Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org. Read more from this blog.

Professional Development Opinion

Response: ‘Be Authentic’ in Teacher Job Interviews

By Larry Ferlazzo — March 10, 2019 18 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

(This is the third post in a four-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are your suggestions for people applying for their first teaching job?

Part One included recommendations from Valerie Ruckes, Sanée Bell, Dr. PJ Caposey, Candace Hines, Mary Cathryn D. Ricker, and Rinard Pugh. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Valerie, Sanée, PJ, and Candace on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Part Two‘s guests were Marquitta Mitchell, Luis Javier Pentón Herrera, Susan Lafond, Julia Thompson, Joe Mullikin, and Sean Ruday.

Today, Dr. Beth Gotcher, Jen Schwanke, Tamera Musiowsky, Richard Gerver, Otis Kriegel, Elaine Miles, and Cindy Terebush share their job search recommendations.

Response From Dr. Beth Gotcher

Dr. Beth Gotcher has taught in Maryville City schools for 11 years. She is currently a kindergarten teacher at John Sevier Elementary. Beth is in her second year as a Tennessee Teacher Fellow:

You’ve done it! You’ve completed your student-teaching and finally earned your degree. Now comes the exciting but possibly daunting task of applying for your first teaching job. Where do you begin, and how will you stand out from the numerous candidates applying for the same job? Here are five tips to keep in mind as you embark on your educational career.

* Be organized: More than likely you will be applying for jobs at multiple locations that have various application processes and dates. Create a separate folder for each school you are applying to in order to be able to quickly reference necessary documents. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin preparing because some districts have lengthy applications. Be sure to edit what you send carefully! Careless errors can get your application quickly thrown out.

* Be prepared: There are certain common questions that many administrators may ask applicants such as what is your teaching philosophy or what makes you a good fit for our school. Take time to consider and even practice your answers to various questions. This will allow you to have thoughtfully considered your responses in advances as opposed to on the fly in an interview. Also make sure you have a clear understanding of educational lingo to be knowledgeable when answering questions relating to curriculum, instruction, or classroom management.

* Be visible: If you graduate in December or even early May, go by and visit local schools, ask to volunteer in classrooms, and introduce yourself to administrators. This will also allow you to begin learning the culture of the school. With multiple applicants, the more administrators can put a name with a face the better. All administrators may not have time to meet with you, but at least send an email introducing yourself and your desire to gain employment at their school.

* Be authentic: You are your biggest cheerleader! It is important to convey your desire to become a teacher and your qualifications. However, your presentation needs to be honest and genuine. Do not interject educational “buzz” words just merely to do so. Ensure your verbiage supports the statements you are making. Interview committees can tell when applicants are simply saying what they think the committee wants to hear.

* Be flexible: Depending on the area in which you are applying, there may be hundreds of fellow teachers applying for the same job as you. Some districts will want you to gain some experience before taking on a full-time classroom of your own. This may mean taking an interim or teaching-assistant position initially. Do not look at this as a negative. Often this is a way to get your foot in the door with a school or district. Stay positive and recognize that every experience along the way is a learning opportunity to further prepare you for a classroom of your own.

Response From Jen Schwanke

Ms. Jen Schwanke has served as a teacher and administrator at the elementary and middle school level for 20 years. She has established her voice in school leadership by contributing frequently to literacy and leadership publications and has presented at multiple conferences at the state and national level. She is the author of the book, You’re the Principal! Now What? Strategies and Solutions for New School Leaders, published by ASCD:

Sometimes it seems everything about education has changed in recent years—how we do it, how we think about it, what we value and why. Yet hiring new teachers remains largely the same. As a principal, when I have an opening, I find myself digging through a thick mix of candidates—some flubs and some fabulous, some meh and some magnificent—searching for the very best. But what am I looking for? And what does it mean for applicants?

It’s simple, really. When applying for their first job, teaching-candidates should rely on the tried-and-true adages that have always been true.

