Based in Long Beach, California, "Teach Me Mr. West" is a blog by Jason West. His posts explore the rewards and challenges of being a highly effective 21st century educator.

The Interview

The Interview

Welp, it’s May! If we are all being honest with ourselves—and hey, if this blog has done anything, it has provided us all with a space to be honest with ourselves…here, I’ll show you what I mean [looks in mirror]: Jason, you can’t defend Kanye anymore. The man has lost his damned mind and if you keep hitching yourself to his wagon, people are going to start to worry about you as well. Yes, I know you have the same last name…yes I know College Dropout was amazing, but that was over 10 years ago, my dude! I don’t care how good this new album is supposed to be! Just let Kanye go, already!! It’s too late for him but it doesn’t have to be too late for you! Let Kanye go! LET. KANYE. GO.—if we’re being truly honest with ourselves, none of us really thought May would ever get here this year. Frankly, I’m still quite dubious that June and July are ever going to happen.

May is an extremely important time of the year for students (especially high school students) for a variety of reasons: standardized testing, college signing day, prom, the official start to “I’m wearing clothes that are inappropriately scant given that the weather isn’t even that warm, yet” season. For soon-to-be teachers, May is the all-important month when you start figuring out where you are going to work next school year. So, with May flowers and midriffs starting to bloom, I wanted to share some interview questions and tips for the soon-to-be teachers of the world.

First, CONGRATULATIONS on landing a job interview! Teaching is one of those weird professions where the rate of people loving it is equal to the rate at which they burn out on it. Y’know, like being married to a Kardashian.

Everyone you know and everyone they know will have advice for you on how to dress and what to bring with you to an interview. Not me, though. Wear inappropriately scant summer clothing for all I care (but no, don’t really do that). This post is going to be a little different. What I want to talk about are my 5 essential questions you should absolutely be prepared for, and how you might want to answer them. Are there more than 5 essential questions you should be prepared for in an interview? Sure, of course there are! But this is my blog so I get to make the rules here.

1.         “Can you tell us a bit about yourself?”

This is your basic first-date question. If you don’t land this one, the administrator(s) interviewing you will essentially swipe left. Don’t be weird here. It’s fine to mention that you have a dog that you love named Mr. Glitterpants, but don’t take out photos from the time you two did a couples costume for Halloween. Admittedly, a human and an English bulldog dressing up as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito from the 1988 cinematic masterpiece “Twins” is objectively funny—but the focus should really be on your personality and the value you bring to the school. Unless Mr. Glitterpants, is going to be your TA, there’s no need to make him the focus of your answer.

2.         “When I visit your classroom,  what will I typically see and hear?”

Think of this question as an alternative to “Describe what it is like to be a student in your classroom.” Also, think of it as a trap. This question is begging you to give a generic beauty pageant answer. You would see many smiling students, a teacher who loves his/her job, and a real love for all the learning happening within those four walls. And such, so forth, the Iraq and thus.

Unfortunately, your answer just bored me (the administrator) so much that I started watching that 12-minute video of Kanye getting yelled at by TMZ employees. By the way, I really wanna be mad at that video and say things like, “Where does TMZ get off…” buuuuut, they were kinda right…What happened to you, Kanye? You used to have a beautiful genius mind! Now you’re getting schooled by the underlings of Harvey Levin?! ‘Twas quite the fall, Icarus. Quite the fall, indeed.

Oh, right. Back to your boring answer. Don’t do that. Be specific. Nothing says, “I really know my craft” like specificity. Before you go into your interview, prepare for this question by thinking of a specific lesson or specific structures and routines that you embed (or will embed) into your class. Will you put your students into groups? Will they work with technology? Will you use gradual release method? Say so! You don’t have to give the full summary of every aspect of your class, but talk a bit about how exactly you would structure your lessons, how exactly it will look when your students are engaged (don’t just say “happy” or “working in groups”), how exactly you manage behavior. Again, you are vying to be responsible for THE WELFARE AND EDUCATION OF CHILDREN, not the 2018 Ms. New Bedford, Massachusetts crown—which, incidentally, is the easiest award to win. Are you a raccoon? You’re not? Congratulations! You are the new Ms. New Bedford!!

