How Great Teacher Candidates Interview Differently

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One principal’s interview mindset:

If you are a candidate interviewing for a teaching position, I want to take a genuine moment to explicitly share what you are up against. As a principal, I am looking for a candidate, who demonstrates a love for kids; who articulates a clear picture of what their classroom will look, sound, and feel like; who reveals incredible content knowledge; who takes ownership in their own professional learning; and the most important obstacle you are up against is this internal question, “Would I want my own child in this teacher’s classroom?”

Click here for interview questions I use to reveal much more about a candidate than just how skilled he/she is at interviewing.

As a principal, my goal is to find the best of the best.  It’s simply impossible to improve a school by hiring average people. Average is officially over.  If you desire to make it to a final interview, then be sure to consider the following tips.

“I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you’re prepared for it.” Denzel Washington

Take the time to research and know the school in which you are interviewing. As a principal, I no longer begin an interview with the question, “Tell me a little about yourself professionally.” If I’ve done my homework (and believe me… I have), I will find out everything I need to know within your application, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter accounts. It’s important to use every minute purposefully. A better question may be, “Tell me about how you prepared for this interview? What do you now know about our school?” If a candidate can’t answer this question, then maybe they’re not enthusiastic about being a part of our school. In fact, if you were to interview for a position at my particular school, a simple Google search would quickly pull up the following on the first page of Google.

Over 100 short videos that provide a window into our classrooms, activities, events, and the overall feeling of our school culture can be accessed with the click of a button.

Our school’s blog includes student projects and even ‘articles worth sharing.’ What an excellent opportunity to learn the type of instruction that we value.

Believe it or not, you could easily come across this exact article that provides not only the type of candidate we are striving for, but also specific interview questions that may be asked. How beneficial could that be?

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” ― Carl Sagan

If you say it, back it up with evidence. If you say you differentiate your instruction, showing me a lesson plan is not enough. The best candidates present multiple student outcomes that represent different ability levels related to the same learning goal.

If you say you provide specific feedback at the time of the learning… show me. The best candidates present artifacts that demonstrate feedback from the beginning to the end. The final product reflects the feedback.

If you say that your classroom is highly engaged with simultaneous interactions taking place among your students… I need to see it! The very best candidates bring a 30-45 second video highlighting what their classroom looks and feels like. It’s important I know you are enthusiastic and passionate about your subject matter, therefore, show me by providing a digital window into your classroom.

“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” – John Keats

Answer questions by providing a story or a real experience (or if you are a new teacher, describe the experience you will create.) For instance, if you are asked, “How will you integrate technology?”

Candidates without real experiences usually respond, “I use technology to go beyond my classroom walls and tap into outside expertise to elevate the learning experience for every student.

Candidates who truly integrate technology effectively may respond, “I do not want to limit my students to what one teacher knows and is able to do. Recently, my students worked alongside engineers, facility managers, and scientists to design and create a parabolic trough to capture solar energy. I had a detailed discussion with each expert before Skyping with them. I wanted to make sure the material and information they contributed related to the curriculum and the activities were appropriate. The students were so excited from the beginning to the end….. We donated the finished product to our local bank.

Which candidate do you think is wired, plugged in, and connected?

“Better to Remain Silent and Be Thought a Fool than to Speak and Remove All Doubt” – Abraham Lincoln

It’s ok if you do not know the answer… I am more interested if you know how to find the answer. If you find yourself confronted with a tough question that you are not for sure about, tell me. If you try and wing it, believe me, I will know. The best candidates simply respond, “I’m not familiar with this (tech tool, instructional strategy, specific textbook, etc.), however, if you contact me tomorrow at 3:00 p.m., I will be able to tell you everything you need to know. Now, as a candidate, you better do your homework.  “I haven’t had time… or I wasn’t able to find much information… is not good enough. Great candidates are not only prepared, but demonstrate the drive and ability to find answers. There’s nothing more impressive than a follow-up phone call and the candidate shares with you how they found the answer. The best candidate spends hours researching, contacting colleagues, or even tinkering with the idea to gain firsthand knowledge. Can you imagine what they would do for a student?

“Teachers need to integrate technology seamlessly into the curriculum instead of viewing it as an add-on, an afterthought, or an event.” – Heidi-Hayes Jacobs

In this day and age, you can count on a question focused on technology integration. In this day and age, using technology to create a slideshow or to conduct research is no longer good enough. The best schools are only interested in how you will use technology as a catalyst for learning. Great candidates describe in detail how their students have used technology to raise awareness, start conversations, change minds, drive change, or make a difference?

“The Only Stupid Question is the One You Don’t Ask”

Do you have any questions for us? As a candidate, you cannot only count on this question, you better prepare for it. “I do not have any questions at this time” or “I think you answered all of my questions” sends the signal that you are not interested or enthusiastic about this position. The best candidates will many times cause YOU to think by asking questions such as, “What are YOU looking for in a candidate for this position? I’ve found that the best candidates are interviewing us as well. They want to make sure they are in a place to grow and reach their full potential.

My favorite advice for any candidate was stated best by Lyn Hilt:  “Passion is necessary.  Don’t make me request your emotions – provide them, in every word, every response, every example of why you want to teach in my school.”  

Something to think about, Shawn


  1. David Eckstrom said:

    If you’re interviewing a seasoned veteran like me, what you may interpret as “average” might just be wariness. Or weariness. Anyone who’s spent a decade or two being abused by a clueless public and thrown under the bus by bumbling administrators is unlikely to come off as bright-eyed as what you seem to be looking for.

    Having done a little interviewing lately, I can tell you that what you are describing is not what your candidates are prepared for. Let me describe how the hiring process works 9+ times out of 10, in my view. All the candidates know exactly the questions the interviewer is going to ask and they also know exactly the “right” answers. No one on either side of the desk is going to deviate from the script and in the end, the job will be offered to the person who has the optimal combination of license, athletic coaching experience and low salary requirement. The candidates who aren’t optimal will all get hired, they’ll just get hired by districts who interviewed later.

