Help Wanted How to Hire The Best Teachers

Help Wanted
How to Hire The Best Teachers
An interviewing technique
borrowed from the business
world can help principals
decide which candidates
make the best new hires.
very time you interview a candidate for a position at your school, you probably ask yourself, “Can
this person really do the job?” The looming teacher
shortage makes you wonder, “Even if this candidate lacks certain experience, will he or she be able
to attain a satisfactory level of job performance?” If a
candidate seems somewhat stronger, you may find
yourself asking, “Will this candidate stay at my school
long enough to grow into a master teacher who can
lead others?”
If time and money were not barriers, principals could
spend time in the classrooms of student teachers and watch
them teach, evaluating first-hand which candidates would
make the best new hires. If technology were a perfect tool,
candidates could be evaluated by means of videos or “realtime” cameras placed in their classrooms. If you had hours
to read portfolios and evaluate those colorful four-inch
binders that student teachers now produce, you would have
a strong indication of the kind of lesson plans, activities,
units, and tests the candidates were capable of producing.
However, the real world gives us time and budget constraints, and the truth is that the on-site interview will probably remain the most useful tool for determining which
candidates receive job offers. Although the job interview has
always been used as a tool for sorting and ranking the best
candidates for jobs, it may now be viewed as an early step in
recruiting the strongest candidates to your school and in
retaining teachers.
Expectations of a Position
When an opening occurs at your school, envision the new
position by identifying the job skills an effective teacher will
need. Whenever possible, do not give the new teacher the
most challenging classes, smallest room, or multiple preparations. Practice “truth in advertising” about a position. If the
opening is for a teacher of remedial students or for classes
with large numbers of special education students, include
that information in the job description and discuss it openly
in the interview. Often, a teacher who leaves a position
remarks, “It just wasn’t what they told me it would be in the
interview.” Candor in the interview should make expectations very clear to the candidate.
When interviewing prospective teachers, a middle level
principal told interviewees that teaching at her school might
be considered a little like working in the Peace Corps
because it could easily be “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Her straightforward attitude in interviews eliminated some
candidates quickly through self-selection, but those who
joined the staff felt they had been chosen to do important
and significant work. Feeling needed and appreciated for the
job of teaching is an incentive for idealistic teachers, and
this technique is a recruitment and retention tool that costs
no money.
Preliminary Review
Teacher retention often depends on whether the candidate is
a capable teacher and whether the candidate is qualified for
the position. When reviewing candidates’ paperwork before the interview,
the first criterion to sort by is the question, “Is this candidate certified or
not?” Although a debate continues to
rage about whether certification equals
qualification to teach, teaching-certification standards are currently the best
available measure for assessing whether
candidates are qualified to teach. When
at all possible, consider only candidates
who are certified in the fields for which
they will teach.
Of course, in times of teacher shortages, some districts must turn to noncertified teachers or
those who are provisionally certified so all classes will be
covered when the new school year begins. If your school’s
geographic location, intense jump in enrollments, or lack of
a pool of certified applicants forces you to consider provisionally certified personnel, plan for their continued training
toward certification. During interviews, inform candidates
of the district’s policies about their progress toward certification and discuss the termination of their employment if
they do not meet state guidelines for certification within
given time frames. Put these guidelines in writing so candidates with provisional certification know every step they
must complete for initial hiring and continued employment.
The first years of teaching can be very stressful for any
new teacher, and those new teachers who must attend
evening classes to complete their certification will possibly
have less free time and more stress than other new hires.
Plan their induction and support accordingly and explain
your school’s programs in the interview. Candidates can
accept clearly expressed expectations. New hires who leave
the classroom quickly are those who say, “But nobody told
me,” and “I didn’t know I had to do that.”
nlike traditional interview-
ing that begins with “tell me about yourself”
and asks hypothetical questions, in behaviorbased interviews, candidates describe
specific past experiences and how they dealt
with and learned from those experiences.
Tips from the Business World
Historically, certain sectors of the business world have dealt
with employee shortages and high employee turnover. To be
competitive, businesses with those concerns have sometimes
been able to raise salaries or improve workplace conditions.
In addition, the business world has developed behavior-based
interviewing as a means of hiring the best new employees.
Defined by Janz, Hellervik, and Gilmore (1986), this strategy is based on the premise that past behavior is the best
predictor of future performance. Unlike traditional interviewing that begins with “tell me about yourself ” and asks
hypothetical questions, in behavior-based interviews, candidates describe specific past experiences and how they dealt
with and learned from those experiences.
Richard Deems (1994) reminds us that “The single
best predictor of a candidate’s future job performance is his
or her past job behavior” (p. 9). He has found that the
behavior-based interview is a more reliable predictor of a
candidate’s ability than an interview focused on personality
traits. Principals who have interviewed elementary education
majors know that almost all candidates say, “I want to be a
teacher because I love children.” Although this is a commendable trait, it doesn’t help the principal sort the candidates; questions about specific past experiences will.
