Updated: Feb 14
We don’t ever claim to be experts in Human Resources or know every in and out of the hiring process, but we do know what we look for when we sit down with teachers each spring to interview. And we’ve both had the opportunity to hire different ‘styles’ of interviewees and watch the strengths we hired for shine in our buildings. Depending on the size of the district or the needs at each of the individual schools, you may go through a couple different rounds of interviews, starting with a screener with a principal who may not even have openings! Often, when the applicant pool is large, we will both make calls to have quick conversations or screeners to create a smaller pool to bring in to meet with our team. Both of us do our best to have teams of our current teachers present to share their inputs and insights as well at some point in the process. So don’t be freaked out to walk into an interview and see 5-7 other people around the table. It could happen! There have also been times we’ve both asked teacher candidates to teach a short lesson in a classroom in our building. Of course we prepped them ahead of time so they were aware, but just know that is always a tool some administrators use to determine the best fits for our building.
Here are our top tips for teacher interviews:
1. Appear confident and well-spoken. We know there are many teachers who are more introverted when it comes to adults but can perform and shine with kids. During an interview, we want to make sure candidates have the “presence” required to keep a room full of 8-year-olds safe and engaged. Fake it ‘till you make it even if talking to adults isn’t your thang. Talking to an aspiring teacher who appears “meek” makes us think about how he or she will be able to take charge in emergency situations, difficult classes, or hard parents.
2. Ask for more experiences while student teaching. If you’re a brand-new teacher, ask your cooperating teacher to observe other teachers, interview other teachers, and observe other collaboration sessions. Sometimes our cooperating teachers do not necessarily fit our own personality and align to our own values, so get out there and talk to other folks! For example, if you’re asked about how you plan lessons, and your student teaching team departmentalizes and shares plans without talking, that doesn’t give you a whole lot of context to pull from. That’s why it’s important to observe another team that plans differently--perhaps one that discusses each subject and backwards plans. Your administrator or instructional coach can point you in the direction of who to observe. And since there is no one ‘right way to plan’, seeing the differences will give you an idea of the model that fits best for you! This will give you a bigger range of experiences to draw on and not recounting your cooperating teacher’s ideas.
Pro tip: even if you’re NOT a new teacher, you could use this advice if you’ve had limited experiences--maybe even ask to observe outside of your current building before applying.
3. Ask questions! We cannot stress this enough. You NEED to have questions for the interview team. And good ones, none of those ‘when will you have a decision made’ questions. While those are fine to ask for sure, those are not what we mean when we say ‘Do you have any questions for us?’. When you have good questions for that segment, it shows you are interested in the position, have looked into our school and that you are a critical thinker. What are these mythical good questions of which we speak?
Questions that show you are aware of how schools work. Questions that show you want to help them continue to get better. Questions that show you’ve looked at our school online and WANT to be a part of our team, not just secure a full time job.
Some examples we’ve heard that our teams were WOW’d with:
“As a principal, how do you determine if a teacher is successful at the end of the year?”
“What are the strengths of your new teacher professional development, and where do you think I’ll have to most supplement my own learning?”
“What qualities are you most looking for to compliment the strengths of your team?”
“What is the thing about ____ school you are most proud of?”
While you may be in a dire situation to get a job, remember, you are trying to determine if the position is a good fit for YOU, too. This is especially important if you’re not a first-year candidate and are moving positions because you don’t align with your current building/team/etc. Think about your questions and even write them down; there is no shame in pulling out a list of questions at the end of your interview. It’s also okay to ask some questions that get to the heart of the culture of the building, too, to make sure it’s a good fit for you. We’ve had a few candidates ask questions that get the team to paint a more detailed picture of the current state of the building like:
‘How many new teachers do you typically hire each year?”
“What’s the biggest challenge your building is facing right now and what qualities are you looking for in a teacher to support in those areas?”
4. Do not ever mention multiple intelligences, ever... Okay, so maybe this is an exaggeration. Or maybe just a midwest thing? Or maybe it’s just a weird pet peeve of Christy’s--because it hadn’t even crossed into Karen’s radar of annoyances yet. Christy claims EVERY new teacher always mentions SOMETHING about Howard Gardner or multiple intelligences or multiple learning styles. This isn’t inherently bad by any means; there is some validity to learning styles and intelligences, but most new teachers don’t fully understand the research and how to apply it to education. As principals, we are MUCH more interested in that you know how to differentiate to give kids entry points to the content when they don’t understand a concept. Do you know how standards build and grow on each other vertically through the grade levels to move up and down based on individual student needs? Do you know which manipulatives are right for which math concept? Do you know how to scaffold essay writing for students who don’t know all of their letters or sounds - even in 3rd grade? The reality is that you won’t always (or ever?) have an opportunity to provide a kinesthetic learner the ability to read a novel while running, but she’ll still be in your class and need an entry point to that novel.
5. Speak in first person. This makes us LOL because we are envisioning a candidate saying something like, “Well, during student teaching Emily had 24 students and Emily really enjoyed teaching them,” rather than using I. But that’s not totally what we mean. What we mean is just to be sure that your responses reflect YOUR experiences and not your cooperating teacher’s. We’ve both been in interviews where the candidate told us more about how the cooperating teacher does things rather than how the candidate does. Feel free to use “we” and speak about how your team collaborated, but we are ultimately interviewing YOU.
6. Make sure you give us specifics and go into the details. This one makes or breaks candidates. If the question is “Tell us about a time you worked with a challenging student and found success with that student” do not give us a vague 30 second anecdote about how a student wasn’t working so you built relationships and found the student’s interest and then connected that to learning. That’s super great, but also super vague and not helpful for us at all, meaning we will infer that you don’t have much experience in this area.
Remember, you can tell us specific details about your previous trials and triumphs and it not be breaking confidentiality rules (as long as you leave out all names). We want to hear that you worked with a very hyperactive student who also struggled with managing his overwhelming feelings when angry. We want to know that you worked with a team or staff member to find solutions and problem solve behavior supports that would work with that student. We want to hear that you called this student’s parents and worked to get onto the same page. We want to hear that you began looking more into trauma informed practices or brain based learning because you saw a colleague using those techniques and you wanted to learn more.
We want to hear this for a few reasons. First, it lets us know the type of challenges you’ve faced in your previous role/school and if our challenges will be similar or at a level you may not have faced yet. Second, it gives us the insight into how you work through challenges--do you do that alone? Do you research? Do you collaborate with admin, other teachers, parents? Do you wait for others to bring you solutions or do you seek out your own? It may sound to you like you are telling WAAAYYY too much information, but for us, it’s exactly the information we want to hear!