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Kentucky School Leaders Prepare December Grads for Interviews, Teaching Careers

(Left to right:) Karen Lymon, Megan Barnes, John Moore, Chelsea Clark, Cynthia Bruno and Michael Price.

When University of Kentucky clinical instructor Joni Meade prepares to say goodbye to each class of teacher candidates from the UK College of Education, one of her final tasks is assembling a group of Kentucky school personnel. 

Together, the school personnel — principals and other district leaders — create a simulation for graduating seniors in elementary education to put the finishing touches on their interviewing skills and prepare for the hiring process.  

“Each semester I see how much the seminar helps the confidence of teacher candidates and helps with the onboarding process for new hires. They are getting to practice interviewing skills with real-time, on-the-spot feedback. They also get to practice what it’s like to be part of a group interview,” said Meade, who is a 2022 recipient of the UK Outstanding Teaching Award. 

Six volunteer panelists met with December elementary education graduates during a seminar at Fayette County’s Breckinridge Elementary.  

“This seminar was a great chance to see what principals are looking for in a teacher candidate,” said elementary education senior Sara Biggs, who interviewed and was selected for a teaching position just days after the seminar. “We workshopped our answers to common interview questions and got to know the principals along the way. Making these connections with leaders is so valuable. I also loved getting to interview alongside my peers and see how we have grown into such strong candidates through the program.” 

Cindy Godsey, associate director of certified personnel for Fayette County Public Schools, spoke with the students about certification and applying to Kentucky districts. The students broke into small groups to practice their responses in mock interviews with school leaders on the panel. 

“The December graduates I interviewed had a sense of purpose and passion for teaching and learning. We talked with them about continuing to focus on who they want to be as teachers and how to convey that during the job interview process so they can find the position that will be a perfect fit,” said Dixie Elementary Principal Cynthia Bruno.  

Panelists this semester included: 

  • Megan Barnes, assistant principal, Brenda Cowan Elementary; 
  • Cynthia Bruno, principal, Dixie Elementary;
  • Chelsea Clark, elementary academic achievement and preschool director, Boyle County Schools;
  • Karen Lymon, administrative dean, Brenda Cowan Elementary; 
  • John Moore, principal, Ashland Elementary; and 
  • Michael Price, principal, Breckinridge Elementary. 

Students in the teacher education program at UK are immersed in field experiences early in their studies and gradually build their skillsets and understanding of not only what they are teaching but how to teach. The process helps prepare students to be ready to lead in classrooms from day one, said Margaret Mohr-Schroeder, senior associate dean for academic programs and partnerships in the College of Education. 

Following decades of declining enrollment in teacher education programs across the U.S. and recent pandemic stresses on the profession, some school systems have struggled to maintain sufficient staffing. Student recruitment efforts at the UK College of Education have focused on reversing this trend. The number of incoming students enrolling in programs that lead to teacher certification has been growing at UK since 2019. Preliminary data shows the UK College of Education’s incoming Fall 2022 class of teacher preparation program students increased in size by 83% between Fall 2019 and Fall 2022, going from 118 to 216; and increased in diversity, with the number of students of color increasing 275% during the same time period, going from 12 to 45. 

During one-on-one meetings, group presentations and on social media platforms such as Instagram, College of Education student ambassadors regularly share glimpses into their lives as college students and future educators. 

“The ambassadors help empower their peers who have the heart to become a teacher. This is especially helpful for those students who have been encouraged to look at other careers outside teaching,” said UK College of Education Director of Recruitment Jenna Demastes. “Sometimes they just need to see someone who is following their true calling and the passion they have.” 

When alumni return to the College of Education to offer advice to current students, it often helps education majors solidify career goals, Meade said. 

“Four of the school leaders who volunteered to practice interviewing with our students last week are UK College of Education alumni,” Meade said. “When alumni, from recent graduates to school leaders, meet with students and answer their questions, that support is a strong source of encouragement to up-and-coming teachers.” 

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