Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Why should we take a closer look at you?

Q:  We have a number of applicants interviewing for this position.  Why should we take a closer look at you?

A:   More than just a major in college, teaching for me is a passion.  I’ve worked closely with our local Boy Scout troop, volunteered as a youth leader in my local church, and spent quite a bit of time in the children’s department in the local public library.  With me, you’ll get passion and commitment – but you’ll also get a wide range of experiences in several different settings…experiences that give me a broad base beyond course work and student teaching.

            This is a question often asked near the end of an interview.  It is a great way to put a punctuation mark on who you are and what you will bring to a school.  It’s similar to the question, “Why should we hire you?” and provides you with a terrific opportunity to leave the interviewer with a most favorable impression.  Practice this one and be prepared to offer specific details (in less than two minutes).  Your response should also answer the one question you'll never get asked ("How will you make my job a little easier?").  Oh, by the way, don’t “talk negative” about the other candidates…if you do, you’re done!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Describe an ideal classroom.

     Q:  Describe an ideal classroom.
     A:   I believe an ideal classroom is composed of five basic elements.  These include 1) Learning occurs best when the development of positive attitudes and perceptions is made part of every learning task.  2) Knowledge is best learned by making connections between what is known and what is to be learned.  I always want my students to understand what it is to construct meaning.  3) I believe that for learning to be effective and meaningful, students should be provided with opportunities to use knowledge in practical situations – that is, opportunities to apply that knowledge.  4) We know that in an ideal classroom students learn best when they need knowledge to accomplish a goal they consider important.  This often involves problem-solving, decision-making, and inquiry-based learning.  And 5) in that ideal classroom, teachers can help students develop the mental habits that will enable them to learn on their own.  Critical thinking activities and metacognitive practices help ensure this.  While these five principles are all part of that ideal classroom, they are also goals or aspirations I see for myself and my students.  That ideal classroom may not always be achievable, but it can certainly be a realistic goal.

            Demonstrate your knowledge of educational principles and practices that can be part of every teacher’s classroom.  Detail those items and show how they can serve as goals for your future classroom.  The interviewer wants to know two things: 1) What’s good teaching; and 2) What kind of teaching will you practice?

Monday, December 12, 2011

What is your philosophy of classroom discipline?

   Q:  What is your philosophy of classroom discipline?
   A:   I would want to establish a specific set of rules for students to follow.  This set of rules would be designed to create a sense of order and comfort so that teaching and learning can take place.  But, in order for the rules to be effective, I know they need to be built on some very basic principles.  These principles would include 1) Students should have a sense of ownership of the rules – they should be invited to contribute a set of expectations about classroom behavior.  2) Classroom rules should always be framed in positive terms.  Instead of “Don’t hit people,” I would say ‘Respect other people.”  Instead of “No talking when someone else is talking,” I would say, “Take turns talking.”  3) I would make sure all students understand the classroom rules through concrete examples, specific anecdotes, and personal stories.  And, 4) I would make sure my classroom rules were consistent with school rules.  Above all, my classroom discipline policy would be structured on a set of rules that would be communicated in clearly defined terms and language students understand, provide the specific rationale or reason for a rule, and offer concrete examples of each rule as I would want it practiced.

            Discipline is one of the most important concerns in schools today.  You should definitely plan on being asked a “discipline question” at some time during the interview.  Your response should be carefully crafted in terms of specificity and purpose.  The more detailed you are in your response the better you will be viewed by the interviewers.  Never talk in generalities when responding to this query.  Be precise!

     Always think about the interviewer and gear your responses toward her or his concerns.  If you can demonstrate how your talents or experiences can address one or more of her or his concerns you will always come across as an interesting candidate as well as a first-rate teacher.  Be outwardly oriented and you’ll always have a successful interview.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What are some teaching methods used in full inclusion classrooms?

     Q:  What are some teaching methods used in full inclusion classrooms?
     A:   One method is the One Teach One Support method.  With this method students sit in rows in front of the chalkboard and instructing teacher.  As the teacher, I would station myself off to the right or left of the students in order to provide extra help and support as needed. In this model the participants are all following my instruction so that no child is excluded.  I could also use Station Teaching. Using this method my classroom would be divided into two, even three, different sections.  One group of students would be situated facing horizontally toward the blackboard; the second would be arranged vertically facing the right wall.  If a third group is present they would be arranged parallel to their vertically arranged classmates and will be turned to face the opposite wall or the front of the classroom.  Students with special needs will be divided among these groups evenly.  A third method I could use would be Parallel Teaching.  In this case my classroom would be arranged so that students are split into two groups. These two groups would be placed back to back with students from each group facing me.  One group would face me in the front of the classroom, and the other group with face the special education teacher in the rear of the classroom.  Students with special needs would be divided equally between these two groups and their classmates - making sure that one group doesn’t contain all the special needs students.  Of course, these aren’t the only options I could use, but they are some of the most effective in terms of a full inclusion classroom.

