Smart practice makes perfect!
This past week I worked with 20 education students during a one-credit course designed to improve students’ ability to win a teaching position. Most students who take this course intend to graduate in one or two semesters before applying for jobs.
During the course, students prepare for a mock job interview by developing a cover letter and resume for a “fake” job posting for an urban district teaching position. Students are interviewed individually by a team of 4-5 panelists that include education faculty, career center staff, and K-12 educators. Students dress professionally and apply "interview etiquette." When they enter the room for the interview, they greet each of interviewer with a smile, eye contact, and a hand shake. Next, they sit down and respond to 5-10 questions designed to uncover knowledge of teaching and subject, dispositions, excellence and achievement, critical thinking, and oral language. Then, interviewers provide balanced feedback. I video record each student's interview performance and feedback.
After the interview, students review their video at home. They reflect on their performance and feedback from the panel of interviewers. They explain their strengths, areas to improve, and action steps to improve their performance.
One student reported after the course: I learned that I possess many strengths that I never realized I had. I was able to see that I have the knowledge, understanding, and dispositions necessary to obtain a teaching position. I was able to communicate using the appropriate educational language that future employers would expect to hear. The feedback from the panelists reinforces the notion that I have valuable ideas that are well respected. As a result, my confidence level has been elevated. Panelists explained that I was very reserved during the interview. I had no idea how flat my personality came across in the interview. In my mind, I was making eye contact, smiling at the appropriate times, and minimizing my overactive hand movements.
She will graduate in May 2012 and can fine-tune her performance before her first real job interview.
Typically, students are nervous going into the mock job interview. They have little or no experience interviewing for teaching jobs. But, soon after this practice interview, they recognize the benefits and think it should be required part of their education program.
The interviewers provide excellent feedback to the students. Here are some of their recommendations:
1. Knowledge of Teaching
a. Demonstrate knowledge of teaching and educational issues that are relevant to the school. Before the interview, research the school/district and state department of education initiatives. Read the web sites and visit the school, classrooms, and community agencies. Attend school board meeting and read the minutes.
b. Communicate thinking about hot topics such as differentiated instruction, ELL students, students with special learning needs, inclusion, Response to Intervention (RTI), research-based teaching strategies, Common Core standards, using data to raise student and school achievement, engaging families and communities, and the state mandated teacher evaluation system.
2. Oral Communication
a. Pause momentarily before responding rather than jumping right into the response. This gives you some time to organize a response. Observe interviews of effective speakers such as President Bill Clinton. Notice how he intentionally pauses a couple of seconds before responding to a question.
b. When responding to an open-ended question, develop three ideas well and provide specific examples based on your practical teaching experience, rather than rattle off a long list of things you know. If you don't know the answer, don't try to answer it poorly. Turn your response into a goal for professional learning.
c. Your primary goal for the interview is to connect personally with the interviewers. Your interviewers are trying to determine Are a good fit for the school and district? Are you someone with whom I can work 182 days each year?
Be confident. If you have made it to the interview, they're already interested in you.
Build connections by relating to the needs of your employer and school community. For instance, when interviewers ask if you have any questions, convey some knowledge about the school before you pose the questions: I noticed on your website that X% of students are below proficiency in problem-solving in mathematics. What strategies have you been using? How are they working so far?
d. Give eye contact to all of the interviewers – not just the person asking the question. Smile. Have a sense of humor. Tell brief stories they will remember. Be professional, but don't take yourself too seriously.
3. Other Tips:
a. Bring a notepad and use it to outline quickly a response to a more complex question. Interviewers will recognize your thoughtful, organized approach.
b. Use a notepad to record information about the school/district provided by interviewers. Recording notes conveys to the interviewers that you are listening and sincerely interested in the information.
c. Use a teaching portfolio to present additional evidence. But, don’t pass the binder around unless they request it. Most interviewers don’t want to examine a teaching portfolio during the interview. Instead, they want to focus attention on what you are saying. During a response, open the teaching portfolio to the relevant section and point to the evidence. You don’t need to take pages out of the binder. This will draw the interviewers attention to the evidence. They will recognize your organization and self-assessment.
d. Do you use an iPad? If interviewing in a room where people are sitting close together, use an iPad to present “a photo story” about your teaching. Tell the story using visual images. Include interesting photos of students and you working together, easy to interpret graphs, results of pre-and post assessment, and items produced to enhance learning (e.g., graphic organizers, manipulatives, images of technical resources). This may distinguish you from other candidates.
Smart practice makes perfect! You can improve your interview performance by learning about the teaching job interview and what interviewers assess, and practicing - BEFORE it really counts. Know your strengths and learn from your mistakes. And, read the chapter "Preparing for Interviews" in my book The Guide to Winning a Teaching Position in Any Job Market. There are 30+ interview questions with responses of what to say and not to say and many tips for successful teaching job interviews.