Preparing for the Interview
What to Expect
When you first meet, make sure your hand is free so you can greet your interviewer with a good, firm handshake, make eye contact, and smile! Be diplomatic and professional, but don’t forget to be yourself—you’ve worked hard to get to this point in your career, and you have a lot to offer.
You will be asked about specific past experiences related to teaching. Instead of delivering a roster of every tutoring or field experience you’ve had, appraise your experiences and the presumed expectations and requirements of the position. Identify applicable experiences and specific examples of your work.
Most schools conduct behavior-based interviewing on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future job performance. Interviewers using behavior-based questions want clearly stated answers that describe a problem encountered, the action taken, and the result. Think “PAR”—problem/action/result—and practice answers that keep on par.
Example of PAR: The interviewer asks about the challenges of managing a classroom. Briefly describe an issue and how you and your cooperating teacher introduced a new routine that solved the problem (no long, drawn-out stories).
“Our students weren’t putting away their supplies at the end of the day because they were anxious to get out the door. So my cooperating teacher and I created a poster listing three steps for cleanup. Ten minutes before dismissal, we hung the poster on the chalkboard and led the students through the steps. Those who finished early got to be the first to line up. This worked so well that we didn’t have to give warnings or detentions anymore!”
Use the terminology you have learned in your education courses! Read the 10 InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and use them as the basis of your discussion.
Your Elevator Speech, or Commercial
Your first 30 seconds and your last 30 seconds are the most important. Make them memorable! Use a story and hook your interviewer. Leave that person thinking you are unique and a perfect fit for their school.
Often, the first question may be, “tell me about yourself” or “what should I know that is not apparent on your résumé?” That is your chance to open the interview with a hook that will remain in the interviewer’s mind and set the tone for the whole interview. Prepare a 3-minute speech that tells something significant about why you went into teaching, why you changed jobs and how that will make you a better teacher, how you relate to students the interviewer might not think you would relate to, or something of value about your becoming a teacher.
One teacher candidate answered in this way:
From my résumé it appears I grew up in a household with a mother and grandmother who were teachers and several relatives on my father’s side who were engineers or teachers. I lived in an affluent community and had the privilege of attending a large, highly rated high school. I got my education degree from a school known for engineering. You would imagine my background to be that of “white privilege” and in many ways it was. However, four of my cousins are biracial. In fact, one of them was my classmate in education courses in college. I learned about black hair, black speech patterns, and black attitudes from them and didn’t see that as being odd until I was half-way through elementary school.
I was very involved in orchestra in middle and high school. The majority of the orchestra members were of Asian background. We were a highly ranked orchestra and went on tour as well as competitions, so we spent a great deal of time together, socializing, studying, sight-seeing, and playing games.
All of my in-school experiences, including my student teaching, were performed in very rural schools. Many of the students were below grade-level in performance, there were ELLs who were children of migrant workers, and there was a high number of students in special ed.
Finally, I have a daughter who was born just before my student teaching started. So, I worked 30 hours a week, took 2 final classes, and student taught all at the same time. Unfortunately, my dad had just lost his job, so I had to pay all the expenses for my daughter and myself, so I was also on food stamps and put my daughter into the welfare system. I learned a lot about how people who have to do that live and why they have the feelings and attitudes they do. I feel I can help all the students in your school and relate to all the parents!
Most candidates will not have a story quite like that, but you do have your own story. What sets you apart. What makes you unique? What experiences have shaped your thoughts and feelings? How will these help you be a better teacher?
Think about how you’ll end your interview. Tell a narrative that takes about a minute but shows your interviewer your passion for teaching and your desire to engage your students no matter what it takes. Answer “why should we hire you instead of all the other people who applied for this job.” Show excitement, willingness to try new things, passion for working with students, and a desire to collaborate and learn.
Practice, Practice, Practice
By now you should have lots of questions with answers. How will you ever remember all of it? And how will it sound natural and conversational?
Have people help you practice by asking you interview questions. Ask your cooperating teacher or supervising teacher to do a mock interview with you. Ask other teachers in the building to do mock interviews with you. If you’re home over the weekend, get each of your parents and anyone else you can find about their age (or a past principal or teacher) to “interview” you. The more practice you have, the easier it will be. As you become more comfortable, your passion and creativity will begin to shine!
When you feel ready, ask the principal where you are student teaching if he or she will interview you. This may be a mock interview or a real interview, so treat it like it’s the real thing!
