In search of job interview tips for teaching ESL to adults
May 1, 2015 3:17 PM   Subscribe

I have a job interview for an ESL teaching position with a US government organization in Southeast Asia. What kinds of questions will I be asked? What should I ask them? How should I prepare otherwise?

I've read through plenty of AskMe threads about general interview prep and Skype interviews, and now I'm looking for ESL-specific advice. I haven't had much luck googling for ESL interview questions, largely because mock job interviews in the ESL classroom are common enough that most of what I'm turning up are lesson plans to help students prep for their own job interviews in English. What kinds of questions should I expect to be asked?

The job entails working at an American Center (which is embassy-affiliated), and I believe I'd be teaching adults 2hrs/day for ten-week sessions. I don't know what level(s) I'd be teaching--there are six ranging from beginning to advanced, plus electives for advanced-level students.

I have six years of ESL-related experience, but I came to ESL through the backdoor after getting an MFA, and I neither have a TESOL/CELTA nor have I had my own ESL classroom, so I'm also interested in hearing more about the day-to-day of a job like this. (And advice on how to connect the experience I do have to that which I'm lacking!)

Some tl;no-need-to-read about my background: I have more than six years of experience working in ESL-related fields. I've team-taught in a public high school on the JET Program, tutored non-native speakers in a college writing lab, taught an intensive 6-credit college-level English composition to non-native speakers for one semester at an art school, and TA'ed English lit [to native speakers] at an ivy. For the past few years I've facilitated study groups for ESL students in mainstream college courses at the aforementioned art school. At this job I'm more like a TA: I sit in a variety of classrooms, take notes, and occasionally clarify points brought up in lecture. Later I facilitate hour-long study groups for each class that typically review the the past class' concepts and put them in context with what we've learned so far over the course of the semester, cover new/useful vocab, and critique students' longterm projects for the class. The study groups aren't required of students, and typically they're informal--in philosophy, cultural theory, or art history classes that require synthesis of complex concepts, I lead them very much like a discussion section, going carefully over the material and giving it context in its broader cultural or historical moment. In practice-based classes, like laser cutting or fashion design or photography or advertising, things tend to be much more relaxed, and I'll review homework assignments, critique in-progress projects, talk through ways of translating concept to object, go over vocab, tutor students in digital tools (a variety of Adobe programs), etc. Though the job requires me to quickly synthesize and re-teach material in a variety of fields (often including material I've never before encountered) and I do that often and well, I often feel like it's unofficially much more about being an ally and advocate for students who're often shy and uncomfortable in a second language, helping them gain the confidence to succeed and make informed choices in school and beyond.

In short, I have a ton of *related* experience, but almost none that's actually teaching ESL in a formal classroom setting. I've never had to explain the ins and outs of grammar from the ground up, and haven't formally taught speaking and listening classes in over a decade. If I'm offered the job, it's possible I'll be able to do a CELTA class at a reputable school in the States before I leave (since I think their turnaround time will be veeeeeerrry slow), but obviously that doesn't help me in the initial interviews!

Anyway, I'd love any ESL-specific interviewing & job advice you have to offer!
posted by tapir-whorf to Education (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I haven't interviewed for this kind of position, but here are some questions that I or friends have been asked in ESL interviews or applications:
- What's your teaching philosophy?
- What are some textbooks that you like to use, and why do you like them?
- How do you typically structure a lesson?
- How do you introduce a new grammar point?
- How do you work with unmotivated students?
- Describe a time when there was a conflict in your classroom and how you handled it.
- What are your feelings about the use of L1 in classrooms?
- How do you incorporate technology into your teaching?
- Why do you want to work in this setting?
- If your course outline says it's time for the next unit, but students still haven't mastered the concepts in the current unit, what do you do?
- What are some differences between how you teach advanced and beginning students?
- You have a student who rarely participates or volunteers answers. What do you do?
- How do you teach a classroom that is mixed-level?
- You have a student whose own assessment of his English skills is much higher than your assessment. What do you do?
- What kinds of individuals do you find it most difficult to work with? Why?
- Describe a successful experience in dealing with students and what you learned from it.
- What skills, abilities, knowledge and experience do you bring to the teaching field?
- How would you describe yourself as an instructor? How would you describe your teaching style?
- What is your approach to assessment?
- What is your experience with curriculum design?
- What do you do if a student asks a question to which you do not know the answer?

(Most of the above were for jobs that require an MATESOL, so they might be looking for different things compared to a position that doesn't.)

Good luck!

P. S. I <3 your username.
posted by wintersweet at 3:32 PM on May 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

Will you be teaching individuals or classes? If classes, they would ask how you would handle a multi-level classroom, or a student who tries to dominate the class.

You should probably think about the distinction between ESL and TEFL: will the students be immigrating to an English-speaking country and need to primarily use English to survive, or will they be occasionally using English as a lingua franca (so to... speak) in business transactions, or for academic study, et cetera?

Related: Do you know if there is a formal assessment that the students will be required to pass? Developing an understanding of the students' goals and the agency's goals will be good interview prep.

Even if you don't know the answers to some of these questions, it might be good to ask them during the interview to show you understand the task.

Being able to explain grammar in a technical sense is less important than being able to show why a given structure makes a difference in communication.

I will post more if I think of it.

Source: TEFL certified, former TEFL teacher and later ESL teacher.
posted by Schielisque at 3:37 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh, if you're being interviewed by other teachers/admin with teaching experience, they might throw you a zinger like "How would you explain restricted and unrestricted adjective clauses to a student who has never encountered them before?" Whee!!! Since you said you haven't done much work with explaining grammar from the ground up, I highly recommend The Teacher's Grammar of English with Answers: A Course Book and Reference Guide by Ron Cowan. To quote my own review of it, it uses guiding questions to help the reader discover the rules of English grammar. For example, one exercise helps you determine adjective order rules in English, something that native speakers generally know but were never explicitly taught (and thus can't usually teach). It also gives suggestions for teaching activities related to each topic and points out grammar problems that are associated with particular first languages.

It might also be a good idea to read a "TESOL 101"-type book. I haven't read More Than a Native Speaker, Revised Edition, an Introduction to Teaching English Abroad by Don Snow, but I've heard good things about it. Two standard MATESOL textbooks are
Principles of Language Learning and Teaching
by H. Douglas Brown and Second Language Teaching & Learning by David Nunan.
posted by wintersweet at 3:41 PM on May 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't sell your experience short. You have a lot more training and experience than many TESL/TEFL teachers. Good luck!
posted by Nevin at 4:40 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

They may ask you questions about how you will account for cultural differences in your teaching style and methods- i.e how students in SE Asia might be used to learning or what would be some useful ways to teach them given the culture (s) there.

Also, "describe a challenge you have faced on the job in the past and how you dealt with it" is a popular interview question (which I have also gotten for an ESL position).
posted by bearette at 5:13 PM on May 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Like 20 years ago, I had an interview in Vancouver with one of the big Japanese companies for an ESL-teaching (which I ended up not taking, as I decided to come to Korea instead). One thing they didn't warn me about was an impromptu lesson. Basically they gave me a language point to try and teach on a whiteboard for... 10 minutes, I think it was... with a couple of minutes to prep. Threw me off that a 20-something native speaker of English was role-playing a young Japanese girl with very limited English ability, to be honest, but I rallied.

So that might happen.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:41 PM on May 3, 2015

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