Interview tips for desperate teacher candidate.
June 13, 2011 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I am in need of tips/advice/help/anything from fellow teachers about job interviews and how to nail them.

I recently obtained dual certifications in special education (N-12) and secondary English (7-12). The positive is that I am getting interviews despite the fact that this may be the worst time in history (budgetary issues) to be seeking a teaching position in Pennsylvania. The negative is that it is clear I am not doing well in these interviews. I'm new to the profession and have no experience other than student teaching. I had a great experience student teaching and received glowing reviews across the board from cooperating teachers and my university advisor. (The district I student taught in recently laid off a ton of teachers, therefore no positions are open there.)

Some questions I need help with:

- How do you accommodate the different learning levels in your classroom and give specific examples of how to this? (I struggle with this one because while I definitely did accommodate different levels in student teaching, it is hard for me to articulate how. I tended to slip the learning support student copies of notes with a few blanks here and there, instead of having them struggle to keep up while taking notes on a blank notebook page. While other students were reading silently, I'd sit with one or two and we'd read to each other. I constantly monitored each student to see if they were keeping up.)

-What will your classroom management strategies be? (They are never impressed with my answer to this, because I am just not a big ENFORCER. I really try to foster an environment of mutual respect and clear expectations and honestly I found in my (little) experience that this in itself handled a lot of problems. I also practiced frequent and consistent positive reinforcement. I can just tell administrators probably think my classrooms were chaos, which they weren't. At all.)

And honestly, I would love any advice. I'm going to be a great teacher, I just need to get in the door somewhere. Thank in advance and I appreciate it immensely. I am really at a loss here.
posted by als129 to Education (10 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
How do you accommodate the different learning levels in your classroom and give specific examples of how to this? (I struggle with this one because while I definitely did accommodate different levels in student teaching, it is hard for me to articulate how.

In British Columbia, it's all about understanding the identified student learning disabilities, and then ensuring that individual education plans (IEPs) are followed for each student - adjusting outcomes according to what is described in the IEP.

From a classroom management perspective, it means identifying minimum benchmarks for the class as a whole (and then modifying benchmarks to suit the needs of individual learners, depending on what the IEP says), and then creating lessons that achieve those benchmarks every class.

You could have three tiers of assignments: a "basic" tier that addresses the learning outcomes and benchmarks, a secondary tier of enriched materials or projects that higher performing students can do after they easily finish the basic tier of materials and activities, and a third tertiary tier of activities that meet some of the higher-level outcomes; this could be a project or series of projects where students apply and synthesize the knowledge they have learned.

All students should be required to complete the basic tier and the third tier to get a 50% (passing grade) in the class. They don't have to get 100% on all the activities, but need to demonstrate they have met the learning outcomes at a "pass" level.

All students can do the secondary level of activities and exercises, but generally speaking the students who will ace the "basic" tier, and have the ability to work on the project work of the "third" tier will do these things.

The secondary tier kind of resembles busywork for smart students, but it allows them the opportunity to earn extra marks to get their Bs and As. All students should have the opportunity to do the second tier of activities, so it's best to place more weight on the "basic" and tertiary tiers of work.

What all this means is:

Give students worksheets and notes on the blackboard to transmit knowledge. This is easy stuff that anyone can do, and it's very concrete. It makes it easy to focus the class. It's also easy to work around the IEPs here.

When the more motivated and faster students finish this work, give them more worksheets. This will keep them busy while others in the class struggle with the first assignment you gave out. This keeps everyone busy until you start the "value-add" part of the lesson and the course itself which demands higher skills, which is project work.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:41 PM on June 13, 2011

What will your classroom management strategies be?

I'm a firm believer in classroom management, rather than enforcement. Make everything about the learning, rather what students shouldn't be doing.

If you hand out a worksheet, and students are talking or whatever, don't say "why are you talking?" Say instead, "let's get to work! start writing!"

Basically, if the students know what they should be doing, and understand how to do it, there should be no problems.

Change activities every 20 minutes. Have a backup plan. Only talk for 20% of the time. Learn the students' names. Tell them you like them. Tell them they are smart and can do great things.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:44 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might want to find a particular classroom "approach" that has aspects that work for you and familiarize yourself with some of its tenets and vocabulary -- it might help you better frame and articulate your own theories and practice. For example, I like much about Responsive Classroom. The First Six Weeks of School and Morning Meeting books are especially valuable. (You can find them on the site.)

Do note that I'm not saying you need to adopt any sort of "program" wholesale; rather, that you might find fodder for your own thinking.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 2:03 PM on June 13, 2011

Best answer: I've been involved in the interviews my school is doing (for science) so here is my general advice:

* Bring in a portfolio (preferably with student work). My portfolio included a 1 page "statement on teaching" where I gave some big ideas that shape my planning and then broke my portfolio up into those chunks. LIke I talked about how I always use bellringers to ensure we work bell to bell and I included examples of the questions. I had pictures of (unidentifiable) students doing labs.

