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How Do I Handle Those Online Application Essays?

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If you've been applying for online jobs, chances are good that applications have included the dreaded essay questions. You know...they're the ones that ask about your reasons for wanting to become a teacher, the components of a lesson plan, your strategies for dealing with diversity or differences in learning styles, and more. These questions can be problematic for new teachers who aren't sure what sorts of answers are expected.

Do districts really look at the responses? Of course they do. Do they expect candidates to come up with responses that will revolutionize the teaching profession? Of course they don't. What, then, constitutes a good response? How can you make the best impression possible? Here are some hints:

Think before you start writing. Organize your thoughts and jot down some notes.

Answer the questions honestly. The goal is to provide an accurate verbal snapshot of you as a teacher...your values and your character.

Be sure that you are answering the question that has been asked. You can begin by repeating the wording of the question to make sure that you are on the right track. For example, a question might be "What two core teaching strategies do you use most?" You might begin your answer with "The two core teaching strategies I use most are..." Then, you can continue by listing and describing the strategies, indicating how you use each one.

Give examples. When responding to the question about core teaching strategies, illustrate the strategy with a case where you successfully applied it.

Don't wander. Once you have answered the question, don't go on about something else that may be unrelated. Stream-of-consciousness writing loses the reader - and it may lose you the job.

Remember: clear, direct language is best. You aren't writing a thesis. You don't need to try to impress the reader by using the biggest words and the most elaborate sentence structure possible. Doing so, in fact, is a very bad idea. The reader may get the idea that this is the way you'll be speaking to your students.

Use spell-check. There is no excuse for misspelled words.

Check for grammatical errors. Competent teachers should be able to avoid run-on and incomplete sentences.

Never copy your answers from someone else. The purpose is to provide insight into your personality, not that of your friend.

Create your responses in Word (or a similar word-processing format) and SAVE them. Many districts use AppliTrack to manage the hiring process; therefore, you may see similar questions on multiple districts' applications. If you've saved your answers, you won't have to re-create them each time you complete an application.

Once you've finished writing your responses, have someone else read through them. Others may notice errors that you've missed in your own writing. Ask your Career Services Office for assistance if you need a second opinion.

So...relax. Write from your experience and from your heart. Ask for help if you need it. The good news is that essay applications get easier with each one that you do.

Dawn S. Jones
Online Advisor, Career Services
Northern Illinois University

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