Tuesday, June 7, 2011

preparing for an interview: practice, practice, practice

My sister is headed to California for an interview today. Not for a teaching job (she's not competition, don't worry!), but for an environmental policy fellowship. She's nervous, but she's been preparing since she got the call and is confident she has all her talking points prepared. In fact, in preparation to summarize her research to the committee, she practiced over the phone with me several times last night.

This may seem silly, to think about practicing for an interview out loud to others, but really it is an essential part of being fully prepared for an interview. While you can't know every question that an interview panel is going to ask, you can do some thinking for some of the questions you're likely to encounter. Overall, you'll want to be sure to convey clearly that all students can learn, and how you'll help raise academic achievement in your classroom. Any examples of how you've helped students achieve high standards will be great to prepare talking about.

First, prepare some talking points for the question, "Tell us about yourself." This question requires you to be concise in your response, but is open-ended enough to allow you to sell yourself a bit. Tell them what makes you unique and worth hiring.

Second, think about "Why do you want to be a teacher?" or related questions like, "Why do you want to be a teacher at our school?" Don't get too carried away, but speak clearly about your passion for teaching. Avoid talking about how your family members are all teachers - they want to know about you, not your family. They also want to know if you took the time to learn about the school and district. Your cover letter should indicate some of this, but you can work more in here.

More and more, teachers must be able to use data to inform their instruction and to differentiate instruction to meet students' needs. Think about examples from your coursework, field placements, and student teaching that has given you experience analyzing data, planning instruction based on results, and planning for and leading small group instruction based on student needs. If you haven't had practice in this area, talk about your plan to become adept at differentiating instruction.

Another question could be how you've used feedback to modify your instruction.  A question like this is looking to see whether you're a collaborator and interested in continuing to learn about your practice. You might be directly asked about team teaching or collaborative planning. Any examples from your field placements or student teaching would be great illustration for your ideas here.

You're likely to get asked a question about classroom management style, either directly in a question such as, "What kind of classroom management plan do you like best?" or "Describe your classroom management philosophy," or you'll get asked a scenario about, say, a disruptive student and ask you to discuss how you'd respond.  You'll want to be able to discuss your plan briefly and completely, and share how you'll set up a learning environment that is organized, respectful, and academically rigorous, while considering the social and emotional needs of students as well.  Be prepared to share why you like your plan and think it works best for students, and provide any examples of how it has worked for you in the past.

Other common questions include:
How would you involve the community in your classroom?
What are some current educational trends that relate to your curriculum area/grade level?
What would we see if we walked into your classroom?
What was the last book you read?
What are some of your hobbies?

Spending some time crafting responses to these questions is likely to give you an edge in the interview room. A little preparation goes a long way!

Next post: questions YOU should ask

References: Warner, J. & Bryan, C. (2006). Inside secrets of finding a teaching job (3rd Ed.). Indianapolis, IN: JIST Publishing.
Job Search Handbook for Educators (2010), 45th Ed. American Association for Employment in Education, Inc.

What questions have you been asked in interviews?
Any questions that surprised you?

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