Several years ago I was part of a team of people interviewing several candidates for a teaching position. I distinctly remember one young man who spent the entire 45-minute interview talking about his accomplishments, resume, background, and prowess in writing exciting lesson plans. After he left, I remarked to my colleagues that not once, in those 45 minutes, did he ever refer to students. Not once in all that time did he ever use the word "students." It was apparent that he was more interested in presenting himself than he was in teaching students. Candidates without a strong student orientation don't make it any farther in the hiring process. Without that orientation, without that commitment to student life and that desire to work handin-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 or 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.
You're about to complete a college education. Great! But that doesn't mean your learning has ended. The field of education is changing rapidly, with new technology, standards, and curricula. Your eagerness to continue your education is a key factor in your "hire ability." Candidates who assume that just because they have a degree their education is over never succeed in an interview. Any principal or hiring authority 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.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? What are your plans for graduate school? In what area of teaching do you still need some improvement? Tell me about a book you've read recently. What are the essential traits of a good teacher? Do you belong to any professional organizations? One of my lifelong mantras as a teacher has always been: "The best teachers are those who have as much to learn as they do to teach." Be prepared to demonstrate how you might embrace this quotation in your everyday activities.
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. Principals and other administrators 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. Read, research, and review everything you can. Your success here will frequently be a major deciding point.
According to research, teachers in a typical classroom lose about 50 percent of their teaching time because of students' disruptive behavior. Be prepared to discuss how you would address this issue somewhere in the interview.
To establish a positive classroom environment, share what you will do the first few weeks of school with your students. How do you create and maintain positive rapport with your students? How would you deal with a student who was always late to class? Describe your discipline policy in detail. Describe some classroom rules you would use. To many administrators nothing is more important than a well-crafted discipline policy and a well-articulated management plan. Be prepared to share your thoughts on both.
FROM THE PRINCIPAL'S DESK:
"School districts place a tremendous emphasis on discipline and classroom management. They want to feel confident that you, as a new teacher, have a good, sound, fair method of class management. You can't wimp out in this area."
A lesson plan is only a guide. A well-designed lesson plan is flexible, subject to change, and reflective of the individual needs of each and every student in the classroom. It provides an outline for the accomplishment of specific tasks, while at the same time allowing for a measure of flexibility in terms of student interests and needs. You need to demonstrate to any interviewer your familiarity with lesson design as well as your ability to tailor lessons to the specific instructional needs of your students. Be prepared to be specific as well as accommodating.
Please relate the process you go through when planning a typical lesson. Please share some ways in which you have assessed students. 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, delivery, and 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" or "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 they will get the most "bang for the buck"—that you can handle a wide variety of classroom situations, a wide range of teaching challenges, and a wide array of modifications or alterations, all at a moment's notice. Your eagerness 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.
Are you willing to teach at another grade (elementary)? Are you willing to teach another subject area (secondary)? How would you handle a fire drill in the middle of your favorite lesson? If we brought in a brand-new reading series next week, what would you do? Are you comfortable with change? Would you be willing to work in an after-school program? Administrators are always interested in individuals they can use in a variety of situations. The willingness to be flexible and the desire to quickly adjust to change are both positive characteristics valued in any school.
The themes above show up in every teacher interview. Practice them, be prepared for them, and review them on a regular basis. Your preparedness—like that of a long-distance runner—will help you run the extra mile, beat the competition, and set a personal record: getting the teaching position you want!