    And the reason candidates struggle to come up with a good question for the interviewer at the end is because we don’t have any questions. We already know what you want: Someone who’ll cheerily work 90 hours a week at one of the world’s most challenging jobs for a salary that will barely pay the rent and buy groceries. You already know that you aren’t going to get that and that anyone who enthusiastically says otherwise is either naive or lying.

    But you may be interviewing a really outstanding teacher who’s been forced to be average for so long they’ve forgotten anything else exists. Spend a little time convincing them that you are an educational leader, not an enforcer of meaningless rules and restrictive policies. Hey, maybe YOU show a video of what you want their classroom to look like and ask what specific skills they have to make that happen. But the most important thing you can do, in my opinion, is let them interact with as many teachers and students as you can arrange for, so they can see that the stuff you are talking about in the interview room is your school culture, not just some buzzwords you heard at a conference. We teachers don’t, for the most part, think administrators really understand classroom instruction. Mostly, you are just an obstacle to doing our jobs well. Let them see that your school is different. Take them to a classroom where teachers and students are breaking the rules to learn and getting away with it with your full knowledge. You may ignite a flame that’s been smoldering for a long time.

    April 2, 2016
    • sblankenship said:

      Thanks David for taking the time to comment. I can’t really respond to much of your comments because it simply isn’t the case in my experience as a educator at any point in my career (teacher, principal).

      I do think any time students can be part of the process, that’s a great idea. I also like the piece about visiting classrooms. However, if students and teachers must break rules to learn, then there’s definitely a problem regarding the culture of the school. Personally, i’ve never been a part of such a scenario in which you describe. I’ve also never been to Wisconsin. Thanks again

      April 3, 2016
    • Ann said:

      Well said and on target!

      April 4, 2016
      • Ann said:

        I hit “reply” too quickly… I meant to say “Well said, David Eckstrom! I find Mr. Blankenship’s article unrealistic and not within my 20 years of experience as a teacher in the myriad of interviews in which I have participated. There is a “team” and everyone has a script: the parent contact question, the best lesson question, the assessment question, the management question and then perhaps a content question or two. In the last 90 seconds, someone asks if I have any questions. All the while, the clock is ticking and several other applicants are waiting in the wings or completing the writing sample- which is often a repeat of one of the above questions. What about the administrator’s role in trying to convince the applicant to work for THEM? Why is the onus always on the teacher? I have worked for some very unique admins but those were people who understood the demands of the job and who did not preach from on high about what we do in the classroom. Nowadays, there seems to be so many who are in administrative positions who either flew through 5 years of teaching right into an admin post OR have not stepped foot in a classroom in years! Quite different doing an observation in the back of the room from teaching day in and day out. Last, where is the “art” in all of this? While there are those “elements” that define a “good teacher” such as content knowledge, understanding how students learn and a never ending desire to reflect and grow, what about those “intangibles” that cannot be quantified or checked off a list or prepared for through a google search and collection of data about the district? There are teachers who I still recall today and who I would have followed to the moon; they inspired me, they made me think, they made me laugh and they made me believe that learning was important. I learned to look at literature and in doing so, humanity in ways I could not imagine. I know I do that for kids each and every day. I am blessed with letters by parents and students that tell me how much I have changed their lives; their perspectives and it was because of the inspiration and mentoring I received from those doing the same work as I, sadly not from my administrators. New teachers will never come in to an interview with this wealth of knowledge; rather it comes from experience, trials and failures and the sharing from colleagues who do this day in and day out. I fear Mr. Blankenship may miss an opportunity to hire one of those wonderful new teachers who may come to his district not knowing all the facts and figures and who may not be able to wax poetic on all the new pedagogical research, but may in fact be that special individual who has the power to inspire and change lives. How lucky am I to be able to say I do that and all because someone recognized what truly made a “great candidate”.

        April 4, 2016
      • sblankenship said:

        Thank you Ann for taking time to respond and share your perspective. I guess I have been very lucky as the principals and administration that I have worked alongside as a teacher were great mentors, as well as, instructional leaders. They believed in the philosophy that if you really want teachers to value your feedback, then you’re going to have to spend a TON of time building your instructional credibility in the building… and that’s exactly what they did! Above all, trust permeated the building and it seems to be lacking in your situation.

        Great teachers choose to do his or her job in an extraordinary way, either because of, or in spite of, circumstances. Think about it. Do you add to or take away from the experience of your colleagues or your students? Do you move your school closer to or further from its vision and/or goals? Do you perform your work in an ordinary or extraordinary way? Do you lighten someone’s burden, or add to it? Do you lift someone up, or put someone down? Something to think about.

        With that said, the intent of this post was not to spark a conversation about teachers vs. administration, but instead, to share tips on what I believe to be important for candidates to consider when interviewing… regardless of the interview process.

        April 4, 2016
      • Mr. Friendly said:

