Sunday, March 20, 2016

8 Interviewing Tips (Part 1)

Trying to land your dream teaching job?  Wondering how to prepare for your first interview ever or have you not interviewed in a long time?  Below is some insight into interviewing for a teaching job. I've tried to break the sections down into, "For Everyone", "Brand, spanking new teacher" and "Been around the block."  Having set in on countless interviews over the years, it amazes me how many people have given very little thought to preparation.

First and foremost: Don't feel like if you don't get the job, you wouldn't be a good candidate for the job.  There is a great deal of politics behind getting a teaching position.  Sometimes there is a situation outside of your control that will ultimately hand the job to someone else.  A teacher may be on a terminating contract because she/he was a late hire, so interviews are required even though everyone sitting in on the interview knows the current teacher will get the job back.  Sometimes districts will downsize and must first fill open spots with teachers being displaced.  However, this is still an opportunity.  Principals remember candidates they like and will call them back if something else opens up in the future.

After it is said and done
Yes, we talk about you.  Yes, we know within minutes, usually, if you are a good fit or not for the team, school, position, etc.  Make sure to ask when you might have an answer so that you aren't waiting around. I'd say you should know within a week unless the school is interviewing someone from out of state.

Today's tips are FOR EVERYONE!
Here are some of the tips that come out of the conversations that occur after you leave. Below are a list of suggestions based off of situations where teachers actually talked themselves out of a job.

1.  Be specific and succinct
Make sure when someone asks a question that you answer that question and do it within an appropriate amount of time.  I've been in interviews that by the time the candidate was done talking, I forgot the original question.  Talking in circles cannot hide a lack of experience or an answer you do not know. A potential employer will get a general sense of your communication skills by how you answer, not just what you say in your answer.

Try answering the hard questions...

"I'm not sure about _______ but love reading and learning about new ideas in education.  If that is something I will need for this job, I'd be willing to attend workshops, research, learn more."

If the question includes an acronym you are unfamiliar with say, "Can you tell me a little about _____?  It may have been called something else at my former school.

2. Be positive
No one, I repeat, no one wants to hire someone that is negative.  Think about it.  Would you want to add someone to your own team that always sees the glass as half empty? I've worked for several principals over the years and am married to one, and not one of them has said, "Well since they are so creative we can work on the attitude."  No one, period.

Try turning a negative into a positive...

Negative:  "I've had a rough year with dealing with __________."
Positive:   "I've struggled with _____this year, but have focused my time on _____________and have learned a lot from the experience.  In the future I plan on implementing ________ so that this isn't so difficult."

Negative:  "The student is failing because parents don't care about making their child do homework/study for tests, etc."
Positive:  "Since I don't always seem to have support at home, for whatever reason, I focus on what I can control within the classroom to try and make students successful."

Negative:  "I couldn't work for my current principal, Mr. So-n-so because _____________."
Positive:  "I'm looking for a fresh start with colleagues that offer new ideas and perspectives about how to work with _______________"

3. Turn weaknesses into potential strengths
Every single interview I've ever been to, on either side of the table, will ask you about your perceived strengths and weaknesses.  Don't lie here because often the principal will call and check in with previous employers, but try and spin a weakness into a positive.  I will use my weaknesses as an example and show how I try to spin it in an interview situation.

Weakness: Messy work space
"My greatest weakness is that throughout the day I pile student work, notes from the office, and files on my desk. I feel that my time is better spent focused on students in the classroom than making sure my desk looks perfect all the time.  Then during prep or after school I try to tidy things up and make sure everything is organized for the next day."

Weakness: Not immediately answering emails throughout the day
"One thing that I'm always trying to improve is how to manage daily emails.  I want to make sure that my time is focused on students rather than replying to every email the moment it comes in.  I do let parents know at the beginning of the school year that this is how I handle answering emails.  I also let others know that if there is something that is needed immediately that they are welcome to call my room."

Weakness: I've never taught this grade/at all before
"Although this position is brand new, I plan on doing ________________before school starts next school year.  I have/would like to have a mentor that I can call on to help me with _____________ when I'm struggling.  I know I have a great deal to learn, but am open to all the help and suggestions I can get!"

4.  Check the ego at the door
This is a tough one for some people.  There are so many outstanding teachers out in America's classrooms, but every last one of us has something to learn or improve upon.  Principals and teams of teachers are looking for flexibility and teachers that are open to suggestion.  Don't get me wrong, play on your strengths, but remember that you are a cog on a wheel that helps make a school run effectively.  Talk about how you work effectively as a team rather than about how you are so much better than any other teammate.  Seems like common sense, but believe me I've seen some of the most self-centered personalities come out during a 30 minute interview.

5.  Dress for the interview
It always surprises me that some people don't dress appropriately for a job interview.  Showing up wearing a nice shirt and tie, suit, or business dress lets your perspective employer know that you care about your appearance and will do so when appropriate at school.  I've seen people show up in jeans, flip flops, and tank top dresses with bras showing.  Some schools will encourage you to not have shown tattoos or unusual piercings, so know your school.

6.  Know the school
Try and do some research about the school you are going to.  The admin and hiring team have certainly done research on you if you land an interview.  The hiring principal may have contacted former colleagues and superiors before you ever walk through the door, so it is in your best interest to  know the environment you are walking into.  It shows that you care and that you are interested in the school, not just the job.  Know programs that are used, the philosophy if it is school-wide, and how classes are organized (teams, departments).  Most of this information can be gathered by visiting the school's web site.  If you know someone that works at that school, ask them for information about what is important at that school.  Also think about how your teaching style will fit in there.

7.  Be prepared with examples
Whether you are new or not to the profession, give some thought to examples of things that work for you and things that didn't go as planned.  In fact, knowing how you handle the unexpected provides much needed insight into you as a professional.  Teaching is not easy and it certainly doesn't go as planned.  Everyone sitting in on the interview knows that.  What the interviewing team would really like to hear is how you perform under pressure and in unexpected situations. If you plan on bringing in samples, make sure to use examples from different students.  One interview I sat in on not too long ago had a teacher with actual products of things from his classroom.  They were great examples of work, but they were all from one student.  We know not all kids perform the same.  It would have worked in his favor to have brought in a variety of example levels and then explained how this student grew in the course of a year.  "When this student stepped into my classroom, she only provided one word answers that were often vague.  So although this may not be the best piece among the class, it shows a great deal of progress."

8.  How do you stand out?
One of my favorite questions that my husband asks in interviews is, "How do you keep current in (insert grade level, content area, educational practice) today?"  It isn't something expected by most potential employees, but it does give him a sense of your passion and dedication to teaching.  For him, it's passion.  He wants passionate teachers.  They are loyal, willing to go the extra mile to make sure kids are learning, not just being taught, and they tend to be engaging teachers. Whether it is passion or experience, make sure you have something to offer that no one else or few others can.  Sometimes it is your willingness to coach, but sometimes it is how honest you were about being a work in progress.


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