Nailing Your Teacher Interview

Nailing Your Teacher Interview

Cue the confetti! Start the disco lights! Welcome to the Summer Planning Workshop!

I am so very excited to begin and help you prepare for the 2020-2021 school year.  I know that everything seems confusing and overwhelming right now.  I firmly believe that if we take it one piece at a time, we can be in good stead to start the year and still have plenty of time to relax and enjoy summer.  NOBODY is suggesting that you work all summer long and never take a break! Far from it! But I do believe that doing what we can will help us feel more organized and ready when school does start in the fall—no matter what it might look like.

We are starting at the start—the teacher interview.  In order to have a class to prepare for, you have to nail your teacher interview and land a teaching job, but even interviews look vastly different than they have in the past.  Chances are, if you do have an interview this summer, it will be virtual instead of in-person, so these are my best tips for online interviews as well as interviews in general.

Tip #1: One thing that hasn’t changed is dressing for success.  If your interview is online, you may be tempted to go with the Coronavirus version of a Mullet—business on top, jammies on the bottom.  I would caution you against this for two reasons.

There is psychology behind the phrase “Dress for success.” According to Psychology Today,   “When we intentionally dress for success, we gain confidence through the way we are treated by others, as well as the way we perceive ourselves. Strategizing professional attire appears to be a wise move regardless of your industry, and attire induced accomplishment can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.” (Source:

If by chance you should happen to stand during the interview, unlikely, I know, but possible, the people who are interviewing you would see that you only chose to dress professionally on top. Granted, some will find it funny and roll with the punches, but others may hold it against you and it just isn’t worth the risk.

Tip #2: Practice is important, but don’t overdo it.

I have heard time and time again that people have felt like over preparing just made them more nervous in the long run.  However, to just go in and wing it isn’t ideal either.  If you have participated in online learning, you might be more familiar with the videoconferencing software options like Zoom, Google Meet, etc.  Whether you have experience with it or not, it is still a good idea to practice on camera.  Ideally, you could do a mock interview with a friend using the same platform, but at the very least practice with your camera on.  Check angles, lighting, connections, background, etc. to be sure there is nothing distracting and you are well lit.   We have two resources on the website to help with this.  The first is a list of common interview questions to rehearse.  The second is my distance learning checklist.  Not everything will be applicable since this is an interview and not an online lesson, but it might help you think of some small detail that would have otherwise been overlooked.

Tip #3: One advantage to an online interview is that you can have notes, or a “cheat sheet” of sorts handy off camera to help if you get nervous.

You can write them out on Post-it notes and stick them around your computer or have them on a sheet of paper nearby.

Tip #4: Many interviews now have a “task” component.

I think this is something that has been trending for awhile, not just in response to moving more interviews online.  Some examples I have seen are teaching a mock lesson, submitting a classroom management plan, or writing an after-interview essay. One person even mentioned having a group Zoom interview with all candidates, being given a task and then assigned a time for an individual interview.  The task they were given was to look over some samples of student work and then comment on what that work showed about the student’s learning and what the teacher’s next steps would be.  If there isn’t a specific task component, it wouldn’t be unlikely to have scenario questions as these have long been an interview staple that I even had in my interviews many years ago.  By this I mean that the interviewer would present a common scenario like a student misbehaving, or struggling with content, or a colleague that you disagree with.  They would then ask how you would handle that particular situation.

Tip #5: Learn as much as you can about the school or district where you are being interviewed.

Some things I would suggest to find out if possible: the size of the district as a whole and the building you would teach in (if you know that), typical class sizes, demographics, programs they use, values, and really anything else that you can find.  Be sure it is factual information that can be validated—a disgruntled parent/student/teacher comment on their Facebook page, for example, may not be true.

Tip #6: Do a social media self-audit.

The personal information you choose to share on your social media profiles definitely varies with each individual, so only you know what you feel comfortable having prospective employers see.  One thing to definitely check is if you have shared pictures of students you have worked with in the past.  If you do, be sure that you have (and can produce if asked) prior written consent from the families to share those pictures. To just share images of students without consent is a violation of FERPA (privacy act) and would be something to avoid.  I have heard people say that you should make your account(s) private, but I believe that is also a personal decision that only you can make.

