Acing Your (Teaching) Interview

Your resume is solid, your cover letter passed the writing skills test, and now you are preparing for your teaching interview! What, next?

First of all, make sure that you come to your interview prepared. Although not required, it might be a good idea to bring a portfolio with you–something that you can leave behind with the interview committee, in case there is some amazing thing about you that did not come up in the interview. In your portfolio, you might consider including: resume, cover letter, letters of recommendation, references, a sample teaching unit with resources, sample student essay with critiques (…just remember to take all potential identifiers off…), a sample parent e-mail/newsletter, course policies/syllabus, professional development work, evaluations. Dress up for your interview (as Oscar Wilde once said, “you can never be under dressed or under educated”)–I generally stick to a button down shirt and a skirt/nice slacks in the initial interview, and if I move onto the principal, I might wear a dress with a blazer (if you can swing it, you will also totally get complimented if you wear school colors). Arrive to your interview about 10 minutes early. When waiting for your interview to start, you could spark up a conversation with the people in the office, pick up newsletters/reading material, look around at pictures/student artwork/trophies that are displayed.

An interview should be a conversation between you and the interview committee; they have to decide if you are a good fit for their needs just as much as you have to decide if they are a good fit for your needs. The BEST interviews I’ve been on (and the ones I ultimately was offered a position at) were interviews in which, in answering the questions, I entered into dialogue with the interview committee–it wasn’t just me blabbering about myself for 20 minutes, but rather, them asking me a question, me answering the question, the committee chiming in (either responding or asking a follow up question), bouncing ideas off each other, etc. When you get the job, this is ultimately what your interactions will be like.

While you will never be able to anticipate all the questions you will be asked, come prepared with answers for the basic ones. Likely, you will be asked to talk about your classroom management philosophy, how you plan/develop units, how you differentiate for students, a time in which you had a conflict with a student and how you resolved it, a situation in which you collaborated with other teachers, how you communicate with parents, your strengths/weaknesses, how you use data to drive instruction, how you responded to your last evaluation. Even if the questions are slightly different, if you have thought through these basic questions, you should be able to tailor your response to any variation of these questions you are given.

When answering these questions, I always like to go with the basic structure of first responding with my philosophy/a thesis statement-type sentence, and then moving into a specific example of when that happened. So, if I’m asked the question, “tell us about a time you collaborated with other teachers”, I might begin with a philosophical statement (“I think working with other teachers allows us to grow as educators because often times, I’ll think my idea is really great, and it’s not until I share it with someone else that they can either tell me a hole I might have or give me a new idea that makes the lesson stronger”), and then I’ll talk about a time in which this actually happened (“I used to work in this PLT team in which we were developing a common rubric. We would bring student essays to grade together and we would talk about why one class might be scoring higher than another class in certain categories, then we developed revision and extension activities to target some of these areas of growth. One extension activity that I really enjoyed was giving the students a chapter from Virginia Tufts’ ‘Artful Sentences’ and having them re-structure some of their sentences to add variety to their writing”).

Come prepared with at least three questions to ask at the end of the interview that show you did research on the school. If it hasn’t already come up in the interview, I usually ask about common assessments, technology, PLC’s, and texts/required material, and then I try to craft a question that is specific to the school–how did you notice the start time change impacting your students? how did you alert parents about the shift to standards based grading and what was the response? what is your interaction like with the feeder schools?

When I get a call for an interview, I always enjoy imagining what my life would be like if I were to work at that school–what would my commute be like (aka, what kind of coffee shops will I pass on my way to school, and which CorePower yoga studios could I drop into?), what would my interactions be like with the faculty, students, parents, and community, what kind of discussions might I have, how would I look standing in front of the classroom or working in the office–I think this visualization exercise is super important (as the author of ‘The Secret’ says, it is the Law of Attraction–if you want a husband, then you have to tell The Universe that is what you want and you have to manifest that visual–same thing with a job). But even if you don’t believe in The Universe stuff, imagining yourself in that work environment will also allow you to cater the answers to your questions in more specific ways to the school. Like, if you know that you will be a roving teacher, then you probably won’t want to talk about some big, elaborate classroom set up with bean bag chairs and fun twinkle lights and strong aromas, because that is just not feasible. If you are interviewing for a part time position, it might be helpful for you to imagine what that schedule might be like, so that you can answer what you might do in your spare time (read more books, do more professional development courses, coach, etc.)

At the end of the interview, they should tell you what the ‘next steps in the process’ are. In order to receive the job, you will have to meet with either an assistant principal or a principal (so, if you walk into the room and you see it is only department people, you can assume there is another round of interviews. If you walk into the room and there is an assistant principal or the principal, then this might be the final round of interviews). Then, you anxiously await their phone call to deliver your fate. Usually, the longer it takes for them to get back to you, the less likely it is that they are offering you the job (this is because they will offer it to their #1 candidate first, wait for that person to accept–sometimes they need ’24 hours to think it over’, and will call the other candidates to deliver the news after they already have someone secure). Sometimes, you can tell how many people are interviewing based on the time slots offered when you set up your interview (my first name starts with a ‘B’, so I’m usually an early call, so when they give me 6 different time slots to pick from, I might assume that there is a large pool of candidates).

Take the interview as an opportunity to explore more about yourself. I’ve been asked some really interesting questions that have definitely made me ponder down a path I’ve never gone down before and, in that trek, caused me to learn something new about myself. One time, I was asked, “if you weren’t a teacher, what other profession would you be interested in doing?”. Honestly, not being a teacher has never crossed my mind, so answering this question allowed me an opportunity to trek through my own experiences, skills, and desires that I had never gone down, and in that, I learned something new about myself (I’d totally be a travel blogger or open a coffee shop that promotes civil discourse). And, if we consider that perhaps the whole meaning of life is to just learn about ourselves, these are another great opportunity to accomplish this purpose.

And, hey, at the end of the day, recognize that the school has to pick the best fit for their needs, which could not necessarily be you. I’ve definitely been in positions before where I was a final candidate, then the school ultimately selected a parent/long term sub/coach for the position–the school has to make the decision of what’s best for them, and sometimes, the other person is just what’s best for the school, given their needs. When I get a rejection, rather than stew on ‘how they made a mistake’ and ‘how they are letting a good thing go’, I try to put myself in the shoes of the person who just accepted the job, and I try to be excited for them–because, being in that position myself, I would be super excited to accept the job, and to know that my job search is over, and one day, too, that will be me (and there will be another candidate who gets the rejection).

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