            If the answer above sounds detailed and specific – that is intentional.  If I was a betting person, I could almost guarantee you that you’ll get a question (or two) regarding inclusion – especially if you are an elementary teacher.  Take the time and make the effort to know everything you can about inclusion.  Otherwise, it’s lights out…for you!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

What are some of your hobbies or leisure-time activities?

     Q:  What are some of your hobbies or leisure-time activities?
     A:   I guess I’ve always been an “outdoors nut.”  I really enjoy getting outside and hiking, camping, and exploring nature.  Last summer I hiked down into the Grand Canyon and spent three days traversing Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  Next summer I plan to spend a week hiking the Appalachian Trail from Maine down into Pennsylvania.  I’ve read Richard Louv’s book “Last Child in the Woods” and strongly believe that nature should be an important part of every child’s education. I’d like to share my passion for the outdoors with my students.

            This is another opportunity for you to sell yourself – not just as a teacher, but also as a well-rounded individual.  Be sure to emphasize any hobbies, activities, or pursuits that might carry over to the classroom.  Be sure to let your passion for these activities show through.

     “Smiles, friendliness, joyful, excited, energetic, and enthusiastic are emotions and conveyances I look for in a candidate.”

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Describe the best teacher you ever had and what he or she taught you about teaching.

      Q:  Describe the best teacher you ever had and what he or she taught you about teaching.
A:   That would be Mr. Hart, my 11th grade English teacher.  He was tough…he was more than tough, he was demanding, challenging, and uncompromising.  He never took second best – we had to turn in our best work or it would come back to us with “Do Over” penned across the front.  We probably had more to say about Mr. Hart – unflattering, to be sure – than any other teacher we had.  But, as I look back, he taught me more about writing than anyone ever has.  He taught me that writing is a subject of exactness, a subject of details and definitions.  “You can’t be mushy,” he would say.  And, we weren’t.  He pushed us to new heights, he prodded us into new and often uncomfortable areas, and he made us all better writers.  I think one of the primary reasons why I want to be an English teacher is because Mr. Hart took an average student – me – and turned her into a far better writer than she would have been otherwise.  I want to make that difference in students’ lives, too!

            Most of us have been positively influenced by one or more teachers in our educational career.  We get into teaching because some teacher made a profound difference in our lives.  Let the interviewer know how this person made a difference in your life and how you want to “pass the baton” to a new generation of learners – giving them the same learning opportunities as you had.  This is the time to be passionate, sincere, and complimentary.  Like you, I’ve had a few really tough teachers in my life.  I may have sworn at them (and all their assignments) during those classes, but they all planted some powerful seeds that have taken root and sprouted in each and every class I teach today.  Make sure the interviewer knows precisely how you’ve been influenced and precisely how you will influence others.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Biggest Interview Myth

     In an article ("Ten Job Interview Myths Debunked") published in the October 12, 2011 issue of Forbes Magazine, David Couper, a Los Angeles career and executive coach and the author of Outsiders on the Inside: How to Create a Winning Career … Even When You Don’t Fit In addresses some common misperceptions about interviews.  According to Cooper, the biggest interview myth is that the most qualified candidate gets the job.  Couper makes the point that the final hiring determination most often comes down to personality rather than qualifications.  In other words, people are most often hired because of a "likeability" factor; not because they had the highest GPA, the most sterling letters of recommendation, or a resume jam-packed with accomplishments and awards.
     As one principal told me, "I want to hire a personality, not a grade point average!"

Monday, November 7, 2011

How would you differentiate your instruction to meet the needs of your diverse learners?

Q:  How would you differentiate your instruction to meet the needs of your diverse learners?
A:   During my student teaching experience I had the opportunity to work with several special needs students.  I quickly learned that there are some generalized strategies that I always need to keep in mind.  These would include 1) Being aware that special needs students may not want to be singled out for any special treatment.  To do so may identify their disability for other students.  2) I need to consider learning over a long period of time.  I realize that special needs students may require extended periods of time to master a concept or learn a specific skill.  3) I need to be especially careful that I don’t fall into the trap of focusing on the weaknesses of special needs students.  It’s vitally important that I’m aware of and that I seek to identify the individual strengths of each student.  And, 4) I want to provide opportunities for students of all abilities to learn from each other.  I want to be sure that everyone feels like he or she is contributing.  I know that all that is a tough order, but I’m eager for the challenge.

            Be sure you demonstrate your knowledge of special needs students, their instructional needs, and your willingness to teach them.  Always convey an aura of “positiveness” and enthusiasm in responding to this question.  Demonstrate that you are eager for both the challenge and the opportunity.

     It’s always appropriate to talk about a setback or disappointment you’ve had in working with students.  But, it’s even more important to show how the experience made you a much better teacher today.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Describe the steps you use to plan a lesson.

