6 Critical Questions Teachers Should Ask Principals in Job Interviews

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Teachers are naturally scared senseless when heading into job interviews, especially new teachers, who have never had their own classrooms.

Because I was connected to a lot of educators decades ago when I finished my undergraduate training, I was fortunate to have quite a few job interviews. In fact, I interviewed with about 25 school districts in one summer. And, no, I didn’t get a job.

What was the problem? you have to wonder. The answer is surprisingly simple. I was so wrapped up in anticipating questions and trying to prepare the right answers that I never considered the questions teachers should ask principals during an interview.

Twelve years after landing my first teaching job, I was invited to interview for a position in a nearby school. Job interviews had been in my rearview mirror for so long that I wasn’t sure what to expect. But it didn’t matter; I had a job already, and this changed my perspective completely on this one. I decided that I was going to ask the interviewers a few questions of my own.

Principals routinely end job interviews by asking candidates if they have any questions. Most teachers struggle with this. Many will simply say, No, or ask when they can expect a decision. Some ask questions they believe will be endearing; things like, “Are there committees I can join?” or “Can I get into my room early?”

I realized in the last job interview I ever had that my questions were the most important ones, and the last thing I was concerned with was sucking up to the principals. After all, in a way, I was interviewing them.

Walking back to my car that day, I knew I wouldn’t take the job if they offered it to me, because they struggled to answer the questions I asked to my satisfaction.

6 critical questions teachers should ask principals

1 – What is your philosophy on mobile learning?

If the answer is, “We have a strict policy stating that all mobile devices must be left at home or in lockers,” you can forget your other questions and politely excuse yourself. It’s the 21st century, for crying out loud. Who wants to teach in a school that forbids the use of the most powerful teaching and learning tool ever created?

2 – What limits, if any, are there on the environment I create in my classroom?

Apart from anything that might break fire codes, it’s difficult to imagine this being answered with anything other than, “Do anything you wish; it’s your room.” If asked what you want to do, explain that you want an inviting, fun, learner-centered classroom. This may require you to move some chairs and tables, bring in some plants and maybe a few beanbag chairs, and a variety of other things that make learning fun.

3 – Am I required to assign homework or give a particular amount of tests?

For me, a Yes reply here is a deal breaker. However, there are ways around traditional homework and many alternative forms of assessment, so if all other questions are answered appropriately, you might still keep the school on your short list.

4 – What is your Twitter handle?

If the principal says she is not on Twitter, it may not be a deal breaker, but it’s definitely a red flag. Being a connected educator is essential to every educator’s success in the digital world in which we live. If a principal counters with, “Why is this important?” you should simply repeat my last sentence.

5- What qualities are you looking for in a teacher when you do a walk through or formal observation?

The answer to this question helps you know precisely what the principal expects from you, which will prepare you for future evaluations. More important, though, the answer tells you exactly what is important to the person running the school where you may soon work. Does she want to see a classroom that is orderly, where the teacher is in control? Or, is she looking for a vibrant, messy place where children are laughing, collaborating, and exploring?

6 – Who do I talk to when things aren’t going well?

Now, you may be thinking that you don’t want to suggest that things won’t go well. Don’t worry. Wise principals know that even the best, most experienced, teachers have problems during a school year. Like question number 1, there’s only one reasonable answer to this one. The principal should eagerly reply, “Me.”

Headed off to an interview? Remember these questions, and be sure to let us know how it goes.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series, The uNseries, and other books from some of education's most reputable teachers and leaders. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Connect with @markbarnes19 on Twitter.

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