So, you got an interview. Congratulations!
If you are in the beginning stages of filling out an application, may I suggest starting out at the first post in the series titled: Land a Teaching Job Step-One: The Paper Application.
Back to the congratulations. Now that you have an interview scheduled, it’s time to get down to business. And by business, I mean research. The more you know about an institution, the better you will do in the interview. More importantly, you will be better equipped to determine if this is a place where you want to begin your career. So much of teaching is about relationships when you chose a school to work at, you are choosing your new colleagues, friends, and community. After building relationships with students and staff it is going to be emotionally difficult to leave a school, so make sure to chose wisely!
While I don’t assign homework in my own classroom, preparing for a teaching interview requires quite a bit. Here are my suggestions:
First the district and school websites. What are they advertising about themselves? A quick jaunt over to the Pullman Public Schools website shows pictures of students, a celebration of teachers that just passed their National Board Certification, advertisements for FFA events, Art Club, as well as the ribbon cutting on our brand new high school. Looking at this, I see a district with community support, one that is able to pass a bond to build a new high school. It also looks to have a focus on all student activities, not just sports, as well as a commitment to teacher professional development. At a glance, this is a place I would want to work! Click around and look for what would be a good fit for you. Here are a few questions to ask yourself.
- What is this school proud of?
- What do I not see?
- Do I want to work here?
While perusing the website, also use it as a time to prep for interview perfection, below are some key things to look for to make sure you are well-read and prepped.
- Are they implementing any programs PBIS, AVID, PBL that I should go on to research?
- Who are the building administrators?
- What types of classes and activities do they have? What is this school known for?
Now, on to the dirty work. Check out what the search engines say, any news coming out? Any financial troubles? This should not necessarily be the make it or break it deal, but is important to understand. This could potentially lead to changes in staffing and perhaps a school culture that might not work for you. If you see anything troublesome, be on alert during your interview. If it still feels like a concern, don’t hesitate to ask about it if you are offered the post.
Finally, scrounge social media. Many districts run a Twitter account these days. If you aren’t on the Twitter train as an educator already, may I suggest this post to help encourage you? I like checking out a school’s Twitter because it shows a much more personal side to the school. I’d look for a range of activities, shout-outs, and informational posts. Just try to get a feel for the school.
Putting all of this research together will help to shade in your picture of this school and district. You should be doing just as much research to look good for the interview as you do for yourself. Getting a job is a lot like dating, make sure that you want to be with a school as much as they want you there!
If you know anyone at that school, reach out to them. Just give them a heads up. It should never be a surprise to someone that knows you that you applied for a job where they work. This doesn’t mean that you need to ask any favors of them, merely ensure that they know. In the chance that you are not connected to the school in any way, make sure that your mentor teacher and recommendation writers know what your plans are. They often have connections at schools across cities and states that you may not know about.
Being good at interviewing come with practice and experiences. The best interviewers have short, to the point anecdotes that exactly relate to the question, rather that just a theoretical answer. As a newer interviewer, you might not have a huge deposit of these stories, but you can always have a few well-rehearsed ones… And I really mean well-rehearsed. Work on the wording of the anecdote, practice it. Again, it is important to not go on too long, ensure that your statement is pithy and responds directly to the question. Here are a few general questions that come up a lot in teacher interviews:
1. Tell me about a time working with a difficult student…
You absolutely must have a difficult student story! This is a story you must have on hand. One problem that occurred with a student and what you did to work on it. Hint, they don’t really need ALL the details, the interview team wants to assess how caring and responsive you are, and if you will fit with how they handle misbehavior. Stay on point, and make sure that your story depicts how you truly manage a classroom.
2. Tell me about a time that you worked through conflict…
It’s like when Wesley tells Buttercup that “life is pain,” but instead, I’m informing you that work is conflict. But, there are healthy ways to handle it and move past it. That’s what the interviewer wants to make sure you can handle. Teachers interact with IT staff, custodians, building administration, upper administration, administrative staff, students, parents, community members, etc. There are a lot of moving parts and you need to show that you are a professional. Set up the conflict quickly, and don’t dwell on the negative, focus the story on how you a) moved through it and b) learned from it.
3. Tell me about why you want to be a teacher…
The most generic of all questions. But the most generic of all answers: “I love kids” will not wow the crowd. We hope that you love students and teaching, but try to push further. Get to the aspects of your personality as well as your past experiences that led you here! Are you inquisitive, social, and caring? Are you thoughtful and humble? Tell us why you were meant to fill this role, make it personal.
A few other great stories to have in your pocket:
Teaching philosophy example: For me, this is when I switched to Standards-Based Grading and threw out homework. My philosophy is that a grade should be based on what a student knows and I stick to that in my class.
Lessons that went well. That really great lab you planned, or the time you switched the order of activities and got students to do some major inquiry.
How you have incorporated tech. Tech is hot right now. For younger teachers, it may seem second nature so don’t discount that time you used Google Forms to collect data, or when you ChromeCasted from a student computer.
How you plan to differentiate. I think this is the most difficult aspect of teaching. Getting to every student in ways that challenge and support them. Have an example of ways that you differentiated instruction in your student teaching.
By being well informed, connected, and adequately practiced, there is no stopping you in that interview! And that’s what the next post will be all about.
Comment with questions and other helpful application advice as the class of 2017 starts job searching! Are you a brand new teacher? Feel free to e-mail me with questions as well –> firstname.lastname@example.org
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