     Q:  Please describe the steps you use to plan a lesson.
     A:   A good lesson plan provides an outline for the accomplishment of specific tasks, while at the same time allowing for a measure of flexibility in terms of student interests and needs.  My lesson plans consist of several critical elements.  First, there must be a set of specific objectives.  I know that a well-crafted objective has two components: The students for whom the objective is intended and the anticipated performance.  Next, there must be an anticipatory set or motivational opening – that is, how will I stimulate student interest in a topic or subject.  Next, I must provide a series of guided practice activities.  These should incorporate several elements including specific instructional methodologies, creative thinking opportunities, “hands-on, minds-on” activities, and various ways in which students can practice the desired behavior(s).  There must be some form of closure to the lesson.  This can take the form of a teacher summary, a student summary, or some type of lesson product – a poster, brochure, mobile, or portfolio, for example.  Finally, I need to address evaluation and assessment – not as something done solely at the end of a lesson, but rather as a concept woven throughout the entire lesson.  Above all, I have to make sure that everything in a lesson is geared towards the identified objectives or a set of specific standards.

            If you don’t know how to write a lesson plan you’re going to have a very difficult time convincing any interviewer you are a competent teacher.  Make sure you know all the elements of a good lesson plan…cold!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Why shouldn’t we hire you?

     Q:  Why shouldn’t we hire you?
     A:   You might not want to hire me because I’m young and inexperienced.  But, please don’t let my youth and inexperience fool you.  For example, I assume you are looking for a teacher who will be a positive influence in the lives of students – someone who knows her craft, who can motivate students, and who can solve problems both big and small.  I assume you are looking for someone with lots of classroom experience, lots of practical ideas, and lots of background knowledge about learning styles and teaching strategies.  I believe I can bring all those attributes to this job.  In student teaching I worked closely with the other fifth grade teachers to improve reading scores by 18%.  I also was part of a team that initiated a behavior intervention program with the school counselor.  And, I helped write a series of inquiry-based thematic units for the science program.  I honestly believe you should hire me because I’m a go-getter and I’m intensely passionate about teaching.

            This is a question that pops up every so often and one designed to see if the candidate can think quickly on his or her feet.  It’s also asked to see if there is any negativity in the candidate’s philosophy.  The best way to respond is to turn the question around and, instead of focusing on the negative emphasize the positive instead.  Notice how the response above was turned into a positive one – one that focused directly on what the candidate could bring to the school.  Specific examples and experiences were used to support her philosophy with a very positive attitude.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why did you decide to major in biology (or history or elementary education)?

Q    Q:    Why did you decide to major in biology (or history or elementary education)?
A:   Ever since I was in fifth grade I’ve been fascinated with biology.  I’ve always had a desire to know as much as I can about the flora and fauna of a particular area.  I belong to the local chapter of the Isaac Walton League, I’ve worked at the state natural history museum as a summer intern, and I established a pond study project while I was in high school.  Biology is a love of mine and can’t think of anything I’d rather do than share my passion for the subject with a new generation of learners.

            This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your passion and your ardor for a particular subject.  Let the interviewer hear that excitement in your response; let the interviewer get a sense of how committed and sincere your interest is.  Make sure you defend your choice of major with some specific examples of how you have used it outside of normal academic requirements (e.g. volunteer work; clubs, organizations, and community agencies; out of classroom experiences).  You’ll earn major “brownie points” if you can show that your selection of a major was not one of convenience, but rather one of commitment.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What might your college supervisor want to change about your teaching style?

Q:   What might your college supervisor want to change about your teaching style?
     A:   I’m a detail person; my supervisor likes to look at the big picture.  I would obsess over the smallest detail, the tiniest item, or the smallest bit of information – making sure that each and every piece was part of a perfect lesson.  My supervisor tried to get me to look at the larger picture – the overall goals of a lesson or unit.  While I’m still concerned about all the necessary details of a lesson plan, I’ve come to see the importance of where I’m headed in each lesson.  I’ve learned that an eye on the standards – rather than simply the pebbles along the path – will often make the journey more productive for my students.  My supervisor helped me appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

            Here’s a great opportunity for you to demonstrate how you handle criticism as well as how much you are willing to adjust your philosophy.  Are you inflexible or are you open to change?  Are you set in your ways or are you willing to look at a situation from a new angle?  Whenever you are asked one of these types of questions it’s always a good idea to point out some minor differences of opinion, rather than a major conflict.  Equally important, demonstrate how you worked with someone (your college supervisor, for example) on resolving the issue.  Show how you can accommodate the ideas of others and especially how you can do that in a spirit of shared cooperation.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What principles do you use to motivate students to learn?

