Don’t walk into a job interview without the proper preparation. In a job market where school administrators can hire from the top 5-10% of the applicants, it is important to know what administrators seek in a new hire.
1. A good first impression. Employers want to hire professionals. Your attire, your speech, your mannerisms and even your handshake are being evaluated. Principals know that their impression of you will be the same as the parents’ first impression, and teachers represent the school at all times. Parents will complain about a teacher’s dress, hair and lack of organization or poise. Therefore, principals want to hire someone who will not garner parent complaints. Hint: Practice an interview with an administrator at your current school or the director of your college career center during student teaching. Look great when you interview. Be poised and positive.
2. Classroom management. A school administrator’s biggest fear is hiring a new teacher whose room will be chaotic. Have a classroom management plan with rules, positive reinforcements and corrective actions in your portfolio. Be ready to share how you established routines and procedures in a previous classroom. Practice your answers to questions about management and discipline because you will be asked these questions.
3. Differentiation. Sometimes it seems that every classroom has become an old-fashioned one-room country school, with students progressing at varying academic levels. You will be asked how you have differentiated instruction, so be ready to speak to that question and to show an example from your portfolio. Principals need to know that you have had experience with students of varying academic levels in one classroom and that you have met their needs.
4. Raising student achievement and test scores. Schools are graded on how well their students perform, and as a teacher you will be graded on your students’ test scores. In your interview, be sure to talk about your experience preparing students for standardized tests. Provide concrete examples of how individual student achievement increased, or how overall scores increased in a previous classroom or in student teaching. Hint: Share an example in your portfolio with all identities removed.
5. Flexibility. Employers need to hire teachers who can teach more than one grade level and/or subject. Job seekers who stress their interest and experience in multiple areas are much more desirable. While many elementary teachers are licensed to teach kindergarten through 6th grade, some only list kindergarten through 2nd grade as their job objective. This limits job opportunities.
6. Growth into a leadership position. Many schools have lead teachers for grade levels and department chairs. Share your past experience in leadership roles to inform the employer of your potential to grow into a leadership role once hired. Serving as a dorm counselor in college is a leadership role example, as well as being an officer in your college sorority or fraternity. Or perhaps you worked as a manager in a previous job or have served your church or a community organization.
7. Completing paperwork on time. Principals do not want to babysit their teachers. They do not want to have faculty members who are late with grades or required paperwork. Think of an example of how you have met deadlines and completed large tasks and be ready to share that example in an interview. If you haven’t led a big project in a school, but did so in your previous job or college experience, talk about that.
8. Being strong enough to earn tenure. New hires should remember that administrators want their teachers to succeed. Retention of quality teachers is always a priority for schools. Having to release a weak teacher is a time-consuming and difficult task for an administrator. Principals with high teacher turnover rates often get lower evaluations themselves, so they want to hire quality people who can earn tenure. Share an example of your longevity at a summer job, previous job or your continued service in an organization to demonstrate your persistence.
9. Being pleasant, positive and nice. It is important to be enthusiastic about being a teacher. As one administrator said, “I need to know that my new hires are on-fire and ready to get students to accomplish big things. I have enough burned-out teachers. I need energetic new people to lead the way.” Principals do not want to hire a teacher who will garner complaints from other teachers with a negative attitude. Be positive, pleasant and nice—which is also being a professional. Hint: The school’s support staff/secretaries will often report a candidate’s behavior to the principal, so be professional to everyone you meet in an interview.
Dr. Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College, northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Her research on the hiring of new teachers has received national recognition. She is the author of “The Definitive Guide to Getting a Teaching Job” and “First Time in the High School Classroom.”