The Basics of Behavior-Based Interviewing
Two acronyms guide behavior-based interview questions:
PAR and STAR. PAR refers to the formula of asking about a
problem, an action, and a result. For example, an interviewer
asks a candidate, “Tell me about a time when you had to
deal with a large number of students in a small space.” The
candidate, who has experience with larger classes, talks
about student teaching 31 students in grade 7 in a small
classroom. The candidate describes how she and her cooperating teacher designed a seating chart and used a table near
the door for students to pick up their journals for class as
they entered the classroom. The candidate concludes that as
a result of the new plan, the students wasted less time at the
beginning of every class.
An interviewer can rate this answer very highly. Here is
a candidate who has experience working successfully with
larger classes, who worked creatively with her cooperating
teacher, and who knows that students in large classes must
have a process in place to get into the room and get settled.
When faced with a class of 30 middle level students, this
candidate should know how to organize her room to accommodate them.
The acronym STAR refers to asking questions about a
situation, a task, an action, and a result. Because grading is a
significant task for all teachers, an interview question could
be “How have you dealt with assigning grades in high
school English classes that required many writing assignments?” A candidate should be able to describe how he or
she taught writing in the classroom and how grading was
handled. A strong candidate should be able to describe how
rubrics were used for individual assignments and how the
grades were averaged using a grade-book software program.
An exceptional candidate might elaborate on how learning
Sample Interview Questions
These questions are generic enough in nature that they fit teacher interviews for almost any grade or subject level. Use them as a starting point for developing a personalized list of questions. For each advertised
position, some of the questions will be made more specific. For example, ask a candidate for a first-grade
position to describe his or her experiences in teaching phonics or ask a candidate for a middle level math
position to describe how calculators can be used in the classroom. For the sake of fairness, it is important
that each candidate for the same position be asked the same set of questions. (For lists of other questions,
see Building the Best Faculty [Clement, 2000] and Essentials for Principals [Clement, D’Amico, &
Protheroe, 2001].)
Meeting Individual Students’ Needs
1. How have you decided what to teach to your
class in the past?
2. What have you used from the national and
state standards to guide your teaching?
3. What are important curricular topics for this
grade or subject?
1. Describe an approach to teaching your subject that has helped all students succeed.
2. What have you done in past classes to promote acceptance, tolerance, and cultural diversity
in your classroom?
3. What modifications have you made to assist
special education, language minority, or gifted
students in your classroom?
1. Describe a successful unit you have taught.
2. Describe a typical lesson plan that works well
for you.
3. Tell me about a time when one of your lessons ran short or when you ran out of time.
What did you do?
4. What are good techniques for beginning and
ending your class?
Classroom Management and
1. Describe rules, consequences, and rewards
that work for students in this grade.
2. Tell me about a time when a student confronted you or attempted to break school classroom rules. How did you handle this?
3. Describe the arrangement of your classroom.
If I were to walk in, what would I see that helps
keep students organized?
Homework, Grading, and
1. How do you assess student learning informally
without grading?
2. Tell me about a typical homework assignment
for this class.
3. How have you dealt with students who turn in
homework late or not at all?
4. Describe a grading system that has worked
well for you in the past.
Communication With Parents and
1. Describe a positive way to communicate with
parents that you have used in the past.
2. Describe a parent conference that you have
conducted and the results from it.
3. Tell me about a time when you cotaught a
class or planned an activity with a colleague.
Professional Growth
1. What have you read or studied recently that
led to a change in your teaching?
2. What par ts of your teacher education
program do you most often use?
3. Describe what you learned in the past from a
cooperating teacher or mentor teacher.
❏ Clement, M. C. (2000). Building the best
faculty: Strategies for hiring and
supporting new teachers. Lanham, MD:
Scarecrow Press.
❏ Clement, M. C., D’Amico, J. J., &
Protheroe, N. (2001). Essentials for principals: How to interview, hire, and retain
high-quality new teachers. Alexandria, VA:
National Association of Elementary School
Share details of your induction opportunities with candidates during the interview,
reminding them of the support and help available at your school.
this grading system during student teaching enabled him or
her to help the cooperating teacher determine which seniors
were eligible for honor society.
Both PAR and STAR help the interviewer remember to
phrase the questions in a manner that calls for past experiences to be explained. This is more useful in evaluating candidates than asking hypothetical questions or questions
about personality traits or feelings.
Specific Interview Questions
Although the field of education can borrow the practice of
behavior-based interviewing from the business world, the
specific questions designed for the teaching interview will be
unique ones. After a brief icebreaker or warm-up question,
the interview should consist of questions about the topics
that represent effective teaching.
