Ten Tips For Landing That Teaching Job

I have served as an administrator for over 17 years now and participated in and led my fair share of interviews. I have a love-hate relationship with the entire process. I love it because there is nothing more invigorating than the prospect of finding and adding a star educator to your team.

I hate it because of all the poor ones I am forced to sit through to find the diamond in the rough. I fight with my ADD to stay focused and avoid boredom, no matter how poor the candidate. My mentor, Paul, once told me something that resonated with me for a long time. “If someone goes through the process of applying, getting dressed up, and probably stressing about the interview, the least we can do is give them the respect of an honest interview.”  

I have never forgotten that lesson and hope that these tips help you to be a better candidate who deserves not only a fair shake, but your dream job.

You Start Long Before The Interview

When you are interested in a teaching job, it is not–and should not be– just about the interview process. You may have all the correct answers and nail the interview, but if you haven’t made a positive impression already or, even worse, made a negative impression, you probably will not land the job.  

When you are a substitute, be willing to participate in extracurricular events or, better yet, plan one. Be flexible, be willing to accept any assignment, be kind to students, be positive, and smile! Be the type of person the administrator and teachers want in the building.

Be cautious of the veteran who claims to have “connections” and “influence”, but is not as student-centered as you think he/she should be.  Avoid associating with or being intimidated by the squeaky wheels; they can and will hurt your chances.

Get Noticed

You never know when you will be noticed. I remember a time when a new teacher interviewed with me to be on our sub list. The candidate was positive, poised, and genuine. Although we didn’t have a probationary spot at the time I always kept her in mind as positions became available. Three years later, this candidate was hired as a probationary teacher in my District.  

Meet people in the field by subbing, coaching, going to Edcamps, conferences, and volunteering. You never know when you will be noticed, so be on your game in these situations and put yourself out there.

Prepping For Your Interview

You should do some research before your interview. Visit the school website, Google the school, principal and district. That will give you general information that will help you in the interview. Candidates who want to go the extra mile will take a drive through the town, eat at a local restaurant, and ask questions. If you know someone who works or worked in the district, speak to them, find out what is important to the school, and, more importantly, if it is a good fit for you.

Be Personable To Everyone

Secretaries are the backbone of most schools.  Many administrators value the opinion of a trusted secretary as much as anyone’s. Be pleasant when scheduling your interview and when you arrive. Make small talk rather than burying your head in your phone. Be polite, be considerate, and do not be annoying.

Schools are busy places and even though the interview is extremely important to you, it is just one more task on the long list of things to do for those already working in the school. You should not be a burden, ask unnecessary questions, or act entitled. Until you actually get the job, you are a guest. Be sure to act that way.  

Be Ready To Answer The Most Common Interview Questions

Most interviews will include questions in the following areas:

  1. Who are you? Avoid talking about that time you led the team to the Little League World Series or how you met your lovely wife. Keep it work related.
  2. Student Management: How do you handle challenging students? The best answers involve building relationships, involving students in the class guidelines, setting clear expectations, and mutual respect. Some love behavior charts and strict rules, but I am most impressed with less Carrots and Sticks and more love, compassion, understanding, and relationships. Kids are more inclined to behave when they know you care about them.
  3. Strengths and Weaknesses: This one won’t win it for you, but it can sink you. Avoid student management as a weakness and please do not say, “I am such a hard worker and such a perfectionist that people tell me I have to take care of myself and I have to slow down, so I guess that’s my weakness.” Really?!?
  4. Lesson Structure: What is your style of instruction? How do you deliver instruction? It is important to have clear goals and express them clearly to students. Having students collaborating, working independently, and offering support to groups or individual students by “mini conferencing” is a good start. Do not forget to mention the importance of a strong closure activity which summarizes the key points of the lesson. Bonus points for inspiring students to be innovative and to pursue their passions. Check out the Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros for some ideas on what innovation can look like in the classroom.
  5. Content: You will more than likely have a question based on your knowledge of the subject matter, especially during a secondary interview.  You should have a pretty good understanding of your subject matter, but do not overly stress this question. Answer it honestly and openly, but it is not a midterm; you are not going to be asked those overly technical questions that are keeping you up at night.
  6. Parent Question: Mention the importance of connecting with parents before you have an issue. Emails, tech tools, and letters are all nice ways to keep the lines of communication open, but sometimes the best way is a positive phone call or a face to face. If a student is having discipline issues, drops more than 7 or 8 points in their average, is failing, or is having an issue with another student, a call to the parent is a must.  Sending home pictures, a positive postcard, creating a class twitter hashtag are other ideas of how to show you take the school/parent relationship seriously. Check out Mr. D’s Classroom Collections for some other ideas.