Q:  What principles do you use to motivate students to learn?
     A:   I recall one of my college professors discussing this topic in considerable detail.  Specifically, motivation is comprised of three critical elements.  First, I must always provide instruction that will ensure a measure of success for every student.  That is, every student must know that she or he can achieve a degree of success with an assignment or academic task.  Second, I need to create a community of learners.  A community of learners is a classroom that celebrates all its members and provides a supportive, inspirational, and motivational environment.  The third element that I’ve discovered leads to the motivation of students is whether or not students see a value in what they are learning.  During student teaching I found that for motivation to occur, students must know the reasons, rationale, and whys of any learning task.  When I provided students with specific reasons on why they needed to learn about the Articles of Confederation, for example, they were more engaged and more motivated.  I want all my students to see a connection between what they learn in the classroom and their lives outside that classroom.  That’s true motivation!

            Many prospective teachers mistakenly believe this to be a “throw-away” question – one that anyone can answer.  Not so!  You need to tell the interviewer that no matter what grade or subject you plan on teaching, that you are aware of the basic principles of motivation and how you will make them part of your classroom curriculum.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What new skills or ideas do you bring to the job that other candidates aren’t likely to offer?

Q:  What new skills or ideas do you bring to the job that other candidates aren’t likely to offer?
A:   I’m keenly aware of how the new standards are impacting classroom teachers.  I know how teachers struggle with the implementation of those standards simply because I was asked to do the same in my student teaching experience.  I learned very quickly that standards-based education is much more than a knowledge of the standards – it’s a commitment to an ideal, a philosophy that can have a significant impact on student learning.

            This question provides you with a unique opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of current issues, concerns, or initiatives in education.  It is not really a question of how much better you are than others, but rather one that shows how knowledgeable you are about the wider world of education.  If the competition is good, as it would be by this stage of the hiring process, then this question (and your response) should let the interviewer know that you’re bringing something extra to the position.  Don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others (“I’m more qualified than anyone else because….”), but rather show what you do know (and let the interviewer make the comparison in his or her head).

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

New Teaching Opportunities

Dear Friends:
     Last night (Sept. 13, 2011), on the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, there was a piece about U.S. teachers obtaining teaching positions in overseas schools.  Various teachers were interviewed ( and a web site for a teacher placement company ( was mentioned.  If you are looking for some teaching options in these tough economic times, I would like to suggest that you, at least, check out this company (and others) and the possibility of overseas teaching positions.  Many of the overseas positions offer substantially higher salaries (than in the U.S.), free housing, and paid travel.  It's worth a look!
Best Wishes,
A.D. Fredericks

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How do you deal with stress?

     Q:  How do you deal with stress?
     A:   I went into teaching knowing full well that it would be a stressful profession.  During my teacher education program I have developed several strategies to deal with the day-to-day stressors that inevitably come with the job.  I belong to a health club which I visit four times a week.  On weekends I take long “power walks” through the woods near where I live.  I’m learning about yoga and some of the benefits it offers to help individuals achieve a sense of harmony.  I belong to a book discussion group, take watercolor classes at the local art association, and I have an active circle of friends.  I try to maintain a wide diversity of physical and mental options that help me achieve balance in my life.

            Don’t make the mistake of saying that you are not stressed by teaching – the interviewer will know, right away, that you are less than honest.  He or she has had numerous years of experience as a former classroom teacher and will know that stress is an inevitable part of the job.  Be up front and let the interviewer know that stress + teaching go hand in hand.  But, also share the strategies and techniques that help you maintain a balance in your life.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How have you handled criticism of your lessons or teaching performance?

     Q:   How have you handled criticism of your lessons or teaching performance?
     A:   My college supervisor sometimes mentioned that I had time management issues – that is, I found it difficult to get everything done that I had planned.  Some parts of a lesson would go too long and others didn’t have enough time to develop.  I learned that this is a common problem with pre-service teachers.  So, I took the opportunity to talk with some of the more experienced teachers in the school to see what kinds of tips or strategies they had that would help me master my time a little better.  One of the best ideas I got was to list my lesson objectives on the board for students to see and then check them off as the lesson develops.  That gave me - and the students - visual proof on how the lesson was progressing.

            This question often provides the interviewer with insight into your accountability and professional character.  How do you handle criticism – positively (as a learning opportunity) or negatively (the reviewer didn’t know what he/she was talking about).  It would be most valuable to take this opportunity to demonstrate (with specific examples) how you were able to use that criticism to become a better teacher.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What is the most exciting initiative happening in education today?

     Q:  What is the most exciting initiative happening in education today?
     A:   For me, the most exciting initiative is the emphasis on Differentiated Instruction.  I know that DI is a way of teaching that relies on a toolbox robust enough to provide different learning pathways to a wide range of learners.  I cannot say, for example, “I taught it, so they must have gotten it.”  What is critical for me is knowing the essential curriculum and the individual learners; plus developing the wisdom to know which developmentally appropriate strategy to use with whom.  The challenge for me is to learn, and be able to use, a repertoire of strategies that will make a difference in each and every student’s learning.