Solidify purpose. Being a good teacher means having a positive, intention-driven mindset about education. Before applying, candidates need to look deep within to find their purpose, considering what good they can do for a school or classroom of students. Everything else—the resume, the application, the interview—grows from that purpose.

Student-centered. Speaking of purpose. ... New teachers should know that principals are looking to hire people that put their own needs after those of their students. Students need to be the nucleus of all we do.

Stand above the rest. Applicants should consider how they work harder, smarter, and in more collaborative ways than other candidates, and they should make sure their resume and interview reflects a diversity of experiences and interests.

Nothing worth having comes easy. Being a good teacher takes work. And, for a principal, there is nothing more hirable than a work ethic. If a candidate can show they are willing to roll up the sleeves and dig in, they’re headed in the right direction.

Get your foot in the door. Being a substitute is hard work, the pay is terrible, and it means feeling like an outsider looking in. But these things are temporary. Subbing is a great way to build a reciprocal relationship with a school—the substitute gets valuable experience and exposure to principals who will soon be hiring, and the school gets someone who does good work for absent teachers. It’s a great way to expose a great candidate.

Be willing to fill a need. Schools are complicated places with a lot of needs, and there is usually extra work that needs done&mash;for little or no pay. It’s a perfect opportunity for new candidates to ask, “In what ways can I help?” Be an assistant coach. Lead or assist a club. Offer to contribute to running an intramural program. Being willing to step up and take on something to help the school will help you stand out and land that first job.

... And, really, all the standard stuff. First impressions matter. Make sure the resume is spell-checked. Dress nicely. Speak clearly. Tell the truth. Admit what you don’t know. Be a learner. All the things that have always mattered still do.

The application process for a new job can feel like any other application process—long, arduous, and far removed from the real work you want to be doing. To get the job, candidates should just know that principals are looking for someone who stands out, works hard, and loves being around young people. They want energy, enthusiasm, and someone who will lead, learn, and love the work. Finding ways to show those traits is a sure way to land a job as a teacher.

Response From Tamera Musiowsky

Tamera Musiowsky is an international educator and adviser who has taught in Singapore, New York City, and Edmonton, Canada. She is an active member of ASCD and is the president of the Emerging Leaders Alumni Affiliate. Her previous roles include elementary teacher, teacher leader, instructional coordinator, and student-action coordinator. She currently resides and teaches in Singapore. Follow her on Twitter @TMus_Ed:

Applying for Your First Teaching Position? Five Bits of Advice

Applying for your first teaching position is really exciting. Receiving calls for interviews is nerve-racking. Scattered thoughts and waves of emotion will cloud your ability to organize what is floating around in your head. That roller coaster will continue as you anxiously await and prepare to interview with your potential first teaching colleagues! But, before you begin maneuvering through this taxing chain of events, think about this handful of considerations.

1. Take your time.

Take your time to research schools, and as you begin to find vacancies that capture your interest, ensure that all your application pieces are in order to begin your application process. When you get a call, be patient. Getting hired into that first position is at the forefront of your mind, but proceed with caution. You may overlook some essential understandings about the school simply to secure a position. Yes, you really want to get into your first classroom, but avoid being the overeager beaver by accepting a position that may not be the right fit for you. Stand by your beliefs about teaching and learning, and you will be happy you did.

2. Anticipate your role.

While researching, you likely became familiar with the mission, vision, programming, and initiatives of prospective schools. Armed with this information, try to envision yourself in those schools and contemplate what your contributions to the community would look like. This will be helpful in your interviews.

3. Use your interview as a learning opportunity.

You may not land “the one” right away and you may feel disappointed or disillusioned as a result. But use these initial processes for job seeking as valuable learning opportunities. During your interview, ask about the staff investment in working toward that mission that you read about on the website. Ask about the professional learning opportunities that are in place for staff. By asking questions, you will get a sense of whether the school community members truly value building a positive culture. You, in turn, can share some of your own ideas about the importance of contributing to that positive culture of learning. Whether you land the position or not, ask for feedback from the interviewer to show the value you place on learning from constructive feedback.