The above are standards, but you may also see questions on:

  • Diversity
  • Community involvement
  • Differentiation
  • Safety
  • Work ethic

Dress For Success And Be 15 Minutes Early

No matter what, look the part and, please, wear a suit. It is a must. Do not arrive two minutes before the interview or 30 minutes before the interview.  Know where you are going before the day of the interview. Drive to the location a few days early to ensure you know where you are going.

I suggest getting to the school an hour before an interview and then either grab a cup of coffee and review notes or drive around to get the lay of the land until about 15 minutes before your appointment time.  You will be nervous; anytime you interview you do not need added stress.

Your Attitude Says A Lot

Be positive; do not tell the interviewer about the flaws of your previous school or boss. It sounds like sour grapes. You want to be confident, but do not explain all the things they are doing wrong that you plan to fix when hired. If I catch any tinge of negativity or complaint in an interview they are done in my book.

Be Genuine: Put Your Weaknesses On The Table

Answer confidently, but genuinely. You should only use words that you use in “real life”. You should only describe strategies that you believe in and are comfortable with. Avoid buzzwords and jargon that you do not completely understand.  A seasoned administrator with smell that a mile away. If you are a first year teacher, call it out. “I do not have a lot of experience, but I am willing to learn, am not afraid to ask for help, and I have an immense work ethic. I plan to get better and better every year until the day I retire.”

Don’t Give The Interviewer Extra Work

Some days the interview team will see up to 15 candidates. It’s a long day. Do not pass around a portfolio that you expect back, you want us to look at now, or get back to you at a later time. If you are asked “do you have any questions for us?”, ask one, two tops. We do not want to be interviewed by you. You will have plenty of time to ask questions if you are offered the job.

After the Interview

Sending a nice email–short and sweet–thanking the team for the opportunity is a nice touch, but do not stalk the district if you do not hear back from them. They will get back to you and if they don’t, they didn’t want you anyway.  Calling and bugging the secretary will not magically change minds and hearts. If you do not get the job, be gracious; do not explain what a mistake was made by not hiring you. Avoid asking for feedback about why you didn’t get the job. Remember the extra work tip?  

It also can come off as defense. It is a long career and you never, ever want to burn a bridge. I have hired several candidates who fell just short in two, even three interviews on their next try. True character is displayed when things do not go your way.  I never forget how a candidate handles a loss. If it is with class, I often give them another shot. If you have been turned down for a job, I highly recommend Ryan Holidays The Obstacle is the Way.

The most important thing to remember is to be yourself.  When I am looking to hire a new teacher I want a positive, hard working person, who is kid centered.

We can teach how to teach, but we can’t teach attitude and a love of kids. I can make a smart, humble, positive teacher into a star. I don’t care how talented you are pedagogically; if you are a complainer with a negative disposition, I do not want you on my team. You cannot be a good teacher if you don’t love kids. Teaching is about kids. If they know you love them and believe in them they will succeed every time.  I don’t care if you’re Ron Clark’s motor and imagination; if you are a negative person with a RBF, I do not want you working with my kids. If you smile, and smile a lot, then  I do.