Tell me about your most challenging discipline problem.
A: That would be Derek! Derek was unmotivated and didn't care about history; frankly, he couldn't have cared less about life in general. For Derek, everything was boring. In a conversation I had with him, I discovered that he loved stock cars. One day I brought in a photo of my brother's stock car and showed it to Derek. His face lit up like a Christmas tree! I arranged for Derek and my brother to meet after school one day, and the two of them couldn't stop talking for hours! From then on, I had his attention. He and I worked out a simple behavior plan—he'd do a certain amount of homework or a class assignment and in return he'd earn some points. The ultimate reward was the opportunity to work the pits at one of my brother's races. I never saw a student change so much as Derek. His final project for the course was on the history of stock car racing. It was phenomenal! Nobody had taken the time to find out what Derek was all about—but when we did he was a changed person.
You can almost "bet the farm" that you'll get asked one or two discipline-related questions. The interviewer wants to know how you handle one of the "constants" in the life of any classroom teacher. Provide a specific example, and show how you addressed the issue. Never talk in generalities on matters of discipline; demonstrate with specific details how you dealt with an issue.
Before the interview, identify two or three specific discipline "problems" you encountered during student teaching. Write each of those out on an index card (don't use actual names), and detail how you handled each one in a positive way. Make sure that you don't over-emphasize the "negatives" of the situation, but rather focus on the "positives" (what you learned, how the student(s) improved, etc.). Keep those cards with you, and review them periodically before any scheduled interview.
Who's the toughest professor you've ever had, and why?
A: There's no question—that would be Dr. Sutherland. I took three methods courses from him, and he always asked hard questions. He never asked easy or factual questions; he always pushed me mentally, always made me think outside the box. He was never satisfied with a simple answer—he always wanted an explanation or a personal opinion. I probably thought more in his classes than in all my other classes combined. But you know what? I became a better question-asker with my students as a result of his probing and pushing. He was tough, but he was also a good model!
Here's a delightful opportunity to put a positive spin on one of your challenges. Don't make the mistake of tearing someone down. You'll never win a friend with the interviewer if you do. Use this question as a chance to show how you are continuing to grow as both a teacher and as a person.
FROM THE PRINCIPAL'S DESK:
"One candidate made the mistake of bad-mouthing a particular professor who (according to the candidate) 'raised a major stink when he caught us text messaging during one of his god-awful-boring lectures!' What the candidate didn't realize was that the professor was my brother."
What is your greatest weakness?
A: People sometimes tell me that I come up with too many creative ideas. I'm always trying to think "outside the box" when I design lesson plans, units, or extended projects. I always want to include more activities and projects in my lessons, and sometimes get impatient when I don't have enough time to do them all. I'm still learning how to be more patient with my creativity.
This is one of the best questions in any interview—for both the interviewer and the respondent. Always be ready for this one! This is not the time to rant about your imperfections or, even worse, those of others. Don't admit to a weakness in teaching a particular subject, in classroom management, or disciplining students. Select one or two personality attributes that are more general than specific. For example, being a perfectionist, running out of time, or not getting to everything on a "To Do" list. These are "imperfections" we all wrestle with. This is the only time you don't want to be too specific. Select an "innocent" weakness, and frame it in positive terms. Above all, keep your response short and sweet.