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How to Prepare for an ESL Job Interview

By: Susan Lafond (2010)

Your entire life has been getting you ready for this moment. Use everything you've got to create a future that is your dream.
— Barbara Winter

If you are looking for a new ESL or bilingual teaching position, there are a number of things you can do to help prepare for the interview. This article outlines general information that will help you get started, as well as areas of your own experience that may be helpful to focus on, learn more about, or highlight in the interview.

Also, don't miss the recommended resources at the end of the article, including typical questions asked in an ESL interview.

Interviewers

Schools vary on how they hold interviews. Some common practices include:

  • Meeting an interviewing team: This is usually a mix of teachers and administrators which asks you scenario-type questions.
  • Presenting a sample lesson: This may be done in front of the interview team or to a group of students.
  • Writing an essay: This will be used to demonstrate your writing ability, and is an opportunity to share your philosophy of teaching, your understanding of educational buzz words (e.g. student-centered, critical thinking, learning styles, etc.) and your ideas on how you apply these strategies in the classroom.

Typically, the entire process involves a couple of interviews. If you advance through the process as a candidate, you are asked to return for a follow-up interview to answer more questions for another person or group of people.

Common ELL/Bilingual Terms

You may wish to review common terms and acronyms related to ESL/Bilingual instruction before the interview. You can find many of these terms in the Colorín Colorado glossary. Remember that your district or state may have its own set of terminology, and that one school, district, or state may define terms or programs differently from another.

Certification

One of the first things the interviewer will want to ascertain is the teaching certificate(s) that you hold. Teachers with dual certification or Bilingual certification are in higher demand as they are flexible to fill multiple job areas.

Of course that information will appear on your résumé, but the interview is a chance to present more details about your experience that may not appear in print. For example, you may be completing a master's degree or working toward another certificate area (e.g. reading, special education, elementary, content area). Be sure to share that since it makes you more marketable.

Teaching Experience

Early in the interview you will be invited to talk about your teaching experience. Be sure to give plenty of details, especially since there isn't much room for specifics on the résumé. That may include experience working as a teaching assistant, teaching abroad, or working with adults for organizations such as Literacy Volunteers.

New Teachers

For first-time candidates who recently graduated and don't have past teaching jobs in a school district, talk about the following kinds of experiences:

  • Student teaching
  • Tutoring and mentoring
  • Working as a volunteer religious education teacher
  • Parenting, for those who have children, which is valuable experience

In the Classroom

Classroom Management

Another focus of the interview will be on instructional strategies you plan to use in the classroom. Be prepared to discuss what you would do to keep students actively involved and motivated during a lesson and provide concrete examples. Think about answers to the following questions:

  • If students are having difficulty learning a skill or concept, what do you do?
  • How would you work with students who are not demonstrating expected levels of growth or those with disabilities?
  • Part of your effectiveness with students will revolve around structuring the environment. How will you establish your classroom procedures?
  • What will you do to maintain classroom management?

Technology

Another aspect of instruction you may be asked to address is the integration of technology. Districts are looking for teachers who are knowledgeable and experienced with various forms of technology and willing to incorporate that into lessons. More and more classrooms are becoming technologically "connected" and moving toward replacing the overhead projector and blackboard with an electronic whiteboard, projector, and document reader.

Teachers are now expected to use computers to record grades and for other administrative and clerical duties. Teachers must continually update their skills in order to skillfully manipulate the latest technology in the classroom. Be prepared to talk about your technical skills and previous experience you have using technology in the classroom.

Assessment

Instruction goes hand-in-hand with assessment. You will want to be familiar with and state (or national) standards as well as conversant about NCLB and other acronyms that deal with the accountability of required assessments. Each state has its own set of assessments it uses at different grade levels. You can review your state's standards in this guide from Colorín Colorado.

