Tips for interviews

I’ve applied for several teaching positions, and the thought of an interview (assuming I’m lucky enough to get one) makes me nervous. How should I prepare? What kind of questions will the committee ask?
—McKenzie, Columbia, Missouri

Having been on both ends of the interview process for faculty and administrative positions—as part of the interview committee and as the interviewee—I’ve found it’s impossible to eliminate the butterflies. I’ve talked with some colleagues to compile suggestions to make interviewing a positive experience.
Interviewers may ask, “What do you know about our community or school?” Rather than saying “not much” (which one applicant actually said), do some background work:

  • Explore the community before the interview. Look for nearby resources (parks, museums, library, recreation facilities, and colleges for example). Learn a little about the history of the community and what it’s famous for.
  • Visit the school’s website to learn about the facilities, extracurricular activities, staffing, and the school calendar. Look over the student and faculty handbooks if they are available online.

First impressions are lasting ones. Your behavior and attitude should reflect the accomplishments on your resume:

  • Even if teachers have relaxed dress code, choose a professional style for the interview—a jacket and tie for men or a tailored outfit for women, appropriate footwear (no flip-flops or sneakers), and apparel free of advertising logos. If you can subtly include the school colors, do it!
  • Invest in a professional-looking bag to replace a tattered backpack. Include a portfolio with sample lesson plans, pictures, materials you developed, products that reflect your technology skills (e.g., videos or podcasts you produced, class webpages) and any requested items. Bring several pens and a small pad for taking notes. If you are asked to do a presentation (see below), bring enough materials for your audience and make sure any technology you plan to use is in working order.
  • Arrive a few minutes early. When you enter the room, stand straight with a smile on your face. Shake hands firmly and look at people directly. Repeat their names as you are introduced. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Dr. Johnson.” Be sure your cell phone is off.

In addition to asking what you know about the school, the committee will have questions such as

  • How do you describe your teaching style or philosophy of teaching?
  • How would you structure a class for cooperative learning?
  • How do you adapt science lessons for special education or English language learners?
  • What is your favorite lesson or unit to teach?
  • What are you most passionate about in terms of science?
  • What strategies have you used (or would you use) with students who are struggling or unmotivated?
  • How would you incorporate any science-related work experiences (park naturalist, lab assistant, etc.) into your lessons?
  • What is one “big idea” you would like students to develop in your class?
  • What would your ideal classroom look like?
  • How do you incorporate literacy skills (vocabulary, reading, and writing) in science?
  • How do you use formative assessments?
  • What do you do to make sure students are working safely in the lab?

Answer the questions completely and succinctly. If asked about something you’re unfamiliar with, don’t fake a response or answer with unrelated information. Write the question down on your notepad and respond that although you’re not acquainted with the topic, you’ll add it to your list of things to learn about. (If you’re called back for a second interview, be sure to mention what you’ve learned.)
Sometimes, the interview process has a performance component. You may be asked to

  • Analyze or comment on examples of student work.
  • Write learning goals and activities for a given a topic and grade level.
  • Teach a brief lesson—you should know ahead of time if this is required, with a description of the audience (the committee, real students), how much time, and whether the lesson will be in a lab. Do an activity that engages the audience in learning. (The “probes” in the Uncovering Student Ideas in Science books from NSTA might be useful).

The committee may ask at the end if you have any questions. Although discussions of salary and benefits are not appropriate at this time, you might be curious about

  • What is the school’s philosophy toward inquiry in science?
  • Will I be teaching in a lab or a regular classroom?
  • Who is the school’s safety officer?
  • How are new teachers evaluated?
  • Is there a mentoring program for new teachers?
  • What professional development activities are available (e.g., workshops, conferences)?
  • What kind of technology is available for teachers and students?
  • What is the role of extracurricular activities (e.g., sports, music, clubs) in the school?
  • How do teachers use the community resources (that you identified before the interview)?

After the interview, send a note of thanks to the committee. Good luck!

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