        Well said, Ann. the parent contact question, the best lesson question, the assessment question, the classroom management question, along with the “tell me about yourself”…which they get easily bored with whether you actually tell about yourself personally, or you tell about your training , experience and preparation for the job. Team interviews are the WORST! What makes these people qualified to choose a teacher for their team? Often times they’re looking for someone “fun” or who can be a “buddy”… which totally kicks out most any man wanting to teach on an all ladies’ team. Also, I’ve tried to be “enthusiastic” to the point where I think I’m going overboard and even fake! Forget it if you ever left teaching to try a different career, then you’re just out of luck! (Didn’t these principals change careers technically? Just because they’re in the “education field” doesn’t make them a career teacher like most of us. Also, it’s okay to leave to be a “Stay at Home Mom” for a few years and come back to teaching, but heaven forbid you try a different career because you got burned by a principal (who was eventually fired, but not before I was blacklisted in that district). Also, if you’re over 40, and a man who doesn’t coach, or doesn’t teach advanced math, then good luck. Principals are all too willing to give “new” teachers a chance, (who. like most of us, had no clue our first year), but won’t hire a 40+ person because they think we’re just hanging on until retirement, and don’t have any passion for teaching left (which is sometimes the case, but not usually.) I’ve worked for those principals who (in Texas) worked 3 years as a teacher, and got into administration as soon as possible. Many of these administrators wouldn’t teach a class again if they were offered the SAME PAY! They got out of teaching as soon as possible! Off the subject here, but does anyone have any tips for a 40+ man looking for a teaching position when most of the positions go to younger women? Students of ALL ages need good MALE role models, especially in this day and age when there are so many single moms, or dads who are too busy to parent! Any tips for a “straight” married male trying to get a teaching job again? I’m at my wit’s end, as you can tell. Anyone else ever work for an awful principal or decided to try a different job and try to return to teaching? Any advice on these “team” interviews who are often the ones who select the candidates for the job, or for the interview with administration.

        July 17, 2018
    • Jessica said:

      Thank you, very well put. The commentor below who said medicine and teaching are two professions that cannot be 9 to 5 because of how important they are is asking educators to ignore the chasm between the respective salaries. One profession that works 24/7 can hire out every task outside their job and take wonderfully relaxing vacations to de-stress. The other must work 24/7 and do everything for herself: laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, bill paying, yard maintenance, car maintenance, and can never afford the hidden extra costs of health care, much less a special vacation. I get the feeling teachers were supposed to feel honored and proud to be in the same group as physicians. I’m sorry but I want a house, car, and worry free nights too. Money may not buy happiness, but it buys peace of mind. I’m exhausted from financial worry and unreasonable work expectations.

      September 30, 2016
  2. Jaime said:

    This is an incredibly refreshing outlook on how effective instructional leaders seek new talent. I’ve been an instructional coach for many years, and I’ve only encountered a handful of teachers who would excel in this type of interview. I’m curious about how, in your experience, your candidates perform during these very meaningful interviews. Are you looking for someone who can nail all of these questions and bring relevant artifacts of student learning to the table? Or do you look for sparks of greatness that can be nurtured and developed by you and your staff? I would love to hear more about the dialogue that ensues during your interviews.

    April 3, 2016
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you for commenting. Many candidates show up with nothing in hand, they sit down, and their responses portray that they haven’t spent any effort preparing for this interview. It can be frustrating at times and these experiences is what sparked this particular post.

      When a candidate shows up 10-15 minutes early to the interview, I immediately welcome them and give them 6-8 questions that I will definitely be asking. I only provide those questions in which they will need time to think.

      For instance, “Think about a recent lesson. When you were moving around the room, what did you hear your student’s say or do that demonstrated understanding of the learning goal?” or “What was the best question you asked your students during your last lesson taught?”

      I have found that providing a few questions ahead of time has not only sustained more rich responses, but also I believe it has revealed more meaningful and accurate responses.

      Yes, I definitely desire a candidate who is growable and coachable. Again, a candidate doesn’t have to know everything, they just need to have the drive to learn and improve their pedagogy. There has been multiple times in which I was very interested in a candidate, however, I just needed to know more. For instance, recently I was interviewing for a science position. Within our school, we want our students to become scientist by making sense of science concepts and by actually ‘doing science.’ I provided a candidate with a specific learning goal and asked her to design a lab that you would incorporate within your classroom if you had any resource you needed. I asked her to email me the detailed plan by 5:00 p.m. the next day. I can learn a lot by the quality of lesson I receive.

      Here’s the thing, conducting an interview is an important and serious act. If the interview results in a recommendation for hire, the impact on student learning will be significant one way or the other. I owe it to my outstanding students to do my very best to find the very best. My students deserve it!

      April 3, 2016
      • Diane Pratt said:

        I’m impressed to learn that you share some questions with candidates ahead of time. As all introverts know, we are used to preparation and we need time to think! Responding off the cuff is not necessarily a teacher requirement, but being thoughtful and reflective sure is!

        April 4, 2016
      • sblankenship said:

        When conducting an interview, I believe it is important to eliminate any intimidation or anxiety and create conditions so that the candidate feels somewhat comfortable. Personally, I avoid large panels of people in the interview. Once the candidate arrives, give them the questions in advance. I believe the goal is to reveal one’s true self. Questions ahead of time allows for “think time” which will lead to more quality and well-thought-out responses. (I like to treat candidates the way I would want to be treated if I were in their shoes.)

        I’ve learned that great teacher candidates thrive in the type of interview environment that I speak of. Regardless of experience, prepared candidates crave for such a process to show off their expertise, their passion for teaching and learning, and their love for kids. It should be a positive experience.

        Thanks Diane for reading!

        April 4, 2016
      • Judy Allen said:

        I am a 50 year old “young” mom. I have a 5th, 6th and 7th grader. I became a volunteer at their school, a room parent for the 5th grade, a substitute teacher and just completed my master’s degree in special education. I find that I am intimidating because I am 50 and I do have a master’s degree. I also find that most principals are NOT involved but an assistant principal is involved in the hiring process. Although I have my master’s degree and student teaching completed, I have not finished the PRAXIS Series for my state (NC). My degree in special education is Cross Categorical allowing me to teach k-12. My son has an IEP and inspired me to do the things that I have. I felt the need to make a difference with those who need additional help with literacy issues. I have had an interview last as long as 15, 18 minutes to 40 and actually 85 minutes and have been called back for a second interview. Our district will allow up to three years to become fully licensed. I was hoping that I could get hired while becoming licensed since I do have my degree and a 3.74 GPA.
        I don’t know if I am too old? I don’t know if I don’t have enough teaching experience? I don’t know if it’s because I am not licensed, but I definitely know when an interview has gone well and when it hasn’t. As of yet, I have not landed a job.
        What I wanted to say is that please don’t assume that a person hasn’t done their homework just because they didn’t show up with paperwork. Not only can I tell you about your school, the breakdown about what it is you are good at, how I can improve the position, I also research the teachers in the same department so that I have an idea as to what I will be working with! I know I come across as passionate (because of my son) about the position. I know what I am doing, I am flexible and willing to learn and do whatever is necessary for the position. I NEVER take paperwork in with me anymore, I had an asst. principal say that its human resources job to check me out. There job is to recommend me. I make sure to study the job description, I know the minimum and the desired qualifications, I know each persons background (linked in) and whatever else pops up from googling their name. I’m not fat, I’m not skinny, I’m not ugly! But, I am 50. How can I sell myself to someone in their 30’s? That’s almost the age of every asst. principal I have come across. Or, is it just possible that there are so many licensed teachers applying that why would they take on a new person going through the process while getting licensed (even if she does have a master’s degree?) when they already have one with a BA and licensed and in their early 20’s.

        April 4, 2016
      • Judy,

        You can’t let yourself get discouraged! I don’t know you nor will I get to see you in action some day (and I know you will have the chance to prove your mettle), but I can bet from what I just read you are a confident woman with great energy. I am sure someone will see that, too, and take a chance on this so called “old” teacher.

        I’m a young principal, and I love hiring young middle school teachers. BUT…one of my best hires has been a fantastic 6th grade English teacher with a heart of gold, plenty of tricks up her sleeve, and a wonderfully sharp, OPINIONATED mind. She is not a “young gun,” but a savvy, logical, experienced, and dependable woman. Sounds like you two would get along just fine.

        Keep your chin up – it’ll happen. Don’t change your game. My only suggestion is to demand interview feedback from a place after they don’t hire you. The worst they could say is “no,” right? Any feedback will help you with the next round.

        Good luck,


        April 4, 2016
      • sblankenship said:

        I totally agree with Charles.

        I believe the best organizations, sports teams, businesses, and schools who are highly successful, put the best person for the job above all else. A person that will exceed expectations, is extremely knowledgeable, will dedicate his/her full potential, and is willing to learn, grow, and improve is more important than age.

        Be sure to share the passion that you mentioned. Good luck and be sure to comment when you get that first job!

        April 4, 2016
      • Jennie Garrison said:

        I’m a former Principal and presently a Leadership Coach for Principals. I have been interviewing teachers for over twenty years. I have hired teachers that began their career at 50 years old. It is only an issue if you make it an issue. Please remember that. It’s the confidence that you must bring and the love of helping children. We can teach you the rest.
        Jennie Garrison Ph.D.

        December 14, 2016
      • Alex Fabbro said:

        Hi Judy,

        As a career-switcher myself, I can tell you anecdotally that there is definitely age bias in hiring teachers. After working as an engineer for the military for 20 years, I thought I’d “give back” by becoming a high school math teacher. Competing for that first teaching job as a 45-year-old, even with all my in-field work experience and master’s in engineering, plus terrific student teaching recommendations, was the biggest pain! Here I was, totally tech-savvy and coming in with ski instructor experience as well (which showed that I could at least teach *something*!), but losing out, twice, to younger less-experienced individuals. Third time was a charm and the love-fest between me and my new district was mutual, but I was the oldest candidate who interviewed, I’ll tell you that! Plus, don’t be deluded that a master’s can’t work against you, as you’ll cost the district more on the pay scale (c’mon Mr. Blankenship, tell me that, given two candidates equal in every respect except that one has a master’s and the other doesn’t, the BA-only candidate won’t be the one hired because s/he will cost the district less).

        Stick with it, though, and it’ll be worthwhile. Do your best to prepare (it sounds like you do), and take this article as it was meant: suggestions! Frankly, the author is pretty unrealistic (I can’t just take a video of my SPED students and show it to every principal with whom I might interview…privacy anyone?), and he’s lucky to have a webmaster who keeps the school’s public portal relevant and up-to-date. Not every school or district can maintain a current website. But he provides food for thought about what some starry-eyed principals would like in their ideal candidates; it’s the rare individual who can meet this standard, and that’s what’ll get you hired, even if you bring only a percentage of these qualities to the table. Good luck!

        April 30, 2016
      • Shawn Blankenship said:

        Thanks Alex for reading and I believe it says a lot knowing that you are reading articles, reflecting, and taking the time to comment.

        “Take this article as it was meant: suggestions!” You hit the nail on the head. The reason behind this post is simply to help or share suggestions for a strong interview. To provide suggestions on how to present yourself in the most effective way possible so that you do not leave the interview wishing you had said more. However, none of these ideas are unrealistic. I provided a video within the comments that I actually created to articulate my vision in which not a single student I teach was included within the video. Creative Commons provides many great pictures that can help tell your story.

        When it comes to alternative certified teachers, (in my experience) these teachers can bring a whole new aspect to the classroom. As an instructional leader, I expect my teachers to create conditions in which students tinker with real-world problems just like a real mathematician, scientist, author, etc. A teacher who has been an engineer possesses the knowledge and skills to meet this expectation. However, during an interview, I want to hear specifics of what that kind of instruction will look like. What will you be doing??? What will the students be doing??? If I only hear about stories while being an engineer in the military, I have a hard time visualizing what the classroom will look, sound, and feel like. This is where planning and preparation come into play before applying and interviewing for a teaching position.

        c’mon Mr. Blankenship….
        As a principal, I do not have a set budget (for instance 2.7 million dollars) for our building in which to hire. I have always been told to hire the best person for the job… and that is what I do. This is where running a business is different than running a school. The difference is many young lives are at stake.

        Thanks for reading and I hope your students (both boys and girls) leave your classroom pumped about science, technology, engineering, and math!

