10 Tips for Nailing Your Teaching Interview
Reviewed by Jon Konen, District Superintendent
The second you step into that big room and head for the lonely chair on the other side of the table from the hiring committee, you’re just another name on a long list of hopeful candidates for that teaching job. Ahead of you are 30 or 45 minutes during which you get the opportunity to change that reality.
From the instant you first make eye contact, smile that confident smile, lash down all those butterflies rumbling around in your stomach, you get your chance to turn yourself into that standout, gotta-hire candidate that is going to have everyone talking by the time you leave the room.
You just have to figure out how to make that happen.
Your resume got you this far. You have a degree and college transcript with all the right classes and all the right grades to get you in the door. You’ve got outstanding references that even make you blush when you read them. And you’ve got the kind of volunteer experience that demonstrates your commitment and shows your enthusiasm for your students and to the craft of teaching.
But no one gets the job just on the basis of their resume. You are going to have to show up and prove you’re the person who earned all those accolades, not just some paper tiger that snuck in with polish and proofreading. That CV needs one last push in the form of your interview performance to drive it to the top of the stack and get that coveted yellow sticky note that flashes out from the pile with the words “Follow up!” emblazoned across it.
So it’s time to get your game face on. Smile big, shake hands firmly, and apply these ten tips to make sure you completely nail your interview for the job that’s going to launch your teaching career.
1. Always Make It More About The Students Than Yourself
A teaching interview is a big deal for you personally, but for the principal and other folks on the other side of the table, it’s really about the kids you are going to be working with. Are you talented enough to manage them? Do you have the work ethic to get the slow learners over the hump and the patience to deal with the too-smart and the too-impulsive?
So while you absolutely need to talk up your attributes in the interview, you need to do it through the scope of your students. A question about your best asset in the classroom can’t end with the answer, “I’m creative.” You need to present everything you have to say about yourself through the lens of your students to convey your student-centered teaching philosophy… “I like the idea of creative approaches to classroom management. I came up with a simple reward system for managing student behavior, tried it with my niece and nephew one weekend and couldn’t believe how well they responded to collecting little gold star stickers on the back of their hands. It was so funny; seemed like the only thing they cared about that day was more gold stars!…” This is a far better way to showcase that talent. It shows off your style and substance, while demonstrating that you know how to apply those qualities to make a difference in the classroom.
Bullet-point your best features, brainstorm some examples, and practice how you’ll formulate your responses when these questions come up. Always draw from real experiences in your personal or professional life, or even better, directly from your student teaching experiences.
2. Like Teaching, Interviewing is All About Knowing Your Audience
Let’s face it, you have no business at all being in that room in the first place if you are not the sort of person that can get up in front of a group of people and command their attention. You might think it’s different, commanding an audience of experienced teachers and administrators in an interview than a classroom full of eight-year-olds, but they won’t see it that way—your ability to hold their attention and command the room is an important part of the interview process.
As we all know, it’s way harder to capture and keep the attention of a room full of kids who have no concept of how to politely pretend to care than a handful of administrators with fully developed grown-up social skills. So don’t be shy; make eye contact with everyone, exude enough confidence that you fill the room with your presence – make yourself heard and seen and felt. Answering questions meekly and softly might meet the technical requirements of an interview, but it’s no way to demonstrate that you have the kind of personality it takes to hold down a classroom and keep a group of students hanging on your every word, waiting to see what comes next.
Listen closely and read the expressions you see on those faces around the room. Don’t be afraid to pause for a moment to collect your thoughts. When you do speak, though, speak boldly and without doubt. Your first class is this interview committee. Make the kind of first impression they won’t forget.
3. Be Modern, Be Savvy, But Don’t Nerd Out Too Much
You’re coming from maybe the most tech-savvy generation in the history of teaching. That’s going to be key, because the next generation coming up, the kids in your classroom, are going to be even more tech-savvy than you.
A lot of the people on the other side of that interview table are going to be from the last generation, and educational technology might still seem a little bit like black magic to them. Maybe they wrapped their heads around BrainPOP back in the day, but when you start dropping TED-Ed or Floop references, well… you may have a little trouble connecting with your audience.
You’ll have to read the room in your interview and show them that you are high-tech-enabled, digitally-savvy, but not so geeked-out that you can’t be relatable. Instead, be prepared to explain not just that you used advanced technology, but how you have successfully used it in the classroom, and what your students have gotten out of it. That principal who is quickly closing in on retirement age may never understand Frog, but when you describe how you bootstrapped your pandemic student teaching experience and used it to reach out to your entire classroom of at-home learners, it’s something that sells your ability to use tech to accomplish goals for the whole school.
4. Leave The Textbook Answers in the Textbooks
Let’s be realistic… you weren’t the first person sitting on that side of the table today.
