Preparing For Interviews

As many of you know, I’m still on the search to land a teaching job. In preparing for future interviews, I like to type out my responses to sample questions. I’ve been lucky to score some sample interview questions from colleagues, Career Services at Miami University,  from my own experience.

But I need some help.

I need those who’ve been through the process, have gotten the job or not gotten the job, old and young, to give me some pointers. It’s hard to get feedback from interviewers because I would feel weird going to them and being all dejected, like a let-down lovesick girl, crying “WHERE DID I GO WRONG?! WHY DON’T YOU LOVE ME?!”  Although I have gotten feedback from interviewers before when it has been appropriate to ask, so I’m not totally in the dark. I would like YOUR help though! Many of you know me and my teaching philosophy, and some of you may not. Either way, if you have any suggestions about my responses and how I could improve them, please comment. Target anywhere and everywhere—I can take it.

I especially need help with the non-theoretical, practical, experience based kind of questions. I have spent more time thinking about education than teaching, for obvious reasons. What are your experiences? How would you answer these questions? What questions were you asked that I didn’t add here? I have 24 questions—it’s A LOT to read through. Don’t feel obligated to read every one if you don’t have the time, but I would greatly appreciate it if you could scan some of ’em.

And we’ll start with…

1. Why do you want to be a teacher? 

While I was growing up in a pretty good public school, something did not make sense to me. The ‘slow’ classes of students often got the inexperienced or lack-luster teachers where the ‘accelerated’ classes of students were rewarded with the spunky, experienced, rock star teachers (or the teacher was rewarded with the accelerated classes, depending on how you slice it). The students who need the good teachers often don’t get ’em—or when they do, that teacher does not teach at that level for long. This works between certain schools in low-income areas of cities, too. The ‘good’ teachers move to the nicer neighborhoods where schools receive more money from property taxes, while the ‘bad’ ones get pushed around into the lower-income schools.

I realized that I could be a good teacher for the students who usually don’t get the good ones. So I accepted the TEACH grant, which means I’ll be working in a high-need and low-income area for at least four years.

I strongly believe that the story is the most powerful way to learn and to understand the human condition. Without the literary experience, students may not gain the ethical sensitivities necessary to participate and cooperate with other human beings in society. Because of this passion I have for teaching students how to participate in the overarching discussions pertinent to them and the world in which they live, teaching English literature and writing makes the most sense to me.

2. What is your philosophy of education?

Students are not machines, they are humans. Therefore, students must not be treated like machines, but like humans. This also means they should not be assessed by machines.  Students must be taught that they have emotion and creative energy in them that can be harnessed in a way that makes them skillful and artful in handling any situation they will encounter when they leave the school building. Whether this is in the sciences or the arts, they must be prepared for a variety of contexts in which they will have to make choices. Whether these are choices informed by ethical sensitivity or not is the defining line. This is why I think English is so important. Stories can inform and of course entertain, but the way in which they can show the perspective of another human being is the only way, other than first-hand physical experience, a student can gain this perspective and even have a chance in advocating for a more fair, just, and democratic society. This is why they need to know how to write. This is why they need to know how to read.

3. Describe your theory of curriculum development and how you would implement a new curriculum.

I helped my cooperating teacher at Loveland High school implement the new Common Core standards into her 11th grade English class. The first thing we did was eliminate tests—ironic, I know, because there seems to be such an emphasis on testing these days—but the focus in those standards is more about skill than anything. So, we created projects and writing assignments (assessments in their own way) that measured how well they were able to implement the concepts we were discussing. There is a larger push for nonfiction in the curriculum. The way we incorporated this was that we not only used historical documents, but narrative non-fiction. There are many great pieces of narrative non-fiction that are informative and engaging.

I think that curriculum should reflect the needs of the community in which it is situated. For example, if a school or school district is facing the issue of bullying at the moment (as many are), the teachers should figure out how to show this condition in the curriculum. For example, in an English class, the book Thirteen Reasons Why can be included in an interdisciplinary unit that utilizes video clips of testimonials or news stories, personal writing from the students’ perspectives, discussions on the topic at is relates to the students, and perhaps even the creation of an anti-bullying campaign the class can carry out to the rest of the student body. I have a copy of this unit as I have already drafted one up in a methods course.

