Questions for the 3 Phases of Interviews

Asks for “The Before,” “The During,” and “The After”

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These Responses Are Critical for Marketing Yourself & Landing a Job

pcmea

This article was inspired by my recent participation in virtual mock interviews on Zoom for PCMEA members and senior music education majors.

It is up to you to do the research and plan ahead!

What is that “scout’s motto?” Be prepared!

Or, to put it another way, more “near and dear” to the average music student:

  • “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” (Practice, practice, practice!)
  • “How do you get a job?” (Practice, practice, practice!) AND
    (Prepare, prepare, prepare!)
    a focus on the BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER phases of an interview!

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The Before

Prior to every job screening, walk in well-informed. Investigate in advance the background information of the school district:

  • The job opening and responsibilities
  • Details about the overall music program, number of staff, courses offered, etc.
  • School district’s mission/vision/value statements
  • Validation of administrative support for the arts
  • Examples of community support for music education
  • Work environment and employee attitudes

Be a detective! Look for responses to these inquiries “surfing the ‘Net,” studying the district’s website, reading local media releases, and, if you are able to, finding someone who is already employed there:

  1. What do you know about this school district?
  2. What is the average make-up (socioeconomic, education, racial, etc.) of the community? Is it mostly urban, rural, suburban? Are the majority of the jobs blue collar, white collar, entrepreneurial, agricultural, or mixed?
  3. What educational, cultural, and sport/leisure activities are available to the residents in and around the area?
  4. What philosophies or approaches are emphasized in the school district’s strategic plan and/or annual Board of School Director’s goals?
  5. What are samples of student, staff, building, and school district awards and traditions?
  6. magnifying-glass-106803_1920_geraltHow many class periods (not counting lunch) are structured for the academic day? Are specific grade levels or buildings organized in block scheduling, “period 0” and/or before/after-school curricular or co-curricular classes, lesson pullouts, period rotations or A/B weeks, etc.?
  7. How often is the curriculum revised or updated?
  8. What is the school district grading scale and music grading policy/practice?
  9. What music classes and extra-curricular activities are offered?
  10. Are any specialties or disciplines emphasized or promoted, e.g. Kodaly, Orff, Dalcroze, Little Kids Rock or Modern Band, World Drumming, Suzuki, Competitive Marching Band, Strolling Strings, etc.?
  11. What position(s) is(are) open and what duties are required?
  12. What avenues of professional development exist?
  13. What percentage of students are in the music program?
  14. What percentage of the music students own instruments, take lessons, and seek participation in outside ensembles?
  15. What indicators of cooperative parental and community support exist (concert attendance, private teachers, booster groups, community arts organizations, etc.)?
  16. What resources are budgeted (sheet music, music technology, field trips, piano tuning, instruments and instrumental repair, teacher in-service, festivals, etc.)

What answers you cannot find, you may ask at the end of the interview.

how to ace your job interview

 

The During

So much has already been written about commonly asked interview questions. (Please revisit the blogs posted at https://paulfox.blog/becoming-a-music-educator/.) To “let the cat out of the bag,” when I am asked to do “mock interviews” for music education majors, the following are “my favorites.” You may also want to read my last article, “Coaching Advice for Acing Those Employment Interview Questions” at https://paulfox.blog/2020/01/26/more-on-teacher-interviews/.

  1. Tell us something about yourself… your strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future.
  2. Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a music teacher and why?
  3. What are the most important qualities of an outstanding music educator?
  4. Describe a successful lesson plan you have developed.
  5. How will you accommodate students with special needs or varied interests in your music program?
  6. How would you recruit/encourage students and “grow” interest and participation in the music program?
  7. interview-2207741_1920_geraltDescribe your approach to introducing a musical concept: singing matching pitches, keeping a steady
  8. Why is it important for students to be actively engaged in the performing arts?
  9. Why should I hire you for this position?
  10. Describe your background and knowledge of each of the following methodologies, and for a general music position, which one is your favorite? Orff, Kodaly, Dalcroze?
  11. Describe a lesson that did not materialize in a manner that you expected. What did you learn from this experience?
  12. If you were hired as a high school band director at the last minute the third week of September, and the marching style was contrary to your preference to teach, how would you adapt?
  13. What are three adjectives students would use to describe you?
  14. How would you assess the learning in your rehearsals?
  15. What is most important to you? Music outcomes, content, or process?

You will probably be asked, “Do you have any questions for me?” by the interviewer. You should show your interest, forethought, and advanced preparation by coming up with a few, or adapt several of the 16 pre-interview samples in the “Before” section above. At the very least, if the principal or supervisor of the posted position happens to be in the room, you could inquire: “Where do you see the program in 10 years?” or “What is the most valued attribute of a ______ School District educator?”