        May 2, 2016
  3. Brett said:

    I come at this from a somewhat unique perspective. Prior to returning to school and earning my teaching credentials at the age of 48, I was a corporate recruiter (headhunter) for 8 years and corporate manager with hiring authority of staff sizes up to 110 employees for 15 years.
    While the type of interview you describe is what many administrators aspire to, few actually have the time, perspective, or ability to conduct such an interview. As a non-traditional new teacher, I have been involved in 25 interview processes over the last 5 years (all in Iowa), and only one came close to the experience you lay out.
    Most of the time, my experience has been:
    *Spending 3 hours filling out an online behavior based questionnaire and application
    *Two out of 25 had phone interviews, both were within a couple of hours of my location
    *Travel (up to 4 hours) to a face to panel interview that consisted of a set of 20-30 canned questions given in “round robin” fashion with little to no eye contact.
    *End of canned questions, given two to five minutes to ask questions while interviewers are constantly checking time to stay on schedule for next applicant.
    *Five interviews had a “teaching” component where applicant was give five to eight minutes to “teach” a lesson.
    *Ten minute tour and handed two sheets of paper; pay schedule is one and benefit sheet the other.
    *Five out of 25, received letter of outcome. Two received phone calls of outcome. 18 interviews had NO notification of outcome.
    In one interview, I had a teacher ask me “How can we be sure that you are interested in this opportunity?”, I told her that I got up at 4am to drive four hours for an 8am interview, investing over $50 in gas and food, and 9 hours of time for 20 minutes of “face to face” time.

    While I applaud your process, this has been far from my experience and can only imagine the “1,000 yard stare” that an applicant must have at the conclusion of your interview, being so utterly alien to what is occurring in most CSD’s.

    April 3, 2016
    • sblankenship said:

      Thank you Brett for sharing your perspective. I have also interviewed in which the process was much as you described. I think the difference is this.

      When I interview, I am extremely prepared. I have taken the time to share a brief portfolio that not only shares important information, but it provides evidence to prove what I say is true.

      I have thought about specific experiences or stories that I want to share that articulate my ideas or what my classroom would look and feel like, or examples of how I focus more on learning that simply teaching.. you get the idea. I then look for opportunities during the questioning to sneak these stories and experiences into the conversation regardless if it’s a canned question or not. It’s actually quiet easy.

      Great candidates crave the opportunity for a teaching component!

      Just like the classroom, what we do during the first five minutes will set the tone for the rest of the period. We would never want our students checking the clock or disengaged in the learning, so we are prepared each day in a way that captures every student’s attention. We want our students talking about our lesson when they get home at night. With that said, we should strive for the same during an interview. We want the committee talking about our responses at the end of the process. I guess what I am trying to say is this: If you are unprepared, unenthusiastic, dull, and your responses are forgettable, then maybe that’s a glimpse into the climate of your classroom. I can’t control the interview process, but I do have control over how I make the committee feel.

      Something to think about, Shawn

      April 3, 2016
  4. Dan said:

    Thanks for this. I find it useful, as a principal, to see what others are looking for. I echo your sentiments and will be referring to this as I hire this year. I do want to point out to you, and anyone that is looking for a position that I would add another dimension to staff hiring.
    When I am looking for a teacher, I am also looking for a community minded staff member. Once all the pedagogical requirements are met, I am looking for a good STAFF MEMBER. By this I mean somebody that brings a positive attitude to the building
    Someone that:
    -says good morning to other staff and all students.
    -volunteers to help wherever help is needed.
    -treats the caretaker as well as she treats the director of education
    -focuses on where they need to grow
    -displays humility and believes they can learn from anyone

    I find that many veteran teachers that are excellent pedagogically are often arrogant and resistant to learning from those they deem to be ‘beneath’ them (such as consultants or administration). By believing that admin and consultants are the bad guy and don’t know anything about teaching it allows teachers to ignore very good questions that these people are asking about technology, assessment and instruction. Someone commented earlier that veteran teachers may be “weary”…. well…. To that I say “get un-weary”. Attitude is everything. Every day we have a choice to be beaten down by an underfunded system or to keep our chins up and demonstrate a strength of character and a belief in what we are doing.
    When a 20 year veteran doesn’t get hired and a 21 year old new grad does, I can assure you it is not about the pay scale. It is about enthusiasm and a willingness to learn and to do the right work.

    April 4, 2016
  5. sblankenship said:

    I could not agree more Dan. If you desire to foster a positive culture, then it’s important to hire positive people. You also brought up a great point. It’s so important to tailor your interview questions to your school. And because your needs, priorities, and initiatives change over time, you must revisit your questions often and adjust accordingly for each teaching position.

    In the future, I will share how my school designs specific questions to help determine whether a candidate will be the right “fit”.

    Thanks Dan and stay connected!

    April 4, 2016
    • Carl Andersen said:

      I am amazed at the time of day (or should I say night?) that you administrators, and others, are posting. What many teachers (veterans and those new to the profession) see lacking is a work life balance. I’ve seen many a tremendous young teacher fail to achieve this balance and ultimately become a workaholic who doesn’t recognize his/her own lack of work life balance or quits the profession sooner rather than later. What a teacher needs to hear is that not having the answer to every question at an interview is not seen as a downside, but rather interviewers are looking for those commitment to the profession and who have a desire to learn and institute changes in teaching in a controlled, well-thought out manner. That would be a teachable moment in a job interview. Ask a candidate to describe a time in their teaching that was off, what they did about it and why. This norm can be communicated by the administrator doing the hiring as well as other faculty who could share this kind of connect and correct culture with a candidate. Otherwise, it does often seem that interview teams (especially at secondary schools) are often cruising for new candidates who are not keen on building a responsible well balanced life outside of school and are willing to make themselves available for 24/7 commitment, and give the impression they’ve already mastered what they need to know. It’s a “culture shift” in education which is needed and many companies outside of education that have already embraced, demonstrate how to act/react when one needs to change course, and employers offering a reasonable workload, in order to land the best candidates.