Tip #7: Obviously, you will be asked a lot of questions, but most interviewers will end the interview by asking if you have any questions.

While the temptation to say no might be your initial thought, I would caution you against this.  The questions you ask may be just as determining a factor as the questions you answer.  Some examples I have seen are:  What would be an example of a school-wide expectation?  What does a typical day in (grade/program/school) look like? What research, work, study (however you want to phrase it) could I be doing over the summer to be better prepared to teach at (name of school, district, etc.)? Picking one or two of these should be sufficient.

Tip #8: Almost invariably, you might get asked the dreaded “What are some of your weaknesses?” question.

This can be so difficult to answer! Obviously, no one is perfect, but nobody also wants to say in an interview that the main office had to call down for attendance daily because you always forget to post it or, no matter how hard you try, you are just always late to everything.  While these things may be true about you, it would feel awkward to discuss in an interview.  A better suggestion would be to reflect on something that didn’t go as planned—preferably a classroom experience if you have one.  Talk about a lesson that bombed and what you learned from that or a reward you thought was great but failed to be as motivating as you had hoped and how that is informing your practice now.  These types of situations show that you are human, but are willing to examine and improve upon your weaknesses.

Tip #9: Whether it is an online or in-person interview, plan to be there 5-10 minutes early.

This shows you can be punctual but not so early as to be uncomfortable (for you and the interviewer!) to sit through a long wait.

Tip #10: My final tip is to say, as hard as this might be to understand sometimes, that you either win or you learn.  There is no failure.

If you get the job, fantastic—all your hard work has paid off and you can begin (or continue) your career in what will hopefully be a good match for all parties. If you don’t get the job, think about what you can learn from the experience. Were there questions that caught you off guard?  Were you disorganized or late? What might you do differently next time? I know this is easy for me to say, but I firmly believe nothing is an accident.  If you don’t get the job, it wasn’t going to be the right fit for you.  I know that can be something that is hard to take—I know there were jobs I wanted so badly that I didn’t get, but now looking back, I know that every no I got was actually a blessing and just leading me closer to the right fit.

I hope these tips have been helpful! I would love to hear your insights, tips and experiences with interviewing as well, so feel free to leave them in the comments below so we can all learn! Happy teaching!


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Comparison is The Thief of All Joy

Comparison is The Thief of All Joy

All during the month of March on my social media channels, the focus was on #makeitpersonal, a campaign I decided to start after an experience I had with my daughter and her school. The focus was on seeing that every child feels safe, comfortable, accepted and welcome in the classroom.

As March comes to a close, I couldn’t help but think about how this applies to teachers as well. Yes, it is important to build community, see students as individuals, but what about the teachers? They are an important part of the school equations, and we have to build school community among staff and also within the broader teacher community itself. It is so important for teachers to build each other up, help each other out, support and be there for each other. We cannot fall into the trap of comparison.

You know the feeling, right?

My friend Rachel Perry has an amazing podcast called Making the Leap, and when I heard her episode about comparison being the thief of all joy, I couldn’t help but relate it to teachers, and new teachers especially. Rachel shared a story of being newly married and wanting children right away, then feeling very upset and jealous when she would get Christmas cards from other friends who had already started their families.  She talked about feeling inferior and referenced the famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt about the fact that no one can make us feel inferior without our permission. This is so true.

It’s YOUR decision

WE are the ones who decide that whatever it is that they have (and we don’t) makes us inferior—no one else can do that.  If you focus on what they have (and you don’t), nothing good can come from that because it begets negative energy and then you get stuck in that negative space. She reminded us that we need to focus on our story and our truth and where it is that we are going. This spoke to me so much, I am surprised I didn’t wreck my car!! (I was listening as I was driving to work).


