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: What is the most important quality of a teacher?

A: In my discussions with teachers during my field experiences and at the school where I student taught, I believe that the number one characteristic of a good teacher is flexibility or the ability to roll with the punches and not let the little things get you down. I realize that there is no such thing as an average day in teaching. Machines break down, lessons don't work, technology goes on the blink, students get sick, and a hundred other things can, and often do, go wrong. But it's the flexible teacher—the one who doesn't let these inevitable events get in his or her way—who survives and teaches best. I suppose it's the inflexible teachers who burn out and leave the profession.

As with the previous question, this one will be presented early in the interview process. Have your answer ready; but, more important, have several examples or anecdotes you can share later in the interview that will support your response. Demonstrate that you not only know what good teachers do, but that you've had experiences that make you one of those outstanding educators.

: What skills do you think are most critical to this position?

A: For me, three basic skills stand out: 1) The ability to effectively manage student behavior; to create a classroom structure that both supports students and helps them succeed in an environment with high expectations and individual attention. 2) Time management—being able to effectively manage all the duties and responsibilities of classroom teaching in a productive and efficient way. And 3) Creating a "community of learners" that celebrates learning and success for every child; a classroom environment in which everyone works together for a common purpose. I know these are tough challenges for any beginning teacher, but I believe I have the persistence and experience to make them happen.

Again, as in so many of the questions you might be asked about yourself, be very specific and offer detailed information about your goals and how you will make them happen. Don't be wishy-washy, but don't be over-confident either. Tap into some of your student teaching experiences, and offer the interviewer some concrete examples of how you took advantage of your skills.

: Why did you apply for this position?

A: Dinosaur Elementary School has an excellent reputation in the community. According to your Web page, your overall reading test scores are up significantly—and your math scores in third and fifth grades show significant improvement over last year. You obviously have a committed staff, and I like to be part of a winning team. You also have a dynamic staff development program for teachers. In my conversations with some of the teachers, they remarked on the variety of workshops that have been offered that were geared for their specific needs. While the emphasis has been on reading instruction, there have been sessions devoted to math and science as well. I believe every teacher, no matter what their experience, can profit from additional training. That's something else that has also impressed me about Dinosaur.

This is an opportunity for you to highlight your special knowledge about the school or district. It signals to the interviewer that you took the time to do your homework, learning specific details other candidates may not have investigated.

: What does it mean to be a successful teacher?

A: I believe successful teachers have five distinctive qualities that set them apart from the so-called "average teacher." For me, a successful teacher is flexible, someone who can take charge no matter what the situation or circumstances. Second, I think successful teachers must exhibit a sense of fairness throughout the classroom, treating all students equally in the same situation. Third, all outstanding teachers have high expectations for each and every one of their students. Fourth, and this is absolutely critical, successful teachers have a consistently positive attitude. They don't let the little things get them down, and they serve as positive role models for their students. Finally, the most successful teachers have a sense of humor. Not cracking jokes all the time, but rather looking at the bright side of things, laughing out loud, and using self-deprecating humor when appropriate. As elements of successful teachers, those items are also personal goals for me as I begin this lifelong journey.

This is another question designed to tap into your personal philosophy. It is strongly suggested that you respond in the first person rather than in the more distant third person. Let the interviewer know that you are, or you have the potential to become, a successful teacher.

EXTRA CREDIT

Every response should be colored with some degree of enthusiasm. After all, they want to hire a person, not an emotionless resume.

: What do you think is wrong with education today?

A: I actually believe there's a lot going right with education today. Teachers are more involved in efforts to improve the literacy levels of their students. School boards are wrestling with money issues, but they are also deeply committed to ensuring that the resources necessary for good teaching to take place are available. Schools are focused on helping more students be successful in mathematics, with improved textbooks and more manipulatives. Teachers are taking an active role in curriculum development, ensuring a sense of ownership in the educational process. And there is a wave of eager, excited, and well-trained new teachers coming into the field— new teachers with an enthusiasm about education, a deep commitment to students, and a willingness to work as members of a committed team. Sure, there are challenges, but I'd prefer to look at the teaching glass as half-full rather than half-empty.

Some interviewers use this as a "trick" question. Be careful! Basically, the interviewer wants a sense of how you view the world in general and how you view education specifically. Don't make the mistake of focusing on the negative, but rather share some positive and personal perspectives on what you see to be right. This is also a great opportunity to show how your training and attitude can make a difference in the education of young people.

 
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