The ESL/Bilingual teacher needs to be familiar with all the testing students have to take part of as well as the proctoring side of it. English language learners (ELLs) are entitled to testing accommodations that vary from state to state. Ensuring that they receive those accommodations will fall to the ESL/Bilingual teacher. At the classroom level, you will want to describe the formative assessments you intend to use to demonstrate student progress. Share any experiences you have working with other content teachers in modifying their tests for ELLs.

In the School

Collaboration

It is more and more common for ELL educators to collaborate with others in the school community. Some ESL teachers will co-teach with content teachers. This is ideal when there are several ELLs in the class as the expertise of the two teachers culminates in a more positive learning environment for the students. ESL/Bilingual teachers also work with community members and parents in several capacities: e.g. as translators, as classroom volunteers who can read with students, as speakers on specific topics.

In classrooms where there is a large number of mixed proficiency levels and grade levels or students with individualized educational plans (IEPs), there might also be teaching assistants or paraprofessionals. ESL/Bilingual teachers will need to know how to work effectively with these colleagues so class activities run efficiently and smoothly.

Professional Development

Advocacy is a major aspect of the ESL teacher's responsibilities beyond teaching. Advocating for ELLs also includes working with teachers and staff on instructional and assessment strategies that best meet their students' needs. It may be expected as part of the position to work with teachers at department meetings, do short presentations at staff meetings, develop awareness workshops for new staff, or provide ongoing training in best practices as part of the district's professional development plan.

If you are starting out new to teaching, you may consider being a member of the district's staff development committee that will determine and plan out professional development opportunities to take place during the year for the entire staff. This way you will provide a voice to the needs of your students in future district endeavors.

Extracurricular

Participation in school-related activities outside the classroom is equally important to districts when they hire new staff. Often, the person whom you are replacing did more than just teach. Interviewers will ask you about your interests and skills to see in which other ways you would be valuable to the district. For example, you can become involved as a club advisor, athletic coach, or grant writer.

Questions to Ask

One question that you will most certainly be asked at the interview is, "Do you have any questions?" This is something that you will want to anticipate and prepare for ahead of time. You may consider asking questions about the following topics.

Notification

  • When do you anticipate making your final decision for this position? This answer may help you considerably if you are participating in other interviews, and it will give you an idea of when the process will be completed. If you haven't been offered the job by that date, it's a good chance that you will be receiving a letter thanking you for your interest but indicating that you didn't get chosen for the position.

Schedule

  • What will my teaching schedule look like? This general question is asking what you would be teaching, how often, and where. This gives you an idea of the teaching assignment of grade levels and proficiency levels.
  • What kinds of classes or periods will my schedule include? You may be asked to teach a class outside your certificate area such as a support period for identified students. For teachers at the secondary level, you may be assigned a study hall, hall, or cafeteria duty for a period of time.
  • Will this position be part-time or full-time? The position may or may not be full-time so the amount of days you work and how long each day is something you want to know. For example, if you need to get another part-time position, you know what days and times you would be available to work.
  • Will I be working in multiple buildings? In a smaller district or a district with fewer ELLs, you may be asked to work with students in multiple buildings. You may be the only ESL teacher for the entire district and will have to schedule time to meet with ELLs at all the schools.

ELL Population

Here is the opportunity to learn about the ELL population (number or percentage in the district, nationalities, background) as well as the type(s) of programming the district employs at both elementary and secondary levels.

Research your district's demographics before the interview if possible — that information is often available on the school district website. Follow up with these questions during the interview, and take a look at the Colorín Colorado glossary if you need a reminder of what these terms mean!

  • ELL demographics: What does the ELL make-up consist of in the district, and what approach does the district take about educating them?
  • Bilingual education: Is there an established Bilingual program in the district (transitional, dual language, or developmental)?
  • Newcomer program: Does the district have a newcomer program or a program for SIFEs (Students with Interrupted Formal Education)?
  • Pull-out vs. push-in: Are students pulled out of regular classes to receive ESL services or is the ESL teacher expected to push-in with the students?
  • Placement: Are the students placed in mainstream classes with native English speakers or are they in self-contained ESL classes and/or sheltered content classes?
  • SIOP: Does the district expect teachers to utilize the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) model for instruction and provide coaches to train and implement it properly?

