As I think about the experience of evaluating these applications, I want to figure out what I learned from it. I haven't always taken my own advice when applying for a teaching institute, but it helps to think about it. If you are an educator applying for acceptance to a scholarship to a location-based teacher institute, these hints may help you as well:
- Address the questions! Make sure your thoughts stay on track. Stay focused and don't try to embellish with side information that wasn't asked for. Hopefully there will be an open-ended question asking if you have anything to add, but that isn't always the case. If you really have something important that you haven't been asked, and you simply must include it, think about which question it fits best.
- Be forward-minded! Keep in mind that the institute to which you are applying wants you to use what they offer you. They want to know that the information will not stop with you, but that you will pass it on. Of course, each institute is different: some will want you to follow up by presenting your new-found knowledge to peers and educators outside your normal circle, while others will want you to contribute to the research or a publication for their organization. Still others may ask you for a lesson plan before reimbursing your travel expenses. That said, you will want to point to those items when answering questions, rather than simply talk about what you have done in the past.
- Include your students! You are a teacher; the directors of the teacher institute know that, and they want to know that what they are doing - getting usable information and tools into your hands - will impact your classroom. After all, that's your primary reason for applying in the first place, right? It's not just so you can receive a free vacation. Show how your current teaching practices are current and effective.
- Get familiar with Historical Thinking! Since these are history-based institutes, you need to do you homework and include Historical Thinking concepts in your answers.
- Give specifics! Give specific answers with distinct examples to reinforce your responses. If asked for a lesson idea, mention more than just the title. Describe you project or lesson with excitement and details.
- Tell how the institute can help you! Virtually everybody says the reason they want to attend a research is that "becoming more familiar will help me make connections for my students" and that "my excitement will be contagious and get students excited about history". OK, so you want to make connections, but let's here it: how are you going to make that happen? Show the institute what you will do. Show them you have a reason for attending. Consider mentioning that you need help or that you are deficient in a specific area and that you are looking for the week at the teacher institute to fill that need.
- Be excited! Did I mention excitement? Let's see your energy. Naturally, you don't want to go all Wheel of Fortune on your application, but you absolutely must demonstrate that you want to attend.
- Agree to collaborate! Not a team player? Don't like working with small groups? Then you probably don't need to apply. In reality, I am an introvert. I love to present in front of audiences, but I do as well in a small group or one-on-one. In these last couple of years, I have attended teaching institutes at George Washington's Mount Vernon and at Fort Ticonderoga, and I have considered them as welcome challenges to get me out of my comfort zone (though I really dislike that term). I've met people from across the country and broadened my understanding of human beings. It is certainly a by-product of being in the presence of other people who share a passion for American history.
- Sell yourself with humility! Yes, you have to sell yourself, but don't begin with, "I am an exceptional history teacher." Let your answers lead people to see that about you without boldly stating it outright. This is not an '80s Michael J. Fox movie where the bold and daring ladder climber gets the prize. You sincerity is more important than you brilliance. That said, you do need portray a degree of confidence and competence also.
- Be unique! I can't talk about this enough. I have always striven to be different, to set myself apart from the rest of the pack. You can probably figure out how most people will answer, so why answer the same way. Think of something unique, some unique set of words, to present in your answer.
- Proofread! And proofread. And proofread again. There is really no excuse for numerous spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors on such an application. If you are attempting to get a scholarship with travel and lodging provided, in addition to hours of professional and scholarly development, at least take the time to edit and revise a few times before you hit send. Someone is investing one to two thousand dollars for you to attend; the least you could do is invest some time to do it right.
Remember that the application process is competitive, with only the top applicants being accepted every year. If you're not accepted this time, try again next year, but don't just send the same answers. Study them. Tweak them. Perhaps you'll make it on your second try, or your third try...