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Respect Everybody

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Here's something I've often done in interview situations, something that reveals a great deal about a candidate's character. Prior to an interview, I will ask the secretary to engage the candidate in some sort of informal conversation. Or, if time allows, I will ask the secretary to escort the candidate on a tour of the building or grounds. Often, in these situations, the candidate will "let his or her guard down," figuring that this is not part of the actual interview. And, quite often, the candidate will blow it, simply by being discourteous to the secretary, treating her as a subordinate, talking down to her, or ignoring her completely. I would say that about 20—25 percent of the candidates (both male and female) I've interviewed have lost any chance of being hired simply by how they have treated the secretary.

Please consider everyone you meet—from the janitors and secretaries all the way to the curriculum coordinator and superintendent—as important people in the school or district. If you are discourteous or ingenuous to any one, you may find yourself pounding the pavement for another round of interviews. You never know; any person may be part of the interview process.

First Impressions

Your mother was absolutely right when she told you, "You don't get a second chance to make a first impression."


There is a considerable bank of research studies that proves that interviewers form an opinion about a candidate in the first 15 to 20 seconds of an interview. Yes, you read that right—the first 15 to 20 seconds!

Suffice it to say it is critical that you establish a good first impression as soon as you walk in the door (even before). The clothes you wear, the style of your hair, the amount of perfume you have on, the condition of your shoes, the firmness of your handshake, and the excitement in your voice will all (collectively) send a powerful message to an interviewer about who you are. Mess up on any one of those initial "contacts," and you will probably mess up the crucial first impression you want an interviewer to have.

It is quite possible you can overcome a poor first impression with a stellar interview, but why put yourself at a disadvantage the moment you walk through the door? Give yourself every advantage, every "brownie point," you can. Knowing that your shoes are shined, that you are making direct eye contact, that your suit was recently dry-cleaned, and that you removed that humongous nose ring from your face will give you the extra confidence you want to do an outstanding interview.

Be absolutely certain you are dressed professionally. Don't wear your "college clothes"; wear the clothes of a professional educator. For men, that means a coat and tie; for women, it means a classic blouse and skirt. Your attire should be on the conservative side, your shoes should be shined to a brilliant gloss, and your jewelry should be at a minimum. Oh, one more thing: Please cover those tattoos!

Keep a close eye on your body language. Give the interviewer a firm handshake, and look him or her in the eye in responding to every question. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor and your hands are not stuck in your pockets or smoothing back your hair. Sit up straight in the chair, and lean slightly forward.

Practice your delivery. Don't speak in a monotone; your voice delivery should be enthusiastic and confident. Be sure to enunciate all your words, and please stay away from any slang.


When I'm interviewing a teacher candidate, I look for one thing above all else. I call it "fire in the belly." I want someone who has a passion for teaching, an excitement about educating kids, and an intense desire to provide the best scholastic experiences for all students they possibly can! Lack that "fire in the belly," and, as far as I'm concerned, you will never be an effective teacher. Lack that "fire in the belly," and you may never find a job as a classroom teacher.

I look for that "fire in the belly" in my college courses as well. Usually, by about the third week of the semester, I can tell who has the "fire" and who doesn't. I can tell who will be a successful teacher because they are excited about learning and they are equally excited about passing along their knowledge to a new generation of learners. Some students take a course because they have to. Others take a course because they are excited about teaching inquiry-based science, they are passionate about a "hands- on, minds-on" approach to the teaching of social studies, or they are energetic about the ways in which literature can enhance any curriculum. It's that latter group who will make the difference in the lives of children.

In your interviews you want to demonstrate that energy and passion. You want the other person to know that this has been a lifelong goal of yours, that the mere act of being with a child in a learning situation is one of life's greatest thrills, and that continuing your education while promoting the education of your students is an incredible experience. You want the interviewer to know, above all else, that teaching is your passion. If it isn't, the interviewer will discover it in the first 15—20 seconds (see the previous section).


Be passionate. Be energetic. Let your words and your body language signal your enthusiasm for teaching. This is your career; this is what you were born to do! Use words like "enthusiastic," "energetic," "motivated," and "passionate" in your responses. Let the interviewer see the spark in your eyes, the forward tilt of your body, and the energy in your words. Above all else, let him or her experience your desire to teach.

Remember: The teacher who gets the job is, quite frequently, the one with "fire in the belly."

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