            Talk to your former professors.  Read the latest journals.  Consult with area teachers.  Know what is happening in education…not yesterday, but today.  And then, show how you will address that initiative in your own classroom.

     “If I ask ‘Is there anything else you’d like to tell me?’ I’m always impressed when a candidate – in two minutes or less – can effectively summarize the basic interview theme: matching his or her qualifications to my school’s needs.”

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tell me about one of your lessons that flopped.

     Q:   Tell me about one of your lessons that flopped.
     A:   During my student teaching experience I put together a science lesson on making homemade ice cream in a zip-loc bag.  It was an activity I had learned in my “Teaching Elementary Science” course.  The lesson was designed to demonstrate how liquids change into solids.  I provided my third grade students with all the materials and with a set of printed directions.  It was halfway through the lesson when I realized that I had listed the wrong amount of salt to use to melt the ice.  In short, the ice wasn’t melting and the milk mixture wasn’t turning into ice cream.  In fact, nothing happened.  In hindsight I should have practiced the activity at home before using it with the students.  I explained to the students that scientists make mistakes all the time – in fact, there are many scientific discoveries (penicillin, electric light bulb) that are the result of unintentional mistakes.  I wanted to let them know that even teachers make mistakes and that it’s O.K. to flub up every once in a while.  You could discover something new.  Next time, however, I’ll test any experiment before teaching it.

            Every teacher has had lessons that bombed.  Don’t make the mistake of saying that you haven’t had at least one or more “duds” in your student teaching experience.  The interviewer will know, instantly, that you are trying to con him or her.  By the same token, it’s always a good idea to approach any disappointment or problem from a positive angle.  Never blame anyone (but yourself) and always demonstrate how you were able to turn a potential negative into a positive.  Demonstrate an ability to reflect on your mistakes and use those mistakes as stepping stones to become a more accomplished teacher.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What would you consider to be a good homework assignment?

     Q:  What would you consider to be a good homework assignment?
     A:   Many students think homework is a form of academic punishment.  They will often ask, “What does this have to do with anything?”  Thus, it would be important for me to ensure that there is some kind of connection between the homework I assign such that it will help students connect with the real world.  In short, students need to understand the “why?” in each homework assignment – and the “Why?” is not something like, “Because I told you so.”  In student teaching I tried to help my fourth graders see the relevance of mathematics to their everyday lives.  Examples of homework assignments I used included the following:  1) Find 15 items in your house that are rectangles, 2) Select one of your mother’s favorite recipes and double it, 3) Use a menu from a local restaurant and plan a meal for four people within a budget of $50.00, and 4) Locate a chart or graph in the local newspaper and explain what it means in words.  I discovered that this “real-world” connection was also a great motivational aid, too.

            The interviewer wants to know if you’ve had personal experience in putting all your “book knowledge” into practice.  Plan to answer this question with specific examples and specific anecdotes from your pre-service training.  Let him or her know that you have “walked the walk.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What were some of the things you didn’t like about student teaching?

     Q:  What were some of the things you didn’t like about student teaching?
     A:   I was sometimes frustrated about the time schedule.  The periods were all divided into 90-minute time frames.  My students and I would sometimes really get into a topic and then we’d have to end because the bell rung.  I found it upsetting that there wasn’t always sufficient time to cover all the material AND provide students with enough guided practice to put that information into practice.  It sometimes seemed as though we were prisoners to the clock.  But, it did teach me about time management and the fact that I need to provide complete lessons in a designated time frame.  That’s something I continue to work on.

            The best way to answer this question is to respond with something that has absolutely nothing to do with your abilities or your performance.  Identify something that is outside your control – the schedule, the clock, the bus schedule, the constant entrance and exit of students throughout the day, or the lack of adequate classroom computers.  Make sure your response is about something over which you had no control.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How do you know students have learned what you taught them?

Q:  How do you know students have learned what you taught them?
A:   Evaluation is an integral part of the learning process.  As such, it must be sensitive to the needs, attitudes, and abilities of individuals students as well as the class as a whole.  I must be careful that I do not over-rely on one form of evaluation just because it is easy or convenient for me to use.  Rather, I need to utilize a multi-faceted evaluation program if I am to determine whether students are mastering the objectives for each lesson. To that end I need to use formative evaluation measures in order to assess student progress with the material being presented, as diagnostic instruments to determine student strengths and weaknesses, and to provide student and teacher feedback.  I also need to utilize summative evaluation measures at the conclusion of a unit of study in order to asses the extent of pupil’s achievement, to provide a basis for the calculation of course grades, and provide data from which parent reports and school transcripts can be prepared.

