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Things to Say and Do at that First Teaching Job Interview

Dr. Bob Kizlik

Updated June 10, 2014

At last, the day has arrived. Your first interview for a teaching position is scheduled. More than likely, you're a little scared, but you've been looking forward to this for a long time and the big day is here at last! The payoff for all your hard work in college is finally in sight. It's what you have been anticipating for weeks, and yet you're tense, and perhaps even apprehensive. You've heard from fellow classmates and friends that the first job interview for a teaching position can often be a stressful experience, made even more so when teaching jobs are scarce, especially in tough economic times. Teachers who have been there and done that will generally tell you that being as perfectly prepared as possible beforehand is the best policy. With that in mind, and given that you should get at least six hours of sleep the night before the interview, the following suggestions are offered:

1. Dress. Dress appropriately. Your choice of clothing tells a lot about you, and as they say, you don't get a second chance to make a good first impression. Women should dress tastefully. That means no shorts, halters, cutoffs, miniskirts, etc. You want to look professional. If you have visible body parts other than your ears that are pierced, remove the objects before the interview. Also, if you have tattoos, do your best to cover them with appropriate clothing. Men should wear a nice pair of pants, and shirt and tie. Polished shoes are a good idea and say a lot about you. Don't wear sneakers and be careful about jeans. The body piercing and tattoo advice goes for the men also.

2. Speech. Many times interviews that are otherwise excellent crash and burn because the interviewees mispronounce words, speak much too fast, and use expressions such as "like" as a form of punctuation. A big mispronunciation problem involves words that begin with "pre" or "pro." They are often pronounced as if they began with "per." For example, "prescribe" is pronounced "PREscribe" not "PERscribe." If you have this problem, work on it. As for like, well, like don't use it as a form of punctuation!

3. Portfolio. Document any work you've done with children, or in teaching, even if it's not a similar population or age range. Make sure the portfolio is not overly complicated. That means it's easy to read and understand. Organization is everything. Also, make sure you have carefully checked all spelling and grammar. An alternative is to bring an "electronic portfolio" such as a flash drive, CD, or DVD with you and let the interviewer know it is available. There are also many on-line resources that allow people to post resumes, vitas, or portfolios.

4. Technology. Bring appropriate samples of your technology skills - graphics design, presentation software, word processing, etc. Let the interviewer know you have them, and do not offer to show them unless asked to do so. Flash drives make it possible to bring a lot of material with you in digital form in a case no larger than a pack of gum.

5. Territory. Know the setting you're going to. In many districts, each school has a model, and it is very important to show understanding of the model. Usually, this type of information is available on the district or school web site. Make sure that you don't go into a "back to basics-type" school spouting everything you heard in college about whole language. If you can, do research on the instructional setting, principles, and goals of the school. In other words, "do your homework!"

6. Money. Don't be stupid. Remember, the principal or other interviewer does not negotiate salary, benefits, etc. Don't even mention them in the interview. If you do, the interviewer may "write you off." This is especially true in the current (2014) economic situation, where some school systems are cutting back and/or not hiring at all.  Things are definitely getting better, and you need to be patient.

7. Philosophy. Have defined, and be able to defend your philosophy of education. Too often, education majors memorize buzz words, clichés, and so-called wise sayings they picked up in their programs. Any experienced administrator will see through this in a heartbeat. Know what you believe and why you believe as you do. If you're unsure, practice out loud and have someone give you feedback. However, if not asked by the interviewer, it's usually a good idea not to offer it up for scrutiny.

8. Mastery. Be as current as possible on educational books and research, especially if you have an area of specialization. You should be able to explain in clear, unambiguous language why the content you would teach is important. You also have to convey a sense of mastery of the content, regardless of the level at which you are seeking a position.

9. Management. Have a discipline/classroom management system ready when you come in for the interview. Know how it works, be able to explain it, why you've chosen it, and why you think it will be effective. If, for example, you believe in assertive discipline, be able to articulate why you believe it results in desirable outcomes.

10. Humility. Don't use the term "I" too much. Principals look for teachers who are team players. That means showing a willingness to be a team member, which usually precludes overdoing the "I did this," or "I did that" verbiage in the interview.

11. Cell Phone. Very important, but often forgotten. TURN YOUR CELL PHONE OFF. This needs no further explanation.

12. Odds and Ends. Most principals look for teachers they believe will be effective in the classroom AND be good team players. You must communicate to the interviewer that you can be both. The last thing a principal wants is a new teacher who will cause him headaches, need constant reassurance, take up his valuable time solving trivial problems, or who has poor parent relation skills. In your interview, you must communicate to the principal that you will not cause him headaches, need constant reassurance, etc. It is a temperament thing, so learn how to read people, speak clearly and directly, don't be afraid to look the principal in the eyes, ask relevant questions, and thank him for the opportunity to be interviewed.

And one last thing: if your interview is in the morning, be sure to have at least a small breakfast not less than 90 minutes before the interview. Take it from one who knows; your brain will work better.

Good luck with your interview, and may your career as a teacher be truly rewarding and fulfilling.

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Robert Kizlik & Associates

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