Teaching Trenches: Teacher Interview – Questions to Ask the Interviewer or Panel

interview2When I was on the job hunt, I searched the corporate world to identify key points that I could bridge to the education sect.  CEO of TheLadders.Com recommends, “What can I do to help you (my future boss) get a gold star on your review next year?”.  While this question doesn’t directly translate to the K-12 education world, the equivalent is:  “What do you expect out of your teachers?”.  Take it a step further by asking, “What do students expect (after all, they are our client)?”, and of course, “What do parents expect?”.

Safe questions:

I noticed that your school’s mission/goal is ________ (this will demonstrate your research).  What areas is your staff working to improve in order to achieve this mission?

How would you describe the average student at your school? How would you like to see the general student body grow?

Describe the breakdown of team time and department time.

What kinds of staff development activities did the entire faculty participate in this past year?

If you are a new teacher, you could ask, “What types of supports are in place for first year teachers?”

Questions to avoid:

Anything that can be researched on their website or the district website.

Logistical questions about how much prep time you get or how many classes you teacher. This will fall into place and could be misconstrued.

Teaching Trenches: Preparing for Teacher Interview Questions


After combing through the Internet for every imaginable interview tip, I realized there is very little that encapsulates the gist of the teacher interview.  While I came across many sites (here, here, and here are a start) touting they had the most comprehensive list, I found it best to approach the interview questions with a more holistic approach.   Armed with a pool of responses that catered to categories rather than isolated questions, I had a much easier time responding to questions worded in an unconventional manner.  Additionally, this approach protected me from hitting a block when faced with curveball questions.  Instead of hesitating freaking because the assessment question was posed slightly different from the typical assessment question, I carefully crafted a response to meet the unexpected wording.

This approach also allowed me to compartmentalize my responses and keep track of the information I knew I wanted to convey at some point in the interview — better known as, “things I wanted the interview committee to hear.”

Below are the categories I prepared.  Something to note:  I last interviewed several years ago.  When applicable, I provided possible responses if I was currently going through the interview process.

My strengths, my weaknesses:
Strengths: Ability to connect with all kids (my professor instilled in our entire cohort that relationships sit at the cornerstone of teacher effectiveness).  You know yourself best – let it ring, while also highlighting that there is ALWAYS something new to learn in the education world.

Weaknesses:  This is a tough one — you want to avoid sounding overly confident, but also don’t want to highlight any flaws (ex:  you’re never on time).  I am a procrastinator to the end.  No matter what strategies I try, I will always be a last minute type of girl.  While I didn’t I worked this into my response my stating that I often spend countless amounts of time looking at resources for the BEST possible strategy or delivery model for a particular piece of content, which can be very time-consuming.  Rather than accepting the fact that there may be more than one BEST way of delivering the content, I keep searching until I am 100% satisfied with my selection.

Lessons/Units to discuss:
Google Earth:  This served as an engagement, technology, and/or cross-discipline response.

Document Based Questions:  This served as a research, writing, and/or inquiry response.  I Also touched on my use of screencast to provide tutorials for students (emphasizes technology skill)

Civil War Debate:  This served as an engagement and/or rigor response.

Feedback:  If this was today, I would discuss my use of Google Classroom and Google Docs to provide feedback and facilitate the revision process.

Collaboration: I discussed my experience with Professional Learning Communities, specifically how we utilized flexible grouping across the grade level to differentiate curriculum and specific lessons.

Assessment:  I discussed the use of Flubaroo for data collection on assessments to identify questions (and skills) that students struggled with to inform future instruction.

Differentiation: I cross-referenced my work with PLCs (mentioned above) and shared how I varied an essay with three minor adjustments to create three drastically different assignments.  The end result was a unique product for all students because they pulled their evidence from self-selected and teacher selected books, while also responding to an essay question that meet their individual needs.

Classroom management:  I took the interview panel through my classroom as if they were student.  I discussed the protocol beginning with how I stand outside my door to greet students before every class, followed by a task projected on the board at the start of every class.  I discussed norms in my classroom and fair discipline.

Parent involvement:  I discussed a particular situation when I partnered with a parent to gain better results for a particular student.  I also discussed my protocol for contacting parents at the start of the year to welcome them to class so that their first communication is positive.  I also discussed my standards for contacting home when a student is in need, but also when a student deserves praise.  I also discussed the accessibility and resourcefulness of my class (primarily homework) blog.