            I like this question for several reasons…and so do a large number of principals.  Your response demonstrates the extent of your knowledge about assessment and evaluation, your plan for putting that knowledge into practice, your understanding of the connection between lesson objectives and student performance, and your comprehension of both product and process evaluation.  It’s a tall order, but one you need to master.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Top Book

Dear Friends:
     I just received word that the book on which this blog is based - "Ace Your Teacher Interview" - has recently been listed as one of's most popular interview books.  A picture of the book's cover is just to the right of this posting.
     You may wish to consider ordering this book early so you can get the latest and best information on teacher interviews...ahead of the pack!  Although the book won't be out for a while, you can be one of the first to get the information that will help you get that all-important teaching position.
Tony Fredericks

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What are the three courses you took that shaped the teacher you will be?

Q:  What are the three courses you took that shaped the teacher you will be?
A:   I took “Teaching Elementary Science” from Professor Sunday.  She got me excited about an inquiry-based approach to science education – an approach that stimulates student questions and offers opportunities for students to pursue answers to their own self-initiated questions.  In “Teaching Elementary Social Studies,” Dr. Hansen taught me about the value of “hands-on, minds-on” teaching – that is, not only providing children with necessary information, but giving them an opportunity to do something with that information.  I also took “Topics in Children’s Literature” from Dr. Smithton who showed me the value of a literature-rich curriculum.  I discovered some incredible books that I can use in all subject areas, not just reading.  These three courses, and these three individuals, showed me that teaching can be exciting, dynamic, and practical for each and every student in a classroom.  They are lessons I will never forget.

            Celebrate not only the courses that made an impact on your philosophy, but the people who taught those courses, too.  If they are as good as you say they are, it is very likely the interviewer will know who they are (by reputation) and will know how they have influenced other teachers hired by the district.

     Interviewers are most interested in hiring your strengths and achievements.  They especially want what you have done or what you can do – not simply what you believe, or feel, or think.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Why do you want to teach?

     Q:  Why do you want to teach?
     A:   I had a professor in college who always used to say, “To learn is to change.”  That saying has always influenced me simply because I can see all the positive changes that have occurred in my life through education.  I want those changes to be part of what I can share with young people.  I want students to see how education can not only keep us current, but can also keep us growing, and changing, throughout our lives.  It’s not the accumulation of knowledge that is important, it is what we do with that knowledge that keeps change happening, and that keeps us growing.  I want to initiate and fan those flames in my students as much as my teachers have done in me.
            Provide some evidence that you have given this question serious consideration.   Make sure a sincere and committed desire to teach comes through loud and clear.  Every principal has heard the all-too-common response, “Because I want to make a difference in kids’ lives.”  Try something new, something that refers to a specific reason or incident in your life that propelled you into education.  This would be a very good opportunity to weave a short anecdote or short personal story into your response.

     The “small talk” at the beginning of an interview is critical.  It helps establish a conversational tone for the rest of the interview.  Respond to questions with something more than a “yes” or “no.”  Be sure to ask your own questions that will require something more than a “yes” or “no” from the interviewer.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where do you want to be in five years?

Q:  Where do you want to be in five years?
A:   After my first two years of teaching, I’d like to begin pursuing my Master’s degree in Professional Writing.  I’d like to get involved in several writing projects with the possibility of writing a teacher resource book or two – giving back to the profession in some way.  And, I’d like to be a continuing and positive influence in the lives of high school students – sharing with them the joys (and even some of the frustrations) of writing.

            Too many candidates make the mistake of being wishy-washy with the response to this question.  Provide the interviewer with two or three carefully chosen, and carefully thought out responses.  If you say something like, “Well I just hope I’m still teaching here at Excellent High School” you have blown the answer.  The interviewer wants to hear clear and concrete responses – an indication that you have given serious and sustained consideration to your future.

     If you don’t understand a point, ask that it be restated or explained further.  For example, “In other words, you would like to know….”

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Q: Why did you attend __________College?

     Q:  Why did you attend __________ College?

     A:   I went to Mountain State College because of its strong teacher education program.  In high school, I looked at several different colleges including the strength of their pre-service programs, the teaching expertise of the faculty, the student orientation, and the intensity of the coursework.  Conversations with teachers in the area showed that Mountain State had a strong program – one that was both respected and admired.  After a round of college visits I was convinced that Mountain State would be the institution that would help me best achieve my goals.  As I look back, I knew it was the right choice then and is certainly the right choice now.  I got a great education, learned more than I ever knew possible about teaching, and was challenged at every turn.  I don’t regret a single moment.

            Your answer should confirm your commitment to teaching.  It should highlight your career goals, your passion for teaching, and how the institution was instrumental in helping you become a more accomplished educator.  The interviewer will undoubtedly know about the status and reputation of the institution; it will be your job to show how the institution played a significant role the pursuit of your goals.  Your answer must also demonstrate that you make good decisions – rationale and conscious choices that demonstrate your ability to make (and follow through on) long range goals.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What kind of principal would you like to work for?

