Teacher Job Interviews: My Thoughts

Given that it is interview season for teachers, I find it necessary for my own improvement to reflect upon my most recent interview experience in order to ensure that I continue to have educational, if not positive, interview experiences in the near future.

1. Be in touch with your teaching philosophy.
Prior to your interview, reflect on why you are entering the teaching profession. Show your interviewer that you have an end goal in mind for your students and that you are constantly critiquing and refining your end goal. Knowing why you want to go into teaching takes care of so many different questions that they might throw at you: why do you want to teach for us? what are your strengths? tell us about your classroom culture (code word for classroom management tactics!).

For example, I want to teach because I think it's important for students to feel like they have a place and a purpose in a classroom in order to commit to their education and ultimately pursue higher education -- and I think that I am good at helping students feel this way. So: I want to teach for you because I know that your school culture encourages students to stay in school rather than push students out. My strength is that I try many ways to connect with individual students on academic and non-academic levels. My classroom culture calls for students to be accountable of their actions so that they do not infringe upon the rights of their classmates to an education (I'd actually go into detail here about what these tactics look like on a typical school day).

2. Know what you need from your school.
Do you need a supportive principal? Do you need supplies to run lab experiments? Do you need collaboration amongst colleagues and professional development? Let 'em know! This interview is a two-way street. If you don't like what you hear, this school might not be a good fit for you. Better to find out at the interview than on the first day of school.

3. Do not be overly positive, but be constructive.
We all hate the dreaded "what are your weakest qualities?" interview question. At this particular interview, I was even so lucky to get the "how do you felt you did in the group activity? how did the group activity go?".

While I'm sure interviewers will be turned off by a Negative Nancy, you don't want to be bubbling with shallow compliments either. Be constructive: "this did not go well, because... it could have been better if... in the future..."

What are my weakest qualities? Honestly, I have trouble knowing when it is time to move on in a subject. I sometimes get wrapped up in wanting every student understand how a particular problem is done that I forget to move on and try a different problem for their sake and for that of their classmates'. I am working on improving this about myself by having long-term lesson plans in place so that I know where I want to ultimately guide my students and by when. I also build into my lessons extra time and anticipated student responses and misconceptions.

4. Find ways to talk about things you've tried in the classroom, whether or not these things went well.
I'm talking lessons, classroom management tactics, contacting parents, projects... They know that there is no such thing as a teacher who nails every lesson every time, so don't worry if your student teaching experience is laden with rookie mistakes. Share those mistakes. Tell them what you learned from it. Show them that you are a teacher who is willing to try new activities and lessons and that you are developing strategies to get better and better at introducing new learning structures.

5. In group discussions ("fishbowl" activities), it's not what you say, it's how you say it.
Honestly, if they really wanted to what you have to say about a particular topic, they'd save it for the individual interview. In case you haven't caught on, teaching has taken a turn toward collaboration, so show 'em that you are a team player. Listen to what others have to say. Use others' names (all interviewees typically have name tags). Do not shoot down others' ideas, instead, add on to their ideas. Ask clarifying questions. Synthesize what's been said in the group.

6. Being awesome includes knowing that you are awesome.
For real. Stand tall, smile, greet people and introduce yourself. "Act as if." Trust in yourself.

OK, so maybe these things work and maybe they don't. I figure, you're better off walking into an interview appearing confident in your abilities rather than appearing unsure of your answers or shaky in what you believe in. I would rather get turned down from a job for appearing (or being misunderstood as) over-confident than for appearing timid and wishy washy.

7. Most importantly: remind 'em that you love kids!
And if you don't, honestly, you shouldn't be teaching. Done.

I did not want to sound like a creeper or an overzealous Chuck E. Cheese employee by gushing about how cute kids are, so I look for roundabout ways of telling them that I have only the utmost respect for students and what they bring to the classroom. I tell 'em that as a teacher, I'm there for the students, not for the subject matter. I like science, but I love kids. My respect for my students is what pushes me to be a better teacher; the fact that I am there for them is what pushes me to adapt my curriculum for their benefit.

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Hopefully someone out there (my future self included) finds these tips helpful. Besides these 7 tips, don't forget the usual:
  • Do your research about the school and school district
  • Dress professionally
  • Bring an extra copy of your resume and cover letter
  • Plan to arrive 30 minutes early
  • Learn your interviewers names; use their names
  • Maintain a professional demeanor from the moment you enter their school doors to the moment that you drive off of their lot
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Now, I have a question for y'all... if you happen to run into someone you know on the interviewing panel, to what extent is it appropriate to acknowledge your acquaintance? Do I say hello and ask about the wife and kids or do I pretend not to notice them from across the room?

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