Questions I was asked that were not necessarily expected:  

What was your best day of teaching and your worst day of teaching (I will admit, I was NOT prepared to answer the second question), but I relied on my philosophy about taking a lesson that didn’t go well period 1, to improve it for later on in the day.  I was stumped on this question because I was uncertain about whether they wanted me to detail something like, the worst day was when the Virginia Tech shooting happened because it was an emotional day, and my students were scared, or something related to instruction.

Describe a research project you have conducted with your students.  This was difficult for me to answer because I came from a place that did not place enough of an emphasis on research because they were consumed by state standards.  I was honest in my response, but found the closest thing that related to the question.

Tips:
Know what you want them to know about you.  I wanted to share my approach with backwards design.  I knew that it may not come up with a question, so I weaved it into my response when asked about something else (most likely about a lesson).

Have specific stories, experiences to fall back on, but also mesh in your philosophy.  You will not have an opportunity to share everything, so use an experience question to weave in your philosophy – it’s ok to veer off for a thought or two as long as you quickly get back on track to answering the question.  Or, when asked about your philosophy, cite a specific lesson you used to incorporate it.

Books you have read:  Have a kid title (I choose something is relevant to the position I am interviewing for, not the previous position I held – I used Sherman Alexie’s, The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian), adult title (I had just finished reading Little Bee — you want it to be something that is slightly under the radar, not entirely popular, yet not completely obscure either.  Most likely, the interview panel is looking for future reads for their own reading pleasure) and education title (I used Teach Like A Champion because I had just finished reading it for a graduate class.  If I were interviewing today, I would use Beers and Probst’s Notice & Noteready on the tip of your tongue.  This is not a question to fumble or fake.

Finally, regardless of your response, pick something that you do well and have experience with, rather than a buzzword you think the panel wants to hear.  While it’s important to cover certain topics, do it in an authentic manner.  The interview panel has to believe you do said strategy, rather than just hear that you do said strategy.  If your PLC experience wasn’t up to par, don’t say that it was.

Be yourself, take a minute to collect your thoughts when responding, and most importantly, keep a list of a few you want to highlight over the course of your interview.  It’s okay to glance at your notes, as long as they aren’t recorded in a notebook that looks something like this ;-).

Teaching Trenches: The Interview

InterviewSo, you made it through the initial screening of the madness titled, “teacher job fair”…Congratulations!  Next up, the small interview.  Prepare yourself, this may be a one-on-one, one-on-two, or in my most recent case, one-on-five.

Positive preparations:  Bookmark the school’s website and increase the site’s traffic so much that they start to wonder.  Next, make a cheat sheet and memorize it.  Things to know:  school mission, team make up, school demographics, access the school improvement plan, data documents, anything that will give you an edge.  Record and memorize the names of the people conducting your interview.

Mandatory Materials:   Print enough resumes and cover letters in case they are needed, and, of course, one for yourself.  Bring a tote bag with minimal student work samples (I brought a copy of my student interactive notebook, accessible if needed — note:  I did not use mine, but felt more prepared knowing that I had it).  Bring a neat, new notepad and pen.  No frills, patterns, or excess; a simple notepad and nice pen are sufficient.

Fantastic First Impressions:  Greet the office staff, introduce yourself, and state the position you are interviewing for or who you’re interviewing with.

Enlightening Expectations:  Upon arrival at my most recent interview, I was given a selection of student work samples for a research project.  Although I knew what the end result was, and had great ideas about how to teach argument writing, the process, and everything in between, I was at a LOSS!  I could not target the problem area for the sampling I was given.  It seemed like the RED FLAG sample was removed from the stack and I was looking at a collection of average work that did nothing fabulous, but didn’t lack in one clear area.  I quickly drew up an idea about some strengths and weaknesses.  Upon entering the conference room, I was asked for my feedback.  This was an area that I felt prepared for, but did not excel at due to the lack of sampling.  If I can advise in this area, I would say, develop a key list of feedback criteria ranging from developing stronger thesis, developing key evidence, proper citations, elaborating on ideas, etc.