     Q:  What kind of principal would you like to work for?
     A:   From my own observations and conversations with teachers I think that a good relationship with a building principal needs to be based on trust and communication.  I can certainly help in that regard by always keeping my principal informed.  I know that the last thing any administrator needs or wants is a surprise.  If I was inviting a guest speaker into my classroom, setting up a terrarium with a collection of snakes, or assigning a controversial book for my students to read, I would want to inform my principal.  I’ve learned that keeping the principal in the loop, information-wise, is always a good idea.  If I have a problem student or anticipate the storming of the office by an irate parent, I should let my principal know early on.  A well-informed principal can assist me in working through a problem, particularly if she or he has information early in the process.  That information sharing, I believe, is critical in establishing both trust and open lines of communication between me and my principal.

            Your answer to this question is also an answer to the single-most important question of the entire interview (see post on the "Most Important Question").  Administrators want to hire people who will not create problems, but will make the principal’s job a little easier.  You will note that a good response to this query is pro-active rather than reactive.  Rather than describe the principal (which may or may not match the person interviewing you), explain what you will do to enhance a positive teacher/principal relationship.  You’ll get more points that way.

     Some books recommend that you take notes during the interview.  My conversations with principals reveal that it’s a bad idea simply because it’s difficult to write, listen, and develop a rapport - all at the same time.  You are frequently distracted and often mis-focused.  My advice: save the multi-tasking for another time.

Friday, June 17, 2011

What were the most rewarding aspects of student teaching?

     Q:  What were the most rewarding aspects of student teaching?

     A:   One of my professors always used to say, “The best teachers are those who have as much to learn as they do to teach.”  I discovered that to be a good teacher one always has to be open to new strategies, new techniques, and new possibilities.  Student teaching made clear to me that just because I have a lot of “book learning” doesn’t mean that I know everything there is to know about teaching.  Not only did I have to keep up on the latest information about biology education, I also had to be open to suggestions and comments from other teachers, administrators, and yes, even students.  Keeping an open mind was critical to my success as a student teacher as I’m sure it will be to my success as a biology teacher.  I don’t believe there’s such a thing as a finite body of knowledge – good teachers are always searching for new information and are always willing to consider new possibilities.

            Administrators want to hire people who are not only consummate teachers, but are well-rounded as well.  This question provides you with a unique opportunity to demonstrate your personal philosophy as well as your professional philosophy.  Your response should show evidence of both your teaching competence as well as your long-term potential.

     “I particularly dislike candidates who ramble on and on about themselves or communicate they are ‘in love with themselves.’”

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

How will you integrate technology into your classroom?

Q:  How will you integrate technology into your classroom?

     A:   The number one use of technology comes in the form of research.  The Internet, for example, provides students with a wealth of current information on any topic or any subject.  I want my students to experience the incredible array of data available in any subject area.  A second project that can help integrate technology, while truly getting the students excited about school, is website creation.  I plan to publish a website with my class about information students have researched or personally created.  This might include literary efforts, results of scientific investigations, critiques of books read, or problem-solving projects.  I also want to explore the possibility of online assessment for my students.  If students have the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned through the use of technology, then I have more time available to teach.  It’s an exciting new concept and one I’m eager to explore.  Although these are exciting ideas I have to remember what one of my professors said, “The program should not be built around technology; rather technology should be built into the program.”

             Most of the administrators I talked with want to know how versed teacher candidates are in technological issues.  Your response to this question should demonstrate your awareness of and comfortableness with technology as a powerful teaching tool.

     “A candidate shared with me a story about how he had his neighbor evicted - due to his uncanny tech. skills.  He created a documentary showing how his neighbor was violating specific ordinances and then called the police.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Since this will be your first teaching job, how do you know you’ll like the career path?

Q:  Since this will be your first teaching job, how do you know you’ll like the career path?

A:   I’ve spent a lot of time in classrooms – during my field experiences requirements, student teaching experience, and volunteer work at the elementary school in my hometown.  I talked to several teachers here and throughout the district and asked them what they enjoy most about the Wide Open Spaces School District and they all said they especially like the camaraderie and support system in place for teachers.  I get a real sense that there is a spirit of cooperation and dedication here that is important in the education of children, but equally so in maintaining high morale and a vision for the future.  I believe I can thrive in this type of atmosphere and am confident that my philosophy and that of the school will be a long-term match.

            This can be a tricky question, but if you have done your homework about the school or district it can be answered with confidence and assurance.  Let the interviewer know that you have gone above and beyond in your teacher preparation program – that you’ve seen teaching from many different angles.  In addition, allow the interviewer an opportunity to see how your philosophy and that of the school are mutually compatible – that you are just not excited about teaching, but that you are especially excited about teaching in this particular school.  Allow your enthusiasm and energy to come to the fore; demonstrate your passion through tone of voice, body language, and animation.  Since this will undoubtedly be one of the final questions you’ll be asked, make sure you put a large exclamation point on your response. 

     “The best prepared candidates are those who did their homework on the school and can ask meaningful questions.”

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What Do You Know About This School?