      April 6, 2016
      • Shawn Blankenship said:

        Thanks Carl for responding. I believe the best employers have pride in their work regardless of the circumstances. A great example of this is shared in one of my favorite books called,The Fred Factor by Mark Sanborn.

        “It doesn’t matter how large or even how screwed up an organization is. An individual can still make a difference within that organization. An employer can hinder exceptional performance, choose to ignore it, and not adequately recognize or encourage it. Or, an employer can train employees to achieve exceptional performance. But ultimately, only the employee can choose to do his or her job in an extraordinary way, either because of, or in spite of, circumstances.”

        My mentor instilled in me: Excellence doesn’t happen by accident. Great educators believe there are no 9 to 5 jobs in education, only opportunities to make a difference. I believe there are certain professions in which clocking in and clocking out is simply not an option. Doctors and educators fall in this category. Why, because people lives matter! We’re not stocking cookies at a grocery store (my second job), we are touching the life of a child forever. Teaching is not hard work. Great teaching is hard work. There’s a difference.

        Something to think about, Shawn

        April 6, 2016
  6. Brendan said:

    Hi there,

    I really enjoyed reading this post and it’s clearly evident you are determined to create and maintain a positive and impactful school culture for your teachers and most importantly, your students. One comment and one question:

    1. I’m really not certain about bringing artifacts. When I was interviewing for teaching positions eight years ago, some interviews requested a portfolio, others requested not to bring a portfolio, and others didn’t say either way. I had a fantastic interview at one school, but received a call the next day that said I didn’t get the job. When I asked for feedback to improve, I was told that when I brought a portfolio I should have highlighted specific pieces from the portfolio during the interview, instead of passing it around. Learning from that, I highlighted items from my portfolio at my next interview, only to be told that the principal didn’t want to see it and really just wanted to have a conversation. This past November, I interviewed and was hired as an administrator, and was told ahead of time not to bring a portfolio. My point is: administrators and interview teams have different opinions on portfolios and artifacts. Of course, it makes sense to sell yourself as much as you can and show off your greatest strengths and successes. But at the same time, I think better advice is to ask if bringing a portfolio or artifacts would be appreciated when offered the interview.

    2. What is your advice for teacher candidates who have not been able to get teaching jobs and have been stuck substitute teaching? Recent experiences with innovation and lesson plan design mastery may be missing if these qualified candidates have only been given lackluster sub plans to complete, such as giving out handouts or popping in DVDs.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!


    April 6, 2016
    • Shawn Blankenship said:

      Hi Brendan and thank you for your response and question.

      I agree, when the phone rings to set-up the interview, it’s a good idea to ask ahead of time what the committee will prefer. With that said, it’s still important to share a story or real experience to back-up your responses, otherwise it may sound like a canned answer. As a principal, I never turn down information that can help me make the best hire.

      Substituting: Great substitute teachers choose to do his or her job in an extraordinary way, either because of, or in spite of, circumstances.

      When subbing, start by asking the principal, “Who is one of the ‘superstar’ teachers in the building? Ask the principal if you can observe him/her during your plan time. (You are a sub… you are not planning… you don’t need a break because you have been watching a DVD for the past three periods… you get the idea). The ‘rock star’ teachers love a big audience and will welcome you in their classroom. Observe, observe, and observe some more. You will learn so much!

      Connect with other educators across the country, especially teachers in your subject matter. Engage in chats, read these teacher’s blogs, and learn what effective teachers do differently.

      When subbing, even if you are given ‘lackluster sub plans to complete,’ you can still work on classroom management, high level questioning techniques, and formative assessment strategies to check for understanding. Of course, if it’s a DVD, then not so much. You may choose a new school in which to sub because the best schools foster a culture of excellence in which showing a full DVD just doesn’t exist.

      Good luck Brendan!

      April 7, 2016
      • Brendan Keiser said:

        Great response, Shawn. I especially like how you said, “Great substitute teachers choose to do his or her job in an extraordinary way, either because of, or in spite of, circumstances.” Good advice for all substitutes out there!

        April 11, 2016
  7. Carl Draeger said:

    I found this article very refreshing and challenging. During my 30-year career, I have experienced 3 transitions, all by my choice, to different sites. I have found the interview process must highlight why the hiring would be beneficial to both parties. This requires dialogue from the outset. It is also critical to have and maintain evidence of your exemplary practice. I LOVE your quotes, too.

    I was a bit surprised by the first two comments. If a teacher has been brutalized by a “bumbling” administrator, the onus remains on them to rise above it and demonstrate how their reflective nature will assist them in their quest to always get better. You have to focus on what you can change and not on what has victimized you. I totally understand the pain and the reality of having a “boss” as opposed to a “leader’. 29 of my 30 years in education have been under administrators who nurtured and encouraged my growth as both an educator and as a person. You don’t know how good you have it, until it is not there. Regardless, teachers have the responsibility and duty to provide positive learning environments and opportunities for all of the students they serve. It is ALWAYS about them and how to best help them learn. We run into trouble when the conversation is about how hard our job is and reasons why our kids “can’t”.

    I assure you that I am no ‘Pollyanna’; the challenges we face are real. However, when we interview we need to remain in the realm of what we can affect. We also need to ask the questions about the school structure, climate, and supports available to staff. Will we be able to ‘put our mask on first’ before helping our students.

    April 6, 2016
    • Shawn Blankenship said:

      Thank you Carl for commenting! “It is ALWAYS about kids and how to best help kids learn. We run into trouble when the conversation is about how hard our job is…” Wow! I couldn’t have said it better myself. The positive passion that you express in your comment is exactly what interviewers are craving to hear. In my 18 years in education, I come to learn that if you find yourself stuck between two decisions, the one that requires more work is the best decision for kids. It must always be about our students!

