Any job interview can be a stressful experience, and school interviews are no exception. However, the more prepared you are to answer the key questions which will show that you deserve the job, the easier it will be to land the position that you want. Here are some of the most common questions that school managers ask new staff, and what they are looking for when they do.
1) How would you describe yourself as a teacher?
This is quite a loaded question; of course, no-one will do themselves down when they answer, but the aspects of your work which you choose to focus on will speak volumes about how you work in the classroom.
A good teacher should put their students before themselves in everything that they do, so a good way to answer this is to flip it around and talk about how your students would describe you. Think of a really positive classroom experience you have had, and think about how the students felt in that magic class. Did they have fun? Did they achieve something special in English? Did they do something creative, and use the language you were teaching along the way? These are experiences which will go a long way to helping you describe your style of teaching in a positive light.
Notice that the examples of successful teaching go beyond the fun factor and focus on the language and communication skills that the students in your class showed. Don’t get carried away with fluffy, passionate, creative aspects of your teaching - school managers want to know that their teachers are focused and capable of getting the most from their students as well as having fun, so think about discipline and attention to what your students are learning along with the enjoyment and fun activities that you use in your teaching.
2) How do you ensure that your students are learning in your classes?
As a continuation to the first question, academic managers will probably get into the specifics of how you facilitate learning in your students - this is the fundamental reason you are in the classroom, after all. In most language classrooms, the best evidence of learning is not how much the students understand, measured through tests and exams (though performance at the end of a period of study is important). The best evidence of learning comes to you from minute to minute in the classroom, as learners demonstrate the language and skills they are learning.
Realistically, demonstrated learning does not mean getting everything right all the time. That’s a sign that the class is too easy for them, or that they are in the wrong level of study. Evidence of learning means identifying the point where the students are starting from at the beginning of a lesson, or a week of lessons, and working with them to address their issues, notice and correct their errors and work with them until they can show that they can use the language you are teaching independently. By most definitions, if every student in the class is participating, and showing what they know, then the teacher has enough evidence to know who is learning and who needs more.
3) How do you deal with a student who…
This question can be finished in a hundred different ways, all of them potentially problematic for the teacher. Listen carefully to this question, as it will tell you something about the kinds of student you are likely to have in your classes. To prepare for this question, do some research into the school and its students. Are they all of the same nationality? Are they mostly kids or teenagers? Are they likely to be high-performing or to lack motivation? This will change the way this question is likely to be asked, and therefore you need to think about how you would address issues with students of this background.
Common issues raised in this question are lack of motivation, lack of participation, being dominant or overbearing, disruptive or who refuses to follow the asks given to them. These are all classroom management issues, so a good fix-all for this kind of problem is to prevent the issue before it starts. Again, do some research into preventative classroom management strategies for maintaining discipline, encouraging group participation and raising engagement levels in that type of student. Having a couple of specific disciplinary procedures to offer to this question can go a long way.
4) Describe a lesson you taught recently that went badly - how did you resolve the problem?
This question, and the one following, are the typical, end-of-interview question that every job applicant dreads: ‘what is your greatest flaw/weakness?’. Luckily, in teaching, this can easily be made into a positive. Academic managers typically want to see a commitment to professional development at every level of the industry. They themselves will probably be involved in professional development for their own benefit, and will probably deliver development sessions for their teachers, so don’t shy away from this important fact of the job.
No matter what level a teacher is working at, or how much experience they have, everyone has nightmare lessons on a regular basis. Being honest about this, and showing the ability to overcome these challenges will tell your future employer that you can deal with this common issue independently, by rethinking what you do and taking a reflective approach to your development. The important thing for you as an interviewee is to be prepared to talk honestly about the negatives you have experienced as well as the positives. If it has happened to you, the chances are your interviewer will have experienced the same thing several times over, so see it as a chance to share a typical issue and the positive solution that you used to overcome it.
5) What areas of your teaching do you need to develop?
As with the previous question, honesty is the best policy when looking at professional development points, and again a specific example of a teaching puzzle that has come up in your work recently, that you genuinely engaged with and wanted to find out more about, will show that you are open to continuous development activity.
If you don’t have a specific development point in mind, think of a high-level grammar or pronunciation point, or a specific teaching approach that you would like to try out to mix things up a bit, and make that a project for your own development in your next position. Don’t go too crazy with this, but identify a point that you really don’t have much experience with, and it will show that you are open to developing in specific ways.
As an interview strategy, turning this around and asking what kind of development activity happens at the school will go further to show your commitment to professional development.
Overall, remember that your interviewer will know from the moment they meet you that you are not the perfect teacher (spoiler alert: neither is he/she!) so own that and make it part of your development process. Have specific examples of evidence from your experience, even if it is only from your training course or short-term job, and focus on the students and the classroom solutions you have developed rather than the classroom problems that are implied by the questions. Do your research into the school, its students and the style they present in their marketing material, and turn questions around to the interviewer to find out more about what goes on at the school. The more knowledge you have about how they operate, the more focused you can make your responses as the interview progresses.
Finally, good luck! Be prepared and you’ll get the job you’re looking for!
Tom Garside is a teacher trainer, education developer and development consultant with over 20 years of experience in the UK, China, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Malta. He is Course Director for the Language Point / Trinity College London blended CertTESOL course, which is held on-site at partner locations around the world, and has written a reader-friendly e-resource for developing teachers: TESOL, A Gateway Guide, and a pronunciation teaching resource pack: Pronunciation Card Games.
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