Rockford College in Illinois has an excellent reputation for educating students to be successful elementary school teachers. During their student teaching experience, students also attend weekly seminars that focus on curriculum and instruction. Furthermore, a portion of one seminar is spent discussing resume writing. Then three years ago, Rockford College recognized the need to better prepare students to interview effectively. The Career Services office and Education Department therefore coordinated efforts to create a more formal interview workshop for student teachers.
Organizing the Workshops
These departments together have now conducted six workshops and have scheduled sessions at different times, including on a Saturday, lasting two to three hours. We have determined that a single three-and-a-half-hour session in the afternoon during the final week of student teaching, when students no longer have direct teaching responsibilities, was best for meeting students’ immediate needs to prepare for the interview process.
Our format for the workshop has always included presenting information on basic interview tips, reviewing sample questions, and volunteer role-playing in front of the group to practice responding to those questions. After each workshop participants complete a survey to provide suggestions for future workshops and offer feedback on how beneficial this experience was for them.
The workshop begins with a review of basic “interview tips.” We encourage students to research the school and district they are applying to because they may be able to include this information in their interview responses. The research also gives them greater insight into the strengths and possible needs of the school, as well as curriculum and resource information. For example, if students know the grade level they are applying for, they can possibly review the websites of teachers at that level. Students also are given tips on how to dress and present themselves professionally. Additionally, we discuss questions they should be prepared to ask if given the opportunity. Lastly, an emphasis is placed on what to do after the interview, including sending a thank-you note and writing specific information about what they did well and what they need to improve for the next interview. Students are also encouraged to review questions they were asked and determine what they liked or disliked about the position.
Following these tips, an introduction to behavior-based interviewing is presented, including a list of possible questions that students could be asked. We emphasize to students that they should be prepared to relate their personal experiences to questions asked of them. Using some of the behavior-based questions, we role play what a successful versus a less successful interview would look like. We then interview three student volunteers who respond to a few behavior-based questions and critique their responses as a group. We also divide students into groups of three or four, giving them questions to ask each other, and then review their responses.
Principal Survey Input
New to our most recent workshop was a discussion of a survey we sent to sixty elementary school principals from the public and private schools in Winnebago and Boone Counties (in northern Illinois) that included eleven questions regarding the interview process. Thirty-six of the principals responded (60%). Some of the questions included were:
Are you expected to recommend the best candidate regardless of where he or she may be placed on the salary schedule?
Our student teachers are required to create a professional portfolio that includes artifacts of their teaching experiences. Would this portfolio be important to bring to the interview?
Do you use a specific model for interviewing, such as the “Teacher Quality Index” or “behavior-based interviewing?”
Do you ask specific questions about curriculum or instructional models you use at your school? If yes, please describe or provide an example.
We also listed twenty-six possible interview questions and asked principals to mark which ones they would most likely ask and to write other questions they would include in interviews.
In our discussion, we emphasized the kinds of questions principals would ask and other advice they would give to student teachers preparing for an interview. For example, 97% of the principals would ask, “How would you establish communication with parents?” Likewise, 94% would ask, “How would you differentiate your lessons to meet the needs of higher achieving students?” and “How have you integrated technology in your classroom?”
We end the workshop with a brief summary and time for questions. The need to practice how they might respond to the many possible interview questions by verbalizing their answers is emphasized. Finally, we offer to meet with them individually to conduct mock interviews that can be video-taped to provide additional feedback.
Evaluations and Successes
Our workshop prepares student teachers for success in an interview. The evaluations we have received from student participants have validated our efforts, with 84% strongly agreeing and 16% agreeing that they found the workshop beneficial.
Three significant contributions have led to the success of these workshops. The first involves the strong collaboration between Career Services and the Elementary Education Department. By co-facilitating the workshop, the two departments promote and encourage student participation and provide students with a comprehensive workshop experience. The second contribution is the focus on keeping the experience an interactive one and scheduling adequate time not only to discuss the interview process, but also to demonstrate and role play responses to interview questions. The third contribution entails the emphasis given to presenting current, pertinent information from area principals who are involved in the interview process.
Kelly Cooper, MSEd, NCC, holds a master’s degree in career counseling from Northern Illinois University. She is also a Nationally Certified Counselor. She has been working as the Director of Career Services at Rockford College since 2008. She is dedicated to helping students realize their career goals and supporting their efforts to achieve them. Kelly can be contacted through email at email@example.com.
Wes Morgan, M.S., C.A.S., is a retired school administrator still living his dream of being a lifelong student and teacher. He is currently a part-time professor at Rockford College, supervising student teachers, and, at times, teaching the elementary teaching methods class. He has provided additional educational services to local and state education agencies. He is the recipient of several service awards, including the State Board of Education’s "Those Who Excel Award of Merit” and the State of Illinois “Superior Achievement Certificate,” and was a nominee for Rockford College’s “Faculty Excellence in Teaching” award. Wes can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.