When teachers start looking for a new (or first) job, it’s tempting to focus on rocking the interview by preparing for the questions that might be asked, thinking about what kind of job you want, or brushing up on edtech certifications and badges. It’s easy to think in terms of “What do I need to do to be an attractive candidate?” but it may be time to consider reframing the interview process as a two-way street.
In this era of teacher shortages and ever-increasing differences in pedagogical approaches between traditional public, charter, and private schools, it’s more important than ever to be sure that you’re applying for—and accepting—the right job for you. Knowing your nonnegotiables in a teaching job is important, but so is knowing what questions to ask and why. Here’s some language to start from—pick and choose based on what matters most to you, what you learn in your pre-interview research, and what you hear in the interview itself.
Questions to Ask Your Interviewer
1. What does good teaching look like here? And in addition: What do you expect to see and hear while you walk the halls? How do you support teachers in making that real? What happens when what you’re seeing doesn’t match what you expect?
You’ll learn a lot about the school’s espoused philosophy here and about how administrators approach professional learning. Is there a commitment to professional learning communities (PLCs) as a tool for reflection, or do teachers tend to work independently? Is there a collaborative planning process for grade levels or departments, or is autonomy more important? Is there an expectation that teachers will take a direct instruction approach or act as facilitators? Are administrators comfortable with productive noise, or is this a system where quiet and compliance are the norm? You should also walk away knowing how leadership supports teachers when things aren’t going well.
2. How do the faculty and staff build relationships with families? What would families say the greatest thing is about this school? What would they say they’d like to see change?
Building relationships with students and families is a big part of being successful in the classroom. These questions will help you find out what structures are in place and what the expectations are around processes for communication. Keep an ear open for references to rituals and traditions that help connect families and the community to the school. Are these inclusive of all kinds of families (and their schedules)? Is leadership aware of areas that need improvement (because all organizations have them)? Do they have a plan for filling in those gaps?
3. What do students like about coming to school here? And: How do you support the students who don’t like coming to school?
Students outnumber adults in school buildings. Take notice of the ways that leaders pay attention to their students’ experiences, and use that information for planning. Look for systems to gather input from all learners—not just the student council members or Beta Club students—and signs that the administration is aware of both the strengths and opportunities for connecting to all kids, including those who may not be finding connections at school.
4. How do you support new teachers? Is there a difference between how you support novice teachers and teachers who are experienced but new to the school?
These questions will help you understand what you can expect—an informal process within your department, a structured mentorship program, a new teachers’ group, or all three. Will you be part of a PLC? How will your mentor be selected and matched? What if it isn’t a good match? If you’re a beginning teacher, support in your first couple of years is going to make all the difference. If you’re an experienced but new-to-the-school teacher, how will your experience be differentiated? You’re bringing expertise, so listen for evidence that it will be recognized and valued.
5. Can I take a tour? A tour (if school is in session) will allow you to compare that espoused philosophy with actual pedagogy in practice. If school isn’t in session, pay attention to what you see on the walls in hallways and how classrooms are arranged and decorated. Notice how you feel as you walk through the building—experienced teachers will agree that you can tell a lot about a school from the way the space makes you feel.
Questions to Ask Yourself
The most important question, though, is one you’ll need to ask yourself before the application process begins: What do I think good teaching is? Turn that first question around on yourself—What does good teaching look like for you? What do you want your day-to-day experience to be? What do you want your students’ day-to-day experiences to be? When you close your eyes and imagine a good day teaching, what do you see?
Finally, compare the answers and your gut feelings about what you experienced (don’t undervalue your visceral sense—there’s good science behind trusting it). Can you be (or become) the kind of teacher you want to be as part of that community? Is this school a match for your philosophy, your priorities, your personality, your lifestyle? Finding a professional home—a school that serves you as you serve the students—is the key to a happy, rewarding teaching career.