book Love

Holiday Themed Student Activities {Free}
Interactive Christmas Writing Prompts from 2 Peas and a Dog
Reading Ornaments from The Marvelous Middle
December Bell Ringers from Reading and Writing Haven
Christmas Around the World Readings from Kid World Citizen
Winter Holiday Genetics Punnett Square Worksheet from Elly Thorsen

Holiday Themed Assignments {Paid}
Christmas Truce of 1914 Media Analysis Unit

Stay warm this holiday season. 

The Christmas season in the middle school classroom can become chaotic unless some planning is done to ensure routines are maintained while enjoying the season. Find some great ideas for staff and student gifts, as well as festive lessons and assignments from the 2 Peas and a Dog blog.


#2ndaryELA Twitter Chat on Tuesday 11/14 Topic: Socratic Seminars

Join secondary English Language Arts teachers Tuesday evenings at 8 pm EST on Twitter. This week's chat will be about socratic seminars.
Brynn Allison, The Literary Maven & Kristy, 2 Peas and a Dog host #2ndaryELA on Twitter every Tuesday evening from 8 - 8:30 PM EST. #2ndaryELA is a weekly chat for secondary English Language Arts teachers focused on a topic. Every Sunday, we post the topic and questions on our blogs to allow you to prepare for the upcoming Tuesday evening's chat. Thank you to everyone who joined us last week and we hope that you will join us again.

We'd also love for you to join our 2ndaryELA Facebook group, even if you aren't on Twitter. 2ndaryELA is a group of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. This group is an extension of our Twitter chat and a place for collaboration, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to post teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction.

On Tuesday, November 14, our #2ndaryELA chat will be about using Socratic Seminars in the English Language Arts classroom.

The Format:
8:00 – What and where do you teach? Include a link to your blog if you have one. #2ndaryELA
8:05 Q1: What seating arrangement(s) do you use for your seminars? #2ndaryELA
8:10 Q2: What rules/procedures do you have in place to ensure successful seminars with your students? #2ndaryELA
8:15 Q3: How are seminar questions prepared, by teacher or students? #2ndaryELA
8:20 Q4: In what ways do you encourage/track seminar participation? #2ndaryELA
8:25 Q5: How do you assess student seminar performance? #2ndaryELA

The Directions:
1. Log into Twitter on Tuesday from 8-8:30 PM EST.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #2ndaryELA in the search bar. Make sure to click “Latest.”
3. Introductions are for the first 5 minutes.
4. Starting at 8:05 (@literarymaven or @2peasandadog) will post questions every 5 minutes using the format Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. and the hashtag #2ndaryELA.
5. Respond to questions using the format A1, A2, A3, etc. with #2ndaryELA.
6. Follow any teachers responding and who are also using #2ndaryELA.
7. Like and respond to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your responses to the questions ahead of time using a scheduler like TweetDeck or HootSuite (but don't forget to use A1, A2, etc. and #2ndaryELA). Links are encouraged, so be sure to use a link shortener like tinyurlbitlygoo.gl or ow.ly Just visit one of those links and paste your long link to shorten it for Twitter. Using images is also encouraged when relevant.

New to chats? Here are the rules:
1. Stay on topic & stay positive!
2. Please do not post or promote paid products unless specifically asked.
3. If you arrive late, try to look through other posts before beginning.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet.
5. Always use our hashtag #2ndaryELA, including in your replies to others.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to public. (Also keep in mind that Twitter is completely public – that means students, parents, and administrators can and will read what you tweet.)

You can also check out a quick video tutorial in this blog post.

Be sure to spread the word to any teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well. We look forward to chatting with you Tuesday evening and in our 2ndaryELA Facebook group!



Learning Stations and Centres in the English Language Classroom

Using stations is a fantastic way to increase engagement in the English Language Arts classroom. Get ideas on how to use and manage stations in your middle or high school ELA classroom from 2 Peas and a Dog.

Using stations is a fantastic way to increase engagement in the English Language Arts classroom.
Read the #2ndaryELA Twitter chat recap below to get ideas on how to use and manage stations in your middle or high school ELA classroom.

Question 1: How do you use learning stations or centers in connection with reading?

A1: I like to use stations to review literary elements and preview novels https://t.co/wHdS8ltSwJ
A1: I use stations to solidify content after I have taught the lessons.
A1: Learning stations to offer choice and voice to students. Ss all have different needs, stations help them lead their learning.
A1: Various ways (we are prepping for state test)-T-chart and thesis on a prompt, editing a draft, mechanics practice, etc.


Q2: How do you use learning stations or centers in connection with writing?

A2: It would be cool to have an archive of all the stations we've used for writing to pull from - maybe on Google?
A2: I use stations for differentiation: support, practice, or extension depending on past performance. Get to work closely w/Ss
A2: I have used stations to have students edit their work. Each station has a different editing task.


Q3: Are the activities in your learning stations or centers usually independent or collaborative?

