Preparing for the Interview

Preparing for the Interview

Résumés and Letters Portfolios Job Search Qualifications Career Steps Grad School

What to Expect
When you first meet, make sure your right 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.

Once at your interview, you will be asked about specific past experiences related to teaching. Before delivering a roster of every tutoring opportunity 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.

You will find that 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 you about the challenges of managing a classroom. You could briefly describe an issue that arose during student teaching 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.

In the Videos area of the Resources Catalog, or in the Interview folder of the Job Search Academy in KDP Global, you will find four videos by Mike Whitman. Start by downloading a copy of the questions he uses in his interviews. Then watch “It’s All About the Interview” to learn exactly what he wants to hear and see. Then watch:
  • Interview 1. Kelly is qualified to teach K−12 Special Ed, K−6 General, Middle School Social Studies, and Dance. She also has a Reading Specialist certification. She is a career changer with a wealth of life experience. You will learn a lot from her interview.
  • Interview 2. Bailey is just finishing her student teaching. She did one semester in 1st grade and one in 4th grade. She will be K−6 certified. She is quite nervous, but does a good job.
  • Interview 3. Jami is qualified to teach Math in grades 6−12. Her student teaching has been challenging because she has no classroom management background. Her interview goes well, showing a great example of a secondary teacher interview.

Register for Anna Quisnio-Zafran’s webinar on March 14, 2015, about using professional academic language when interviewing and talking with teachers.

See Interviewing Questions for a list of possible questions—both common and uncommon—and ideas about how to answer the questions. Write answers to all the questions and review them before each interview. You can even take them in your portfolio as a crutch if you want.

Also listen to the podcast or watch the webcast of Interviewing—Common and Uncommon Questions (and How to Answer) with Dr. William Sterrett.

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, your first question will be something like, “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 bomb or a hook that will remain in the interviewer’s mind and set the tone for the whole interview. Prepare a 3-minute (or 5-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. Think about 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?

Ask people to choose several of the questions to ask you and practice interviewing. Ask your roommate to do a mock interview with you. 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 funny habit that is distraction like tapping your fingers or twirling your hair? Work on getting 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
You should 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 you need to take.

How to Dress
What should you wear? You want to look neat and reasonably conservative. No heavy make-up, expensive jewelry, overly short skirts, or overly high heels. Do not show too much skin. No piercings (other than an earring or two per ear for women) or tattoos should show.

Overall, 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: A woman’s suit should be conservative in color and style, the skirt knee-length or longer. Slacks are acceptable as long as they are tailored and match the suit jacket, and classic pumps look best with either choice. A conservative style extends to accessories also. 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 have to carry, the easier it is to manage your load and shake hands with your interviewers.

Men: Men, you can’t go wrong with a conservative approach. A dark suit with a white or matching shirt and a conservative 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; it’s fine for faculty meetings, but is not considered appropriate for interviewing. And, of course, carry your portfolio and working pen (test it) to the interview.

To see examples of professional wear, go to the Job Search Academy in KDP Global and click on the Library and then the Professional folder. You will see links to two Fashion Shows there which are Mt. Union University’s KDP Professional Attire Fashion show videos.

Professional Associations and Acronyms are Important
Be sure you know what your specialized professional association is before you interview. Go to the web site 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

Also, familiarize yourself with the most recent 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 . Be sure you 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 done research on the school system and specific schools to which you are applying. This research should have been used in writing your résumé cover letter.

Now is the time to go back to the school system’s website and really dig in to find out everything you can that will help you match your skills and capabilities to their district and to specific schools. What should you look at and take notes on?

You should have already done research on the school system and specific schools to which you are applying. This research should have been used in writing your résumé cover letter.

Now is the time to go back to the school system’s website and really dig in to find out everything you can that will help you match your skills and capabilities to their district and to specific schools. What should you look at and take notes on?
  • School calendars – if possible, 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 individual schools. All are similar, but there are some very different areas of focus. Remember that many schools today have a science lens or an arts lens or base everything on projects or the arts. Learn more if you don’t understand or have never heard of their particular focus. They will want you to know how you think you’ll work in that structure.
  • Demographics. This may be directly on the website or in the School Improvement Plan. You will want to know how many students are from what ethnic groups, if they have lots of recent immigrants, or if the student body is predominantly one group.
  • Principal’s welcome page. Often the principal has a welcome page with a letter or a video. You’ll learn quite a bit about the principal and school and how you’ll fit from this.
  • Faculty pictures. Is there a good mix of ages and genders? Will the building be having lots of retirements soon? Does the building have a lot of young teachers and not too many 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 has to post their salary schedule publicly – that usually means buried on the website, so use your research skills to find it. It may be a couple of years old, but will give you some idea what you will make your first year.
  • School Improvement Plans (SIP) for each building. These should also be public and will give you tons of insight into the “flavor” and problems in that building. For example, one SIP kept mentioning the fact that the head lice problem was ongoing and affected attendance a learning, but because of the transient nature of the student body, could not be solved. This was a red flag to the person applying to school system – she did not want to work in that building.
  • Parent Teacher Organization. Usually the PTO or PTA will have a section on the school’s site and this will help you understand if you will have involved parents and financial and emotional support from the group.
  • Test scores and school ranking. Some sites have recent test scores or government report cards available on their websites. 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, so learn about it in the state where you will teach.
  • 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 the housing is, who is out on the streets or at the parks

Okay, you’ve done all the homework you can. Let’s go to the interview!