Success Story | Razia Shariff, Elementary Education ILP

Name: Razia Shariff 2013-10-14_1030.png
U of MN Program: Elementary Education ILP, MEd
When did you graduate: December 2012
Employer: Saint Paul Public Schools, Capitol Hill Gifted and Talented Magnet
Position: 6th Grade English Language Arts Teacher
1. How did you learn about your current position?
I learned about it from the principal. After I graduated (in December), I decided to substitute teach for the remainder of the school year and look for something permanent for the following school year. I used that time while substitute teaching to network as much as I could and work in different schools in a variety of positions. I wanted to gain as much experience across the elementary spectrum as I could, so I took jobs in grades K-6, as well as special education and gifted specialist positions. I had substituted at Capitol Hill a couple of times and kept in touch with teachers and administration in the building, and I found out about the opening when chatting with the principal. Don’t be shy about introducing yourself and chatting, as you never know where it might take you.
2. Describe the application and interview process.
I had my portfolio, resume, and cover letter ready to take to the job fair in April. Going to the job fair was essential to my job search process. I took an unpaid day off to do it. I had my heart set on Saint Paul Public Schools, but it was a tough year to get an elementary position with them (due to changing 6th grades to middle school and many teachers staying in elementary positions). I interviewed with two districts that day and got my name out to a lot of others. My interview with Minneapolis Public Schools that day was scheduled towards the end of the day, and consisted of meeting two representatives in a curtained room in the back of the auditorium. During interviews, I am truthful and authentic. Nothing is more boring to an interviewer than someone giving you canned answers and a fake smile. They are looking for people who make them excited, because those are the ones who will make students excited in the classroom. Make it genuine and give a great reason for why you want to educate. I was offered contracts with Minneapolis Public Schools and a charter school the following week.
3. How did you make yourself stand out during the job search?
One thing I was nervous about at first was having a master’s degree before I came into my own classroom. I asked a couple of teachers and administrators for advice if I should wait to pursue the final degree before I had my first job. The feedback I received was ultimately, principals and districts are looking for a quality teacher, and they will pay if they believe you are the right fit. Having a master’s degree and a master’s project I strongly believed in was something that helped me to stand out (I completed my final master’s project on the SEM-R reading program). I also prepared a lot for the job fair, by taking the advice of the online resources to prepare for interviews, and researching some of the different districts and schools I knew would be there (specifically their philosophies and curriculum). Finally, I followed a teacher’s advice and had some personal business cards printed up to hand out (I also handed these to schools and teachers I substituted for). When I was designing these, I nervously took her advice and put a headshot of myself on the card. I felt a little silly doing it at first, but it was something that made me stand out a lot, especially while networking and interviewing. One of my interviewers at the job fair remarked that it helped her to remember who I was during the day, since she had met so many potential applicants already. I’m glad I decided to do it!
4. Looking back, what did you find to be the most helpful during the job search process?
Networking as much as I could was the best thing I had done. I kept in touch with many people over my years in school, and I pitched in at times when they needed a hand. Any time you do that, it will be remembered! A teacher whose room I had volunteered in a few years ago introduced me to her colleagues and principal after school one day to pass out business cards and get my name out there for sub assignments. The school I did that at is my new school, and I have the privilege of already being acquainted with many of my new colleagues.
5. Did you utilize career services (on-campus interviews, career events, appointment(s), online resources)? If so, what was your experience like?
I used a couple of different career services resources. I scheduled a meeting to evaluate my resume and cover letter, which was extremely helpful. I thought I knew how to do it, but I really needed help with streamlining and lingo. I was shown how to structure a resume for the world of education, what to highlight, and how to word it. I was able to present a clean and to-the-point resume, cover letter, and portfolio based on this advice. I also found some online resources (on the Career Services website) to be very helpful, especially during the interviewing process. I put a lot of energy into preparing for the job fair, and took in as much information about it to prepare.
6. What advice would you like to share with others about your experience finding a position?
Have confidence in your abilities and your answers. This program is so well rounded and prepares you so fully for teaching. It’s totally natural to have butterflies about it all, but have confidence in what you’ve learned and how to apply it; time and experience will fill in the rest. Remember too, every student that walks into your classroom is someone’s treasure. Someone told me that years ago, and I tucked it into my pocket. If you remember those two things, your sincerity in educating will come across and you will land that position!