Becoming a Teacher - The Interview: High Anxiety (page 3)
There is so much at stake professionally and financially in your first interview that you probably will be very nervous. In fact, few other experiences produce such high levels of anxiety. To complicate the situation, many people are uncomfortable talking about themselves to others without coming across as too shy or too egotistical.
The interview is usually a multiple-step process, not a one-time experience. Many districts require the candidate to interview with several different individuals. Some interviews are conducted by a single school representative, and others are conducted by a team, which may include classroom teachers, curriculum specialists, special teachers, administrators, and even parents.
Do Your Homework
Before you go for an interview, research the school district. Many districts will provide you with information about the school system. Many local real estate agents in the school district have information about schools for prospective homebuyers and might share it with you, too.
Local libraries also have demographic information about surrounding school districts. Recently, school districts have been creating web sites where they post information about student achievement, curriculum, and staffing. Most state education departments have web sites for each school district. You might also take a drive around the school district to see what the community looks like.
Tips for a Successful Interview
The following simple tips can reduce your anxiety and help you focus on presenting your qualifications to the interviewer.
This statement seems obvious, but many candidates believe they have to put on an act to be hired. If you want to act, join the theater; if you want to teach, be yourself! Your personal happiness depends on finding the right match between your personality, strengths, and skills and the school district. That decision is complex and involves many factors; do not complicate it by not being true to yourself.
Prepare, Prepare, and Prepare Some More
The best thing you can do to ensure a successful interview is prepare yourself as well as possible. What does this mean?
Keep the purpose of the interview in mind. This exercise helps you organize your thoughts. Then, anticipate the kinds of questions the interviewer will ask during the session, and practice your responses with a friend.
Review your qualifications. Recall experiences that support your qualifications for the position, and rehearse answers to practice questions.
Think of ways to dissipate the stress of the interview. Sit up straight, breathe deeply and slowly, and smile. Teachers work in a stressful environment in which they are expected to manage student behavior, respond to multiple stimuli, and communicate well. Your composure during the interview reflects how you might handle the stress of your classroom.
Focus on Knowledge, Skills, and Experiences
The interviewer's main goal is to determine whether you can teach. When you answer questions, provide relevant information that demonstrates you have what it takes to be a good teacher.
If you are asked, "How would you teach reading to a second grade class of at-risk students?" do not respond with "Well, I was student teacher of the year," or "I attended the International Reading Association's state conference and sat in on a workshop about at-risk readers." These answers do not answer the question. Being named student teacher of the year is nice, and attending a conference may be important in acquiring new knowledge and skills, but this information is not relevant to the question. An appropriate response would be, "When I was student teaching, I used_______________, which was successful with these second grade at-risk students. Other methods that were successful in the classroom were _______________." Responding to specific questions by citing personal experiences demonstrates your knowledge and teaching skills.
Your interview is not a time for colored or spiked hair, outlandish clothing, or a nose ring. Selena Smith, a middle school principal, reported that a recent male applicant for a position in her building (located in a conservative suburban school district) came to the interview wearing a hot pink shirt, loud plaid jacket, and makeup. We could not invent a story like this. Personal preferences in your appearance and style of dress may be appropriate in some settings but rarely are accepted in the mainstream employment world.
The interviewer expects you to be at your best, in terms of both appearance and presentation. Researching the school district can provide you with ideas about how you should dress. Your best bet is to be conservative in terms of clothing, makeup, and accessories. Your credentials will get you the interview, but your interview will get you the job.
Use Proper English
You make an impression on the interviewer, or committee, during the interview. One of the characteristics of an effective teacher is to be able to communicate well. School districts are under increasing pressure to produce graduates who can read, write, and compute at grade level. Teachers are the key models of effective communication skills for students.
A sure way to end an interview quickly is to butcher the English language. Think through your response before answering the question. If speaking in grammatical English sentences is difficult for you, spend some time before the interview working on your speaking skills. Have friends or family members ask you mock interview questions, and tape your responses. Play them back, listening for errors in grammar—get someone else to listen with you if you need help—and then plan and practice a better answer. That way, you'll be prepared with grammatical answers to many of the questions you might be asked—and that will make you more relaxed and confident when facing the questions you didn't anticipate.
