Interviewing for a teaching job can be a nerve-wracking experience. As a candidate, you can expect an onslaught of questions on everything including your strengths and weaknesses, classroom management strategies, and educational philosophy.
But your job interview should not be a one-way street. Interviewers typically offer job candidates the chance to ask questions of their own.
This year, the need to do so is more pressing than ever, as the pandemic begins to recede and everyone wants to know: Will schools return to “normal” in the fall? Will there be a “new normal” and, if so, what will that look like? Interviewing for teaching positions provides you with the perfect opportunity to find out. As you prepare to interview this recruiting season, make sure your list of inquiries for prospective employers includes the following:
Will teachers be expected to teach in-person and remote learners simultaneously?
As the worst of the pandemic began to recede and schools returned to in-person classes, many families chose to keep their kids at home. That often meant teachers were tasked with “hybrid teaching”—doubling up on their duties by providing instruction to both in-person and remote learners simultaneously.
“It is nothing short of exhausting,” Jennifer Atkins, a 7th grade English teacher at Howell Middle School in Victoria, Texas, told Education Week last fall. “It’s basically like teaching two different classes at the same time in one class period.”
That seems to be the general consensus from teachers and others familiar with this demanding form of teaching. “We know for sure what doesn’t work: doing both at the same time [teaching both online and in person],” said Jeff Plaman, online and digital learning specialist for the Minnesota education department.
But, as late as this spring, some teachers still didn’t know if they would be required to continue hybrid teaching in the 2021-22 academic year.
Before the interview ends, make sure you know if hybrid teaching could be in your future.
What health and safety protocols has your district permanently adopted to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19 and other contagious viruses?
After the onset of the H1N1 flu in 2009, hand sanitizer dispensers began cropping up in schools and other public spaces; some of them remained years later. The COVID-19 pandemic, whose devastating impact has dwarfed that of the H1N1 flu, may come with its own set of lasting health and safety protocols.
For teachers who come in contact with dozens or even hundreds of people in a given work week, such protocols may be of considerable interest. Whether the pandemic has left you weary of mask-wearing or willingly continuing to don one or even two masks when you leave your house, you’ll want to learn where a prospective employer stands on this and other health and safety policies.
What resources has your district implemented or reinforced since the pandemic in support of students’ social and emotional learning needs?
Even before the full impact of the pandemic had been realized, awareness of students’ social and emotional needs began to rise. In an exclusive survey by the EdWeek Research Center published in April 2020, 43 percent of respondents—principals, teachers, and district leaders—agreed that social-emotional learning is a “transformational way to improve public education.”
A year later, educators continue to express the need to make SEL a priority.
“The pandemic has made me realize that unless we find ways to focus on students as people and engage them as people and make the work we’re doing important to them where they are now, everything is for nothing,” said David Finkle, a veteran language arts teacher in Florida’s Volusia County school district.
To find out how serious a prospective employer is about responding to the SEL needs of its students, ask specific questions like the following: Could you describe any initiatives and resources the school dedicates to SEL? How is SEL embedded in the curriculum? What types of training related to SEL do your teachers receive?
How does your district support the mental health of its teachers?
It’s no secret that the pandemic has been hard on teachers; statistics bear this out. In a nationwide poll of K-12 employees published in February 2021, 63 percent of respondents reported that, during the pandemic, work made them feel stressed. More than half felt high levels of burnout/fatigue, while 47 percent said they experienced anxiety.
Given the demanding circumstances surrounding the pandemic, preventing such negative feelings from surfacing may not have been possible. But how employers responded to their employees’ struggles during the pandemic—from simply acknowledging the challenges of teaching during the pandemic to making relevant resources available—can be revealing.
To gauge a prospective employer’s commitment to its teachers’ mental health, ask direct questions like: What did you do to support the mental health of your teachers during the pandemic? As a result of the pandemic, what new or expanded services have you added to support your teachers’ mental health?
What did you learn about your school community’s culture during the pandemic, and how will you apply that next year?
The pandemic challenged school leaders in new and unforeseen ways; for instance, exposing deep equity gaps within and between school communities and shedding light on how rapidly social isolation can lead to student disengagement and academic failure. On the upside, the waning of the pandemic may afford school leaders time to reflect on the past year and a half, perhaps reinforcing or reevaluating their priorities.
Find out by asking a prospective employer the following: What were the biggest challenges your school community faced during the pandemic? How did individual members of your school community demonstrate resilience in the face of the pandemic? What do you plan to do differently next year as a result?
Listen carefully to the responses, both what is said and how genuine and confident the answers sound. If a prospective employer seems overwhelmed and defeated by what’s taken place over the past 18 months, you may want to cross this school or district off your list.
“You don’t want to jump into a position that you don’t feel capable of navigating,” said Jacqueline Rodriguez, the vice president for research, policy, and advocacy at the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.
After the year-and-a-half that educators have been through, Rodriguez’s advice is more relevant than ever. Asking the right questions and getting clear answers in your upcoming job interviews is, too.