Sunday, July 17, 2016

10 Interview Tips for Educators

I was able to sit in on the interviews for a position on our team. Over the last five years, I have had some opportunities to be on an interview panel, but was never able to do them for a different number of reasons. Anyway, this was my first one. It was going to be my first time on the other side of the interview. This brought back many memories and how I was reminded that being interviewed is not easy. So, I kept this in mind as we prepared for the interviews.

My principal had given us copies of the resumes of the individuals.

Cool, great.

Actually, no. Something was missing. Two things were really missing for me. No, wait. I'd say three things weren't there. (After writing this, I added another, so there ended up being four.)

  1. Where was the mention of your professional (maybe personal also) twitter handle? I feel I'm a pretty connected individual. Not because I like it, but I feel that it is a necessary part of being an educator in today's classroom. You need to be connected. You need to learn from others. You need to have developed a PLN of people who push you, who ground you, and who you can bounce ideas off of.  I needed to see what you were learning, what you were making, who you followed, who you were interacting with, what your conversations looked like. 
  2. Where is your blog? No, this is not a requirement, but I would have liked to see your reflections on your work? Forget that last sentence. I'd almost say that a blog is a requirement. Especially to a young, just fresh out of college candidate. What your thinking process is? What are you trying in the classroom? What is going well? What are your frustrations? How do you write about your frustrations? What are you reading and how do they influence your own classroom? Mainly, are you a reflective person? Are you willing to change? What is your thought process? How well do you write? 
    1. Where is a link to a classroom website or your teaching portfolio? I want to know what learning looks like in your classroom. Brand spanking new teacher? You still had experiences while student teaching to take pictures of. Experienced teacher? You've had time to at least take pictures on the "best" days of teaching where everything comes together perfectly and the cosmos opens up and unicorns fly over leaving rainbows and then a leprechaun finds the gold, too. You know, the awesome days of teaching? 
    2. I'm also going to add a list of people who inspire you. I want to know where you get your inspiration? No one ever says, McGraw-Hill textbooks inspire me. What blogs do you follow? What podcasts do you listen to? What books do you read? Who do you follow on twitter?

    Now, I know you probably can't list all of that on your resume. It's a lot. But what about a link to an page? a google site? a weebly site? a blog? (wordpress, blogger, edublogs) an actual website? All you need is a starting point to put all your links to your "stuff." It doesn't have to be fancy, but the content needs to be there.

    Coming in, I figured there would be questions to ask of the individuals interviewing. Our principal had brought in questions they had used in the past. We chose some off of the sheet. I added one that I stole from John Spencer as I asked a few in my PLN before hand what were some of their favorite interview questions. William ChamberlinJon Samuelson, Josh Stumpenhorst, Brett Clark and some others suggested similar things to John.

    Mainly, they wanted to get to know the person, as a person. Not necessarily a teacher. What do they do in their spare time? What passions outside the classroom do they have? Are those things that others on the team will relate to? Are they creative? Are they problem solvers? Are they someone who will work well others?  Are they driven? Are they humble? What type of drink would they order at a bar? This one might not be totally appropriate, but I imagine you could learn a lot from this answer. Are they smart in the way they work with others?

    "Tell me about something that you made in the last year that you are ridiculously proud of."

    That's it.

    Can you do it?

    I didn't even specify if it was personal or professional? Although looking back, I really wanted both. I wanted to see if you did anything creative? What it was like? How you persevered? What interested you? Could you tell me about the process you went through?

    After asking this question, which was actually a command, I got a lot of different answers, which was expected. I enjoyed them. I learned a whole lot about the person from their answer.

    If you have made nothing that you're proud of, then I'm assuming that after a year with you at our school, you won't create anything you're proud of over that amount of time, either. Why would I want you as a colleague?

    Bring examples of student work. Or at least be able to talk about student work. I want to see (digital or on paper) student work. What are students creating with you as their guide? How deep are their thoughts? How reflective are your students? Do you weave life lessons into your teaching? How can you take some boring content and make it fun, engaging, and memorable for your students? I want examples of this.

    You say in your resume, "Create engaging standard based lessons." Ok great.

