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 ;-).

Teacher Dress Up: The Teacher (Job) Interview

You’ve advanced from the teacher job fair to a small pool interview, most likely with a school principal or department chair in need of your credentials.  Based on my experience, your overall aesthetic should read:  traditional with something memorable.  I achieved this look in all instances with a neutral suit, a hint of color, a unique ring, and complimentary-to-my-face earrings.

The two options below can be modified based on the contents of your closet.  Sometimes the shoes act as a starting point, since it may be easier to find an appropriate blouse than the perfect shoe.  Work one piece at a time and see what you can pull together before running out to the store.  Though, sometimes it feels nice to wear something fresh (NOT HEAD TO TOE), as long as you’ve tried it and it doesn’t present any wardrobe malfunctions.

Notice the blouse in both option is a hint of color, nothing too distracting, nothing too overpowering.  The blouse should be free of frills, loose threads, or a sheerness requiring a camisole.  The suit is sleek, clean, and polished, but offers a bit of style.  I prefer an ankle length pant with a fitted jacket that brushes the hip.  I chose navy, but also have a black suit (actually made of separates that is neither severe nor masculine); I find brown suits appealing if the color fits, and also favor a grey combination as well.  If I went with brown, I would complement with a coral blouse and brown shoe.  If I went with grey I would opt for a blue or yellow blouse and grey pump.  If I went with black I would choose a BASIC black and white print or solid yellow with black patent pump.  All shoes should be a round toe, unless the suit is a straight leg to the floor, favoring the pointed toe.  Notice the simple ring and simple drop earring which frames the face; sometimes a simple stud is more favorable.  A necklace and bracelets are both unnecessary, though you could opt for a pendant necklace and remove the earrings.

Teacher Interview

Some reminders:

1.  Do keep your wrists clear of jewelry capable of making music.  Jingly, clink-able charms are completely distracting, no matter how much you like ’em.

2.  Choose one, not both:  simple necklace or simple earrings.  Do keep your neck free of statement necklaces.  The neck area has too much going on between the jacket collar and whichever blouse you choose.

3.  Hair should be pulled back off the shoulders; I opt for a half-up/half down style, or a low, pulled back ‘do.  Keep shoulders clear; again, too much is resting in the neck zone with the collar and blouse.

4.  Shoes should make a strong yet appropriate, rather than frumpy, statement.  Please do not parade into the interview room wearing 4-inch heels.  You’ll look ridiculous no matter how good you feel.

5.  Scents are unnecessary.  A shower and fresh press (cleaning) of the clothes goes a long way, giving off a natural scent that I find best.

6.  Make-up should be based on confidence level.  If you feel more confident hiding your blemishes, go for it.  If you feel more comfortable au naturel, do it.  Keep the dark liner and bright (or dark) lips for the post-interview celebration. I choose a titch of tinted moisturizer (in the winter), a coat of dark brown mascara, and a hint of gloss.

7. Nails should be clean, short, and polished with a light pink or natural shade.  My nails rarely feel the stroke of a brush, but even I feel insecure showing up to an interview with bare nails.  In fact, I’m more likely to coat my nails for a job interview than a night out.  If anything, layer with a clear coat.

8.  SMILE!  So important and tops any outfit you put together.

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…