More on question and answer preparation and standout attire later…

Teaching Trenches: Teacher Job Fair/Recruitment Fair Tips

teacher job fair banner

Recently, I walked into the zoo of a job market called teacher job fairs.  A total of 556 people showed up for a whopping THREE available English teacher positions throughout the much desired district.  Saying that 437 people showed up for the FIVE available history positions would be an overstatement, and I’m not talking about the 437.  Okay, fine, maybe it was 80 people rather than hundreds, but it certainly seemed like I was a small fish swimming in a deep, murky sea.  I had no idea how I would navigate my resume to the top, or push my small, unaggressive self to the front of the pack.
 
I walked into the school, with an unknown level of confidence.  I had no idea what I would walk into on the other side of the glass doors.  First thing I saw?  About seventy five chairs lined up, organized by discipline.  You want a math position?  Let me ask, do you have a degree?  Great, step right up.  How about a science position?  Let me ask, are you breathing?  Please, step right up, you’re hired.  In the English and history section, different movement was taking place.  Within moments, groups of hopefuls quickly stole empty chairs from the math and science section to set up shop and endure the 30-45 minute wait for their English or history interview.
 
Ultimately, the wait proved beneficial.  I watched countless people ahead of me yay-ed or nay-ed as interviewers seemed fit.  Although, no decisions were made, I could pinpoint who made the cut and who made it to the reject pile.  “You have no experience?  What are you doing here?”  “You’re still waiting on your certification?  Come back next year.”  As I scanned through my interview cheat sheet one last time, I inched my way to the front of the line, allowing one person to skip over me because it meant I would interview with the less intimidating of the two.  I wondered if our interactions in the holding space were evaluated.  What about how we approached the table when called, how we greeted each interviewer, and finally how to position our body at the awkward round table?
 
Before I knew it, my name was called.  After a two second scan of my resume, the witty, Zooey Deschanel lookalike, raised herself from the seat and said, “wait right here….I want you to meet someone.” I will spare the details because it won’t enhance the advisory component of this post, but the bottom line is, I was considered for the position because of my dual subject certification.  Credentials aside, I can’t help but think my skimmed and scanned resume and cover letter aided my cause. Here are some tips on navigating an open job fair for a specific district.
 
  1. Research.  I can’t stress this enough.  My last job was an open market, once you were hired by the district, you were free to speak with any principal in all 200 schools.  In my most recent position, each subject area has a district department supervisor conducting the initial screening and interviews based upon availability.  Therefore, I prepared several cover letters based on who I may be interviewing with…department supervisor one or two, subject area one, two, or combined position.
  2. Check your resume and cover letter.  Put it away, check it again.  Repeat daily for a week.  I probably changed mine a total of 18 times.  Make copies.  Check the spelling. check the address, etc.  I can’t stress this enough.  You are bound to find errors.
  3. Talk to other supervisors and personnel during downtime if they engage in conversation with you.  You want them rooting for you.  In a short 30 minutes of waiting, I had the physical education supervisor cheering me on, checking back in after the interview.  In this case, the phrase “any PR is good PR” held true.
  4. Greet other prospects, but don’t engage in conversation.  It’s really not worth it.  Also, if you ask me, reviewing potential Q+A topics is a much better use of your wait time.
  5. Highlight items that are on your resume, without focusing on them.  For a simple equation, begin reflecting on an experience by sharing your response, then throw in the “when I participated in curriculum planning last summer.”  Highlight the skill, not the title.  Your goal is to make the interviewer become more interested in what you did in said position, so much so, that they have to go back and revisit your resume AFTER your interview.  This session is simply a screening.  You want them to place your resume in the “revisit” stack, not the “reject black hole.
  6. What to wear.  I opted against a suit for this event, and I’m happy with my decision.  I wore a grey 3/4 sleeve dress, black tights and dress boots.  If I could do it again, I would make sure the dress was a bit more comfortable, I did a lot of sitting.   I threw on simple stud earrings, a small pendant necklace, and a simple ring.
  7. What to bring:  I strategically placed copies of my resume and cover letter in one folder, organized for easy access based on the position I interviewed for.  I carried a small notebook, a pen, and that’s about it.  I would advise against carrying a purse, it just seems weird with business attire.  A mid-size bag/tote in a solid leather seems most practical and professional.
  8. Follow-up.  Send a thank you note to whoever you interviewed with.  THIS is KEY, since there are so many applicants for so few positions.  If anything, it will have them revisit your packet of materials.

Next up…the personalized/second round interview.

