This summer, my family and I are moving to the Greensboro area of North Carolina. My husband has been named as the head football coach at a 3A high school, and we are excited to be in a situation where we are finally near our families for the first time in over 11 years. I am in the process of applying and interviewing for teaching jobs in the area. As it is a large system, there are several schools and potential placements for me. After thirteen successful years in the classroom, I’m really looking to “be myself” in this round of job hunting, hoping to land a position where I know I will fit based on where I am right now in my career.
My first interview was a phone interview, as we are currently over 3 hours away from where we are moving. I had a principal, assistant principal and team of teachers asking me questions from a set of interview questions that I know are standard for that county. I found myself getting frustrated while attempting to answer the questions because I didn’t feel like I could. How would you teach this? What would you do in this disciplinary situation? My answer. It’s hard to say. Who are my students? What happened that morning in the lunchroom? Is it for an advanced learner or one who struggles? Towards the end of the interview, I found myself apologizing because I felt like I didn’t tell them what I knew they wanted to hear. Of course, I can tell you a dozen ways to teach about fractions. I can give you thirty strategies for dealing with confrontational students. I can spout off better than average research based answers to these questions, but they wouldn’t have been authentic. Don’t get me wrong though. I didn’t apologize for not telling them what they wanted to hear. I simply wanted them to know that I apologized if I didn’t come across the way I meant to, but that I found it hard to answer what they were asking without knowing my students, their students.
So, how do you answer questions about best teaching practices and classroom management when you don’t know your students? How do you write lesson plans and unit activities for kids that you don’t know? It comes back to the old statement, “Teachers don’t teach math, reading, or writing. We teach children.” Individual children and their needs must come first in our lesson plan, our concept delivery, our classroom management systems, and every other element of teaching and learning. So, as I have gone into other interviews, I go into them saying that I am going to have a hard time answering their questions clearly because that’s not how I teach. I have figured out a few things about myself along the way.
There are a few things that I will and will not do…
1. I will not treat every child the same. John Wooden is one of my inspirations as a leader, teacher and coach. He teaches that everyone should strive for their personal best. This is not equal among children or adults. I will seek out every child’s personal best and try everything that I can find help them achieve it.
2. I will not do “if/then” discipline. If you forget your homework, you will call home. If you… blah, blah, blah. For me, this does not work when every child’s situation is different. And if I can’t be completely consistent with something, then I cannot do it at all. I will get to the root of the problem before I make the decision that I feel is in the best interest of the child and the class. I will involve others who have a stake in the child’s life and want the best for them. I will do whatever I can to make sure a child stays with me in class so we can focus on learning.
3. I will not beat a dead horse, as the expression goes. I try to go into a lesson with a plan that will engage my students and reach them with new learning. I can usually tell if it’s going to work within about 15 minutes. If I can clearly see that a plan isn’t meeting the learning needs of my students, I won’t keep shoving it down their throats, even if I spent hours designing it and think it’s the best lesson ever. I will go into a lesson with other strategies in my back pocket and be willing to change and adapt to meet the changing needs of my students.
4. I will not make major decisions about instructional strategies and best practices without knowing my students. I need formal assessment data and a chance to get to know their personalities before I can really make decisions about how to best reach them. I also need their input. I will get to know my students, not their cumulative folders or previous test scores or prior teachers’ opinions of them.
5. I will not be an island. I cannot teach in a situation where everyone closes their doors to the school around them and just teaches. In my opinion, I have to model the collaboration that I seek from my students. Selfishly, I don’t want to stand alone. I don’t need to prove anything. I will ask for help, will seek to build authentic relationships with my peers, and will keep an open door for others in my building. I will share and need an environment where that practice is cultivated.
Do you think I can just go into an interview and say that? In this crazy, testing obsessed, accountable world, would you hire me?