Effective teachers know their subject matter and how to
organize it into appropriate lessons and units, so the interviewer must ask about curriculum. Good teachers plan for
instruction and manage the classroom environment and student behavior, so the interviewer should ask planning and
management questions. Homework, grading, and assessment
are vitally important in today’s climate of teacher accountability, so questions on those topics must be asked. Although
it is easy for candidates to say that “all children can learn,”
candidates should be asked how they will address meeting
individual student needs, including the needs of language
minority children and those in special education. All teachers work in the public eye, therefore a teacher’s ability to
communicate with parents is important. Because teachers
can be viewed as public relations personnel for their schools,
some questions should address the candidate’s past experience with parents, as well as his or her ability to deal with
colleagues and administrators. Finally, teachers are professionals and professionals stay current in their field, so the
interviewer should prepare some questions for evaluating the
candidate’s professional development.
The Candidate’s Responses
Before you ask interview questions, think about how you
will determine whether an answer is strong, acceptable, or
weak. You may want to create a rating scale for your
answers, or simply write down S, A, or W beside each question and two or three words to remind you of the candidate’s response when you review the interview with other
supporting paperwork.
In many districts, the principal is no longer the only
interviewer. Personnel directors and representatives from
nduction and
retention begin at the end of
the interview. All schools
should have planned professional
development for their new
teachers that includes orientation
before school starts, ongoing
support seminars during the
school year, and a mentoring
human resources may conduct initial interviews at job
recruitment fairs. Committees of teachers may interview a
candidate and make a recommendation to the principal and
the personnel director. If your district uses teacher committees in interviews, make sure that all teachers receive necessary training and orientation about hiring processes
(Nuzum, 2002). Office support staff members also need orientation regarding illegal interview questions and confidentiality matters.
Recruiting Through Interviewing
Although you are trying to decide which candidate is best
for a position, the candidate is also trying to decide which
school will be best for him or her. Your district’s response to
the candidate’s submission of a cover letter and résumé
should be timely. A form letter can be sent, along with a
checklist that informs the candidates whether they still need
to submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, a district
application, or other paperwork. Candidates appreciate having the name and phone number of one person who can
answer their questions.
When setting up interviews, tell the candidates with
whom they will be interviewing and whether the interview
will be conducted by a committee. Letting candidates know
the specifics about when to arrive, where to go, and what to
bring (e.g., portfolio, video, supporting paperwork) will also
help make candidates feel at ease. Candidates who feel that
the interviewer had time for them also feel that the school
will have time to support their work. Candidates want to
feel as if they are being recruited into the business world,
and every small token of time and attention given to them
will encourage them to join your faculty.
Supporting New Teachers
Induction and retention begin at the end of the interview.
All schools should have planned professional development
for their new teachers that includes orientation before school
starts, ongoing support seminars during the school year, and
a mentoring program. Share details of your induction
opportunities with candidates during the interview, reminding them of the support and help available at your school.
Although money isn’t everything, new teachers are concerned about surviving financially. Some schools pay a
stipend to new hires who attend a week’s worth of orientation sessions and training before the regular back-to-school
workdays, and this stipend may help a new teacher on a
tight budget. Arranging for the first year’s salary to be spread
over 13 months instead of 12 may make a difference in a
candidate’s decision to start teaching at your school as well.
(A 13-month year provides a paycheck the first August
through the following August, yet costs the district nothing
extra.) The complete benefit package, including insurance
for dependents and early retirement options, may be the
deciding elements for some.
Just as the education profession has adapted behaviorbased interviewing from the business world, so too should
we consider other business examples. The quality of the
workplace will always be a factor in attracting and keeping
the best new teachers, so we must provide “the schools our
teachers deserve” (Cohen, 2002). All teachers deserve a
workplace that is professional in both its physical setting
and its administrative support.
Finally, many people enter the teaching profession with
a sense of mission or from a sense of calling. Supporting this
positive attitude in new teachers will not only help retain
faculty but also may help the new teachers rejuvenate the
veterans. An interview that asks about specific past experience and behavior should help to determine the candidate’s
mission and calling, allowing you to hire the best qualified
candidate for your faculty. PL
❏ Cohen, R. M. (2002). Schools our teachers deserve: A
proposal for teacher-centered reform. Phi Delta Kappan,
83(7), 532–537.
❏ Deems, R. S. (1994). Interviewing: More than a gut feeling. West Des Moines, IA: American Media Publishing.
❏ Janz, T., Hellervik, L., & Gilmore, D. C. (1986). Behavior description interviewing: New, accurate, cost effective.
Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
❏ Nuzum, M. L. (2002). Preparing teachers for staffselection committees. Principal Leadership, 2(7), 20–24.
Mary C. Clement ([email protected]) is an assistant
professor in the department of teacher education at Berry
College in Georgia. Her teaching includes a graduate course in
supervision, hiring, and mentoring for aspiring principals.