Raising the bar

 

 

The After

As soon as it is over (immediately when you get home – don’t put it off!), debrief yourself. Do an assessment of your positives and areas for improvement or needs for further practice. To formalize this process, try any number of evaluative rubrics (for examples, visit https://paulfox.blog/2019/05/14/job-interview-rubrics/). Or, just summarize your observations into strengths (+) and weaknesses (-) referencing the elements of attitude, speech, language, body language, content/on topic, and preparation. (See the first box above.)

feedback-796140_1920_geraltAre you telling me it’s time to bring up more questions? Yep, to finalize your interview’s “postmortem,” reflect on these queries, which will become your focal points in preparation of your next job screening.

The first “biggie critique” might take a little while to follow-up and re-train. This is important since most of the professionals who serve on interview screening committees are administrators, HR staff members, or curriculum supervisors (not music content specialists). And, in the same breath, most music education majors are not well versed on these “buzz words” since they may be only briefly mentioned during their music courses.

1.     How many times did you use appropriate general educational terminology and current school jargon? Here are a few samples of “the ABCs.” If you do not know the meanings, Google search them or look up sites like https://resilienteducator.com/classroom-resources/education-terminology-jargon/, https://www.teachervision.com/dictionary-educational-jargon, and https://wwndtd.wordpress.com/education-jargon/. (If you really want to dive into an interesting “lingo generator,” experiment with https://www.sciencegeek.net/lingo.html, which may also help you define associations among related educational terms used in the composition of reports, grant applications, and other documents for accreditation.)

  • Assessments – Authentic, Formative (“for learning”), Summative (“of learning”), and Diagnostic
  • CCCC (The Four C’s) – 21st Century Learning Skills of Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking
  • Classroom Management and the concepts of “Assertive Discipline” and “Ladder of Referral”
  • Charlotte Danielson’s Four Domains – Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities
  • DOK – Depth of Knowledge and HOTS – Higher Order Thinking Skills
  • ESSA – Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), successor to NCLB (No Child Left Behind)
  • knowledge-5014345_1920_geraltIEPs  – Individualized Education Program, including IDEA (disabilities), 504 plans, accommodations for special needs, differentiated and customized learning, etc.
  • LMS – Learning Management System (software used by schools to track grades, take attendance, deliver curriculum, and offer/evaluate courses, etc.)
  • Middle School (or Middle Level Learner) Philosophy
  • PLN/PLC – A Personal Learning Network or Professional Learning Community
  • PBL – One of two different concepts: Project-Based or Problem-Based Learning
  • SEL – Social-Emotional Learning
  • SAS – Standards Aligned Systems of the PDE (Pennsylvania Department of Education)
  • STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math
  • UBD – Understanding by Design, “backwards-design” curriculum development with EU (Enduring Understandings) and EQ (Essential Questions)

Of course, if you were “nailed” by not knowing terminology or acronyms of which you never heard, don’t “fake it!” Just be honest with the interviewers (they cannot expect a “raw recruit” fresh out of college to know everything), but never-the-less, look it up as soon as you return home. You’ll be ready for the next interview. (“Catch me once, shame on you. Catch me twice, shame on me!”)

More questions to help you evaluate your performance:

2.     At the interview, did you project the image that you are solely qualified to serve as a specific music content-area specialist? In other words, are you only a “band director,” “vocal conductor,” EL/MS general music teacher, piano/guitar accompanist, jazz instructor, music theorist, or string “maestro?” Did you basically imply to the screener(s) that you would not accept any assignment outside your “comfort zone,” and that your Music Pre-K-12 Instructional I Certificate is not worth the paper on which it is printed?

3.     If you had videotaped the interview, how would you characterize your rapport with the screening individual or committee? To what extent did you demonstrate an attitude of openness, cooperation, sensitivity to the interviewer’s style/personality, and fostering of the four C’s of the model interviewee behavior – be calm, caring (motivated), congenial, and considerate?

4.     Were you “engaged” in treating the session as a mutually beneficial exchange of information?

5.     learn-3653430_1920_geraltDid you respond to the interviewer’s questions “on topic” with clear, concise, and substantiated statements, supported by specific anecdotes/stories or examples of your skills or experiences?

6.     Did you avoid “bird walking,” “tap-dancing,” having verbal clutter (too many run-on statements), rambling, fast talking, sounding verbose, being flip or too casual/informal in conversation, or going overboard with your answers?