4. How would you evaluate your performance in the classroom?

At mid-terms or after completing units, I like to ask the students to quickly write on a half sheet of paper one thing that I could have improved upon and one thing I did well. While I thought they would be timid in criticizing a teacher, they had no trouble. Getting a student’s anonymous perspective is helpful in that I can’t always read their body language or facial expressions. As for self-evaluation, I do it quite constantly since I’m new at this. After asking a question, answering a question, leading a discussion, talking to a student, finishing a lesson, project, etc., I always think about how it could have been better, what went well, and what I could have changed in my own teaching. This can bog me down sometimes, but I think that it is helpful to help me become a better teacher. This is something I hope I never stop doing, even as I get more comfortable in this position.

5. How would you like your students to describe you at the end of the school year?

I always respected the teachers who were tough, but really good at what they do. This is how I hope I’ll be. I know that this does not generally mean I will be the teacher who everyone thinks is super cool and fun, but again, from my experience, these teachers were not always the most successful or the most transformative. There is a way to have fun, but sometimes hard work is not fun. It’s rewarding, not exactly fun—and I think I’m super cool and fun anyway, so that’s bound to shine through regardless. I’m mature enough so that I don’t have to ingratiate myself with teenagers to win their elusive affection.

6. How would you like your teaching colleagues to describe you at the end of the school year?

I would like them to see me as the teacher who is an advocate for my students’ learning and who is infectiously passionate about what I do. I once heard one teacher tell another that she was “making them (all the other teachers) look bad” because she stopped giving easy-to-grade multiple-choice tests in favor of time-consuming analytical essays. I don’t want to make other teachers look bad, but I would like to set standards. If it’s not acceptable to not give an assignment just so you don’t have to do grading (which it isn’t), I’m not going to lag with the status quo just so I can leave the room an hour earlier. So, I would want to be known by the other teachers as someone who puts in a lot of hours because I care about what I do. I also would love to be the teacher who is willing to collaborate on projects with other teachers and share ideas. I think this is what I liked so much about my cohort experience. We were supportive. I would hope that my colleagues and I would have a similar nurturing relationship.

7. What is the greatest asset you will bring to your classroom and to your profession? 

My greatest asset is that I am a teacher who is not concerned about “covering” material, but meeting my students at where they are when I reach them, and moving forward from there. Because of this, I make a great effort to get to know my students. I have them write me introductory letters about themselves at the beginning of the term, and commit certain aspects about them: their extra-curricular activities, who their parents are, what they enjoy doing, what kinds of books they like to read, what movies they watch, what interests them, or the music they’re listening to. I ask them questions about themselves that is still within the appropriate student-teacher relationship but lets them know that I care about them and what they do beyond the certain number of days I spend with them for a school year. By knowing these details, I’m able to cater my lesson plans to my students to better serve them and make the lessons relevant to them. Personal details and interests paired with pre-assessments that show who needs to work on what individually and as a class can get my students to where they need to be—whether it is for standardized tests, college preparation, or Common Core standards. I am willing to give up so much of the time that is my own so I can be a great teacher, not just a good one.

8. What extracurricular activities do you feel you could supervise in our school system?

I played volleyball all through high school. I would feel comfortable coaching junior-high, as I’ve only had experience coaching a youth league. I was a majorette (baton twirler) for eight years (competitively and non), and I would love to do that if the resources and interest were present in the community. I also performed in musicals all throughout high school and in summer theatre, so I would be willing to help out with a production. I am also a runner (did not run cross in HS), but would most likely feel comfortable coaching a junior high cross country team.

