Here’s a fact of life: You can send out all the resumes, contact all the school districts in your state, and write all the cover letters you want – but you can’t get a teaching position unless you interview. Without the interview there can be no teaching. Do well on the interview and the job is yours! Do poorly on the interview and, no matter how impressive your credentials, no matter how high your G.P.A., no matter how stellar your letters of recommendation – the simple truth is: you’ll never get the position!
Every teacher interview is founded on eight basic themes – each one intended to uncover and showcase your skills, abilities, and attitudes. Each one is designed to separate the mediocre from the good and the good from the great. Everything you do, everything you say, and everything that occurs in a teacher interview is tied to these themes – separately and collectively. Your success in any interview will be based in large measure on how you fulfill each (and all) of the following:
1. A Passion for Teaching
When I interviewed elementary and secondary principals and asked them to identify the single-most important characteristic in a quality teacher candidate, guess what they all told me? You guessed it – “A Passion for Teaching!”
What activities, projects, or assignments have you engaged in that demonstrate your passion for teaching? What have you done that shows you are willing to go the extra mile for students? What have you done that demonstrates your sincere commitment to teaching? Where have you gone above and beyond? Did you do something in student teaching beyond the ordinary? Did you do something during your pre-service years that went above and beyond your college’s requirements for teacher certification? What truly excites you about teaching?
2. Skills and Experience
One of the first things you need to do in any interview is to establish your ability to do the job. In a nutshell – Can you teach and can you teach effectively? In most interviews these will be the initial set of questions you’ll be asked. Many of these questions will be factual in nature and will provide you with an opportunity to highlight your skills and talents and how they will be used in a classroom setting. This is when you must offer specific information rather than generalities. It is also the time to be completely objective about yourself – with confidence and assurance.
What will you bring to the teaching profession? Why should we hire you? Why do you want to be a teacher? What did you learn in student teaching? Please don’t make the mistake of assuming that these are easy questions – they are not! They are often asked near the beginning of the interview because they help “set up” the rest of the interview. Positive answers to these questions help ensure the success of the entire interview.
Here’s a basic truth you may find difficult to believe. The most important factor every interviewer is looking for in a candidate is NOT the breadth and depth of her or his skills, education, or talents. It’s likeability! In a recent review of more than 100,000 face-to-face interviews there was not one candidate hired who wasn’t, at first, liked by the people doing the interviewing and hiring. You might think that one’s personality would be of less value than their teaching prowess, but such is not the case. Simply put, people get hired because they are liked.
4. Student Orientation
Candidates without a strong student orientation are candidates that don’t make it any further in the hiring process. Without that orientation, without that commitment to student life, and without that desire to work hand-in-hand with youngsters nobody ever gets hired as a classroom teacher.
How do you motivate an unmotivated student? How do you assess students? Tell us about your toughest student – how did you handle him/her? How do you address cultural diversity in your classroom? What do you enjoy most about working with kids? What are some challenges you’ve had in working with kids? Besides student teaching, what other work have you done with youngsters? Come to an interview with a strong and sincere student orientation and you may well walk away with a job offer.
The field of education is changing rapidly – new technology, new standards, and new curricula – lots of new stuff. Your willingness and eagerness to continue your education is a key factor in your “hireability.” Candidates who assume that just because they have a degree their education is over are those who never succeed in an interview. Any administrator wants to know that you are a constant learner – that you are willing to keep learning through graduate courses, in-service programs, on-line seminars and webinars, membership in professional organizations, books, magazines and journals, and a host of other professional opportunities that signal your eagerness to keep your education moving forward.
6. Management and Discipline
You’ve probably seen classrooms in which students were orderly, work was productive, and a sense of purpose and direction filled the room. You might also have seen classrooms that were chaotic, disruptive, and seemingly out of control. Maybe you were even a student in one or both of those classrooms at some time in your educational career. Principals are vitally interested in how you plan to manage your classroom. Your management skills and discipline policy will be vitally important in the decision to hire you. Know that you will be asked more than one question in this area. Read, research, and review everything you can – your success here will frequently be a major deciding point.
7. Lesson Planning
What are the essential components of an effective lesson? Think of a recent lesson you taught and share the steps that you incorporated to deliver the lesson. Share your process of short and long-term planning for delivering effective instruction. Think of a lesson that was ineffective or did not meet your expectations – what adaptations did you make to address the lesson? How do you infuse technology to enhance your instruction? It’s critical that you provide an interviewer with insight into your lesson planning, lesson delivery, and lesson assessment. Anecdotes and examples must be critical elements of your responses.
Can you ‘roll with the punches?” Can you “go with the flow?” Can you “change directions in midstream?” Can you “bend in the wind”? All these questions have to do with perhaps the most significant attribute of any good teacher – flexibility. Interviewers want to know that you can handle a wide variety of classroom situations, a wide range of teaching challenges, and a wide array of changes, modifications, or alterations – all at a moment’s notice. Your willingness to present yourself as someone who can adapt without getting flustered or change without getting upset is a key attribute – an attribute that can often “nail” the interview.
The themes above show up in every teacher interview. Practice them, be prepared for them, and review them on a regular basis. Your preparedness will help you beat the competition and get the teaching position you want!