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Washington State University
College of Education

October 2010

Want a teaching job? Here’s advice from a pro

Spokane Schools recruiter Angela Brown, '94

So you love kids? Great, but take it from an expert: If you’re interviewing for a job at Spokane Public Schools, don’t say that’s why you chose to be a teacher.

For one thing, says Angela Brown with a laugh, there will be days in the classroom when you won’t like the little so-and-sos.

Brown is head of recruiting for the Spokane school district. A 1994 secondary education graduate of Washington State University, she calls herself a “hover mother” – someone who cares passionately about children. But emotional connection is only one hallmark of a great teacher, she says. Along with that and instructional ability, she looks for a touch of idealism.

“Social justice is at the core of what we do,” Brown says of the state’s second-largest school district. “Every teacher needs to meet every student where they’re at. The class clown, the kid who comes to school dirty … it doesn’t matter. The teacher needs to have the same high expectations and high support for them all. You need to give them all a fair chance.”

Despite the tough economy, Brown hired 100 teachers last year. Competition was stiff.  “I get 240 applicants for every elementary teaching position, but only 20-30 applicants for math, science and special education openings.” So she is on the hunt for teachers with endorsements in those areas.

She definitely wants to hear from bilingual teachers. Spokane’s growing immigrant community means students speak 55 languages. The school district needs more teachers who can successfully work with students and families who do not speak or are still learning English.

For those applicants lucky enough to get a job interview, Brown offers this additional advice:

  • Do your research. For example, you might find out what the district is doing to close the achievement gap between students of color and their peers. “Some applicants haven’t even Googled the school they’re applying for,” Brown says.
  • Be prepared to show that you are responsive and reflective on issues such as race, ethnicity, disability, gender and sexual orientation. “We often get a deer-in-the-headlights look when we ask how an applicant would help students of color improve in math.” The right answer, in Brown’s book: “The same way I help all students improve in math.”
  • Be confident. “You may have a unique skill a teacher with 10 years of experience doesn’t have.”
  • And be authentic. “We know when people are blowing smoke.”

Japanese teacher takes lessons home

Kiyomi Yamashita

Her junior high school students in Japan love movies and songs from the United States.  Teacher Kiyomi Yamashita wishes they would show similar enthusiasm for American-style classroom participation.

“Students here don’t hesitate to ask questions or share their thoughts,” says Kiyomi, who is finishing up a two-month visit to Washington State University.  “We Japanese think too much about what others think of us. We wear the same uniforms, eat the same lunch.  I’ve decided to encourage my students to give their opinions, even if their opinions are different. It will be my biggest challenge.”

She is in Pullman thanks to a longstanding partnership between the WSU College of Education and the Nishinomiya school system.  She’s devoted much of her time to improving her English, with the help of WSU’s Intensive American Language Center.

Kiyomi began studying English at age 13.  At 32, she is learning all the doors that mastery of the language can open.  To take that message back to her own students, she decided to make a video of two Japanese exchange students describing their experiences at WSU.  Both Takato Hara and Miki Kano told her that they hadn’t been keen on learning English when they were in junior high, but now they’re eager.  One communication tip they shared:  Simply saying “My name is … ” is a good way to start a conversation.

Kiyomi’s impressions of U.S. classrooms have been shaped by a visit to Pullman’s Lincoln Middle School, plus sitting in on a WSU course in classroom management taught by Assistant Professor Hal Jackson. “She’s been a pleasure to have in class,” says Hal. “She’s surprised by how frequently college students participate in discussion.”

Weekends have taken Kiyomi to the Nishinomiya sister city of Spokane, which she visited on her first trip to the U.S. two years ago; to Seattle, to visit a teacher friend; and to Los Angeles, where she played tourist in Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Santa Monica.

Interviewing Miki Kano, left, and Takato Hara

Being at WSU has also whetted her appetite for international travel. She’s met students from other countries and realized she could converse with them in English. The experience, she says, has “opened my mind.”

Kiyomi will return to Japan with memories of many kind, friendly people who laugh a lot. That could be because her ready smile prompts smiles in return, whatever language is being spoken around her.

A language, a culture, a game

Anna knows which local plants make good medicines. Raven Heart is a 12-year-old boy who idolizes Sky, who is educating his people on the dangers of a proposed gold mine behind their Alaskan village. Raven Heart’s mother died of cancer after being exposed to chemicals used in the Exxon Valdez oil spill cleanup.

Research, culture and drama come together

This cast of characters populates a prototype video game created by Clinical Associate Professor Leslie Hall. She will discuss the game during Friday’s Academic Showcase from 1 to 4 p.m. on the first floor of the Education Addition on the Pullman campus. The showcase of researchers’ work is new on the annual homecoming weekend schedule, and much in keeping with our annual “Scholarship and Excellence” theme.

Leslie worked on the video game prototype with James Sanderville, a former WSU graduate student and enrolled Klamath tribal member.  Their goal was to inspire young residents of Nanwalik, Alaska, to take an interest in their traditional language, Sugcestun, as well as the culture and knowledge of their people, the Supiaq Alutiiq — and learn research skills along the way.

The WSU duo’s choice of this particular village was inspired by a National Science Foundation program officer who just happened to be assigned to the Arctic regions. Leslie will talk about what it took to put the game together, and its creators’ hopes for the future of the project.  There is unquestionably a need for such games.  According to the National Geographic, a language dies every 14 days.