7.     How many times (count them) did you use the words “ah,” “um,” or “like?”

8.     Did you promote your strengths and all experiences (musical and non-musical) you have had interacting positively with children, and not discount your potential and capabilities due to a limited past job record or shortened time in student teaching?

9.     How successful were you in controlling your nerves, looking interested, “being yourself,” and demonstrating good eye contact, pleasant facial expressions, and relaxed and professional speech, posture, and body language?

10.  Did you avoid the use of “weak words” that suggest a lack of conviction: “kind of,” or “sort of,” or “I feel like?”

11.  Did you limit any form of “fidgeting,” such as tapping or shuffling feet, cracking knuckles, touching hair or face, drumming or spinning a pen between your fingers, wiggling in your seat, etc.?

12.  How many times did you use the name of the interviewer(s) during your interview? It shows respect and is the best way to get/keep his/her attention.

 

Observations at interview

In summary, treat the job search process more scientific:

  • Be diligent in practicing mock interviewing with classmates, friends, and family members,
  • Plan ahead, and
  • Formalize your questions and self-assessments.

The jobs are out there… waiting for you to “hook them in,” and as every good fisherman knows: “Nothing replaces time on the water, patience, and the ability to admit to yourself there is always something to learn and a better way to do it.”

PKF

 

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Photo credits from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann (geralt):

 

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

More on Teacher Interviews

Coaching Advice for Acing Those Employment Interview Questions

There is a huge body of information on preparing for the job search process, interviews, and marketing yourself previously posted at this site. Where should you go first? Be sure to survey the following blogs:

What else do you think we should cover on this topic? How about some specific “coaching” in recommended answers to commonly asked interview questions… tips from the experts, HR staff, interviewers, supervisors, and the like. We give each resource “the baton” and “the podium” to offer a glimpse in the triumphs, pitfalls, and pratfalls of frequently observed interviewee responses. For grasping the full comprehension and context, follow-up by reading the entire article posted at each link.

Many of these suggestions are geared to “general education” teacher interviews, but you can apply them to whatever specialty or grade level to which you are applying. After all, the person sitting at the other side of the desk is probably an administrator or director of curriculum, not a current/former music educator.

Again, be sure to visit each website. All told, there are more than 108 sample questions and responses in these collections below!

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What is your teaching philosophy?

Teacher interview questions like this ask, “Are you a good fit for our school?” It’s the teaching equivalent of “tell me about yourself.” But —

Don’t answer elementary teacher interview questions for an unstructured school with, “I believe in structured learning.”

Take the time to learn the school’s philosophy before the interview.

Example answer: “I believe in teaching to each student’s passion. For instance, in one kindergarten class, my students had trouble with punctuation. I observed that one student, Mary, suddenly got excited about apostrophes. I fueled her passion with a big book on punctuation. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and soon the entire class was asking bright and animated questions. Whenever possible, I try to deliver structured lessons in an unstructured way like this.”

That answer uses the S.T.A.R. approach to teaching interview questions. It shows a Situation, a Task, an Action, and a Result.

“25 Teacher Interview Questions and Answers” by Tom Gerencer

This is from a Zety “career toolbox” website. They also offer an outstanding app to “build” a resume, CV, and cover letter, all with excellent examples.

 

Why do you want to be a teacher/work with children?

You have to know who you are as an individual and as an educator, and you have to know what you can bring to the school… This question gets to the heart of that self-awareness and passion. The interviewer wants to know: What drew you to this field, specifically?

How to answer it: It’s obvious of course, but you don’t want to say, “Summer vacations!” This should be easy to answer simply because there’s probably something you can think of that made you want to get into education. Maybe you love teaching your friends new things, or are a facts wizard bursting with knowledge, or love connecting with children. Focus not just on what you like about teaching but also on what you can… bring to the table.

For example, you might say: “I really admired my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kim, when I was younger, and even after I left her class I still felt myself drawn to her for advice and guidance over the years. It’s that sense of warmth and acceptance she provided me that inspired me to become a teacher. I want to be that person others can lean on as they navigate the oftentimes tough waters of growing up.”

“15 Common Questions Asked in a Teacher Interview (and How to Answer Them With Ease)” by Alyse Kalish

In addition, the site above shares several important pointers from Calvin Brown, Senior Recruiter at Alignstaffing, an education staffing firm, and Dan Swartz, Managing Director at Resolve Talent Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in education recruitment.

Reaffirming the blog S is for storytelling at interviews: “If you have a situation or a story with a great outcome, absolutely share [it],” says Brown. “Stories are also a great ways to highlight your expertise and skill set if you don’t come with a traditional background in education.” Swartz adds, “Even if you’re not a teacher with experience, you can still highlight how you go about your work by giving past examples and scenarios of engaging others.”

