Teaching Opinion

Interview Tip: Don’t Be Negative About Your Teaching

By Ariel Sacks — May 09, 2017 3 min read
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Imagine going on a blind date with someone who tells you within the first 30 minutes that they have stinky feet. I can picture the expression on your face right now. I mean, in the context of a solid relationship, this issue wouldn’t be a deal breaker for most. That’s because attraction and commitment would have already been established—at which point stinky feet is an issue that can be solved or at least improved with some conversation and effort. But it’s not what you want to think about when you’re forming a first impression.

Is it dishonest not to mention that your feet often stink on the first date? I think not; I actually think it would be inappropriate to mention unless the other party explicitly asks to know. Getting a job requires you to be both principled and strategic. There is a fine line between being appropriately honest, and well, shooting yourself in the foot.

Be Principled But Be Strategic In an Interview

Know this. Everything you do in the interview process is magnified. The members of a hiring team (generally) don’t know you at all. Whatever you choose to share is all we have. To play our roles well in the hiring process, we must consider all of the details we know very carefully. You live your professional life every day, but the details you provide in an interview have a different proportional weight for us than for you.

Given that weight, don’t casually refer to that one class that pushes all your buttons, or those days when students are bonkers with spring fever, or that unit that was a complete flop. Even though we all can relate to these experiences, we will unfortunately integrate strong negative images into our very limited vision of who you are as a teacher. We will find it hard not to wonder what other negative realities lurk behind the stated one. This won’t be inspiring or reassuring for us as we choose a person to educate our students and become our newest colleague.

Like Tips #1 and #2, representing your best self might sound obvious. But I’m emphasizing it because I was surprised to hear many teachers communicate negative aspects of their own teaching when I least expected it. Interviews that were going quite well felt much different for me after teachers said things like this:

Interviewer: Tell us about a book you’ve enjoyed teaching in your class.

Response: Well [facial expression looks like trying to recall] we really weren’t able to complete any novels that we started this year, but...


Interviewer: Tell us about some of the routines you’ve set up in your class, or how a typical class period would go.

Response: Well, when everyone behaves [comedic eye roll], we...

On the one hand, I know better than to make a judgment on a teacher based on either of these comments alone. (Some might disagree with me there, but I’ll stand by the statement.) On a gut level, however, it was hard to shake the lack of confidence that came when a portal in my imagination opened up to include a room full of students giving up on reading (in the first case), and a room full of students bucking a daily routine (in the second case). It just wasn’t a good look.

Present Your Best Teaching Self For Everyone’s Sake

First, assume that your interviewer knows that teaching and learning are context dependent activities, sensitive to all kinds of factors, in addition to the hugely important role of the teacher. We know that teaching involves risk-taking, and that it simply doesn’t always go well.

With this understanding in mind, proceed to presenting your best self. You would not purposely dress yourself in your worst outfit for a job interview. Likewise, don’t paint yourself poorly with words.

An interview occurs at the precipice of what might be a difficult change for both parties, possibly involving disappointment or worry, as well as an exciting opportunity, toward something new and maybe even wonderful. You need to tap into that sense of hope and excitement in an interview. Your interviewers are really hoping you will give them a sense of excitement about the future. When we ask you to describe your teaching in an interview, we want to know what you see, think and do, when it’s going well.

A new teaching position is a new beginning, and that’s a chance to envision your ideal classroom—one where you’ve learned lessons from past mistakes and are progressing in the lifelong process of becoming the teacher you set out to be. Orient your mind around where you are in that progression and where you plan to go, and interview from that perspective.

Stay tuned for one more post in this series—about those times when you might actually be asked to share something negative.

[image credit: transp at flickr.com]

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The opinions expressed in Teaching for the Whole Story 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.