Jennifer has been a spectacular student teacher at my school for the past year. In the classroom, she is a natural with the students, instinctively praising positive behavior while managing the inappropriate. Her lessons were creative and well organized, and she was well-liked by the entire faculty. Due to her classroom expertise, I assumed she was a shoe-in for the upcoming second grade position. Everything was looking wonderful until the interviews for the position began.
My experience with interviewing for a teaching position up to this point had been only from the standpoint of the interviewee. Sitting across the table from each of the nervous candidates, I realized several things. First, interviewing is a skill that needs practice, and highly qualified teachers probably have not gotten jobs because they didn't realize this. This skill, while it may come more naturally to some, needs to be practiced by all. Also, what many candidates don't realize is that they are interviewing the administration as well. Prospective teachers should look for a match of ideals, philosophies, and a place they can feel comfortable to perform the greatest task we have in our society, shaping our youth.
This article gives five tips for giving a good interview to secure the job that is the best fit.
KNOW YOUR PHILOSOPHY
The most important part of preparing for the interview is knowing yourself and your teaching philosophy. This doesn't mean writing your philosophy to put in your portfolio and making it sound eloquent. Feel it, know it, own it. If your passion is teaching math, use specific examples of authors you use and why their ideas grab you. For example, "I like to use a Marilyn Burns's lesson 'Circles and Stars' when teaching multiplication because its format leads the students to visualize the concept of multiplying." Knowing your philosophy helps you understand what you need from an administration to be able to grow and be successful. Ask the principal how he/she will be able to assist you in these areas of growth.
While observing people during their interviews, I noticed them unintentionally saying things such as, "um" or "ya know" when they became nervous about a question. If you practice answering questions with a friend, they can provide you with this feedback. Although it sounds silly to sit around and practice, it is well worth it. Principals often open with, "Tell me about yourself." Try answering this question aloud and have someone listen to your response. Practice pausing silently during moments of thought instead of repeating irrelevant phrases.
Research the school before the interview. Check out their website, read their mission statement, and see if there are any activities they offer that you would be interested in leading or knowing more about. This lets them know you are interested in the school and have done your homework. For the interview, prepare some written questions for the administration. Let your teaching vision guide these questions. As they answer your questions, write down anything you want to remember to compare with your other interviews.
GIVE SPECIFIC ANSWERS
The most important aspect of your interview is giving clear concise examples that highlight your teaching style and philosophy. Your interviewer may say, "Tell me about an ideal social studies lesson." Whether a veteran or novice teacher, this is your time to shine. Give SPECIFIC examples or lessons that you are most proud of, how and why you planned it, and how you assessed student learning. These specific answers will set you apart from other candidates that give "fluffy" answers.
When I interviewed for my first job, I found the most helpful thing was my portfolio. Yes, it was extra work, but it paid off immensely. When the principal asked about my writing curriculum, I gave a general overview of my philosophy and then pulled out a specific example of a successful lesson. I showed my lesson plan, student work, as well as my rubric for grading. I also added some reflection for things I would change when doing the lesson again. One interviewee I witnessed used her portfolio successfully by explaining her lesson, telling where she encountered problems, and showing how she modified the instruction during the lesson. Another way the portfolio can prove beneficial is when you are asked a tough question that you aren't sure how to answer. For example, if the principal asks you to tell them how you use balanced literacy in your class and you can't remember the "educational jargon", the portfolio can help. So what, you can't remember the phrase? You are trained to teach, so tell them what you do know about reading and show them what you have done using your portfolio. Even a tough question can be used as an opportunity to show what you do know. The principal may see that you don't know this terminology, but from your portfolio can witness your various strengths.
Arrive early and look professional. This doesn't necessarily mean a suit. Wear something neat, which shows your personality, and most of all, you feel comfortable in. Part of appearance is body language and manners. Whether it is just the principal or an eight person team, continuously make eye contact as you answer the questions. Don't be bothered if they are writing while you are talking. Remember, they interview many candidates and want to remember what you say. Making eye contact shows confidence and gives you a connection with your audience.
There is a fine line between confidence and knowing everything. Don't be afraid to say that you want to learn more or would ask a colleague to help in this area. Being a professional means you are an avid learner, constantly accepting new challenges . When faced with the question of how to differentiate math instruction, one teacher told us many strategies she had used in the past and also raised the issue of discussion with colleagues about an ongoing challenge in education. This showed her professionalism and ability to be a team player.
If you aren't offered, or don't take the teaching position, always remember to follow up with a thank-you letter or e-mail. They took their time to give you an interview.
TAKING THE RIGHT JOB
Educators have an intense job, and often burn-out at early ages. I attribute much of this to teachers not seeing eye-to-eye with their administration. When I speak with unhappy teachers about their jobs, it is usually not the students they are frustrated with. It's their administration. Anytime during your teaching career, but especially during the beginning, you need a supportive administration. Listen closely in the interview and think about this person being your boss. Ask yourself: Do we view education in similar ways? Will these people support me? If your team is not present, ask the principal about how the team plans. If you are a new teacher especially, you want to be sure you will have other teachers to help with your questions.
Beyond asking about the team, know the job market. Teachers are often in high demand and you can choose a school that is right for you. Principals often share information. If a principal sees competence from an interview, but does not have a position available, they will often call fellow administrators to tell them about an outstanding candidate. This means even if you don't want to work at the school with which you are interviewing, the interview process can still help you get a job elsewhere. Taking a job just for the security may not be a wise decision. Remember how much time you will spend there.
I know this process seems overwhelming: trying to think about your dress, observing your body lannguage, and knowing you need a job to pay the bills. Don't become a Jennifer, a qualified teacher getting passed by because she did not polish her interviewing skills. Embrace your ideals and practice interviewing with others. Overall, remember, you are trained to teach, take a deep breath, be yourself, and find a place that is right for you.
Kelly Laudenheimer is a second grade teacher at Casis Elementary in Austin, Texas.