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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Interview Question Teachers Might Want To Ask

I have a son who has 18 months of college until he seeks his first classroom. We talk frequently about the joys and struggles of teaching and coaching.

Today, Jeff Utecht (any relation to the Indianapolis Colts player?) posted questions admins of tech-focused schools should ask potential teachers. It's that time of the year when schools begin to fill their opening, and teachers seek to fill openings. It is truly a beautiful thing when the school and teacher are in sync.

In that vein, I offer some things I have told my son he may want to consider when selecting a school in which he will commit his time, effort, and life. First, a few words of clarification: a) it is next to impossible for a new teacher to have any idea what they should ask, especially if they are in the early 20s, b) new teachers in need of a job usually don't have the time to be too picky, and will likely take a first job just because it is offered -- nothing wrong with that the first time around, c) it takes courage to ask questions of a potential boss, and if this is not your personality then try to find out this information from a different source, and d) this list assumes that the potential teacher truly knows that teaching is their life, not just another job in the line of under-five-year temp positions.

Anyway, here are the questions I would want to have answers to before committing to a school.

1 - What is your leadership style? Do not smile or break eye contact when you ask this question.

If the administrator pauses for more than a couple of seconds of shock, the admin probably does not really know. You need to find out. Some teachers need a principal who will stop in their room frequently (weekly) to provide support, or sometimes just say 'hi.' Other teachers would rather have a principal who "trusts" teachers will do their job within constant supervision. Other teachers prefer participatory leadership wherein faculty have a say in the policies of the school. New teachers may not know what they prefer, but the wise one will know what they need in a leader before the first semester is completed.

2 - What is your level of risk-tolerance? Do not smile or break eye contact when you ask this question.

If the administrator says "the higher the risk, the greater the reward" know that they are probably afraid to risk anything. Yes, I said that correctly. Any cliche used to answer this question likely proves they are not willing to risk thinking of something unique, and must therefore rely on the cliche.

Regardless of what the administrator says, follow up their response with...

3 - What is the riskiest thing you have done to improve student learning since you have been in your current position? You can smile when you ask this one, because you need to lighten the mood anyway. show that you're not always so serious.

For me, this is not so much a question of risk as it is a way to gather information on the leadership view of learning. If the administrator mentions test score anywhere in the answer, learning is secondary, at best, when it comes to the objective of the school. You do not need test-score information, it is already online and available to the public. High or low test scores do not equal the amount of learning. I'm still not convinced that test scores are even an indicator of what was learned either, but the jury is still out on that one.

4 - What is your greatest fear about the role of Internet-based technology in your school?

If their fears focus only on the poorly written byline "students must be safe from predators," then know that the any networked computer you see is for show; either to appease parents or the review committee that come by for accreditation purposes every five years. No need to ask about filtering, permission to blog, create wikis, or implement a global project, because it will not happen, and as the newby, you will not make it happen anytime soon.

On the other hand, if they mention student safety AND any of the following ideas, you might have something positive on which to build: a) Internet-based technology is the language of the students we serve, and we have to figure out how to speak their language, b) Internet-based technology opens up a world our kids may never get to experience first-hand, so we encourage teachers to find ways to bring the world into their classrooms, c) Internet-based technology allows for student and teacher collaboration here and around the world in ways that students can become engaged in the material they are presented, d) Internet-based technology is the primary way we use to help our kids become information literate. The amount of information that will be available to them is staggering, unfortunately not all the information will be accurate, useful, or appropriate and we must teach students how to make distinctions between what can be valuable to them in their process of making decisions. [NOTE: If the principal says anything remotely close to the last one, I'll arm wrestle you for the job!]

5 - What were the topics of your last three Professional Development opportunities for the faculty, and was it mandatory for all teachers?

By getting an answer to the PD offerings, you will find out what is important to your potential boss's boss...either the Superintendent or the School Board. If it was mandatory for all the teachers, then you must discover what you will be missing in your practice, and more importantly what you might still be accountable for knowing and/or doing. Schools are bad about expecting everyone to know "this is how we do things" yet never informing the people who weren't there when the policy was implemented.

Conclusion - Obviously there are dozens of other questions that could be asked, but you won't be given much time to ask questions. I have tried to ask five highly-loaded questions that can give the teacher an idea of what they could be getting into if they become a part of the faculty. If you are in the presence of a quality administrator, they will not feel threatened by these questions. They may not agree with the answers they have to give at this time, and they will likely tell you that too.

What questions would you ask if you were in the market for a new/different teaching position?

Image: by dullhunk from http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=202872717&size=s

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At 7:26 AM, Blogger Helen said...

Great set of questions. Wish I had them a while ago. Might freak out some principals!!


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