* especially as a new teacher, come in confident. You are right - we have TONS of new teacher resumes and we pick only a handful to interview. A lot of management comes with just the confidence and seriousness you have about your ability. You want people in the room to believe you can manage a room.

*ask questions if you need things clarified. If they are asking you a "how would you..." question, ask about relevant policies, what sort of students are in the class, etc. Get enough background knowledge so you could wing it with specifics.

Your actual questions:
How do you accommodate different learning levels...
* Pull out your portfolio and say specifically "Well, student X had issues with __so when we did these sorts of activities, I'd modify by doing ___as you can see in my portfolio on pg#. When we were doing silent reading, I'd sit with small groups so we could read together. At the end of my student teaching, I realized there were a few more things I'd try if I had the chance again. For example... " The more you could cite recent research or some big names in literacy, the more I'd like your answer. That would show me you are reflective, current with literacy research, and you did try some things that are backed up by your portfolio.

Personally, I'd love to hear someone explain how they assess the students at the start of each unit and make that integral to their planning. This is also a good question where you can ask about the professional development the school does - SIOP, CRISS, PLC's? Do they have a program they follow to help deal with differentiated instruction? Maybe brush up on some big ones. Check out the school counselor's website or the latest school newsletter to see if any programs are mentioned.

Finally, think about what didn't work this year or what you could have done better. If you were reading with a small group, that means others couldn't ask you questions. Could you use an audiobook? Are there "helper" versions of the same text or novel with side margin notes?

*What will your classroom management strategies be?

First of all, read Teaching with Love and Logic.. it's kind of a respect meets natural consequences style of discipline and being able to be specific about what respect means will be good. Add on to your mutual respect answer - that you plan on giving engaging and meaningful work while offering clear expectations because if the kids are moving forward, they don't have time to cause problems. Finally, ask questions - what are the most common discipline issues the school has and what is their policy? This is a BIG question - maybe they can get more specific (tardy issues? cell phones? talking? bullying?)

As much as you want to come off as warm and welcoming to students, realize that the folks interviewing you do want to know some specifics for when your warm and welcoming style doesn't mesh with specific students..... That said, if you were a classroom management rockstar as a student teacher - be specific about what your classroom looked like. You didn't have the same problems with Katie that maybe Mr. Smith did because you ______. You managed to keep JOe in his seat not talking with folks in the back of the room because ____.

Sorry for the length - hope this helped.
posted by adorap0621 at 2:29 PM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm a middle school teacher and I've received job offers from every interview I've had.

Here's my advice:

I agree with adorap0621's strategy of having a portfolio ready - you should be able to show administrators HOW you modify assignments to meet students' needs. Your fill-in-the-blank notes strategy is great for lower-level learners, but what about high achievers? Are you providing challenge questions or extra work for those students as well?

Secondly, I suppose it depends on the culture of your school whether you will be an ENFORCER or not. I work in lower-income urban charter schools, so I am a strong, strong believer in being an ENFORCER. In my experience, some of the strongest teachers are the ones that are strict.

My classroom management strategy is very simple: I give very, very clear directions. Be explicit about what your expectations are and why. For instance: "I need you to stop tapping your pencil because it's distracting to the scholars around you" or "We are reading and answering questions 1 through 4. This is silent, independent work. When you are finished, take our your independent reading book." This way, there is no lee-way and students always know what I expect them to be doing. Any time an administrator walks into my room, I want every student to be able to answer the question "What are you doing?"

Again, these responses will depend on the culture of your school, but they've worked for me.
posted by brynna at 3:03 PM on June 13, 2011

Congrats on getting ready for the interview process! I never interviewed in PA, which is one of the best states to teach in based on salary and benefits, so it is more competitive. But I did interview for a school speech therapy position in a competitive county in VA, and I think what helped land me the job was asking questions about how specific speech-related things were handled in the county, and really knowing about the county and praising it. For example, I asked how medicaid billing was handled in their district, because speech therapists bill medicaid for school therapy, the average caseload size, how many students I would be responsible as a caseload manager, and if they had an online IEP system.

I praised the county by telling them that I was impressed that 100% of schools had met No Child Left Behind standards, that the school I was interviewing for was a Title 1 school, and that they were ranked as one of the top 50 counties in the country for public schools. I would suggest researching specific things about your county you can comment on during the interview, especially when asked, "What are you interested in working in XXX district?"

These questions show an interest and knowledge about the school district, but also that you understand some of the ins-and-outs of the special ed process and how it works in the schools.

