There I sat in my car, in front of the local school district’s human resources office, fingers nervously drumming the steering wheel and eyes anxiously watching the clock for the perfect moment to walk in for my 2 p.m. interview. It was the spring of my senior year, and my brain was racing through all the tips my professors and mentors had shared for my very first teaching interview.
Resume copies and teaching portfolio? Check. Freshly pressed shirt and manicured nails? Check. I took a quick glance in the rear-view mirror to check for “bats in the cave”–sage advice from my high school Spanish teacher.
Thankfully, the interview went far better than I could have ever expected. This soon-to-be college graduate landed her first teaching job at a wonderful school teaching third grade–a position I enjoyed for several years before moving out of the state. Once I relocated, I found myself thrown back into the interview process all over again, and in doing so, learned many new lessons along the way.
Let Your Passion Shine
Before my first interview, I was advised to steer away from any answers implying that I wanted to teach simply “because I love kids." While you should lead with your abilities as an educator, don’t let this scare you away from expressing the passion you feel for teaching. Teaching is a challenging profession, and principals want to hire teachers whose heart for the job will help carry them through those tough times.
Focus on Specifics
As a new grad, I had spent the past four years devouring the newest educational research and buzzwords. In reality, however, my ability to drop “differentiation” and “inquiry-based learning” in an interview wasn’t what got me the job. Specific, relevant, and real-life answers to interview questions are more impressive to administrators than the amount of pedagogical theory you can spew.
Prepare for potential scenario questions in which you are asked what you would do or how you would respond to a particular situation. Principals may ask you to name multiple strategies for addressing different academic needs, or ask you to describe the best lesson you ever taught. In my later interviews, I remember being asked more personal questions: What are my methods for preventing burnout, and how would I describe my personality? Anything is up for grabs, and you’ll want to be prepared with several clear, detailed examples and work samples.
Trust Your Gut
As a rule of thumb, staying three years at a school once you are hired not only reflects well on you professionally, but also gives you enough time to hone your craft and get to know your school. That said, three years can feel like an eternity if you are not in a position you love. When making a decision about whether to accept a job offer or decline, take into account your initial rapport with the principal, the grade level or position you are being offered, and your overall impression of the school. If you feel uneasy or unsure, it might be a sign to continue your job search elsewhere. For me, it was the difference between accepting a mid-year teaching position or a long-term substitute job–a “gut-based” decision that I am so grateful to have made, looking back.
Whether it’s your first interview or your tenth, interviews can be nerve-wracking–period. But by letting your passion shine, focusing on specifics, and trusting your gut, one thing is for sure: You are one step closer to a rewarding, exciting teaching career.