4. Read, listen, and watch.

Although your mind will be set on landing a job and planning and setting up your classroom, allowing time to immerse yourself in pedagogical literature and media is an investment in your career. Read, listen to audiobooks, and watch TedTalks about school culture, building relationships, soft skills, and leadership. Talk about your learning with someone as this will help you build and solidify your understanding of the development of school and classroom culture. Once you do secure a position, you can shift the focus of your content consumption to the practical everyday classroom things which you can learn, practice, and manage on the day to day.

5. Be realistic AND positive.

Use the application and interviewing process as a chance to become enlightened about the reality of teaching and the education system. Because the land of education is a giant beast, it can be easy to get lost in a never-ending cycle of “re"forming, “trans"forming, or “over"forming teaching and learning. But stay positive, as it may take some time to find the right position at the right school with the right people. And when you find all your “rights,” the quality you held out for will make your experiences forever dear to your heart.

Response From Richard Gerver

Richard Gerver is a former teacher and school leader who has twice been named Business Speaker of the Year and has written three critically acclaimed best-selling books: Creating Tomorrow’s Schools Today; and the business best-sellers Simple Thinking and Change: Learn to Love it, Learn to Lead it. He recently contributed a chapter to the book Building People: Social-Emotional Learning for Kids, Families, Schools and Communities:

My daughter is one of thousands of people who have just gone through the process of applying for their first teaching post, so the experience is really fresh for us. The advice I gave her I want to share with you now. I hope it helps ... she got the first job she applied for, but that was far more about her than me.

Firstly, do your research; make sure that you understand the culture and community of the schools you want to work in. Go shopping in the catchment area just to “eavesdrop” on the community and understand whose children you will be teaching. Use the online presence of the school to climb under the skin of the place.

Secondly, make sure that your application is filled with concrete examples of the things that are important to you; don’t allow your letter to be an ideological statement. So, if you want to talk about the importance of creativity in the classroom, cite examples of your own experience or practice. Don’t allow your application form to be too sterile or formulaic. As a principal, I wanted a sense of personality to come through an application; I wanted potential teachers to pique my interest. I was always looking for three-dimensional teachers: people that had real interests and experiences beyond the classroom and the school gates that I believed would really add to the community.

Thirdly, don’t bend your beliefs or personality for the sake of a job. Teaching is a tough job, and great teachers need to be relaxed and happy to be themselves in their jobs. If you end up in a school where you were wrong for each other culturally, it makes for a deeply unhappy experience. You need to know that from day one, you are in a school where, as a teacher, you can be you.

Finally, at the interview, trust yourself ... be the you that the students will experience. When I was interviewing, my first thought was, “Will our students thrive under this person’s leadership?” Would I want my own children taught by this person? In responses to questions, be practical where you can; just like with the application, don’t allow yourself to be too theoretical. Make eye contact, smile, and let your passion for the job shine through.

Response From Otis Kriegel

Otis Kriegel is the author of Starting School Right: How do I plan for a successful first week in my classroom? (ASCD). Kriegel has taught elementary and middle school students for 15 years. He has taught in dual-language (Spanish/English and German/English), monolingual, and integrated co-teaching classrooms. Connect with him on Twitter @mynameisotis:

I have a ton of advice for people applying for their first teaching job, but one shines above the rest: Do not be shy about the fact that this will be your first year teaching! Talk about how enthusiastic you are to be starting out on this new career. First-year teachers bring idealistic, exciting energy to a school.

Let your prospective employer know that you are open to new ideas, ready to collaborate, and both fearful of failing and fearless to go for it. Like many people new to a job, you will come with a beginner’s mind and fresh ideas. New teachers can point out systems that have been in place because “that’s the way it has always been” and help get teachers and administrators out of ruts. Don’t be shy that this is your first teaching job! Say it proudly and be upfront about all of your dreams and your excitement about starting your new profession!

