What would you say are the broad responsibilities of a classroom teacher?
A: A classroom teacher has to be many things, have multiple skills, and often be in two places at the same time. Teachers have to be good classroom managers and have a consistent and fair classroom-discipline policy. They must also be up to date on assessment and evaluation protocols and how to effectively integrate those into the overall curriculum. They must know how to motivate students, particularly reluctant learners, and develop relationships with administrators, parents, and other teachers. They need to be able to respond to the individual needs of every student in a classroom and be able to plan their time in an efficient manner. I believe I can bring that array of skills to the physics position here at Rainbow Trout High School.
You should plan on being asked this question in one form or another. It's designed to see if you have a realistic picture of the teaching profession or whether you have a "glamorized" view (e.g. "Well, I think teachers should be really nice people and should help all students."). The question should be answered with specific details and knowledge about the multiple tasks and duties teachers face every day. The interviewer wants to know that you have not unfairly "romanticized" teaching, but are keenly aware of the day-to-day responsibilities of teachers.
How have you handled criticism of your lessons or teaching performance?
A: My college supervisor sometimes mentioned that I had time-management issues—that is, I found it difficult to get everything done that I had planned. Some parts of a lesson would go too long, and others didn't have enough time to develop. I learned that this is a common problem with pre- service teachers. So I took the opportunity to talk with some of the more experienced teachers in the school to see what kinds of tips or strategies they had that would help me master my time a little better. One of the best ideas I got was to list my lesson objectives on the board for students to see and then check them off as the lesson develops. That gave me—and the students—visual proof on how the lesson was progressing.
This question often provides the interviewer with insight into your accountability and professional character. How do you handle criticism—positively (as a learning opportunity) or negatively (the reviewer didn't know what he/she was talking about)? It would be most valuable to take this opportunity to demonstrate (with specific examples) how you were able to use that criticism to become a better teacher.
Tell me about one of your lessons that flopped.
A: During my student teaching experience, I put together a science lesson on making homemade ice cream in a zip-loc bag. It was an activity I had learned in my "Teaching Elementary Science" course. The lesson was designed to demonstrate how liquids change into solids. I provided my students with the materials and a set of printed directions. Halfway through the lesson, I realized that I had listed the wrong amount of salt to use. The ice wasn't melting, and the milk mixture wasn't turning into ice cream. In fact, nothing happened. In hindsight, I should have practiced the activity at home. I explained to the students that scientists make mistakes all the time—in fact, there are many scientific discoveries (penicillin and the electric light bulb, for example) that are the result of unintentional mistakes. I wanted to let them know that even teachers make mistakes and that it's okay to flub up every once in a while. You could discover something new. Next time, however, I'll test any experiment before teaching it.
Every teacher has had lessons that bombed. Don't make the mistake of saying that you haven't had at least one or more "duds" in your student teaching experience. The interviewer will know, instantly, that you are trying to con him or her. By the same token, it's always a good idea to approach any disappointment or problem from a positive angle. Never blame anyone (but yourself), and always demonstrate how you were able to turn a potential negative into a positive. Demonstrate an ability to reflect on your mistakes and use those mistakes as stepping stones to become a more accomplished teacher.