     Q:  What do you know about this school?
     A:   According to the school’s web page you have achieved AYP in each of the past five years.  Your reading scores are up and your math scores are making some significant improvements.  That says to me that your teachers are sincerely committed to integrating some instructional changes to the reading and math curricula.  Along with the two extra days of in-service training recently approved by the school board this underscores a sincere commitment to the needs of students.  I’ve talked with several teachers and to a person they are all impressed, and all supportive of, the new schedule.  This schedule makes additional time available for literacy instruction – something which is showing up in the improvement of test scores.  Some of the parents have even remarked on a new sense of energy in the school – certainly something to be proud of.

            This is a frequent question in any interview.  Simply put, the interviewer wants to know if you’ve done your homework.  What do you know about the school other than how many teachers work there and the color of the hallways?  Make sure you take the time to pour over school board minutes, the school’s web site, and any printed newsletters or brochures.  Talk with people in the school – teachers, maintenance staff, bus drivers, and learn as much as you can about the climate and philosophy.  Chat with parents and community members in the supermarket, hardware store, or gas station.  Learn anything you can and plan to share that knowledge in the interview.

     You can always get extra points if you research the school’s recent test scores and frame some sort of positive comment around those scores.  For example, “I see that you’ve made an 8% improvement in your reading scores over last year.  You must be very proud.”  Or, “I note that your recent math scores have held firm over the last three years.  I’d like to contribute my enthusiasm and expertise in teaching math in helping to improve those results.”

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Interview Themes

8.  Flexibility
            Can you ‘roll with the punches?”  Can you “go with the flow?”  Can you “change directions in midstream?”  Can you “bend in the wind?”  All these questions have to do with perhaps the most significant attribute of any good teacher – flexibility.  Interviewers want to know that they will get the most “bang for the buck” – that you can handle a wide variety of classroom situations, a wide range of teaching challenges, and a wide array of changes, modifications, or alterations – all at a moment’s notice.  Your willingness and eagerness to present yourself as someone who can adapt without getting flustered or change without getting upset is a key attribute – an attribute that can often “nail” the interview.
            Are you willing to teach at another grade (elementary)?  Are you willing to teach another subject area (secondary)?  How would you handle a fire drill in the middle of your favorite lesson?  What if we brought in a brand new reading series next week, what would you do?  Are you comfortable with change?  Would you be willing to work in an after-school program?  Administrators are always interested in individuals they can use in a variety of situations.  The willingness to be flexible and the desire to quickly adjust to change are both positive characteristics valued in any school.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Interview Themes

7.  Lesson Planning
            A lesson plan is a guide and a guide only.  A well-designed lesson plan is flexible, subject to change, and reflective of the individual needs of each and every student in the classroom.  A good lesson plan provides an outline for the accomplishment of specific tasks, while at the same time allowing for a measure of flexibility in terms of student interests and needs.  You need to demonstrate to any interviewer your familiarity with lesson design as well how you are able to tailor lessons to the specific instructional needs of your students.  Be prepared to be detailed and specific as well as flexible and accommodating.
            Please relate the process you go through when planning a typical lesson.  Please share some ways in which you have assessed students.  What are the essential components of an effective lesson?  Think of a recent lesson you taught and share the steps that you incorporated to deliver the lesson.  Share your process of short and long-term planning for delivering effective instruction.  Think of a lesson that was ineffective or did not meet your expectations – what adaptations did you make to address the lesson?  How do you infuse technology to enhance your instruction?  It’s critical that you provide an interviewer with insight into your lesson planning, lesson delivery, and lesson assessment.  Anecdotes and examples must be critical elements of your responses.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Interview Themes

6.  Management and Discipline
            You’ve probably seen classrooms in which students were orderly, work was productive, and a sense of purpose and direction filled the room.  You might also have seen classrooms that were chaotic, disruptive, and seemingly out of control.  Maybe you were even a student in one or both of those classrooms at some time in your educational career.  Principals and other administrators are vitally interested in how you plan to manage your classroom.  Your management skills and discipline policy will be vitally important in the decision to hire you.  Know that you will be asked more than one question in this area.  Read, research, and review everything you can – your success here will frequently be a major deciding point.

     According to research from several observers, teachers in a typical classroom lose about 50% of their teaching time because of students’ disruptive behavior.  Be prepared to discuss how you would address this issue somewhere in the interview.

            To establish a positive classroom environment, share what you will do the first few weeks of school with your students.  How do you create and maintain positive rapport with your students?  How would you deal with a student who was always late to class?  Describe your discipline policy in detail.  Describe some classroom rules you would use.  To many administrators nothing is more important than a well-crafted discipline policy and a well-articulated management plan.  Be prepared to share your thoughts on both.

     “…school districts place a tremendous emphasis on discipline and classroom management….  They want to feel confident that you, as a new teacher, have a good, sound, fair method of class management.  You can’t wimp out in this area.”