Response From Elaine Miles

Elaine Miles currently serves as a literacy coach at Estes Hills Elementary School in Chapel Hill, N.C. She has worked in the field of education as a teacher and instructional coach for 19 years. In addition to working with the school system in Chapel Hill, Elaine is a fellow with Hope Street Group. She holds a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from Trevecca Nazarene University as well as a master’s degree in reading education from UNC Pembroke:

One of the first pieces of advice that college graduates face when preparing for their first interview is “you have to sell yourself.” While that is true, teachers entering the profession must also market their flexibility and ability to cooperate and work with all types of individuals. While it is true that administrators want to know that a prospective candidate has a strong content-knowledge base, they also want to get a sense of how the teacher applies that content-knowledge base in the classroom.

As an instructional coach in my school, I have participated in many interviews for teaching positions. One of the questions we ask candidates is: “Describe a lesson that was successful. What made it successful and how would you modify the lesson in the future?” When prospective candidates can detail how the lesson unfolded and describe the impact on the students, it reveals that the teacher not only understands content but also applies that through instruction and reflects on what the lesson may look like next time.

Potential teachers must also be able to speak to how they worked with fellow colleagues. Teaching used to be a very isolated profession; however, now with the evolution of PLC’s (Professional Learning Communities), teachers must work closely with one another and view their colleagues as a another source of professional learning. Prospective teachers really need to speak to their experiences working in a PLC during their student-teaching time and speak to how they plan to contribute to their future PLC. I feel that if a prospective teacher applying for their first teaching job can really focus on how they applied their content to actual classroom practice and speak to how they contributed to student learning through collaboration, they can stand a chance to have a successful teaching career.

Response From Cindy Terebush

Cindy Terebush is an early-childhood consultant, presenter, and author:

Before looking for your first teaching job, reflect on your priorities and your vision for your career. What do you want to accomplish? What will challenge you as a professional to meet your highest aspirations? When people match their passion with the setting, it shows. Teaching is more than transmitting information from our brains to theirs. It is about inspiring the learner to accept new information and desire to know more. You can only do that when you are inspired yourself. As we teach children to reach higher, we also need to be continuously reaching higher. You need to seek a place that will be that setting for you.

When you are ready to apply, do your research! We live in a time when information is at our fingertips, so take advantage of that and learn as much as you can about the school, its administration, and current staff. As a consultant, I go to the websites of potential clients and read about their mission, goals, and staff. It is beneficial to go into any interview with knowledge about who you are talking to and who they already hired. When I was a preschool director, applicants would sometimes recount for me details about my professional life they’d learned before our meeting. I used to make notes that said, “Researched. Does homework.”

Finally, embrace what you bring to them. So many of us were raised to be so humble and self-deprecating that we don’t know how to communicate our talents. You can speak with passion and communicate your gifts without sounding overly boastful. Be prepared to talk about your best and worst experiences in a way that still lets the interviewer see that you have a great deal to offer. They will likely ask about both successes and challenges. Practice those answers with a trusted professor or colleague who understands the field of teaching.

Thanks to Beth, Jen, Tamera, Richard, Otis, Elaine, and Cindy for their contributions.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder;you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first seven years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn’t include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the “answers” category found in the sidebar.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Race & Gender Challenges

Classroom Management Advice

Best Ways to Begin The School Year

Best Ways to End The School Year

Implementing the Common Core

Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning

Teaching Social Studies

Project-Based Learning

Using Tech in the Classroom

Parent Engagement in Schools

Teaching English-Language Learners

Reading Instruction

Writing Instruction

Education Policy Issues

Student Assessment

Differentiating Instruction

Math Instruction

Science Instruction

Advice for New Teachers

Author Interviews

Entering the Teaching Profession

The Inclusive Classroom

Learning & the Brain

Administrator Leadership

Teacher Leadership

Relationships in Schools

Professional Development

Instructional Strategies

Best of Classroom Q&A

I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Four in a few days.

Related Tags:

The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.