In our previous post, we shared some things to do to prepare for the interview, including how to beef up your resume, preparing a portfolio, how to dress, good hygiene, respecting the time of the interviewers, and nonverbals to consider.
Now it is time to talk about… well, what to talk about.
While every interview will be unique, we have been a part of enough, both as the interviewer and the interviewee, to know that there are some standard questions and expectations.
You may be ushered into a conference room with an entire department sitting there, staring at you from across an intimidatingly large table. Or, it may take place as a relatively casual conversation with the principal in his office. If you are considering a school in a town far enough away that would require a move, you might even be doing an online or phone interview. One of our writers even interviewed and hired a teacher sitting at a Starbucks.
Often times the interviewer(s) will be reading questions from a standard list of questions provided by the district. Some districts even require that all candidates be asked the exact same questions. In other situations, though, the interview is much more organic, with each question stemming from the responses to the previous question.
A good rule of thumb in all interviews is that the questions asked tend to reveal the needs and issues specific to that school, community, and position. So, don’t be afraid to take notes.
You will probably be given the chance to ask questions. It is a good idea to prepare a couple in advance. You could ask about the principal’s philosophy of discipline, the type of curriculum used on the campus, team planning expectations, or community involvement. We would suggest refraining from asking about salary - that will be addressed by Human Resources when you are offered a position.
Know about Testing
You can rest assured that they are going to ask you about standardized testing. At a bare minimum, know what tests are given in the grade levels at the school to which you are applying.
Administrators will probably want to know your opinion on how to prepare students for the test and how you will use data from testing to plan units and lessons. If you have taught before, they may also want to know about your previous students’ test scores.
If you want to be especially prepared, you should be able to find the school’s test results online and prepare a plan on how you could help improve test scores.
Know the Acronyms
You don’t want to be caught having to ask what an acronym means.
When discussing Special Education, you could be asked about ARDs, IEPs, BIPs, LRE, or PPCD.
If curriculum and planning comes up, they may ask for your understanding of YAGs and DCAs.
Or, you could be asked about your experience working with LEP students or if you use TPR.
And, although it is not an acronym, 504 is another thing you will want to know about.
Prepare Some Anecdotes
One thing you can definitely count on being asked about is your classroom management. It is important to be able to put your classroom procedures and systems into words. You will also want to be able to describe your behavior management plans.
But, it is always better and more memorable to share anecdotes. Think about specific examples of how you handled various situations that would exemplify successes that you have had. Of course you should leave out names or identifying information.
You might even be asked to relay specific types of scenarios. Some will even ask about situations you handled poorly and how you would do it differently if given the chance.
It is often hard to come up with examples on the spot, so go in prepared with examples of how you handled a particularly oppositional student, an argumentative parent, conflict in the workplace, and a lesson that went particularly well.
Have Solid References
Choosing your references carefully is very important. You want to try and think of at least one coworker, a mid level leader (like a department head or instructional coach), and an administrator (consider also including a district-level administrator if there is one who is familiar enough with you).
First, make sure that you are selecting references who are familiar with your strengths. But, even more importantly, think through the negatives they may have observed or been made aware of. It’s best if the people you select know you well enough to be able to share specific examples of your work and interaction with students.
Second, before you actually list anyone as a reference, ask them if they are comfortable being a reference for you. Hopefully they will tell you if they are not going to be able to give you a positive recommendation. Of course, this also means that these individuals will know that you are applying for another job, so be careful not to put your current job in jeopardy.
While it may be tempting to give the answers you think they want to hear (you know, the right answers), be careful not to portray an image of someone you’re not. You don’t want to convey things just to impress an interview panel that you won’t be able to follow through with.
If they choose to hire you based upon the perfect, ideal picture of a teacher that you painted yourself to be, you’re going to have trouble living up to that, and they will soon see the true you.
If you want a happy, long-term position, you want to make sure that you are being hired for who you are as a whole package - strengths, flaws, and all.
Be Prepared to Teach
It is becoming increasingly common for teachers to be asked to teach a mini-lesson during an interview. This will allow the committee to see how you communicate information and give you the chance to show your teaching strategies and prowess.
You will most likely be teaching adults but asked to teach as though they are students.
Usually they are kind enough to ask you to prepare something when you are contacted to schedule the interview. At that time, they will give you the time parameters and expectations along with what materials and technology that will be available.
Some interviews include impromptu requests to teach so they can see how you do under pressure when put on the spot. It would be very wise to go ahead and prepare a lesson or two in order to be able to act on it if called to do so.
Reflect Your Passion
While expertise in the content is very important, as is having a good understanding of pedagogy and classroom management, what may most set you apart from other candidates is allowing them to see your passion for teaching.
What inspires you about teaching? Why did you become a teacher? What do you hope to accomplish as a teacher?
Principals want teachers who care about students, and this is your opportunity to show your heart..
Teamwork, Culture, & PD
A key factor in filling any position is making sure that whoever they hire will be a good fit with the campus and their team. You may be asked about previous experiences working with a team, including how important you find teamwork to be and what you would bring to your new team.
Another matter that often comes up is school climate and culture. Be prepared to explain your perspective on their importance along with ideas on how to improve them.
It may also benefit you to reflect upon some meaningful professional developments you have attended. What did you learn from them? How did they impact your teaching? How have you shared that knowledge with colleagues?
Ideas for Community Outreach & Parent Involvement
Many schools struggle with how to best communicate with families and fresh ideas on how to reach out to community members. Schools in low socio-economic communities tend to have particular trouble in this area, but this issue presents a challenge across the board.
If you have worked in a school that has particular success in community outreach, share those experiences. If not, do a little research and find some fresh ideas. But as cautioned earlier, don’t suggest something you wouldn’t want to participate in. If it’s your idea, you may be asked to lead the cause.
Be yourself; Relax
The most important thing to remember during an interview is to truly be yourself. They need to see the person that you really are.
Don’t over prepare to the point that you are worried about getting everything right. You don’t want to sound like you are just regurgitating rehearsed answers.
You will probably be nervous, but let them see your personality. Take a deep breath before entering. Pause to think before answering questions (and continue to remember to breath), and don’t be afraid to ask for a question to be repeated if necessary.
And, remember, it’s OK to laugh.