When I first started teaching, over 25 years ago, there was no social media, but there was a Sue Strauman, a Debi Cunningham, and a Phyllis Pederson. Now, if you don’t teach where I teach, those names might not ring a bell, but if you do; well, then, you know EXACTLY who I am talking about. Sue, Debi, and Phyllis were the respective “rock star” teachers in the three buildings I taught in. You know the ones—the teacher everybody wants, that have gorgeous classrooms, cool learning experiences, and killer class management skills.  If I had allowed myself to compare where I was when I met each of them, I would always feel defeated and unworthy. But if I learn from them, and glean all the golden nuggets of education that I can from their experience, then that is a different story.

And, now you, my dear early career educator who is just within those first few years of teaching, you have so much more pressure—you have your school’s rock star (every school has one) but also all the teacher social media communities hurling hundreds (if not thousands) of new, beautiful images and stories every day.  All I have to do is open Instagram and I can feel this. I have taught for over twenty- five years and have more than a few tricks up my sleeve, but I don’t have to get very deep in my newsfeed before I see teachers that are seemingly teaching circles around me. There again, our mindset comes into play. If we look at it from the perspective of “Oh wow, they are so amazing… why didn’t I come up with that lesson, decorate that space, design that cool resource, (fill in the blank with a dozen other possible things),”  we will always come up short.  However, if we flip the switch and think, “That’s a great idea. I could make (this tweak) or (that change) and it could really help me with (whatever classroom issue it addresses),” we go from negative comparison energy to positive growth energy.

We have to use what we see on social media and our own colleagues as advisors not benchmarks for where we should be at that moment. Don’t try to make someone’s else’s story your story, because all too often we are comparing our beginning to someone else’s middle or even final chapters. Because here is the thing, no matter how much we admire and try to emulate someone else, our story will never be the exact same because we have different behavior issues, curriculum challenges, and administrative mandates so comparison is futile. Learn, ask for advice, observe, or in the case of social media, follow, comment, post questions, but don’t ever compare. As the saying goes, “You do you, boo.”


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An Introduction

An Introduction

Introducing Me…

So let’s start off with an introduction. My name is Michelle Martinez and I am married to the love of my life, a truly amazing and talented chef, Manny. We are a blended family of one daughter (mine) and two sons (his). Our kids are 13, 13, and 11 (almost 12). Having kids so close in age should be extra fun when we have 3 new drivers or 3 new college students all at the same time!! We adopted our gorgeous German Shepherd dog, Brinkley, one year ago to make our family complete.

Why Teaching?

I have been teaching for over 25 years. I graduated with my teaching degree in December 1991, subbed for a bit and then was called to interview for a position that had been created by some grant funding. I was hired to do Chapter 1 (now called Title) Math for 1st – 6th grades. Because it was a grant position, it was only for that semester, so after the school year wrapped up, I moved to a new city and worked in a preschool with 2-5 year olds.

Before going to my current school, I taught in the town just over from my hometown for six years (plus some subbing). I taught first, fifth and fourth grade during my tenure there. I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Reading and after graduating in May 2000, I made the move to my forever home of Bloomington, IL and Sheridan Elementary, where I currently teach. I call my classroom “My Happy Place.” I love that room so much for so many reasons, but classroom design and organization is one of my favorite topics, so look for plenty of posts on that! It is actually my seventh classroom in my school!

I taught third grade for five years (in 3 different classrooms), fourth grade for seven years (2 different classrooms) and kindergarten for the last six years (1 classroom—I think I see a pattern here…). During all that time, I have had the privilege of helping many new colleagues, student teachers, clinical students and volunteers to grow and learn about the teaching profession.

What are your greatest challenges?

I am so excited to be able to share more here on this blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear what your greatest challenges are and what you would like to learn here.

That’s all for today…so happy to meet you and welcome to my little slice of the internet! My greatest wish is to be able to help you. I’ll be sharing my ideas for classroom management, curriculum, assessment, engagement, décor, and whatever else serves your needs. Don’t be shy! Introduce yourself and let me know what your greatest challenges are so that we can work through them together!


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