It all starts with this—nailing your teacher interview. Get this right, and you are on your way to a new career. Bomb it, and well, it’s hello retail–at least that is what happened to me after I graduated from college. I ended up working at Lerner and The Limited (popular women’s clothing stores at the time) for a year after I first graduated instead of getting a teaching position. In the end, everything happened the way it was supposed to, but it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. On the flip side, the year I interviewed at my current school, I had multiple offers. Whenever we are lucky enough to be called for an interview, we want to do our best, of course. Here are my top tips to help you to just that.
Dress for Success
The first thing we need to tackle is dress code. Like it or not, there is definitely a very distinct dress code for interviews. Messy buns and yoga pants just won’t cut it, much as I wish they would! When I had my first interview, over 25 years ago, you had two choices—navy suit or black suit. I am so glad that times have changed! A suit, for men and women, is still a viable option but now a dress or tailored pantsuit will work for ladies.
For men, a button down shirt and tie (no polos) is acceptable too. We have several openings in my school for the upcoming year, and I have yet to see any candidate come in a suit. I would say this even goes for the guys. If you are unsure, I would still err on the side of caution. I think it is much better to be too formal than too informal. For the ladies, hair, makeup and jewelry should all be understated. When you are on the interview circuit, it is not the time to have bold, trendy makeup or a giant statement piece of jewelry. For men, be sure there are no wrinkled shirts or crooked ties. Obviously, this is not earth shattering advice, but as the old saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, so these are all things that must be considered.
Once your look is on fleek (as my daughter would say), then it is time to get your head in the game. It’s an interview, so naturally, there are going to be questions—ideally, both to you and from you. Never let the opportunity go by to ask a question of your interviewer, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
Common Interview Questions
Some common questions in a teacher interview are no different than any other interview—tell us about yourself, what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses, etc. However, in a teacher interview, you should also expect to be asked about your philosophy of education, what your behavior management style is, and how you would involve parents in the classroom. It is best to prepare your answers to these types of questions ahead of time. If possible, get a friend to practice with you, because often what sounds completely intelligent and spot-on in your head, can come out a jumbled mess when you are actually saying the words out loud. It’s only worse when you are nervous and the pressure is on to do well, so prepare as much as possible before going in to the interview
One of the hardest questions in any interview is always “What is your greatest weakness?” If you are too hard on yourself—for example, “I am really working on my punctuality, but I’m still chronically late to everything!”, you likely blow any chance of ever talking to that interviewer again, but if you answer something like, “I am totally OCD! I have to have everything just in its perfect place,” then you haven’t answered much better.
While true obsessive compulsive disorder (or any other type of mental illness for that matter) is nothing to joke about, having an organized classroom is the goal of every principal for every classroom, so it’s really not something that would be a true weakness. Here is how I answered that question, and it definitely seemed to resonate with my interviewers: “I often struggle with exactly how much support to give students. I don’t want to give too much support, because I definitely believe in fostering independence, but I also don’t want them to struggle unnecessarily and feel frustrated either.” This truly is a dilemma many teachers face, and a weakness in the sense that it is something you should work on to improve, but not something so awful it would blow the interview. The caveat to this is that it must be true for YOU.
As great as my advice or anyone else’s may be on how to answer interview questions, if they don’t apply to you, they are worse than no answer at all. In general, think back to issues you may have had in any of your classroom experiences (student teaching, volunteering, etc.) and see if you can word it in such a way so as to show that it is something you recognize you need to change, and how you are going about doing just that.
A Child Centered Approach
As far as the other questions go about your philosophy, behavior and parents, these are going to be unique to each person. Only you can explain what your teaching philosophy is, but I think most administrators want to hear that it is a child-centered approach and that you believe in differentiation for your lessons. A one size fits all approach with the teacher just spewing information to students just doesn’t cut it in today’s education climate. Again, though, whatever you say needs to be true to you—don’t just pick a few education buzzwords and throw them in a sentence that sounds good. If you talk the talk, you must be willing to walk the walk.
When it comes to behavior plans, if you had a positive student teaching experience, then you could mention that your cooperating teacher did xxxxx program/idea/etc. and say that you feel that would be what you are planning to try also. If you disagreed with your cooperating teacher’s plan, then you will have to research other ideas. Personally, my all-time favorite classroom management tool is Class Dojo, but you will have to do your own research to see what seems manageable for you.
I’ll be doing another blog post soon all about parents and how to involve them, but in general, some good answers would be that you have an open door policy and that you plan to do specifically xxxxx (Class dojo, Remind, weekly newsletters, a class Instagram account, etc.—whatever you think will work for you) to keep parents informed. Getting parents on your side will be a key factor to your success and having a clear plan for how you intend to do that will go a long way towards winning over whoever might be interviewing you.
One other thing that must be mentioned is that very often in teacher interviews, you will interview with a panel. I have had a few interviews with just the principal of the school, but I have also interviewed with multiple principals at once because the job was a traveling position between three buildings in the same district. I have interviewed with a principal and one other teacher from the grade level, and I even interviewed once with a panel of about 5 teachers and then the principal by himself. That was extremely nerve wracking, but practicing with friends and knowing what I would be facing up front helped a lot.
Another thing to consider is whether or not to bring a teaching portfolio. There are many schools of thought on this. Some people say absolutely bring it, and that it made all the difference. Others say don’t bother, because no one looks at them anyway. Still others say to have it available online and reference it in the resume and then bring it up in the interview. Every interview session is unique. There were plenty of times I didn’t have anything and the interview went just fine. Other times, I brought it and it basically sat in my lap. Still other times, administators or other panel members were very interested in it and it sparked great discussion.
My best advice is if you have one, by all means bring it along—you will know instinctively whether or not to bring it out. The worst that could happen is that you carry it in and leave it at your side, but it may just make all the difference in whether or not you are the candidate they choose. If you don’t have one, I wouldn’t stress about it—focus your time on practicing answers to probable questions first. I think that will pay off much more than a portfolio, but do what feels right to you.
Believe it or not, there is still plenty to say on this topic, including those questions you should ask your interviewer, so I will be back again tomorrow with more interview tips! I know no one likes to read a blog post that is a mini-novel, so I think it is best we wrap this one up right here. Until next time, thanks for reading and all the best to you!