9. What skills do you think an excellent teacher should possess?    

To be an excellent teacher, one must go beyond how the average teacher views the educating of his or her students. This involves spending more hours on before and after school help for students, going to professional conferences that are not made necessary by the school, and always searching for new ideas. An outstanding teacher can take criticism well and effectively implement it into his or her teaching, as well as putting what is best for the improvement of his or her teaching before what is easy or less time-consuming. An outstanding teacher also attends the performances, games, events, etc. of his or her students to show that what they do outside of the classroom is just as important as what they do inside. An outstanding teacher is effective and sets rigorously high expectations for his or her students while committing to teaching each and every student regardless of ability, race, or gender.

10. In addition to becoming a successful teacher, what are your other goals?

I want to run a half marathon, get involved in NCTE more (go to the national convention), travel to another country again (possibly Belize through Rise Up Belize! ), complete my service for the TEACH Grant, and begin to figure out what I want my master’s and doctoral degree to be.

11. How would you organize your classroom in order to teach the entire class, yet provide individualized instruction?

Differentiation: I had a very difficult time teaching a multi genre research unit to a diverse group of learners. Some were at the college prep level, whereas some had extreme anxiety about the project. To reach everyone, I had workshop days where students were in groups based on where they were on the project as far as completion and understanding of what it was asking them to do. I had the student who really ran with the project showing one group what she did, and I went around to the other groups explaining their certain part. The groups worked together, sharing ideas with each other and doing a lot of the individual instruction for me (in places I could not—peer thoughts, gushy feelings, etc.) I do a lot of group work and one-on-one conferencing.

12. How would you approach the problem of students who have not mastered basic reading or writing skills?

Those students at my level who haven’t mastered basic reading/writing are most likely working with an inclusion specialist. I would have a chat about the student, look at the IEP, and follow the plan. Where I think the student needs to improve in my specific class, I will modify his/her assignments. Differentiate. Perhaps the student will have more practice reading outside of class. Obviously if we are doing something far too difficult for the student, there will be modifications. At my level, there are many students who can decode, but not comprehend. This requires knowing how to ask the higher level comprehension questions and not just recalling questions, like many ‘general’ level English classes get away with.

In Belize, I did have a student who could not read (or would not read). He would have other students read to him, and they would also write for him. While I know this is a modification for students with learning disabilities, I had no idea whether he had a disability or not. My cooperating teacher told me that he didn’t want to do the work (which was probably pretty true—what teenage boy wants to do a bunch of in-class reading if he’s never really had to do it himself?) Just asking him nicely to read didn’t work. Instead, I challenged him. I said, “show me you can do it. Make me believe that what I’m teaching you is doable. Don’t make me think less of you. Why would you want me to think you’re incapable?” He then would try. For a little bit. Then he would revert back to whatever he was doing to distract himself. Maybe it was because he heard the hint of pleading in my voice and felt bad for me. So, I don’t have all the answers on difficult students, but I was able to get control of a student in an environment where learning disabilities ‘don’t exist.’

13. What have you done recently to overcome one of your weaknesses?

A weakness that I have that I discovered in student teaching was that I do not have a wide exposure of classical works of literature outside of the minimal literature classes I had to take at Miami. Our program, in my cooperating teacher’s opinion, did not require us to take a wide range of courses. In my last semester, I made sure to get that experience in a Greek literature course I’m taking, as well as supplementing my own reading on the side.

Another weakness I have is thinking that I’m not being successful enough with my teaching. However, I was only able to teach for eight weeks in each of my student teaching placements. That’s hardly enough time for measurable growth in my students, but I expected too much out of myself. I am sure this will be an issue when I’m a teacher, but I do know that as long as I’m working as hard as I can and that I actually care about making a change, I’ll make changes. It just takes time.

14. What are your plans for future professional growth and development?

Obtain a master’s  (or doctoral) degree in urban educational leadership, possibly complete an urban teaching residency through  the Academy for Urban School Leadership

15. How would you respond to a parent who is upset with your teaching methods or with your treatment of his or her child? 

1. Ask them why they are upset with the methods, which ones they’re upset with, etc.

2. Depending on the severity of the problem, make an effort to change within reason. Explain methodology, I have the degree in education, yada yada (but don’t be condescending!)

