The Interview: “Do you have any questions for us?”

Bryce Hedstrom has a great document for interviewing teacher candidates if you happen to find yourself on an interview committee. I’ve created a list of questions from the other perspective. Asking even just a couple of these should give you some great insight into the prospective workplace.

1) What is the goal of the [school]’s language program? ACTFL Proficiency level? Is there a different goal here for Latin?

  • If they give a canned answer about using “all four skills,” proceed to the next question and ask them to prioritize those skills.
  • For Latin, they will likely say the goal is reading. Use this opportunity to establish that you make the distinction between reading and translating, and that your teaching style allows ALL students to read more fluently, etc.

2) Given the goal, how would you prioritize the following skills (i.e. Listening/Reading, Speaking/Writing)? Do you feel any of those precede the others?

  • Here’s where you can lay down what Teaching with CI is about. Students must listen and read before they can speak and write. If your committee is admin-heavy, or has a developing/ambivalent language teacher, they probably group the skills as listening/speaking (orally), and reading/writing (in writing). Tell them that speaking and writing (the “production” skills) don’t make students better readers, which is the goal of Latin. For modern languages with other goals, you can throw in that reading (not writing itself) actually improves writing; these points support placing an emphasis on listening/reading skills.
  • If they mention “passive skills” to criticize your hierarchy, remind them that listening and reading actively is a big topic in education. They are saying this because they think kids won’t be involved during listening/reading, and/or have been told that students should fervently work on something in groups and can’t possibly learn a language without paired communicative drills. Explain to them that in your CI classroom students are not only involved, but actually drive the content of what they listen to and read. You can’t get much student-centered than that!

3) ACTFL recognizes that students need Comprehensible Input. What does this buzzword mean to you, and how do students receive it here at [school]?

  • You might want to follow up by asking “how do you make language comprehensible?” I missed one opportunity to do so when a teacher boasted of reading high-level literature in the third year of Latin (it turned out that students actually just translate using traditional materials). This is when you can discuss Embedded Readings, which touches upon the all-important Differentiation.

4) What are your average retention numbers? How many students do you expect to see in the highest level course offered?

  • This is huge when making the case that your Teaching with CI can reach or has reached more students.

5) Is the culture at [school] to have fun and enjoy academics, or is it more subdued? (i.e. Is it cool to participate in class and succeed?)

  • This is an opportunity to tell them about using students’ own interests to drive discussions/stories in the target language.

6) As a principal/department leader observing a foreign language classroom, how do you know that students understand a language that you don’t understand? What would be some signs?

  • They will probably bring up paired activities, or the buzzphrase “cognitive engagement.” Bring it back to the goal and importance of listening/reading. This is also a good time to restate your MGMT system to keep target language use high. Remember, it might actually be a radical idea for them to keep class in the target language (especially for Latin), so explain your safety nets and what’s observable in your class.

7) Scenario: I bring you various studies confirming that students need to hear and read a language most of class in order to eventually spontaneously create and manipulate the language. Would you be receptive to allowing this in my classroom even though it appears to conflict with the current model in other content areas of more student and less teacher talk?

  • This one is pretty aggressive, but ask if you get the sense that they’re not into you Teaching with CI before you make a big mistake.

If anything doesn’t mesh well, or you get the impression they don’t understand you, ask about how receptive they are to what you’ve done that resulted in your students’ success. Anyone unwilling to hear about your practices are not life long learners, and likely don’t live by the very mission statements/values they promote. Those individuals are not worth being around.

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