If you’re looking for a music teaching position this summer, you’re probably at least starting to go on interviews. Because of the sometimes uncertain way in which American public schools are funded, districts often are not at liberty to move on filling a position until fairly late in the summer. This post will go over some key points to keep in mind when preparing for and giving your interview.
Each question asked at an interview has a motive behind it. One question you are likely to be asked is, “why did you become a teacher?” The interviewer asking this question wants to learn what motivates you, what effect you hope to have on your students, and why you’d rather be teaching than doing something else for a living. This is an opportunity to share positive influences teachers have had on your life, and what you want to give back to others from what you have been given. You want to avoid generic answers like, “I like to work with people,” “I want to make a difference in people’s lives.” There’s nothing wrong with wanting these things, but these answers won’t separate you from the crowd. Tell a story about that teacher that changed your life, that went the “extra mile” to make sure you succeeded, and then relate how you want to be that kind of influence on others. That kind of answer is personal to you. No one else is going to have been impacted by that teacher exactly like you were, nor will the details of the motivation that teacher left in you be identical. And whatever you do, never say “because I want to have summers off!”
Another important question you’re likely to be asked is, “Why do you want to work at this school?” With this question, the interviewer is going to determine if you’ve done your homework. You need to know something about the school you want to work at. You need to show that you’re not just looking for a job at any school, you want to work at this school; you have a particular interest in working there, and you’re going to explain why.
Once I had received the invitation to interview for my first teaching job lo these thirty-nine years ago, I visited the schools (there were three as this was an itinerant position in instrumental music) I would be teaching at. I walked around the school, listened to the “hum” of the building, stopped outside classrooms to momentarily observe what was going on, and generally took in the quality of the learning environment. Then, when I sat with this department chair interviewing, I worked in the phrase “when I visited the schools, I liked…” He followed up by asking “you visited all three schools?” “Yes,” I replied. He was kind enough to share with me later why he decided to hire me. He said there were two factors. One was my letter of recommendation from a particular professor at the college I attended, who rarely gave such a strong endorsement, and the other was that I was interested enough in teaching at those schools to have taken the time to visit them in advance of the interview.
You will also probably be asked a question about how you would manage student behavior in your classroom. This question might be a general invitation to speak on the topic by giving your methods and strategies for creating and maintaining a strong learning environment, or it might be that you are given a specific situation and asked how you would handle it. I will just simply state that I have found the keys to good classroom management are building positive relationships with students, frequently calling on, acknowledging, and praising them using their name, using positive reinforcement when they do well more than negative reinforcement when they get off, taking a noticeable interest in their success and their interests outside your classroom, and setting up clear and frequently stated expectations and procedures, and being consistent about seeing that they are met and followed, and communicating regularly with parents, both the good and the bad. By the way, calling parents to tell them their child has done something good is not only welcome, but increases the likelihood that they will support you if you have difficulty with their child later.
Another area likely to be covered in your interview is building relationships with parents and the entire school community. Relationships with the parents of your students is very important. It is difficult for music teachers to communicate with all parents often, because we are typically teaching a whole building of students, not just one classroom or grade. Making a point to call or e-mail a few parents every week is helpful. You also might want to talk about collaborating with other teachers in the building. This is when you can talk about the natural connections children can make between other disciplines, especially language arts, math, and social studies. Don’t approach this as volunteering to be an “add-on” to other teachers’ content, but to point out the natural ways in which understanding language, math, and social studies is an integral part of musically educating children.
One more possible question you might be asked, and which also often comes up on writing prompts when districts require a writing sample from teacher candidates, is “What personality traits do successful teachers typically possess?” To answer this, you must put yourself in the students’ place, and reflect on what they are expecting, looking for, and need from your presence in that classroom. Students often gauge their own self-worth on how you present yourself to them. For example, if you rarely or never smile, students will tend to think you don’t like them, and will not give their best effort, but disengage themselves from much of what you are trying to do with them. On the other hand, a teacher who tries to act youthful and fun all the time can look silly trying to be “one of them” and be hard to take seriously as a teacher. Someone with a calm demeanor, a sense of humor, but also with constant focus on meeting objectives while also meeting student needs has found a good balance of personality traits.
Obviously, if you give all the answers I have suggested, there is still no guarantee you will be hired. Many factors go into a hiring decision. But if you are well prepared for your interview, and do your homework ahead of time learning about the school(s) you are applying to work at, then you will probably increase your chances of success. If you are seeking a teaching position this summer, I wish you the best of luck.
If you have found the content on this site helpful, you might be interested in having me come to your district for professional development. If so, please use the contact page to e-mail me and perhaps I will be able to service your district.