The Interview: What to Expect
Thinking about the interview ahead of time and having an idea what to expect will help quell your anxiety.
Listen carefully, and answer questions directly. Supporting information, such as a short anecdote, adds color and interest to your response and provides clues to the interviewer about what kind of teacher you might be in the classroom. However, do not ramble on, and do not fake answers. If you do not know the answer, just say so. Ask the interviewer to repeat any question that you don't understand.
If you say you are familiar with a program or philosophy of education, then be prepared to answer additional questions about it. Be prepared for open-ended questions such as, "If you were walking and came to a fork in the path and one way led to a lower path and the other led to a less-traveled higher path, which one would you take, and why?" Be prepared to answer difficult questions about yourself and what might affect your performance as a teacher. Some of the following questions are common:
- What are the greatest strengths that you will bring to this position, and how will you compensate for your weaknesses?
- What would you do if you truly believed in involving parents in your classroom, but your colleagues told you not to because it made them look bad?
- How would you construct a lesson on a particular piece of content in your subject area?
You should anticipate at least a few questions at this level of specificity:
- How do you get parents on your side?
- Are you familiar with the content and performance standards for your state?
- What is your philosophy of teaching and learning?
- How do you know what to teach? How do you teach it, and how do you know when students have learned it?
- What will your classroom look like, and why?
You also might be asked hypothetical questions such as, "A parent complains to you at a conference that her child is not reading. What is reading, and how do you teach it?"
You should weave your beliefs, values, and philosophy into the answers. Each answer should portray your level of character, degree of responsibility, and depth of ownership. Overall, the interviewer will evaluate your enthusiasm and emotional maturity.
Interviewers cannot legally ask you questions pertaining to specific aspects of your personal life. These areas include:
- national origin or citizenship
- marital/family status
- personal (physical) characteristics
- arrest record
- military record
There are ways that interviewers can find out such information without asking you these specific questions. For example, whereas the interviewer cannot ask whether you are married or if you have children, the interviewer may ask whether you are able to fulfill after-school responsibilities such as sponsoring a club or coaching a team. You must choose whether to answer or to respectfully decline. Sometimes a casual conversation will lead you into these areas. You must decide in advance how you plan to respond; if you become defensive, the outcome of the interview may be affected.
The interview is an appropriate time to support your answers using a portfolio. A portfolio is a statement of your teaching qualifications presented in scrapbook format. Some teacher education schools require that you develop a portfolio as a part of your student teaching experience. However, many districts do not consider a portfolio an important component of the interview process.
A portfolio may include, but is not limited to, evaluations from your supervisors and teachers, photographs from student teaching, samples of lessons and units you have developed, and professional letters of reference. Have it organized by section so that you can immediately turn to the section of the portfolio that is needed.
The interview also is an opportunity for you to ask questions about the position and the school district. Usually, toward the end of the interview, the interviewer will invite you to ask questions. Do not ask off-the-cuff questions. Knowing the school district and the position you are applying for, prepare your questions in advance. Ask questions that will help you decide whether you want to teach in this school district.
Some questions that are usually inappropriate to ask early in the interview process are:
- What is my salary?
- When are vacations?
- Who do I have lunch with?
- When is my conference/preparation time?
Instead, ask questions that your research has suggested about the student body, about relationships with parents, or about the educational philosophy or policies of the administrators or board of education.
If you are given an opportunity to tour a facility and meet staff members, be prepared to ask them, too, about the operation of the school. Some appropriate questions are:
- How many students do you have in your classroom?
- Can you get additional supplies if they are needed?
- What kind of equipment is available for teacher use?
Be prepared to provide a sample of your writing to the interviewer. Some districts require that you write an essay on the topic of their choice as part of the interview process. Once you have the topic, carefully organize your thoughts before writing. Writing is an important skill for a teacher. If we expect our students to write well, we must be able to model that process.
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