A3: Reading stations usually collaborative when reviewing, a mix when previewing a new text. Writing stations usually independent
A3: A mix of both. Use stations to offer challenges; choice for ind or collab. Vary stations throughout semester to adapt to Ss
A3: A mix of both
A3: Stations in my room are always collaborative
A3: I try for a mix of independent & collaborative tasks. I use stations to ensure I meet with all students for small group time.
A3: The process is always collaborative but sometimes the product is individual.


Q4: Is there always a tangible product in your learning stations or centers? How do you hold students accountable for their work?

A4 During review type stations, I just monitor the room, check stations at the end of each rotation. I don't need more grading
A4 Not always about a tangible product. Sometimes it is about reflecting and developing skills. Sharing experiences. Autonomy.
A4: Many times there is a prod. Ss have a checklist that requires them to answer a Q that can only be A by the station wk.
A4 cont: For writing stations, their pre-writing or revising will impact final piece so that work is turned in, but not graded
A4: I don't necessarily grade stations - it's usually practice.
A4: The product is an issue for me as a newbie.Ss are mostly gaining practice, & I don't want to collect it all.
A4: I try to ensure each station has some sort of a tangible item (assignment, task sheet or exit card) or new learning.
A4: I assess mostly for completion. I show models and Ss reflect on their performance using rubrics and samples.


How do you manage student behavior during learning stations or centers?

A5: I make the students practice rotating, putting things away at stations, and always use a timer to keep things moving
A5: You try it, set out expectations and learn together. Adjust, reflect, conference. Don't strive for perfection.
A5: Reminder of expectations and agreements w/ continual monitoring. 3 strikes, Ss sits out.
A5: Stations follow my classroom management routines. I also leave my small group to work for a few minutes and rotate.

Using stations is a fantastic way to increase engagement in the English Language Arts classroom. Get ideas on how to use and manage stations in your middle or high school ELA classroom from 2 Peas and a Dog.


#2ndaryELA Twitter Chat on Tuesday 11/7 Topic: Engaging Students With Non-Traditional Texts

Join secondary English Language Arts teachers Tuesday evenings at 8 pm EST on Twitter. This week's chat will be about engaging students with non-traditional texts.
Brynn Allison, The Literary Maven & Kristy, 2 Peas and a Dog host #2ndaryELA on Twitter every Tuesday evening from 8 - 8:30 PM EST. #2ndaryELA is a weekly chat for secondary English Language Arts teachers focused on a topic. Every Sunday, we post the topic and questions on our blogs to allow you to prepare for the upcoming Tuesday evening's chat. Thank you to everyone who joined us last week and we hope that you will join us again.

We'd also love for you to join our 2ndaryELA Facebook group, even if you aren't on Twitter. 2ndaryELA is a group of middle and high school English Language Arts teachers looking to share ideas and best practices. This group is an extension of our Twitter chat and a place for collaboration, questions, and encouragement. Feel free to post teaching ideas, success stories, resource links, photos, etc. that will enhance our instruction.

On Tuesday, November 7, our #2ndaryELA chat will be about engaging students with non-traditional texts.

The Format:
8:00 – What and where do you teach? Include a link to your blog if you have one. #2ndaryELA
8:05 Q1: Where/how do you find contemporary fiction (short stories, novels) to engage your students? #2ndaryELA
8:10 Q2: Where/how do you find nonfiction texts related to current issues or on topics of interest to your students? #2ndaryELA
8:15 Q3: Have you tried using graphic novels or verse novels with your students? Recommendations? Experiences? #2ndaryELA
8:20 Q4: Where/how do you find appropriate videos, images, and infographics for your students to “read?” #2ndaryELA
8:25 Q5: What strategies do you use to help students read and understand non-traditional texts? #2ndaryELA

The Directions:
1. Log into Twitter on Tuesday from 8-8:30 PM EST.
2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #2ndaryELA in the search bar. Make sure to click “Latest.”
3. Introductions are for the first 5 minutes.
4. Starting at 8:05 (@literarymaven or @2peasandadog) will post questions every 5 minutes using the format Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. and the hashtag #2ndaryELA.
5. Respond to questions using the format A1, A2, A3, etc. with #2ndaryELA.
6. Follow any teachers responding and who are also using #2ndaryELA.
7. Like and respond to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your responses to the questions ahead of time using a scheduler like TweetDeck or HootSuite (but don't forget to use A1, A2, etc. and #2ndaryELA). Links are encouraged, so be sure to use a link shortener like tinyurlbitlygoo.gl or ow.ly Just visit one of those links and paste your long link to shorten it for Twitter. Using images is also encouraged when relevant.

New to chats? Here are the rules:
1. Stay on topic & stay positive!
2. Please do not post or promote paid products unless specifically asked.
3. If you arrive late, try to look through other posts before beginning.
4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet.
5. Always use our hashtag #2ndaryELA, including in your replies to others.
6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to public. (Also keep in mind that Twitter is completely public – that means students, parents, and administrators can and will read what you tweet.)

You can also check out a quick video tutorial in this blog post.

Be sure to spread the word to any teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well. We look forward to chatting with you Tuesday evening and in our 2ndaryELA Facebook group!



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