post by TheEdCollab member, Heather Rocco
Know Who You Are: Some Advice on Interviewing
It took me three years to get my first teaching job. I graduated college, English and education degrees in hand, and I began the arduous interviewing journey. Everyone told me I was lucky because I was invited to many interviews in many different types of districts. I even reached the final round at several schools. But I never found the golden teaching ticket. Baffled and dismayed, I accepted an administrative position at the university from which I had graduated. I enrolled in a graduate program there while I continued my search.
Three long years…
Upon my graduation with my master’s degree, I aggressively launched my search again. Again, I repeated the pattern of being invited to interviews but not invited to faculty meetings. I remember one interview at a great school district on Long Island. As I walked into the interview room, I already sensed I would be in trouble. There were at least a dozen people seated around this large conference table. It started out nicely enough. I remember the principal saying, “We’re just going to ask you questions, so don’t be nervous.”
Anxiety twisted my stomach into a knot.
The questions began.
Each person at that table had a perspective. Some, it felt like, had an agenda. At points, those seemed to be in conflict with each other. I tripped over my words.
I didn’t know who they wanted me to be.
After some very honest inventories of myself, I realized my mistake was painfully obvious: I did not know who I was as an educator.
Eager to the point of desperation to get a teaching job, I tried to align my persona with whatever one I thought the district wanted. They enforced strict rules; I would say I saw the merit in that. They believed pre-packaged curriculum creates effective teachers; I can definitely support that. They thought all writing should be assessed; but of course it should! Looking back, I understand why I fell prey to this pattern even more clearly now. I was a people-pleaser who preferred to fit in rather than stand out.
But as the saying goes, “When you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.” And, it turns out, you do not find employment.
So, I made a very conscious decision to approach every interview authentically. I would share my beliefs on the need for writer’s notebooks and independent reading. I would explain why traditional grammar instruction fails our students miserably and how to embed it in authentic writing experiences. I would be who I am and honestly share what I felt about teaching. I viewed the interview process more than a search for a job, but a search for the right job. One that fit me, too.
Six weeks after my graduation and probably three weeks after this realization, I signed a contract for my first teaching job.
When a move to New Jersey about a year later required me to pursue other teaching opportunities, I did not forget the lessons I learned during the last round. Then, too, I found a job after only three interviews.
Now, I do not guarantee that “knowing who you are” will find you a job in a few short weeks. I wish that was the case. But, I do know you will have a better interview and (hopefully) find a professional home that suits you as well as you suit them.
Twenty years after accepting that first teaching job, I am now the person who tells candidates, “We’re just going to ask you a few questions, so don’t be nervous.” When an interview turns into a professional conversation, I know I have met someone who knows who he is as an educator as well as one who knows where he wants to grow as a teacher.
Those are the candidates who end up in my “round two” interview pile.