Job interview tips for teachers

Three months before graduating from teacher credential school, I started sending out applications for jobs all over the globe. It was 2009 and the recession’s effects were taking a toll on any civil servant job. Teachers were getting pink slipped left and right, even those who had been with their district for 5+ years. It was a rather grim time.

Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons

My credentialing program took some initiative and encouraged their pre-service teachers to expand their credentials. Some of the people in my program got added credentials in foreign languages, science, P.E. I think I was the only one who got one in math. My credentialing program also spent a good amount of time training us on job application processes, resume writing, and interviewing (if we were ever so lucky to land one). I credit all of this training in landing me my first (and current) teaching job.

Fast forward to today. I’ve been on the interview panel for new teacher hires every year for the past 7 years. I’ve been on principal interview panels as well. I’ve seen some good candidates, some not so good candidates, and even candidates that appeared alright but turned out not such a good fit after all.

All the good candidates had several things in common. I’ll describe a few of these things below:

1. All their paperwork were in order, consistent, and honest.

Oh my goodness. I can’t say how important this part is, even though it’s not necessary to have the ‘perfect’ resume (whatever that is). It is important to have everything done. Cover letter, resume, the application itself, and any other documents/forms that are expressly required to be filled out. Edjoin makes the whole process super easy, since it saves your info and uploads for you.

In addition to the physical/electronic paperwork, the contents of these items should be consistent with each other as well. The reasons for leaving each previous job needs to be clear, concise, and makes sense. “Spouse’s job relocation” and “To be closer to family,” even “Recently graduated and seeking first job placement” are all acceptable reasons for leaving your current/past jobs. “Differences with staff” or “Seeking to teach a different student population” are not reasons that reflect well on the applicant.

One year, I interviewed a person (who we ended up not hiring) because his entire story was a bit, well, weird for lack of a better word. What he said on paper was completely different than what he said in person at the interview. And he had no idea that they were different at all – actually he didn’t believe that his answers were different until we showed him his paperwork. Inconsistent stories just seem rather shady and dishonest.

2. They were interested in the job as more than a job.

Yes, everyone needs a source of income and that usually comes with a job. It’s not needed to say this on an application or in an interview. Teachers don’t go into teaching for the money anyway, even though no one says no to a raise.

But I think there has to a quality of interest in the job beyond going through the motions to obtain a paycheck. You like learning. You have a passion for the subjects you teach. You enjoy the school environment, one of the last places on earth where everyone is working towards a good goal that benefits others more than yourself. These things are fairly clear to read in a normal conversation.

Translation: Ikea job interview (title). Please have a seat! (speech bubble)
Photo source: Flickr Creative Commons

3. They have realistic ideas of classroom management.

The classroom management question is typically the make-or-break question of the interview. If you want your students to behave properly, but give no details as to go about that, it’s not a good sign. On the flip side, if you have nothing but strict rules and make no mention of building trusting relationships that’s also not great.

Also a must is the ability to be realistic about classroom management. Perfect days are rare and far between. Even the best of the best students may come across bad choices. The attitude of planning for prevention, working through all the low interventions first, an emphasis on communication with the students’ families, seeking help as needed, and starting each day fresh is key. There’s a reason why the classroom management question often is followed by ‘Tell us about a difficult situation with a student and how you dealt with it.’

4. They openly admitted to their weaknesses and areas of growth.

If no student is perfect, then no teacher is perfect. When I interviewed, I openly admitted to my lack of consistency. I had struggled with that all throughout my student teaching days. And because I had struggled with it, I also was able to speak to a lot of the things I learned and the actions I now take to make sure that this weakness will no longer be a weakness with a bit more time and practice.

Another person I interviewed admitted that they were the most impatient person in the world. She said something super insightful that went something like, “I tell my students I’m impatient because I know they can be so much better, do so much more. So I encourage my students to let me know when I’m rushing which will be a hint for me to slow down. Because often times, I move so fast because I’m so excited to teach them more.”

5. They asked questions of the interviewers.

Every single person I’ve interviewed and were successfully hired asked questions. Not the type of questions where the answers can be found on Great Schools. Much more in-depth questions. Here are some ideas:

  • What do you like/dislike about working at your site?
  • What’s a piece of advice that you wish someone had told you when you first started working at this school?
  • Tell me more about the people in your team/department.
  • Describe a typical day-in-the-life of a student at your school.

6. They are prepared.

There’s nothing that speaks louder than a person who has clearly done their homework. They dress well. They come with extra copies of their CVs to hand out. They have a portfolio for you to look at during the interview. Their responses to the interview questions are both practiced and sincere. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed and confident you’ll seem.

Practicing the interview questions were my biggest help. In my credentialing program, we were made to write our teaching philosophy in essay form, and then break it down to match the top ten most commonly asked interview questions for teachers. More than likely, you’ll be asked about the following:

  • Tells more about your education and work history. How would your skills fit into our school?
  • Describe the components to an effective lesson you created or observed. How did you know it was effective?
  • What does effective collaboration look like to you? What would you offer to your collaboration team? What do you need out of your collaboration team?
  • What role does technology play in your lesson plans?
  • What are some strategies you use to reach all students? How do you differentiate lessons in your classroom?
  • Describe your classroom management style. How would you respond to a student who makes an inappropriate comment in class?
  • What do you do to communicate with parents and families?

Then, especially in math, there could very well be a mini-lesson that you would be asked to teach to the interviewers. My mini-lesson involved teaching how to factor a trinomial – something I hadn’t done in years, as I’m originally a multiple subject credential holder. I did it, but I ended up doing it wrong. When I was called back for a second interview to meet the APs, I was asked to tell them about my mini-lesson from the original interview. The conversation went something like this:

AP1: Tell us about the lesson you did the other day for the principal.

Me: Well, it was about factoring a trinomial, and I actually made a mistake.

Principal: Yes, you did. ::smiles broadly::

AP2: Oh, really? What happened?

Me: I had dropped the GCF from my final answer. Just forgot about it completely after factoring it out earlier.

Principal: And if that had happened with a student, what would you have done?

Me: Well, wrong answers are just as important to discuss as the correct ones. It would have been a great teaching moment to talk about double checking your work, and remembering how the mistake happened so that it doesn’t happen again.

This all worked out to my benefit. Which underlines the importance of item #4 above. My principal told me over a year later that every candidate for that position had made a math mistake, but I was the only one who reflected enough to spot mine, let alone talk about it the way I did.

Now of course, I know one of the strongest math teaching strategies known to research is making students analyze and spot the incorrect steps of a worked out math problem. Some call it The Favorite No. It not only pulls in higher order thinking, it also allows for reteaching a concept in a different way AND dispelling some long-held student misconceptions that they might have picked up along the way.



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