Interview Formats and Types
One of the mistakes potential teachers often make is to assume that there is one type of interview—the interview in which one person sits across a desk from another person, and one person asks questions for the other person to answer. If you've ever had a summer job or a part-time job in the local community to help pay your college expenses, this is probably the type of interview you're used to.
Yet there is a wide variety of interview types for teaching positions. If you only practice for one type, you may find yourself in an uncomfortable situation when a school or district has a multi-tiered series of several interview types. It's important to be prepared for all the various situations you may encounter. After all, the school or district may be making an annual investment of up to $100,000 (pay, benefits, training) in each new teacher they bring on board. They definitely want to be sure they are getting their money's worth; consequently, they frequently schedule several different types of interviews so that they might get a "true picture" of a potential new teacher. It's both a financial commitment and a personal investment.
What a School or District Wants
When a school or district opens up a position, there are several things they are looking for. Knowing these conditions ahead of time can help you approach each and every interview situation with confidence and assurance. No matter what the interview type or situation, your potential employer wants to know five basic facts about you and every other candidate who applies for the job. These include the following:
• A principal, above all else, wants to know if you are qualified for the job—do you have the basic skills and abilities to be an effective classroom leader? Sure, you have a college education and you've done your student teaching, but so has everyone else. The principal needs to be sure that you have sufficient background and knowledge about educational strategies, philosophies, standards, and basic teaching principles. Almost every candidate who applies for a teaching job has
Taken approximately the same courses (irrespective of the college or university attended),
Successfully completed a student teaching experience, and
Earned a GPA within a very narrow range (typically between 3.3 and 4.0).
In other words, most of the candidates for a teaching position are more alike than they are different. The successful candidate, however, will set himself or herself apart from the crowd by presenting a unique set of skills and talents not possessed by the other candidates. These are not the skills and talents listed on a resume or vita; rather, these are the skills and talents often shared in an interview.
• Are you motivated? Are you a candidate who is sincerely excited about teaching and the opportunities for improving the intellectual lives of students? Are you a candidate who can't wait to get in a classroom and make a difference? Are you more interested in the academic possibilities for kids than in getting a job? In short, the job is of less importance that the opportunity to make a lasting difference in students' lives. As a colleague once told me, "You can't fake motivation. You're either in it for the kids or you're in it for the job, and it's quite easy to tell the difference."
Put unbridled enthusiasm in your voice, show unmitigated excitement in your body language, and evidence honest passion in your answers. It's one thing to talk about motivation; it's quite another to demonstrate it.
• Most people in the business world will tell you that the single most critical skill they look for in a potential new employee is his or her ability to work with others. Interpersonal skills are paramount in the success a company envisions. Working as a member of a team is critical to the success of a school, as well. Principals often talk about "everyone being on the same page"—everyone working together toward common goals and shared objectives. You may spend your teaching day inside a room with lots of short people, but you need to be a functional part of one or more larger teams—a grade level team, a subject area team, or a whole school team. Can you fit in with the current culture, and can you make a contribution? Any interviewer wants to know if you'll be a team player.
Here's a scary statistic: The average classroom teacher will make up to 1,500 educational decisions every day he or she is teaching. Some of those decisions will be minor ones—when to collect lunch money, how to line up in the hallway, when to have recess. Others will be major ones: A student has a grand mal seizure—what do you do? A fire alarm sounds, and two of your students are missing—what do you do? A violent parent enters your classroom threatening you with physical harm—what do you do? Teachers make tons of decisions every day, and a principal wants to know if you are a good decision-maker and/or problem-solver. This problem-solving ability, quite obviously, applies to one's ability to solve educational problems as well as student problems. If you answer every discipline-related question by saying that you would send a child to the principal's office, then your decision-making abilities will be called into question.
Perhaps the most important factor woven into any type of interview situation is your "likeability factor." Simply put, people want to work with people they like. Do you have an engaging personality, a sense of humor, a spirit, an energy, and an overall "likeability"? Do you get along well with others? Do you go out of your way to help others? A school is a unique community; if you are a "people person," then the community functions well. If, however, you have a negative disposition, a constant frown on your face, or a boring attitude, you will not be contributing to that community. As you will discover later in this book, your "likeability," more than your skills or education, is often the factor that gets you hired—the factor that makes the difference between who teaches and who doesn't.
One of the most important pieces of information an interviewer obtains in any interview is a subjective feeling about the candidate. The questions, conversation, and banter are all geared towards getting at the inner person—the person behind the resume and the brand-new suit. Believe me, the emotional connection is much more important than the courses you took, the people you know, or the grades you got.