I love the idea about using a portfolio to highlight how you have accomodated different learning styles and abilities. Could you also bring in goals and accomodations, annonymously to the students of course, that you have written, helped to write, or helped enforce in the classroom?

I am also a big believer in positive reinforcement rather than negative enforcing, especially with special education. Since that is your personal and philosophical approach, I bet you can talk intelligently about it and managing a classroom with positive reinforcement.

Best of luck to you!
posted by shortyJBot at 3:10 PM on June 13, 2011

The advice given so far is spot on.

If you have the time/inclination, I would also strongly suggest that you pick up a volunteer (or paid, if you can find one!) teaching or tutoring position as soon as possible. In addition to giving you current examples to draw from, working with students while going through the interview process will greatly increase your confidence.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 3:28 PM on June 13, 2011

Best answer: Going into my 8th year teaching (mostly English) in the fall, and my track record for interviews is nearly 100% success. So here are my tips:
1. Always give a general answer then a specific one. If your specific answer takes a while, go back to your general one to summarise at the end. For the question about differentiation, there are several good answers:
A. I believe differentiation is about assessment - what my instruction is depends on where my students are, and to know that you need to use formative assessment (I like student whiteboards to gather responses, or random calling using "equity sticks" etc.) and be able to gauge when they're getting it or not. Give examples.
B. I use scaffolded instruction, notetaking, and modelling to ensure all learners have access to the curriculum. Give examples.
C. I get to know my students and use my relationships with them to help me understand what they need. Give two examples, one of a student with behavioural challenges and one with academic.

For the one on management, that's about establishing a procedure and philosophy and being confident about it. I'm of the school of thought that classroom community is best, but that's what works for me.

There's a lot more advice I could give, but I have a different proposal - memail me and let's set up a mock interview. I'll call you and ask the 7 most common questions then give you feedback. I've interviewed loads of teachers and I have been around enough to help you figure out what YOU want to say in a low-pressure environment. Seriously - I'd like to help and all the advice in the world may not be as effective as a few minutes on the phone.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:02 PM on June 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Following guster4lovers - apply for everything and do practice interviews. I had an amazing student teacher this term and during her interview I just sat quietly and listened to her and took notes (for her and my administration). Take guster4lovers up on their offer - practice. I thought of another few things, too .

Things I noticed in my student teacher's interview:
1) lack of specifics - Assume that every question starts with "Tell me about a time when ..." Start by telling me what you'd like to do in the situation and then tell me how you came to that conclusion (especially relevent when you are student teaching and abiding by the rules of an other teacher).

2) No crying. Not even because you've just been asked why you want to teach and you have some emotional story to share. The story may be great and tear-worthy but it might also turn folks off.

3) talk about how you plan on including parents. My amazing parterner was askedhow she would deal with specific types of kid and the principal basically led her towards calling home frequently but she totally focused on sending home all-class notes/newsletters. It's scary to call home and not enough of it is done as student teacher but parents like it and most importantly they HATE surprise bad grades. Make it clear grades are going to be no surprise to anyone.

4) think about the business side... a bit. New teachers tend to be idealistic and full of energy and oftent, sadly, totally unaware of the realities of the $ side. If you can mention previous budgets or $ for assignments that may help folks think concretely about what you can work with. This is more applicable to science/art/other supply-rich areas.

5) Discipline - new teachers are still developing their 3rd eye. I'm in my 5th year, a national board candidate, and generally respected by kids but I'm still working on my 3rd eye. I said this before but mean it - be specific. I fyou can't or won't tell me what your typical response is to a talkative kiddo , that's a problem. Remember the basics - standing by them, asking them quietly to cut it out, asking if they need to use the restroom to get refocused, talking to parents, moving seats,focusing on their work.... all of those are actual THINGS you can do that still incoporate respect.

**getting more interviews - make sure your cover letter and resume make you stick out - lots of specifics. I can't tell you how many times I've read that Mr/Ms XYZ has great rapport withe their colleagues or that the candidate is reflective.... what the heck does that mean? How does that help the kids? The folks that I picked to interview all mentioned specific lessons in their cover letter.

BTW, anyone wanting portfolio help is welcome to memail me for advice or feedback (especially in science).

Good luck - looking for a community to get advice from is a great first step. If you aren't on Twitter, that's a professional development wonderland. Search for #ntchat (new teacher chat) and #engchat. Follow marzano andfind others who post interesting things. You don't have to 'tweet' - it'll just give you a good network.
posted by adorap0621 at 9:28 PM on June 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, what great responses. I need to digest all this information! I may be memailing some of you! Thank you so much.
posted by als129 at 6:21 AM on June 14, 2011

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