Teaching Trenches: To Do Upon Returning


Most individuals under the age of 22 consider September their new year, otherwise known as a fresh start. This may be the reason why so many college students view December 31st as a reason to lose complete control of one’s actions and engage in activities they may regret come January 1st, because really, one doesn’t grasp the concept of “New Year” until they’ve landed a job and the concept of summer vacation is just a memory. Unless of course, you’re a teacher. I have a hard time internalizing the new year because it seems unnatural to adopt new habits in the middle of a school year. However, I’ve found that it’s a time to refresh, buckle down, and tighten up in a few areas. While the picture featured above adds to my anxiety, rather than decreasing it, there are a few things on my to-do list to kick off the New Year at school:
1. Review your rules, procedures, AND expectations. This is incredibly important after a week lacking structure and brain stimulation. I also take advantage of the “expectations are now raised”, let’s start gearing up for the next grade level-opportunity.

2. Make sure you, your students, and parents are on the same page. In an ideal world, I print grade sheets right before the holiday break so that any make up work can be completed over break. I’d by lying if I said this happened every year. So, why not start the year fresh with printed grade sheets that must be signed by parents so that all three parties are on the same page.

3. Implement ONE new practice you’ve had your eyes on. This is how anchor activities, daily preview and review of lesson objective and goals, and reflection activities have found a way into my classroom. Sometimes September isn’t the best time to implement 18 new strategies into your repertoire. In January I make a concerted effort to focus on one addition to my class and push through to June when I evaluate the effectiveness and decide if I’ll keep it, tweak it, or completely trash it.

4. Update outlook calendar & reminders. I rely on my calendar for all weekly meetings (sending out invitations&reminders to the members on my committees), tasks that need to be accomplished by a certain date, colleagues birthdays, emailing home grade reports, etc. Do it! It will make “forgetting tasks” a thing of the past.

5. Clean out your email box, update parent emails. About twice a year I take time to update my parent emails because they always bounce back when I send home my twice monthly reports. Also, archive old email, save files, and start with a fresh, empty box!

Teaching Trenches: Gift Guide for your Co-Workers

You work with these people everyday and while the end of the year is a time to thank, there’s nothing harmful in spreading some cheer and appreciation at this time of year. As the goal of this blog is to elevate the professionalism in teaching, I think this is just one more step. This is one more way to follow our peers in other professional fields. I’m not expecting you to drop a life savings, but there are plenty of “un-cheap”, useful, and NECESSARY gifts that your colleagues will appreciate. Yes, I said, necessary. There are some people that require a gift, and I’ll tell you who the first one is…your custodian.
Co-worker Gift Guide: Custodians

Co-Work Gift Guide: Secretaries and Guidance
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Department Colleagues
White Chocolate Bark Recipe here!
Co-worker Gift Guide: Instructional Assistant
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Administrators
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Co-teacher
Co-Worker Gift Guide: Team Teachers
Co-Worker Gift Guide: First Year Mentee

Teaching Trenches: Snacks For Work

My classroom may be mistaken for a grocery store at times because I carry a range of snacks to keep me satisfied throughout the day.  Since I have access to a refrigerator, I replenish a few staples every week so that I can rely on them if I don’t have time to pack a lunch or dinner if I know I’ll be spending evenings at work.  Here is my stash:

Snacks For Work

Cliff Bars if I ever forget or don’t have time for breakfast.
Dried apricots mix well with the almonds. Throw in a few with the handful of nuts.
Chobani are stocked on a weekly basis, and yes, sometimes they go missing just like they do in the commercials. I prefer vanilla and find it to be an incredibly filling afternoon snack.
Ak-mak sesame crackers are a nod to my heritage. I keep them in my desk drawer as a pairing for the turkey or peanut butter if I need a mini-meal.
Almonds are filling and hold me over if I need a quick bite before the bell or if I’m going to run errands after work.
Larabars, self-explanatory and are the perfect sweet snack when you need it.
PB&J is my comfort food when I need a dinner and don’t have one. I have it with the sesame crackers since keeping bread isn’t ideal.
Jolly Ranchers, when you need a pick me up.
Cottage cheese is a good alternative to yogurt when you need a snack.
Unsalted pretzels when you need carbs.
Turkey — yes, I’m serious. I keep this at school for dinners when I’m trying to cut back on carbs and increase protein. This keeps me from buying junk in the vending machine and fills me up.
Grapes. Frozen. These are a staple in our workroom and just about everyone lives off these suckers.