3. If parent’s solutions are too extreme or impractical, explain to the parent the methodology and how that suggestion does not lie within the educational theory.

4. Come to a compromise, with a sort of ‘contract’ between myself, the parent, and the student.

5. Follow up soon with what changes are being made. Involve all three parties in this follow-up.

16. How would you describe the “ideal” principal?  What assets should he or she have that will help your performance as a teacher?

The ideal principal will back me in everything—parental involvement, freedom in teaching what I think is best, giving me enough autonomy but also representing my views in her or his administrative duties. My ideal principal does daily rounds to classrooms. This principal listens, interacts with students, and knows what’s going on in the school—in sports, clubs, organizations, classrooms, the cafeteria, the teacher’s lounge.

17. How much do you intend to involve the administration with regard to problems, conflicts, and/or suggestions in the classroom?

I am a strong advocate for teacher autonomy, but I think that if there is a significant problem with a student or with a parent, the boss should know about it so he or she is prepared to discuss matters with the parent.  I handle misbehavior in the classroom by first trying to resolve the issue with the student, then involving the parents before I bring in the administration, because I will be the one the student has to be with every day, so the student should learn that I am capable of handling these things on my own. As for evaluations, I am game for suggestions and critique, as long as they are exactly that—suggestions and critique.

18. Why should I give you further consideration as opposed to other candidates?

I am a person who is genuinely motivated toward becoming a teacher who can reach all students and who views teaching as a profession, not a job. I am willing to put in 70 hours a week for the profession, and continue my own education while I’m at it. I also want to be an advocate for what I believe in, and that is the power of the story with literacy education. My passion lies in social justice through education and school reform. If you are looking for a transformative teacher in these two areas, then I am your teacher.

19. Do you have a portfolio of some of your lesson plans, activities, projects, etc. that I may see?

Why yes, I do. Why don’t you take a look at my 30 page book rationale I published with NCTE? (that was a joke. I did publish it though.)   

20. If I were to walk into your classroom, what would I see? 

We have a lot of discussion in my class, especially when we are working through a novel or piece of literature. All of my material and lessons are adaptable for low-tech and high-tech environments, but if the technology is available, I like to use Prezi for introductions to a new unit or concept. I challenge and push my students to be critical thinkers, and this takes the form of in-class writing and quickwrites. The students work in groups often, from small assignments to unit projects. I rarely sit down when I’m teaching—I have a lot of energy and like to move around the classroom to engage students and help them when they’re working either in groups or individually. You would see a lot of color on the walls; I’m a fan of color. I’m also a fan of displaying student work on the walls, and using class-made posters that display the concepts and reminders of what we’ve learned.

 21. How do you handle discipline issues?   

If the students are engaged, they’re less likely to misbehave or find time to be disruptive. That is the approach I take. Of course this may prevent disruptions from some students, but not all. By being consistent in the way I handle issues, I can control them. If a student is disruptive, I will come up to the student and speak in a low, quiet voice to remind them about the rule. The second time, I’ll speak to them after class, asking them why they are behaving this way and what I can do to help him/her. The third time, it’s a call to the parent. If the issue does not resolve, then I will involve the administration.

 

22. How would you prepare your students for the OGT? 

Make them accountable for knowing the standards they are learning and logging it into their binders that we start at the beginning of the year; teaching them that the test is a format and they should be able to work within the format (i.e. multiple choice, short answer, extended answer, and writing essay structure). Giving them practice and teaching them how to approach different texts: informational, literary). Writing: teaching MUGS in context and not in isolation. I have high expectations for my students; I know they are better than the OGT. So, I teach them to be better than the OGT. Be better than average, to tell themselves they are capable of so much more than what we hold them to every day. If they are held to a higher standard in the classroom, they are going to do better on a standardized test, and hey—they may even get into college. Isn’t THAT the standard we should hold every student to?