You’re up against dozens of other candidates who just finished a degree and initial teacher training program substantially similar to the one you did, studying the same concepts out of the same textbooks. Those textbooks are what all those other interviews have been cribbing from, and if you are rolling out the same list of pedagogical buzzwords that the last twenty candidates used, all you are going to get are yawns.
If they heard it all before, they don’t need to hear it again.
So stay away from the buzzwords, and when you do use them, tie them to real-world experiences you can talk about in your classrooms. Vague theoretical concepts don’t land teaching jobs. Real, demonstrated expertise does. You need to have examples that show you have been able not only to absorb all those theories and pedagogical techniques in college, but also that you’ve been able to translate them into real-world results like better student outcomes and fewer disciplinary interventions.
5. Go Beyond the Day-to-Day and Talk About Big Picture Issues in Education
Your classroom experiences and expertise are going to be the key to getting in the door, but administrators take the long view—they want to know if you have the kind of head on your shoulders to be worth a long-term investment in this position.
So be ready to talk about more than just the narrow concerns of your own classroom, or even the big near-term issues like effectively teaching students remotely with COVID-19 closures forcing schools to conduct class online. These are big issues, to be sure, but they aren’t big-picture issues on the same order as generational college enrollment rates, growing educational and technological disparity between wealthy and poor communities, changing educational standards to evolve with technology and a globally competitive job market.
You’ve been learning about major challenges and trends in the world of academia for four or more years now… it’s time to trot out some of your thoughts about the state and future of the profession. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? You had better believe you’re going to be asked that question.
Your answer should show your thoughts not just about your personal prospects, but about the state of the K-12 education overall. It’s not going to stay stuck in the mud for a decade. Trends like remote and differentiated learning, increasing attention to developing cultures of equality, and mandatory testing of state and federal standards tied to funding… you studied all these in school. Now is your opportunity to show your potential future employers that you have thought them through, and understand the impact they will have on your school and your career, and how you plan to adapt for the good of both the district and your students.
6. Few Things Say As Much About You As the Questions You Ask
There comes a moment near the end of every interview when it happens: someone on the other side of the table smiles, looks at the other members of the committee to see if they have any other questions for you, and when they don’t, turns back to you and says, “So, do you have any questions for us?”
Yes you do!
As a humble aspiring teacher, it might be challenging for you to challenge your interviewers a little with the kind of questions you fire back at them. But the nature of those questions actually reveals more about you than almost anything else. They tell the story of a candidate who is connected and familiar with the culture of the community, who cares enough to scratch past the surface with the kind of questions that produce meaningful insights. If you’re going to be a teacher, you had better have an inquisitive, concerned and curious side, and this final phase of the interview is where you really show it with the kind of questions you ask.
Learn about the district; ask smart questions about it, not the kind of basic demographic stuff you could just Google. Make your questions count. Use them to show you’ve done your homework enough to know the surface level stuff already, and that you’re ready to go a little deeper because you’re serious and hopeful about the possibility of building your career and your life around this very school in this very community.
You should be well-versed in recent happenings in the district, their state test scores, or even non-academic stories like the record of the school football team or recent theatrical productions. Don’t make up any concerns just to show off your research, but don’t be afraid to ask hard questions about things like labor negotiations, concerns with current curriculum or materials, or even financial matters that may be on the horizon. You want to show that you have standards, too, and aren’t afraid to pursue them. In today’s competitive job market, this better not be the only school system that you have an opportunity to interview with, so it’s only natural to see this as your opportunity to interview them a little too.
7. Be Inspired; Be Inspiring
Put yourself in the shoes of the interview committee. They’ve been sitting in this room all day, sifting through a sea of resumes, asking the same questions of a parade of nearly-identical candidates, getting almost the identical replies from most of them.
Hiring is a chore. Your interviewers are just teachers and administrators too so you know they’ve got a lot of other things they need to be doing, and probably not nearly enough time to get it all done. It’s your big moment, but if you want to be remembered you need to make your interview special for them too. You need to show up inspired—excited about the possibility, excited about the job. And you need to be inspiring… remind them what it was to be a new teacher looking for that chance to make a difference, for the place you will really click into and be an important part of.
Consider what brought them to this place in their careers where they are the ones conducting interviews. It all started with the same thing that brought you to the place where you’re sitting in front of a hiring committee, a bundle of nerves hoping to make a good impression. That should make it easier to start thinking about the amazing things you can all accomplish together.
Have a story. Have a few. Tell them what made teaching the only career for you, and why that makes you someone who has a lot to offer. It’s not so much about trying to convince the hiring committee that they need to hire you as it is about telling your story in a way that’s so compelling that they can’t help but come to that conclusion on their own. There is something personal in your story somewhere that will strike a chord with these veteran professionals… dig it out, show it to them, and remind them why this is the best profession and why you are the best candidate.