3.         Describe your philosophy on student discipline.

Remember how that first question was more like a first date question? Well, think of this as another first date question, only it’s one of those subtle first date questions where you’re secretly hoping the other person says they believe in something similar to what you believe, because you’ll judge them if they say something you don’t believe in, but you also don’t want them to say, “I’ll believe whatever you want me to believe” because you ultimately want to be with someone who will challenge you, but not try to change you. Man, dating is hard.

With this question, you’ll want to do one of two things: Either provide a broad answer or a hyper-specific one. For the broad answer, talk about how you are prepared to take as many steps as possible before ever even considering involving the office staff or administrators. There is nothing a principal hates more than teachers who send kids to the office at the slightest infraction. Perhaps you believe in giving students many chances, or steps, before referring them to the office (hint: you should believe in this!). Or, if you want to go the other route, a hyper-specific response could come in the form of an anecdote about how you successfully dealt with a very challenging student. But be careful here. Again, you don’t want to share something that makes you look like a weirdo: I told Johnny that what he was doing was wrong. Then I called his mom and told her. Then I brought my dog, Mr. Glitterpants into the room and we went through Kanye’s erratic Twitter feed and all had a good cry because, man what happened to that guy??

Either way, your answer should contain the following subtext: I know how to manage my students. If a student gets out of line, I know how to handle it in an appropriate and effective manner. I promise to never involve you unless I’ve completely exhausted all other options.

4.         How do you make sure you’re meeting the needs of every subgroup in your classroom (EL, SpEd, GATE, et al)?

You know how everyone tells you to bring a show and tell portfolio to exhibit your excellent teaching? Well here’s when you should bust that thing out, baby! Show off your lessons and your collected student work—but be sure that your collected student work represents a variety of skill-level. Nothing says, “I’ve never really taught before, but I’d like you to think I’m a magical fairy who can elicit college-level work from any third grade student” like showing your three best work samples from your top three students.

Teaching is hard and student variety is real. Don’t be afraid to bring in the work of your lowest achieving student. In fact, I’d encourage you to do this. If you bravely walk the interviewers through your thought process when developing this lesson, if you show them all of the thought and effort you put into crafting a lesson or unit with these subgroups in mind, and if you talk about the data you used to develop your teaching strategies for that lesson…I’d be shocked if you weren’t hired off that alone. Teachers with truly reflective, data-driven teaching practices are catnip for administrators. Oh, you care about achieving success with every subgroup and you’re constantly using data and reflection to refine your teaching practice? Excuse me, but I have to go crazy and run around the room at top speeds for the next fifteen minutes. Oh, also, you’re hired.

5.         Describe a teaching experience that went poorly and discuss what you would do differently in hindsight.

This is one of those questions that, in the moment, you’ll feel like you’re about to step in a trap. On one hand, you don’t want to come across as arrogant—I’ve never had a bad teaching experience! I’m so great! On the other hand, you don’t want to come across as a hot mess—Well, there was this one time when I threw my stapler at a student…

So how do you best answer this seemingly loaded question? Fearlessly. I know that seems crazy, but it’s true. Teaching can be very hard at times and nobody is an instant expert in anything. Mistakes have to be made in order to grow and gain mastery. And, as far as any admin are concerned, nothing shows confidence and humility like a fearless approach to failure. Here was a situation in which I made an error (for whatever reason—inexperience, bias, immaturity, etc.). I reflected on this mistake and either corrected it as quickly as possible, or, because I was never able to make it right, I’ll spend the rest of my career making sure I never repeat that mistake again.

Mistakes in life are not just accepted, they are expected…that is especially true in the field of education. Just don’t tell people you went and got liposuction because you were so worried the media would start calling you fat for no apparent reason. That would be weird.

Did I miss something? If you’re a veteran teacher and want to add some advice to all the soon-to-be-teachers, please drop it in the comments section below!
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