      During an interview, it’s this type of passion that you so eloquently speak of that I hope to hear regardless of years of experience, regardless of age, and regardless if you know every answer to every question. On the contrary, when your responses fill the room with negativity, you’ll find yourself interviewing 25 times in the next 5 years. Thanks Carl!

      April 6, 2016
  8. Dave said:

    Very reflective and probing discussion. The open honestly is appreciate. I throw in Rick Dufours perspective on putting outstanding teachers in a poor or average system. His point is we have traditionally spent our time improving individual teachers verses building a system that takes average teachers with a willingness to learn and moves their effectiveness up.

    View his thoughts here.

    April 10, 2016
    • Shawn Blankenship said:

      Thank you Dave for sharing. I believe the reason many reform efforts fail today is because we try to implement new ideas into old systems. This approach simply will not work. I believe Marc Tucker says it best, “Only a fool would expect that putting a 2016 fuel injector into a 1910 Model T would work.”

      As for changing individual teachers, I believe great leaders don’t spend time trying to change people. They spend their energy creating the conditions in which people want to change. Sarah Brown Wessling says, “Change begins with a culture where everyone is elevated to the status of learner.” I could not agree more. Steven Leinwand states, “It’s unreasonable to ask a professional to change much more than 10% a year, but it’s unprofessional to change by much less than 10% a year.” As educators, we must take ownership of our own learning and grow every year. Ultimately, its this type of candidate I hope to find, hire, and grow alongside.

      April 10, 2016
  9. Paul said:


    Great article and thank you for sharing. Heading into hiring season your article served as a fantastic reminder on several topics. I really like the thought of a teacher sharing a video of how things work in their classroom to provide evidence but I can’t help but wonder about the appropriateness of doing such. If I had a teacher showing videos they made during their classroom to other people for interview purposes my first thought would be did they get the parents and my permission to record the students and share in this way. How does that conversation start, “Hi I would like to record my class so I can get a job somewhere else.” I can almost guarantee that the school board and superintendent in my district would say no way is that permissible. Is that something you allow staff to do and if so do they get permission from parents?

    April 11, 2016
  10. Shawn Blankenship said:

    Paul, thank you for commenting. Let me clarify, most schools have a policy regarding photo and video images in which parents must sign a consent at the time of enrollment each school year. Only appropriate images will be used on the school Internet site, and children will not be identified by their name or address ect. This means that no image can be used for display or for school publicity etc,. unless consent is given by or on behalf of the individual concerned.

    With that said, many schools have their own Youtube channel or upload to platforms such as Schooltube. Many times I will use a Schooltube video to share with candidates to provide a window into our school culture. I want to make sure it is a good fit for our candidate, as well as, for us. Depending on the subject matter, I might share a digital window into a specific month at our school to give them a glimpse of what our school looks, sounds, and feels like:

    A few years ago, I created the following video to demonstrate what a 5th and 6th grade Intermediate school might look like under my leadership during an interview. Rather than use real photos or video from my current students, the photos were taken from ‘creative commons’ website. I believe my vision still came across very clear because of my voiceover. Any time I interview, I want the committee to have a clear vision because if their vision is different, then this is not the place for me.

    Thanks Paul and good luck!

    April 11, 2016
  11. Laura Campion said:

    What would you recommend a candidate bring with them to an interview? You mentioned a video clip of their functioning (and hopefully engaging!) classroom, but what other pieces of direct evidence would you like to see? Thank you for your great article!

    April 16, 2016
    • Shawn Blankenship said:

      I believe every teacher candidate has something that they are passionate about, something that they are proud of, something they have spearheaded, something they believe is their greatest strength, something they can’t wait to share during an interview… you get the idea. Now that you have identified those specific things you want the interview panel to know about you, ask yourself this one question, “So what?” You see, principals want to know much more than a simple statement informing them of what you say you do. By answering ‘so what,’ you’ll be sure to leave the interview without the panel thinking the same question once you leave. Let me state it a different way:

      So what if you plan and prepare every lesson! Even the status quo regularly plans and prepares for every class period. Prove to me you design highly relevant lessons that will motivate all students and sweep them up in active learning.

      So what if you give a number or letter (grade) to a student! Even the status quo gives timely grades. Provide evidence of ongoing, descriptive feedback that goes beyond a number or letter.

      So what if you give formative assessments! The status quo give frequent formative assessments. Tell me specifically how you use the results to adjust and guide instructional decisions as well as relentlessly follow up to ensure all students reached mastery.

      So what if you listen and respond to active parents who have strong opinions on the issues that particularly affect their children! Even the status quo communicates with involved parents. Show me how you find ways to hear the voices of those students who do not have strong parent advocates.

      You get the idea.

      Even if you do not have actual artifacts, be sure to tell the whole story. We want to know HOW what you say you do, impacts students. I hope that helps. Thanks so much for commenting Laura. Stay connected, Shawn

      April 17, 2016
  12. Stephanie said:

