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The New Teacher Advisor

The Hiring Process: Questions! Questions!


Part Four of a Five-Part Series

If you've completed the application packets for each district where you'd like to teach, then you've finished the first step of the hiring process. A quick overview then, of what you might expect in the coming weeks and months might be helpful. First, the Human Resources department of the district will place your application and all the documents received from you in a folder to be processed. After the information is processed, you'll be placed on the list of possible teacher candidates. H.R. will then sort through the list, searching for those candidates who meet the district's minimum requirements for teaching positions. That might thin the stack somewhat, depending on how many openings the district anticipates for the coming year.

At this point, you might be called in for an interview. Don't get overly excited just yet. This is the district level interview -- yet another way the district sorts through potential candidates. It's an important step, however. Many school districts will not release your name to school administrators until you have completed the district interview. It's here that you might be asked to show a video of yourself teaching a lesson. It's a good idea to bring your portfolio as well. In this interview, you might be asked questions similar to these:

  • What is your philosophy of teaching?
  • What made you decide to be a teacher?
  • What brought you to our district -- or why would you be a good fit for our district?
  • What do you think makes a good teacher?
  • Describe a typical day/class period in your classroom.
  • How would you deal with an angry/upset parent?
  • In what ways would you modify your classroom for students who are mainstreamed from special services?
  • What are some lessons/units you've planned?
  • How would you handle learner differentiation in your classroom?

If you read the previous columns in this series about doing your research and preparing yourself for the hiring process, you already should have gathered enough information to help you answer some of those questions. This is yet another way you can prepare yourself: Answer the questions above before your first interview. Take the time to really think through your answers and write them down. When we write out what is in our minds, we are better able to clearly explain ourselves to others. If you don't know the meaning of a concept mentioned in one of the questions, find out more about it. Also, search for information about specific teaching strategies mentioned on the district Web site. Don't fret, though, if your answers aren't completely smooth during the interview. Most interviewers expect you to be nervous.

If you make it through the initial interview without too many problems, your name will be placed on a list given to administrators searching for teachers. At that point, you are waiting to be contacted by specific schools. It might take a month or longer before you are called in for a school interview. In most districts, administrators first must meet with teachers already in the district who want to transfer to a new school. When those interviews are finished, they might call on new hires if positions are still available.

Be aware that at some schools the administrator will interview you alone, but in others an interview team of teachers and administrators will speak with you. You need to be prepared for both scenarios. If a team approach is used, the principal might want to see if you interact well with teachers already on staff. The questions during that interview will be more specific to the school, but you might expect some similar inquiries in regard to your philosophy of education and the types of lessons you've taught previously. Here are a few questions you might expect:

  • What is your philosophy of teaching?
  • Why do you think you would be a good fit for our school?
  • What are two of your greatest strengths?
  • What would you say is your biggest weakness?
  • A student refuses to complete his work in class. How would you handle the situation?
  • A parent confronts you about his child's grades at the beginning of your conference period. How would you handle the situation?
  • If we to walk into your classroom during Language Arts, Math or Science, what would we see?
  • How do you incorporate technology into your lessons?
  • Your classes will have a variety of ability levels. How will you meet the needs of each student?

Additionally, there will be a time when the administrator might ask if you have questions. Be prepared. You need to interview the school as well to make sure this is a place where you'd be happy working every day. Don't assume that because all the teachers on the interview team seem to be working together that they are. Make note of any tension among those in the room. Look at body language, especially the eyes. Many people look away from another person when not revealing the whole truth. The last thing you want is to get bamboozled into a position that you end up hating within the first month.

Below are some questions you might want to ask the administrator and interview team:

  • What are the overall demographics of the school?
  • Are parents involved? In what ways do they show support for the school?
  • In what ways do the teachers at this school work together? Do you do vertical planning?
  • What kinds of training are you currently pursuing as a staff?
  • How frequently do you meet with the staff?
  • What is the dress code for teachers?
  • What resources are available for teachers within the school and district in terms of materials, books, etc. for the classroom?
  • What is your personal philosophy about education?
  • What kinds of teaching strategies do you like to see used in the classroom?
  • If I have a problem with a parent, what kind of support can I expect?

Don't be afraid to take notes so you're able to remember the answers. You want to accurately assess whether this school will be a good fit for you. Although you might be feeling desperate for a job, keep in mind that being a first-year teacher is stressful enough. A poor work environment only exacerbates the problem. When you have unsupportive colleagues and/or a difficult administrator, life as a new teacher can be completely unbearable. For your own sake, find out all you can before you take a job.

Also, keep in mind that no school is perfect. There always will be parents who are not happy with the teachers. There always will be a teacher who can't stand the principal. Sometimes, schools in transition have a group of teachers who don't agree with the administrator. Use your best judgment. Do you agree with the administrator's philosophy, vision, and/or mission? Did you hit it off with the principal during your interview? Then you might find this to be a good fit for you even if it isn't for some of the teachers already there. It's the principal's personality and beliefs about teaching that drive the climate of the school.

Lastly, as you prepare for interviews, keep in mind that the process is lengthy and can take several months. Don't panic if it's April and you haven't been called in for an interview yet. Continue following up with the district through phone calls to make sure they have your completed application. If the district is a small one, or you are applying to private schools, you might only have one interview instead of several. Again, follow up every few weeks. When you do get that first interview, be sure to send a thank you card to the interviewer afterwards. It's a nice gesture that can open the door a little wider for your next interview in that school system.

The Hiring Process Series

Be sure to see all the articles in Emma McDonald’s series on finding a teaching job:

* Myths and Truths of the Job Hunt
* A Little Research
* Be Prepared
* Questions! Questions!
* How to Answer the Tough Questions