: To establish a positive classroom environment, share what you will do the first few days of school.
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A: Those initial days of a new school year are critical, as well as anxious— especially for ninth-grade students. Some of the things I would do would include 1) meeting and greeting my students at the door to my classroom. I want to shake their hands, call them by name, and welcome them into the room. 2) I want to establish a seating pattern or seating chart early on. I'd want to assign them to desks alphabetically, at least initially, so I can learn their names quicker. 3) I would want to talk briefly about myself, sharing with students my own education, my family, and especially my philosophy of education in general and English education specifically. 4) I'd want to take attendance each day, making sure I add a positive comment about each student as I begin learning their names and the correct pronunciation of those names. 5) I would also share an initial set of rules and classroom expectations—no more than five in number—and invite them to help establish additional classroom procedures throughout the year. Finally, 6) I would inform students about my expectations for each class and each period. They need to know my expectations about bringing textbooks, note taking, homework assignments, and appropriate behavior. I know it's a tall order, but one that will be essential to the eventual success I envision for each and every student.
Here's an opportunity to answer two questions in one. First, what is your philosophy of teaching? And, two, have you sufficiently thought about and planned out those critical first days of school? You want the interviewer to know that you have planned ahead, not that you've just made up the answer right there on the spot.
Interviewers always appreciate problem-solvers. Tell the interviewer how you can help him or her solve professional problems, and you'll always be ahead of the pack.
: Talk about the physical attributes of a classroom.
A: I know that effective teaching depends on environmental factors just as much as on psychological, social, and personal factors. The way I lay out my classroom and the ways my students perceive that classroom will have a major impact on their level of comfort, their willingness to participate in learning activities, and, most important, their behavior. I want the classroom design to send a very powerful message to students. I want them to think, "This is a comfortable place that supports my needs, both physical and psychological, and one in which I feel secure and respected. I enjoy being here." I realize that where students learn is just as important as what student learn. In short, what I put into my classroom is as significant as what I put into every lesson.
The interviewer will want to know if you have given sufficient thought to all aspects of teaching, all the aspects that might influence the academic success of your students as well as your own teaching success.
: If I walked into your classroom, what would it look like?
A: The desks in the classroom would be arranged in a horseshoe pattern. This will open up the front of the classroom for oral presentations, skits, and small-group work on the floor. My desk would be pushed into a corner in the back of the classroom, instead of being in the front. I know that a desk can be perceived as a symbol of power; its placement in the front of the room is a symbol of power and authority. I much prefer an atmosphere of shared governance in my classroom. I would soften up all the straight lines and sharp angles with lots of rugs, bean bag chairs, perhaps an old sofa, a variety of plants and animal habitats, and some pillows in a reading center. I have learned that all those lines and angles can sometimes be psychologically inhibiting for students and that rounded edges, lines, and corners suggest psychological safety and comfort for youngsters. My classroom would also have well-designed traffic patterns, allowing students opportunities to easily get to the pencil sharpener, the wastebasket, and from their desks to me, the door, and an activity center. Those patterns need to be based on both safety concerns as well as ease of accessibility. Most important, I want the classroom to be a community, one in which students are given opportunities to suggest patterns, arrangements, and configurations. Those opportunities will help build a sense of personal ownership in what we do and learn.
You probably haven't given much thought to the physical arrangement of your classroom. It, too, will provide the interviewer with some insights into your personal philosophy as well as your ability to plan ahead, so be prepared to discuss your ideas.
: Talk about time management.
A: For me, good time management is all about transitions—you know, those times during the day when I move from one activity to the next. But in order for those transitions to be effective they need to be taught. For example, I would let students know when an activity will end ("We'll have the whole class review of triangles in two minutes."). I'd let students know what they can expect in any subsequent or follow-up activity ("After lunch, we're going to continue looking at the structure of onion cells."). And I'd be sure my lessons had clear beginnings and endings. I'd review the lesson objectives before the lesson begins and again at the conclusion of the lesson. Actively involving students in time-management procedures helps ensure a fully functioning school day and curriculum.
Show that you understand the importance of time management. Provide the interviewer with specific examples of how you will put time-management principles to work in your own classroom.