8. Prepare and Practice so You Nail the Lesson Demonstration
Most of these tips focus on the Q&A portion of your interview. But with most districts today, the interview will involve conducting a teaching lesson, a practical demonstration of your classroom skills that can feel like teacher theater depending on the audience… usually other teachers and administrators, and sometimes even students.
While a performative lesson demonstration may seem like a breeze compared to your actual student teaching experiences in front of a real classroom full of kids treating you to all the hijinks typically reserved for substitute teachers, the pressure is on and the expectations are a lot higher. But there are three easy things you can do to keep it on the rails and come out of this part of the interview knowing you blew them away… instead of feeling like you blew it:
Practice in front of people. A few dry runs in front of the mirror may not be enough to prep you for what it will feel like when all eyes are on you. This is where family and friends come in to offer some real help to go along with all their encouraging words and moral support. Get a few folks together who have the patience and time to sit through a few practice runs. Keep in mind that you’ll have a time limit in which to complete the lesson during the interview, and the last thing you want to do is seem rushed at the end or get the buzzer because you ran out of time. Get it down pat, everything from the finer points of the lesson itself to the pacing to make sure you’re able to hit your marks with ease when you show up on the day of your interview.
Proofread your lesson plan! Since most plans are for your own reference, it’s easy to get sloppy here. But this is going in front of an interview committee who is considering your entire presentation – even the things you don’t intend to present. Treat even your notes like an assignment since the committee could very well ask about the prompts you’re using, and even if they don’t, errors in your notes could translate easily to errors on the whiteboard. Small mistakes in spelling or grammar that would be a non-issue on any ordinary day in the classroom could stand out in the eyes of your interview committee and could come up as they discuss candidates before making a final selection.
Keep it simple. It may seem like the way to impress an interview board is to cram in as much information as possible, but you’ll be more comfortable, and more successful, if you limit your focus to a single subject and really concentrate on getting that idea across rather than jumping around to too many topics in a single lesson. Think of it as your opportunity to do one thing extremely well instead of trying to showcase all the things you’re capable of. You’ll have plenty of time for all that in your teaching job in the years ahead.
9. Plan For Anything and Don’t Miss The Basics
Let’s be clear; nobody who shows up 10 minutes late to the interview ever gets the job. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, whether you can command the room, or if your lesson plans are letter perfect… you are always going to be the candidate who didn’t get there on time. There were dozens of other people who didn’t mess up their appointment. Don’t be that person.
Do a dry run; get prepped, pop the address in your GPS, and actually go drive to the location before the day of the interview. School campuses and admin buildings can be a maze of parking lots, corridors, and wings, all with separate entrances. It’s enough to confuse anybody who doesn’t walk those grounds daily. The last thing you need is to end up parked in the back lot because you pulled into the wrong driveway and end up having to make your way across the soccer field in your dress shoes so you can arrive just-in-time and out of breath. Trust us, showing up at the exact scheduled time instead of 15 minutes early is as good as being late.
Familiarize yourself as much as possible. Are the instructions for getting to the office clear? Are there signs clearly pointing the way, or when you get there does something still not make sense? Don’t be afraid to ask questions when scheduling the interview. You look smarter asking questions about things you can’t know about than you do assuming you know better.
Dress professionally, conservatively, and comfortably. You don’t want to be fixated on that collar digging into your neck while you’re trying to answer questions, but you don’t want to look like you just showed up after doing your weekly grocery run, either.
On the day of, even if you have timed your drive down to the minute, leave 30 minutes early anyway. You’ll be cooler and more collected if you are early, and thankful if some cement truck driver crashed and caused a 20-minute detour on your route that day.
10. Let Your Light Shine Naturally, Don’t Force It
You didn’t decide to get into teaching to go into the office and have a boring and miserable time every day. Guess what? Neither did the people who are interviewing you. So keep it light and keep smiling. You want to be the bright spot in their day.
You’ll have to read the room to draw a line between being hilarious and being inappropriate. Not everyone wants their staff to be a laugh machine, and gimmicks are never a substitute for real teaching skills and the ability to turn curriculum into a real learning experience. You can try out the classroom karaoke with your students down the road, but our advice is to keep it out of the interview. Something really fun and unorthodox could be incredibly effective with students and become part of your repertoire for years to come, but it might not hit the right note with an interview committee. Have fun but keep it professional. You don’t want to give the impression that you’re putting on an act, or that you’re a one-trick pony who feels they need to sell every lesson with something overtly performative.
Keeping it in the lanes of professionalism certainly doesn’t mean playing it so safe that you come across as boring and uninspired. After all, many of the people you’ll be interviewing in front of will eventually become your colleagues when you land the job. You want them to immediately get the sense of how awesome it will be working with you – a person who brings their A-game every day as a team player with an effortless blend of teaching fundamentals, love, and self-confidence.