Here’s a fact of life: You can submit 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 job unless you get an interview. Without the interview there can be no education. Do a good job at the interview and the job is yours! Do a bad job at the interview, and no matter how impressed you are with your credentials, no matter how high your GPA is, no matter how good your letters of recommendation are – the simple truth is: you will never get the position!
Each teacher interview is built around eight core themes – each aimed at revealing and highlighting your skills, abilities and attitudes. Each one is designed to separate the average from the good and the good from the good. Everything you do, everything you say, and everything that happens in the teacher’s interview is related to these topics – separately and collectively. Your success in any interview depends largely on how well you achieve all (and all) of the following:
1. Passion for teaching
When I interviewed primary and secondary school principals and asked them to identify the most important characteristic in a good teacher candidate, guess what they all told me? You guessed it – “a passion for education!”
What activities, projects or assignments have you been involved in that show your passion for teaching? What have you done that shows you are willing to go the extra mile for the students? What have you done that demonstrates your sincere commitment to education? Where did you go further? Did you do something in teaching the students that goes beyond the norm? Did you do something during your pre-service years that exceeded your college requirements for teacher certification? What really excites you about teaching?
2. Skills and experience
One of the first things you need to do in any interview is prove that you can do the job. In short – can you teach and can you teach effectively? In most interviews this will be the initial set of questions you will 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 should provide specific information rather than generalities. It’s also the time to be totally objective about yourself — with confidence and reassurance.
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 teaching students? Please don’t make the mistake of assuming 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 fact that you may find hard to believe. The most important factor each interviewer looks for in a candidate is not the breadth and depth of his or her skills, education, or talents. It’s admirable! In a recent review of more than 100,000 face-to-face interviews, there wasn’t a single candidate who wasn’t initially liked by the interviewers and recruiters. You might think that one’s character would be of less value than one’s teaching prowess, but that is not the case. Simply put, people are set because they are liked.
4. Student guidance
Candidates who do not have a strong student orientation are candidates who do not advance in the recruitment process. Without this direction, without this commitment to student life, without this desire to work alongside young people, no one would ever be appointed as a classroom teacher.
How do you motivate an unmotivated student? How do you evaluate students? Tell us about your most difficult student – how did you handle it? How do you deal with cultural diversity in your class? What do you enjoy most about working with children? What are some of the challenges you have faced working with children? Besides teaching students, what other work have you done with young people? Come in for an interview with a solid, honest student mentor, and you might just walk away from a job offer.
The field of education is changing rapidly – new technology, new standards, new curricula – a lot of new things. Your willingness and eagerness to continue your education is a major factor in your ‘rentability’. 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’re a lifelong learner—and that you’re willing to continue learning through graduate courses, in-service programs, webinars and webinars, memberships in professional organizations, books, journals, magazines, and a host of other professional opportunities that indicate your desire to take your education forward.
6. Management and discipline
You may have seen classrooms where the students were organized, the work was productive, and a sense of purpose and direction filled the room. You may also have seen classes that were chaotic, disruptive, and seemed out of control. You may have been a student in one or both of these classes at some time in your teaching career. Principals are vitally concerned with how you plan to run your classroom. Your management skills and discipline policy will be of vital importance 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 often be a major deciding point.
7. Lesson planning
What are the essential components of an effective lesson? Think about a recent lesson you taught and share the steps you took to deliver the lesson. Participate in the short and long term planning process to provide effective instructions. Think of a lesson that was ineffective or did not meet your expectations – what adjustments did you make to handle the lesson? How do you inculcate technology to improve your education? It is critical that you provide the interviewer with insight into lesson planning, lesson delivery, and lesson assessment. Anecdotes and examples should be critical components of your responses.
Can you handle the punches? Can you ‘go with the flow’? Can you change directions midway? Can you “bend in the wind”? All of these questions have to do with perhaps the most important trait of any good teacher—flexibility. Interviewers want to know that you can handle a variety of classroom situations, a wide range of teaching challenges, a wide range of changes that you can make in a timely manner, get all the adjustments, or make a wide range of changes yourself. Changing without getting upset is a key trait—one that can “fix” the interview.
The above topics appear in every interview with the teacher. Practice it, be prepared for it, and review it on a regular basis. Your preparation will help you beat the competition and land the teaching position you want!