3 Tips for a Successful ELA Teaching Interview and Job Hunt
July is here and its arrival makes me think of all those future teachers out there, stalking job websites and submitting online applications. It’s a wild time to think about stepping into your very own classroom for the first time. Looking for a job can be exciting but also very stressful.
One department chair asked if I could come in to teach a class for one period as part of the interview. Teach a class? I don’t know why I was so surprised. I never student taught, so it would be my first time in front of students. I decided to run an activity on symbolism before jumping into a poem by Dylan Thomas. I wrote a word on the board – ghost, rose, basement – and asked them to say the first thing that came into their head. I couldn’t believe it when I saw almost all the students raise their hands. I can do this, I thought. The bell rang before I even got to the poem. In another interview where I had to teach in front of a few students and administrators, I taught a passage I thought would be appropriate for the course instead of something I loved, and it showed. Here are the three things I learned from looking for a job:
1. Pursue any and all contacts you have in education.
One summer, I drove past my old high school and randomly decided to pop in and say hello to the principal. I had a yellow t-shirt on and flip flops. I quickly told him about my teaching job in Philly and asked if there were any positions. He put me in contact with his wife who eventually hired me. It’s funny to look back on that because I didn’t plan on going in – it never occurred to me that I should probably make an appointment.
2. Relax and have fun.
After one interview, I walked back to my car and looked at my reflection in the window. My popped right collar stuck up like an eagle’s wing. I just laughed. I used the word “hyper-prepared” to describe myself, so they probably had a good laugh at the irony. After another interview, after I walked out the door of the building, the principal came running out and told me that after quickly talking it over with the department chair, he would love to offer me the job. Sometimes you’ll be great and other times you’ll slip up. Don't take yourself too seriously or you won't be a pleasure to be around. You’ll end up at the right place eventually. Laugh, smile, tell stories, and be yourself – not the next superteacher. They want to work with a human who is willing to learn and be flexible, not a robot with perfectly prepared answers.
3. Know and be able to express the value of literature.
While you’re not a machine, it is important to prepare to speak at length about your favorite writers and the value of fiction and its place in the world. One interviewer asked me, why do you want to teach? I thought, what an easy and complicated question at the same time. My mind went back to the teachers of my childhood and the literature that inspired my love of reading and writing. Knowing the latest trends and buzzwords in education (differentiation, project-based learning) are not as important as showing your passion for teaching children. Great literature can change a person’s perspective and the course of their life. Now you just have to think, what book changed your perspective and your life, and how excited are you to watch a child experience a similar moment of transformation?
If you're still nervous and feel underprepared by your college degree, you can take one of my professional development courses on teaching ELA and even list it on your resume.
online professional development for high school English teachers