If you can get someone to video you during an interview, do it! Then watch the video (cell phone video works fine). Do you have a lot of “uhm” and “uh” or do you have a habit that is distracting like tapping your fingers or twirling your hair? Get rid of those things. Study your body language. Is it open or are your arms folded rigidly across your chest? Did you set a big purse and notebook on the table and block the interviewer’s view of you? Do you act like a confident teacher? Do you project passion and excitement as you interact?
What to Take
Take multiple copies of your resume, a copy of your official transcript, copies of letters of recommendation, your interview portfolio (see Portfolios), a working pen or two, and blank paper for any notes.
How to Dress
Interviews call for professional attire. Avoid heavy make-up, expensive jewelry, overly short skirts, or very high heels. Do not show too much skin. See samples of how to dress.
A business suit is the most appropriate apparel for an interview. On both men and women, suits look professional and make a great impression. When you wear professional attire, you are telling an interviewer that you are serious about fitting into the school community. You want interviewers to notice you, not your clothing.
Women: You can’t go wrong with a suit with either skirt or slacks and classic pumps of 1-2 inches. Jewelry should be understated. For example, a small necklace and basic post earrings are preferable to multiple bracelets and large hoop earrings. You can carry a purse along with your portfolio; however, the less you must carry, the easier it is to manage your load, shake hands with your interviewers, and make notes while standing.
Men: A dark suit with a white shirt and a tasteful tie keeps the focus on you as a professional. Save those wacky ties for your students to enjoy once you’ve been hired. Avoid the blazer and khakis look—and, of course, carry your portfolio to the interview.
Professional Associations and Acronyms are Important
Know your specialized professional association before you interview. Visit their website and review the “big issues” (if any) that are hot topics for your grade level and/or content area.
The most helpful will be:
NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children)
AMLE (Association for Middle Level Education)
CEC (Council for Exceptional Children)
IRA (International Reading Association)
MTNA (Music Teachers National Association)
NAEA (National Art Education Association)
NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)
NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies)
NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)
SHAPE (Society for Health and Physical Educators
Get familiar with acronyms like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) and CCSS (Common Core State Standards). For a longer list of acronyms, see http://www.ncpublicschools.org/acronyms. Know what DOE or SBE, RtI or RTI, IEP or PEP, SPED, ELL, LEP, and ESL mean. Others you should know are AYP, ELA, LMS, PBIS, and SIP. You should also know about some of the important education bills and their sections: IDEA, ESEA, Title I, Title III, and Title IX.
Do Your Homework
You should have already researched the school system and specific schools to which you are applying. This research should have been used in writing your résumé cover letter.
Revisit the school system’s website and learn everything possible to match your skills and capabilities to their district and to specific schools. What should you look at and take notes on?
- School Calendars—For last year, this year, and next year. Are they on a balanced calendar or year-round calendar? Is this just starting?
- Mission Statements of the District and Schools—All are similar, but there are some very different areas of focus. Some schools may have a science lens or an arts lens or base everything on projects or the arts. Get familiar with their focus. How will you work in that structure?
- Demographics—This may be on the website or in the School Improvement Plan. Get to know the ethnic composition of the student body.
- Principal’s Welcome Page—Often the principal has a letter or a video. You’ll learn quite a bit about the principal and school and how you’ll fit.
- Faculty Pictures—Is there a good mix of ages and genders? Will they have a lot of retirements soon? Does the building have many young teachers and few mentors? Is there a male or female principal? How much support staff is there—teacher coach, language helpers, special ed teachers, instructional aides, etc.?
- Salaries—In most states the school system must post their salary schedule publicly—sometimes it’s difficult to find, so use your research skills. It may not be up to date but will give you some idea what you will make your first year.
- School Improvement Plans (SIP)—These should be public and provide insight into the “flavor” and issues in that building. For example, one SIP mentioned an ongoing head lice problem affected attendance, but the transient nature of the student body meant the problem couldn’t be resolved. This was a red flag for the applicant.
- Parent Teacher Organization—Usually the school’s website includes a PTO or PTA section. This will help you understand parental involvement and financial and emotional support from the group.
- Test Scores and School Ranking—Some websites have recent test scores or government report cards available. You will learn if the school is 4-star, A+, or needs to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). For example, a Four-Star School in Indiana ranks in the top 25% of the schools in Indiana. Many states have a school report card.
- Pictures and Videos—These will tell you a lot about the students, teachers, and staff. Where is their focus? How do they interact? What original things are they doing?
Other ways to find out about the school and district:
- Department of Education data website
- Local home realtors (call and ask them questions)
- Drive around the district—look at homes and stores, how dense is the housing, who is out on the streets or at the parks
Okay, you’ve done all the homework and you are ready to ace the interview! Best of luck.