 

23. What would you do if a student refuses to do an assignment in class?   

I teach my students that it is their choices that impact them, not mine. Everything they do in my class is a choice. You can choose to work hard on a paper or a project, or you can choose to blow it off. You can come in before or after school to ask me for help, or you can flounder on your own and possibly fail. You can choose to text on your phone during class, or you can turn it off and pay attention for 50 minutes and not have to spend time figuring out what we talked about during class for an exam or paper. Responsibility is something not all high school students understand, and that’s ok. They’re learning—but I’m not going to baby them or fill them with sunshine. I will, however, do whatever I can to make them successful.

 

24. What is the last book you have read? What are you reading now?

Last book—Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Reading right now—Blink, by Malcom Gladwell

 

If you have read this far, thank you so very much. If you could comment and give a suggestion, thank you so very VERY much!

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6 comments

  1. Hey! I did make it through the whole thing and in general these look very good. Admittedly, there were a couple places where I personally would have said something different, but those were almost always matters of individual style.

    One big thing I think you missed for question #15 – how to deal with unhappy parents. The first step, no matter what, should be *listening.* Listen to the parent’s complaint calmly and in full. That way, you make sure that you understand the issue that they are presenting and you give the parent an opportunity to vent a bit of their frustration. It seems obvious, but it’s a detail like that that will show an interviewer that you’re very aware of the decisions you make in potentially negative situations.

    Good luck!! 🙂

    1. OH yeah! THANK YOU. Listening is critical. You reminded me of something else to do with parents, which is tell them something positive about their child as well as where their struggles lie. Thanks Luke!

  2. Hello Shanna!

    Well, I’m obviously being very productive at my own job right now… but I also highly value peer review, so I took the time to read through this and write some comments. And while, I’m not really in the field of education, I have interviewed a lot and have been working for 2 years… so hopefully, you’ll find what I have to offer helpful!

    In short, here are a couple pieces of advice.
    –ALWAYS use examples when possible
    –Avoid criticism of the field and don’t use negative examples of the field to make yourself look better. Just focus on what you bring to the table using specific examples that demonstrate your skills and abilities.
    –It is good to have passion, but avoid letting it seem overbearing or condescending

    A tip for preparing for interviews: I always read the job description and then take the key phrases and characteristics they are looking for, then write down two or three examples I have to show why I fit the job description.

    Finally, below you will find my more comprehensive review:

    1. The first paragraph comes across rather critical to me, and could be seen as insulting. You don’t know your interviewers, and why they are where they are. By summing up the first paragraph with a simple statement like, “I saw a need for teachers in low-income areas”, you can avoid sounding “holier than thou”. For this type of question, emphasize your passion and illustrate it with a few examples of what makes you a good teacher.

    4. Can you give a specific example of a piece of feedback you received from a student and what you did differently in response?

    6. Can you give an example of a shared idea or collaborative project?

    9. Add examples of why you think you possess the skills of an excellent teacher.

    10. Why are these goals important to you? What values of yours do these goals reflect? How do they support your passion?

    12.
    a. Avoid outright criticism of the field (your comparison to “general English classes”.
    b. In your Belize example, what skill of yours did this incident demonstrate, i.e. your ability to empower, etc.

    13. Give examples of what you read/are reading to improve this weakness. I think you can totally scrap the second weakness. It is not really that tangible and does not really illustrate any action. Your first weakness is a strong enough answer.

    14. Why? Relate it back to your passion. Also, do you have a time frame for this plan?

    15. Do you have any examples of when you did this? Also, outline a specific time frame for follow up… “soon” is too vague.

    16 and 17. I felt that these make you seem slightly like you are unable to submit to authority figures and bosses NEVER want to hear that. I would say soften your tone a bit, without changing your stance, by using more “friendly” words like appreciating feedback and working together to develop/change.

    18. and 20. Examples

    21. I assume you would provide your students with a copy of the classroom rules up front… may be worth mentioning.

    23. Examples!

    1. One last comment… when interviewing I always take a moment to think “What kind of answer to do I think they are looking for?” and then quickly assess how I can respond, of course without falsely advertising myself

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