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How would you handle a difficult student?

Mary Findley, Senior Teacher Success Manager at Skillshare, former Teach for America Core Member and elementary school teacher, suggests this scenario and answer:

“When students are disengaged, it’s either because the content’s too challenging, it’s too easy, or there could be some outside-of-school factors,” explains Findley. A good answer delves into figuring out the cause, as that’s often the most important step.

Then, your response should show that “you’re meeting the student where they’re at and building on their strengths,” she says. It should also emphasize that you’re “collaboratively discussing” solutions with the student rather than ordering them around. If you have an example story to tell, that’s a great way to state your case.

You could say: “For me, the first step would be to pull them aside and address the issue privately. My biggest questions would be about deciphering what might be the root cause of this student’s bad behavior. Once I know what may be contributing to their difficulty, I really try to work with them to come up with a solution. I used this strategy in my last classroom, where I had a student who couldn’t seem to stay in his seat during lessons. We talked about how his behavior affected the rest of the class and why he kept moving around, and we agreed that when he was feeling really anxious he could raise his hand and I’d let him take a lap around the classroom, but only when it was appropriate. I also decided to make some of my lessons more active and hands-on so that other students could benefit from getting out of their seats every once in a while.”

“15 Common Questions Asked in a Teacher Interview (and How to Answer Them With Ease)” by Alyse Kalish

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How do you incorporate social-emotional learning in your lessons?

Many states and districts have added requirements for social-emotional learning into their standards. Explain how you will not only tend to the academic needs of your students but tie in lessons that satisfy the core SEL competencies. Describe how you will help students build their self- and social-awareness skills, how you will support them in building relationships, and how you will give them the skills to make responsible decisions. 

“18 Interview Questions Every Teacher Must Be Able to Answer” by Brandie Freeman

If you have never heard the term “core SEL competencies” in your methods classes, peruse the online article “Building SEL Competency in the Elementary School Music Classroom” by Lindsey Jackson, posted on the NAfME Music in a Minuet website.

How will you meet the needs of the students in your class who are advanced or say they’re bored?

and

How will you engage reluctant learners?

School leaders don’t want to hear canned responses about how you can differentiate; they want you to give some concrete answers and support your ideas. Perhaps you help get kids prepared for scholastic competitions once they’ve mastered the standard (spelling bee or chemistry olympiad, anyone?). Maybe you offer more advanced poetry schemes for your English classes or alternate problem-solving methods for your math students. Whatever it is, make sure that you express the importance that all students are engaged, even the ones that are already sure to pass the state standardized test.

Teaching in an age when we must compete with Fortnite, Snapchat, and other forms of instant entertainment makes this question valid and necessary. How will you keep students’ heads off their desks, their pencils in their hands, and their phones in their pockets? Share specific incentive policies, engaging lessons you’ve used, or ways you’ve built relationships to keep students on task. An anecdote of how a past student (remember to protect privacy) that you taught was turned on to your subject because of your influence would also help your credibility here.

“18 Interview Questions Every Teacher Must Be Able to Answer” by Brandie Freeman

women-1687852_1920_melysernaWhat are your greatest weaknesses?

Considered one of the “trick” or unfair questions by many, you should still be ready for it. One of the keys to sounding sincere is to personalize your response, and provide specific examples of the “problem,” self-improvement goals, and positive growth and progress.

At some point during the interview process, you may be asked to describe your personal strengths and weaknesses. Many job candidates are unsure about how to approach this question. However, by establishing the appropriate context, you can give hiring managers an honest, thoughtful answer that highlights both your self-awareness and professionalism.

Preparing ahead of time for this question is a valuable use of your time before the interview. Even if you aren’t asked about your strengths and weaknesses specifically, scripting out your response to this common question will give you a candid yet compelling description of what you bring to the table and how you wish to grow in the future.

job-interview-2552411_1920_shaukingBecause we all have weaknesses but rarely want to admit to them, it’s best to begin with a truthful answer and build your script from there. Select an answer that a hiring manager would not consider to be essential qualities or skills for the position as well as qualities that you are actively improving.

