The summer interviewing season is in full swing here in Texas. I know many who are going to job fairs and filling out numerous online applications in hopes of finding the right school. I, too, entered the job hunting process in the Spring after five years at a great school. Even with experience behind me, the process was still nerve wracking!
If you’re also in job hunting mode, whether you’re a brand new teacher or an experienced teacher looking for a different situation, you will find the tips below very useful.
When you’re applying:
Think of the application as a mini-interview. You want to grab someone’s attention wherever you can and let your teaching personality shine through. You can’t really do that with the basic info questions, but you can make the most of any short answer questions that they hand you.
Typically, these questions ask about your classroom management strategies, how you reach a diverse set of learners, and why you’re applying to that district or school specifically.
When you craft your answers, follow these guidelines:
Write them in a word document
You’d be surprised how many of these questions pop up again on another application! So save yourself some work and keep these answers handy for the next application.
List real strategies that you use or plan to use in your classroom. Talk about the multiple response strategies that you use or flexible grouping. If you currently teach, highlight the specific strategies you use to adjust instruction for your special education students or english language learners, like graphic organizers or word walls.
If you’re a brand new teacher, you can answer these questions in one of two ways. If you volunteer with children or have worked with children before, you can highlight your experience in that way. If you haven’t worked with kids in any teaching capacity before, then brush up on some specific strategies that you would like to use in your classroom.
Do your research
For questions asking why you’re applying to that district or school specifically, you need to do some research. What makes that district or school special to you? How do your skills contribute to their mission statement (every district and school has one)? Why do you think you are a good fit for them?
Yes, you might be searching for a job because you need a shorter commute or you just moved into the area or your current school is a sinking ship, but that’s not what you need to highlight here. Schools want teachers who are invested or who want to be invested in their specific community. You need to bring them that assurance.
Email the principal
This one is really important if you want to stand out from the pack. Usually, applications go to HR, who pick out a few to send to the principal, who then picks a few to interview. However, if you email the principal directly to declare your interest, you might stand out enough for the principal to request your application specifically, and make sure you wind up in the “to interview” stack.
I usually just take my cover letter and modify it to reflect why I think I’m a good fit for that school specifically. Some people will attach their resumes as well. I don’t, because some districts have heavy spam filters that kick out outside email addresses that send attachments.
Doing this step shows that you really care about teaching at that school specifically. It’s following the same idea as the point above: you want to show that you are invested in the school and the community itself, not just taking any old job that gives you a paycheck.
Before the Interview:
Ok, so now you’ve got your foot in the door and a school wants to interview you! Before you step in the door, though, you’ll want to follow these tips:
Prepare a portfolio
Honestly, you don’t have to go crazy with this. Put in a few sample lessons that you’re really proud of with some examples of student work and you’re good to go.
The purpose of the portfolio is to give yourself “props” to showcase what you do in the classroom. I’ve never had anyone ask to see my portfolio during an interview. Rather, they asked me about the types of lessons that I’ve made, and I flipped to an example to explain the hands-on lessons that I use. So put the lessons that you’re proudest of in a nice binder and don’t worry too much about typing up a teaching philosophy or including past evaluations.
In addition to any printouts you want to bring, pull up any photos or videos of your classroom that would showcase your teaching talents. Put them in a folder on your phone or tablet and use them during your interview as well. Before walking into the interview, be sure to have the folder already pulled up so that you aren’t scrolling through your vacation pics trying to find them!
I also print out a few extra copies of my resume, just in case. Again, no one has ever asked to see it because they usually print off their own copies ahead of time. But it never hurts to be prepared.
Do your research!
I know, it’s the same point I gave for the application process. But it bears repeating. You should know the mission statement of the district and the school. What kind of students are they trying to produce? What impact have they had on the community around them?
One of your interview questions invariably will be: why did you apply to our school? The more specific your answer is about why that school is special to you, the better of an impression you will make.
Also, researching the school ahead of time will give you good questions to ask at the end. If they are emphasizing “data driven practices” for example, you might want to ask what that means to them as a day-to-day process.
Use your research to come up with three or four questions to ask and write these on a sticky note. Stick them at the end of your portfolio so that you are prepared when this part comes up in the interview.
List out answers to common interview questions and practice
If you’re the type who needs thinking time to answer complex questions, take that time now. There are plenty of resources that will give you common teacher interview questions. Print out a few and write down your answers. Practice speaking them as well and have a friend or loved one give you feedback.
Think of situations and teaching stories that you have that you can pull into your answers. Be able to explain what happened, how you handled it, and what you learned from it or what you would have done differently. You want to think of stories that involve all types of people, from students to other teachers, principals, and parents.
If this is your first teaching position ever, use your other work experience and relate it to the classroom. For example, if you have experience training people in other countries, then you can relate that to teaching English Language Learners. If you’ve had conflicts with colleagues that you’ve had to work through, those stories are still relevant for dealing with other teachers.
If you’re brand new out of college, pull from volunteer experience or classes. Your answers will be more theoretical (“I would…”), but come up with specific strategies you would use all the same. Practice expressing your willingness to learn and seek professional development.
At the interview:
This isn’t just because “early is on time, on time is late.” It’s also your opportunity to do some recon on the school in which you might teach. As you sit and wait, take a moment to look around. What student achievements are they highlighting on the walls or television screens? What kind of activity is happening in the hallways? How are other teachers acting as they walk by?
Take in the little details. These are things you can remark on or ask about when the interview starts.
Put on your “confident teacher” persona and relax. Part of the interview process is giving a preview into how you act when you teach. It’s normal to be nervous, but if you look dazed and confused and can’t string sentences together, it will make the interview team wonder if you will be like that in the classroom.
Remember that you, too, hold power in the room. You are a wonderful teacher who is also trying to determine if that school is the right fit for you. It’s an interview for them as well as for you!
Show your portfolio
I’ve never had anyone ask to see my portfolio. I have, however, flipped to a page inside in order to demonstrate the kinds of activities that I do with my kids when I found that showing was better than explaining. Use the portfolio as the tool that it is: a demonstration that you can not only use the right words, but do the right things. Don’t wait for someone to ask to see it.
They will always give you the opportunity to ask questions, so ask some! If you prepared before the interview, now is the time to bring up any that haven’t been answered yet. This is also a good opportunity to ask any additional questions that arose during the interview itself.
This is your chance to be the interviewer and find out if this school really is a right fit for you. Take full advantage of the opportunity and go ahead and ask the hard questions.
If you’re stuck for good ones to ask, try asking any of the following:
- What does a typical day look like for a teacher?
- What are the strategies that this school (or district) is really wanting to see in classrooms right now? (if you do any of the strategies they name and haven’t said so before, it’s your chance to showcase that)
- Do you expect lessons to look exactly the same from classroom to classroom?
- What kinds of equipment and technology is available to me?
After the interview:
Email your thank you notes!
Seriously. Track down the email addresses of the people who interviewed you and send a brief email thanking them for their time. If you still believe that you are a good fit for the school, say so. Highlight, again, a few of your strengths that would benefit the school. Show your listening skills by tying in specific things that were said in the interview. Usually I say something like “I appreciated learning more about (something activity in the school).”
This is an essential step that really sets you apart from the pack, so make sure that you don’t skip it! Teachers have been offered positions before because they were the only ones to send a thank you note after the interview.
I hope these tips empower you to rock this job hunting season! If you have other tips and tricks, respond in the comments below!