    Prove it.

    I want to see it. Saying you do it, isn't enough. I've only known you for about 15 minutes. That's probably not enough time to trust you. I need to see evidence. Where's the examples?

    There are some things that I think are important when hiring.

    1. Competency - Is the person competent? It's fairly easy to determine this. It's hard to fake competency in an interview if you can give multiple examples of things throughout the interview process. I have to feel that I can trust your competency in your content area. Also, just because you're talented in competency doesn't necessarily mean that you are fully competent. How do you work with parents? How do handle an administrator that is on your case about something? How do you handle data collection? What's your way of dealing with classroom management? What are ways that you reach students? Which brings us to...
    2. Consistent (Trust/Integrity) - I need to be able to trust that you will come through on a day to day basis on our team. Do I see this through talking to you? Do I see it through your examples? Do you seem like someone who will follow through?
    3. Humble - If you begin all your sentences with "I" this is good indicator or someone who is selfish. I need to see that you are okay with not being the center of attention. You do remember that we teach for the students, right? I need to see that in what you say and how you say it. I need to see that you are confident, but not cocky.
    4. Hungry - I need to be able to feel that a candidate is hungry. No, not for food. For teaching. I need to see passion. Desire. A hunger to persevere, to adapt, to push the limits of the "box."
    5. Smart - How well do you work with people? Are you people smart? Do you have common sense around people? Are you cooperative? Do you share? Are you willing to share? Do you play well with others? How effective are you at working with and through others? 
    6. Culture - Will this person fit into our current culture? Two candidates with the same competency can really be entirely different in relation to the culture of the school and current team.  Culture trumps a lot. 
    Numbers 3, 4, 5 come from this. (Thanks to Bob Dillon for tuning me into the EntreLeadership Podcast) While these are things that I already believed, I listened to this the other day and Pat Lencioni puts it very well in this podcast and in his book "The Ideal Team Player".

    I say these things because I'm not sure that there's very much out there about how to interview well in this age of education. It's different from 2009 when I graduated from college. I don't really remember anyone telling me these types of things, either. I also am going to tell you that I think I have been interviewed about 30-40 times which would include multiple interviews for the same position like call backs and screening interviews. So in other words, I wasn't very good at it. I also tell you that I'm not very good at talking to people. I struggle with "small talk" and carrying on conversations. I struggle with maintaining eye contact with others. I struggle with talking highly of myself. I don't necessarily like talking to people that I don't know. All of that together doesn't make for a good interviewee. I understand that. 

    There is hope. 

    I had my best interview in my current position in which I'll be starting year 3 in two weeks. I was confident and competent because I had already spent 3+ years running a classroom. I have developed my style of teaching and how I do things. I shared a lot of my process of how I learn, who I learn from, where I want my classroom to "go," the flow of my room, how I work with others, etc. I had experiences and examples to back up my statements. I also shared my twitter handle, my class twitter handle, my blog, my class website, etc. so that everyone would get a sense of what my classroom "feels" like and looks like. I felt like this interview felt more like a conversation, instead of an interview. 

    Come prepared to an interview to speak highly of yourself. Most teachers don't do it regularly. It's in our DNA. This is your time to shine. Just be humble about it. Put the focus on the students and what they did, how they took ownership of the room, how you facilitate the classroom for maximum efficiency so the student can do _______. 

    Older people always say, "Be yourself." when you ask for advice about interviewing. There is a lot of truth to that. What you have to understand is that yourself at 22-23 right out of college is different than 26-27 after a few years of experience and so on. 

    Press on.

    I subbed for a year after graduation.

    I got a maternity leave for a semester. 

    I then left education for a year because I couldn't find a full-time teaching job. I worked as a screen print production artist/designer. 

    I liked it. Shoot, who am I kidding? I really liked it. I saw things that I had designed or had a part in on TV. 

    But, I missed the classroom. I felt I wasn't making a real difference. 

    I started applying again. 

    I got lucky and got a full-time gig. I was a runner-up the last time for a spot at that school. 

    It was hard. 

    6 years later and one more interview I'm where I am now. 

    No one said it would be easy.



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