    This was a very interesting read! I recently just moved to a new state and just recently had a teacher interview. So this is what led me to this page. The interviews in some states can be much different than in others. However, here’s my perspective from a teachers point of view. I was the lead teacher of my grade level in my previous state. When we got a new teacher on our team, I think what our team really wanted was a teacher who would be cooperative, have a serving attitude, was experienced, and would be willing to help out the team as needed. I think whatever grade level you are hiring for, the WHOLE team should be on that interview panel, as they will be the people working with this person! This baffles my mind that principals do all the picking, but yet hardly have to work with the new teacher at all! Ok, and lets face it…a lot of what we have to focus on in elementary is math and english. So having them bring in a fancy science lab is pretty much irrelevant. Ive found that principals often hire “young” and “peppy” teachers because i guess they come off oh so peppy and positive in the interview. This peppiness in my opinion mostly just comes from a lack of knowledge of the job. Most teachers ibhave seen DO NOT stay this way, so hiring for this positive peppiness i think proves to be irrelevant within one to two years. Im only on my mid 30s myself, so im still somewhat young but often new hires are in their twenties. I think they are often so overwhelmed the first three years, thats its very difficult for them to contribute to the team, or be able to develop well designed lessons, and they are often somewhat entitled even though they are new. One year my district hired a girl that had already been teaching for awhile and it was so wonderful to have her help and expertise!! So, lets go back to the beginning, the interview panel shpuld have ALL the team members who will be working with that person. Choosing people who are experienced (if they are in the pool) is important! Remember peppiness so can so easily be faked!!! I will give you one example. A young and “peppy” teacher was hired for my team one year. The principal loved her! She even sent out an email when this girl transferred out, saying to the whole school how wonderful she was. However, when she was on my team, she was exclusive with another team member, cliquey, and difficult to work with. So, beware.

    May 22, 2018
  13. Curious said:

    Would you be willing to share your thoughts on how an instrumental music program benefits your school and students? What do you look for in a great music educator? I am interviewing later this summer, have experience as a long term substitute, but struggle during interviews. I believe I am a great teacher and want to nail the next opportunity!

    July 2, 2018
  14. RW said:

    Great article even if a few years old. I am now back in the interviewing process after retiring as a teacher in a different city. My background is rich in experience, degrees earned and certification areas. I recently began applying in my new city and have not gotten to interview at a school the entire season of hiring winter through summer. The resume is polished and used as a training model, the references are good but… nothing. My last doctoral and post doctoral work was related to my forte with technology and instructional design both online and face-to-face and, recently earned. One comment on “your principal’s mindset” that I would make with regard to technology integration is that what he describes as technology integration is incorrectly labeled. Working on a temporary project with outsiders is fantastic. A great opportunity for kids but it is not part of their world, a part of their responsibilities as a student. More wow but less relevance. As a lead technology teacher I often explained that teachers can put on the Ritz per se and the song and dance to integrate in a moment of show but the real integration comes with daily product using technology doing something they otherwise could not accomplish any other way- not a substitute method per se AND tying in the language, the math, the science, and closely related to those things that are about their world of academics (the acquired skill cannot be too indirect) So often administrators could not see the connection to projects like podcasts, digital books, presentations, etc.- all closely linked. Anything but using a pencil and paper on a test review was often frowned upon. Working on projects outside of the boundaries of “the standards” would be an even greater stretch. Oh, we were beyond the walls- even working with German students on activities through Radio Europe and our community but it was their ongoing school work.

    I am disappointed in not even getting the chance to share my background. I visited the HR department to see if something was amiss with the application. I was told all was well but I might need to make my resume more juvenile with some pictures of a “chalkboard and cartoon characters on it rather than be so professional focusing on my education.” I replied that actually the introduction was based on teamwork, goals toward success and snippets of success samples and that even though I was choosing to work with young people, I did not believe a teacher must be juvenile to work with juveniles. I wanted to say “professional” but I thought they might think I thought too highly of myself. Wow.

    July 24, 2018
    • Stephanie Nelson said:

      @RW, I just read your comment and I thought it was interesting. The first thing that comes to mind is your age. From what I’ve heard, the older you get, the harder it is to get a teaching position. I’m 36, just moved to a new state, and I’m noticing I’m not getting the same amount of bites I used to in my 20’s. That being said, your best bet would probably be to sub, and get to know the principals. Long term subbing is also a good way to get your foot in the door. I moved to TX from CA. In CA, you would often see jobs listed in “pools.” Then, you really couldnt apply for a certain position. They also have the teacher pools here in Texas, but the city I’m in also has the specific jobs available listed on the district’s twitter feed. I live in a big city and so I think the principals may be overwhelemed scrolling through all the applicants. So, Ive learned through the advice of others, after you’ve applied into the pool, if you know there’s a specific opening at a certain site you want, you can email the principal directly and express your interest in the position. Doing that earned me an interview the day I emailed a principal about a position. I agree with what the HR department said about your resume. I think alot of districts are going for “cutesy,” now adays on the resume and in the interview even if that doesnt have much to do with the real job….especially if youre going for elementary. I wish you luck on your search!

      August 21, 2018
      • RW said:

        Thanks Stephanie for the feedback. I actually got an interview last week. I thought it went well but I got the thanks but no thanks letter yesterday. I also got a telephone call from the super of HR. Again I was shocked at the lack of interest in my abilities, education or background. I could have just as easily been an inexperienced graduate. The interview was question-based which I had no trouble with- how would you use data for instruction, tell me a time when you made a difference, etc. I had great examples plus a specific skill set for meeting their improvement goals I asked them to share. So, I had narrative, personable presence, passion in action and experience in Title 1 but…The phone conversation was interesting. The Superintendent of HR, looked at my resume as the reason for no interviews as she could not locate any positions I held previously- they were there but she did not see them. She disagreed with the HR rep’s idea of putting graphics on my resume. I am convinced it really has nothing to do with the resume. The experience and positions held are not from/to linear sections as they were with one employer over 30 years. She said that principals do not read resumes so then; what is the issue? It appears to be ageism. A candidate with my credentials, at least when I was on the other end of the process, would be a rarity- six degrees, seven certified areas, years of experience, four industry certifications in technology, etc. It is a case of overlooking the obvious. The one interview aside, the black and white of it is positive so, the elephant in the room is…age or intimidation. Has to be.

        September 6, 2018
  15. Teacher Mamma said:

    I am interested in your thoughts, anyone’s thoughts, on changing teaching subject matter. I taught PE for a few years and subbed in any and all classrooms for a few years. Now I am want to teach in an elementary or intermediate school classroom. Searching and interviewing now but it is proving to be much more difficult to land a new job than I first thought.

    August 21, 2018

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