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Highlighting Your Past Teaching Experience in Interviews

Apr 1, 2018

by Nancy Barile, Award-Winning Teacher, M.A.Ed.

A few weeks ago, our deputy principal asked for volunteers to participate in a process called guided storytelling interviewing. It's a technique where prospective candidates are asked to tell a story that highlights their strengths and weaknesses, and showcases the qualities and characteristics of a good employee—in this case, a teacher. It looked interesting, so I volunteered.

The group of administrators first requested a story from my teaching experience that highlighted one of my strengths. I talked about how I was able to engage a reluctant learner using his favorite TV show, which featured many of the concepts that I wanted him to learn in my English language arts class—symbolism, irony, allusion, imagery, and character development.

Then they asked for a story about a weakness, and I brought up an extremely shy student named Marisol who I thought I was helping by not calling on her in class. But at the end of the year, I realized I had done her a great disservice by not encouraging her to speak up. I explained to my interviewers how I learned to create a more supportive environment where students are comfortable taking risks and every voice is heard.

Overall, my experience with guided storytelling interviewing was easy because I'm an experienced teacher. A new or inexperienced teacher might have trouble coming up with teaching experience they can readily draw on. If you're preparing to interview for a new job and are worried about your lack of experience, here's how you can put your best foot forward.

Highlight Your Related Strengths

While telling a story from student-teaching would probably work best during an interview, using an example from a previous career or hobby can work, too. For example, Carly, one of my graduate students, could talk about preparing to run the Boston Marathon. The planning, training, determination, and effort it took to succeed are all skills that are transferable to the classroom. Another former student, Dan, has traveled to Japan and could highlight that experience to show his respect for diversity and appreciation for other cultures.

Further reading: Nail Teacher Interview Questions

Travis, a friend of mine with teaching aspirations, had only ever taught Sunday school before applying for his first teaching job, but when interviewing, he told the story of connecting with one of his troubled students by teaching him how to play the guitar. The traits Travis highlighted—kindness, compassion, perseverance, relationship-building—are exactly what administrators look for in a teacher. Even if you're a career-changer, consider talking about how you managed your business team or successfully brought a project to fruition. This highlights your motivational and organizational abilities.

Turn a Negative into a Positive

New candidates should be able to come up with a personal weakness they identified during their student-teaching experience. Remember that it's important to stress how you overcame the challenge and learned from it. For example, my graduate student, Luisa, could talk about the student who nearly failed her class because he didn't do any homework. At the end of the semester, Luisa learned that he was working at a restaurant until nearly 1 a.m. every night. By flipping that negative to a positive—"This experience taught me I must reach out to my students earlier to learn about the obstacles standing in the way of their success so we can overcome them"—Luisa would demonstrate that she has grown as a teacher and is ready to take on similar challenges.

Emphasize Sought-After Characteristics

Schools are looking for teachers who are resilient, dedicated, hardworking, knowledgeable, and innovative. They're also looking for teachers who know how to connect with students, are self-aware, and are able to help students overcome adversity. Stories that showcase these characteristics are powerful. Before you go on your interview, think about examples that demonstrate that you possess those skills. For example, leadership is a skill that administrators look for. Did you head your student union or college sports team? (Don't go back to high school—stick with collegiate or work-related experiences). Creativity is another important skill administrators want to see. Did you start a club at your college or solve a problem at your previous job?

Further reading: Your First Teaching Job Interview

As a teaching candidate, you want to be sure that your interviewer gets a clear picture of who you are and why you'll be an outstanding teacher. Even if you don't have teaching experience, providing strong examples of your strengths is the best way to be successful. When your interviewer sees you have the skills and characteristics needed to be an effective teacher, you can be sure to land your dream job.

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