Asks for “The Before,” “The During,” and “The After”
These Responses Are Critical for Marketing Yourself & Landing a Job
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!
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:
- What do you know about this school district?
- 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?
- What educational, cultural, and sport/leisure activities are available to the residents in and around the area?
- What philosophies or approaches are emphasized in the school district’s strategic plan and/or annual Board of School Director’s goals?
- What are samples of student, staff, building, and school district awards and traditions?
- How 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.?
- How often is the curriculum revised or updated?
- What is the school district grading scale and music grading policy/practice?
- What music classes and extra-curricular activities are offered?
- 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.?
- What position(s) is(are) open and what duties are required?
- What avenues of professional development exist?
- What percentage of students are in the music program?
- What percentage of the music students own instruments, take lessons, and seek participation in outside ensembles?
- What indicators of cooperative parental and community support exist (concert attendance, private teachers, booster groups, community arts organizations, etc.)?
- 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.
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/.
- Tell us something about yourself… your strengths, weaknesses, and goals for the future.
- Who had the greatest influence on you becoming a music teacher and why?
- What are the most important qualities of an outstanding music educator?
- Describe a successful lesson plan you have developed.
- How will you accommodate students with special needs or varied interests in your music program?
- How would you recruit/encourage students and “grow” interest and participation in the music program?
- Describe your approach to introducing a musical concept: singing matching pitches, keeping a steady
- Why is it important for students to be actively engaged in the performing arts?
- Why should I hire you for this position?
- 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?
- Describe a lesson that did not materialize in a manner that you expected. What did you learn from this experience?
- 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?
- What are three adjectives students would use to describe you?
- How would you assess the learning in your rehearsals?
- 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?”
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.)
Are 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)
- IEPs – 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. Did 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.
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.”
Photo credits from Pixabay.com by Gerd Altmann (geralt):
- “Magnifying Glass”
- “Magnifying Glass Closeup”
- “Did You Know?”
- “Never Stop Learning”
- “You Are Hired”
© 2020 Paul K. Fox