Some examples of weaknesses include:

  • Disorganized
  • Self-Critical/Sensitive
  • Perfectionism (Note: this can be a strength in many roles, so be sure you have an example of how perfectionism can be a problem to demonstrate that you’ve thought deeply about this trait)
  • Shy/Not adept at public speaking
  • Competitive (Note: Similarly to perfectionism, this can be a strength)
  • Limited experience in a non-essential skill (especially if obvious on your resume)
  • Not skilled at delegating tasks
  • Take on too much responsibility
  • Not detail-oriented/Too detail-oriented
  • Not comfortable taking risks
  • Too focused/Lack of focus

Example weakness: Perfectionism

“I tend to be a perfectionist and can linger on the details of a project which can threaten deadlines. Early on in my career, when I worked for ABC Inc., that very thing happened. I was laboring over the details and in turn, caused my manager to be stressed when I almost missed the deadline on my deliverables. I learned the hard way back then, but I did learn. Today I’m always aware of how what I’m doing affects my team and management. I’ve learned how to find the balance between perfect and very good and being timely.”

target-1414775_1920_DeedsterExample weakness: Difficulty with an area of expertise

“Math wasn’t my strongest subject in school. To be honest, as a student, I didn’t understand how it would be applicable in my adult life. Within a few years of being in the working world, though, I realized that I wanted to take my career in a more analytical direction. At first, I wasn’t sure where to begin, but I found some free online courses that refreshed the important basics for me. In my most recent job, this new foundation has enabled me to do my own goal setting and tracking. Actually, getting over the math anxiety I had when I was younger has been incredibly empowering.”

“50 Teacher Interview Questions and Answers to Help You Prepare” from Indeed.com

One final resource, perhaps more focused on business or company interviews, but still applicable to education positions, is the work of author, career counselor and interview coach Robin Ryan. Knowing that college students are by necessity drawn to “free stuff,” I would first view one of her YouTube videos such as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_lgyK37JJM or venture into reading her “how-to” articles at http://www.robinryan.com/index.php/articles. There are some excellent gems perfect for “collegiates” here:

60 seconds and youre hiredFocusing on Robin Ryan’s “interview tools” such as “the five-point agenda” and “60-second sell,” her book 60 Seconds and You’re Hired ” is inspiring and provides much greater depth (76 pages!) on answering those “thorny” interview questions. Nearly all of the sample questions above are also analyzed, offering easy-to-understand comments and recommendations for specific career paths. For example, Robin Ryan also weighs in on that inquiry “What is your greatest weakness?” – first offering to joke about it “I cannot resist chocolate!” and then, if it is reiterated, endorsing a strategy to share a work habit problem (like being a “Type-A” person) on which you are currently improving but is not critical for the position they are seeking to fill.

To sum up the book, these are my favorite sections:

  • Chapter 2: The Five Point Agenda
  • Chapter 3: The 60-Second Sell
  • Chapter 5: Interview Etiquette (including tips on proper dress, good manners, nonverbal and verbal communication, the hand shake, and eye contact)
  • Chapter 7: 60-Second Answers to Tough, Tricky Answers
  • Chapter 12: 12 Pitfalls to Avoid

In conclusion, as stated throughout all of this literature on interview techniques, the keys to success are preparation and practice… just like getting ready for your semester jury or senior recital. After studying these materials, collaborate with your peers to hold “mock interviews,” video-record yourself answering the questions, and take time to review and self-assess. Yes, you CAN and WILL do well at future employment screenings!

PKF

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Photo credits (in order) from Pixabay.com:

© 2020 Paul K. Fox

 

Job Interview Rubrics

Sample “Assessment Keys” for Teacher Candidates

How do “they” judge prospective educators? What skill-sets are wanted and scored?

Here is a sampling of the rubrics or evaluation tools that employment screening committees may use to rank (and eliminate) the applicants they interrogate. Sources listed below, these were found online and represent a wide variety of benchmarks.

Here’s your opportunity to practice answering interview questions – alone, with your college roommate, friends, or peers in music education methods classes or the NAfME collegiate chapter.

This blog-post should be used in conjunction with these past articles on tips, criteria, and questions suitable for hosting mock interview practice sessions:

Be sure to record your mock interview and assess your performance using these forms. Alternate the evaluation with different rubrics. Remember: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT!

Good luck! PKF

 

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#2

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WVU_interview_pp2

 

#3

Workplace Learning Connection

 

#4

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#5

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#6

Edl.io 2009

 

#7

Baltimore Public Schools (TNTP) Sample Final Eval Form

#8

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Special thanks to the contributions of these institutions:

  1. University of North Carolina Wilmington
  2. West Virginia Department of Education
  3. Kirkwood Community College
  4. North Dakota State University
  5. University of Scranton (National Association of Colleges and Employers)
  6. Edl.io Interview Rubric 2009
  7. Baltimore Public Schools (TNTP)
  8. Davidson School Center for Career Development

 

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

 

© 2019 Paul K. Fox