Knowing the answers to these questions will give you an idea of expectations for teachers in the district and may encourage a discussion on potential avenues of growth for the district to take in meeting the needs of their English language learners.

Mentors

  • Will I have a mentor? A mentor is usually another teacher who is your "go-to" person and helps you for at least your first year in that district. Your mentor may or may not be an ESL teacher, but is a veteran teacher who is familiar with school policy, classroom management, etc. and can assist you in dealing with any problems that crop up. Mentoring programs vary greatly from state to state and district to district. In some districts, mentor programs are run by the teachers' union, and some mentoring programs may last up to three years. Some programs pair up teachers while others have a group of mentors from which to work, each having different strengths. Some districts may offer peer partnering, which involve mentors in evaluating new teachers.

Final Advice

Most people are nervous in an interview. Anticipate that you will get nervous and plan for it. For example, bring a notebook and copy down the questions you are asked. Next to those questions, jot down notes on what you want to be sure to include in your answer since it is easy to forget everything you want to say. You can refer to your notes at any time. This gives you the time to think before you respond, as there is no time limit for answering these open-ended questions. You can also write answers to questions you anticipate being asked ahead of time and bring them with you (e.g. your strengths and weaknesses, three words to describe you, etc.)

In your final preparations:

  • Remember that you want to sell yourself.
  • Bring a copy of your resume, your credentials/certifications.
  • Answer questions honestly since you don't want to mislead the interviewers.
  • Dress to impress. Since you are applying for a professional job, you want to be dressed professionally. You may only have one chance to make a good impression.
  • Be positive, and don't forget to smile!

Let the motivation of getting that teaching position, and making a difference for your future students, shine through during your interview. Good luck!

Hot links

  • AFT Tools for Teachers: Teaching as a Career

    The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) has pulled together a variety of information on topics such as finding a teaching position and licensure requirements.

  • ESL Jobs

    TEFL.net offers numerous links to help out ESL teachers looking for a job. One in particular is the link Top 10 Interview Questions for Teachers to Ask.

  • Bilingual Educator Jobs

    NABE.org has a job board where you can register to receive email notifications about positions as well as browse for open jobs online. Be sure to check your state Bilingual Association affiliate’s website for additional links.

  • Advice for ESL Job Interviews

    The advice from YourDictionary.com is very useful. One valuable piece of advice it offers is to learn about the school where you are interviewing. There are also links to other related articles.

  • ESL Job Interview Questions

    ESL Drive is a great resource to potential interviewees as they will find over 130 potential questions they may face in an interview, their possible answers, and a list of questions to ask the interviewer.

  • Real-Life Interview Questions for ESL Instructors

    This list breaks down interview questions into categories, such as teaching and classroom management, and marks the questions more often asked in an interview.

  • 100 Teacher Interview Questions

    The Teacher Job and Interview Resource Site offers a list of 100 commonly asked questions at a teacher interview.

  • Common ESL Interview Questions

    Here is a list of questions that HeadsUpEnglish.com offers that you may face from a potential employer at an interview for teaching EFL abroad or ESL in a US school.

  • Sample ESL Resume and Cover Letter

    If you have never written a resume, or need some ideas for a cover letter, here is an ESL example that you can refer to when writing your own.

  • Interview Attire

    Career Services at Virginia Tech gives specifics for interview attire for both men and women.

  • NBPTS English as a New Language Teacher Standards

    National Board for Professional Teaching Standards has posted the English as a New Language Standards for Early and Middle Childhood and Early Adolescence through Young Adulthood. These can serve as a guide for what an accomplished ESL teacher knows and can do.

Comments and Recommendations

Thank you for both writing a detailed, practical primer on interviewing for ESL positions - and providing an impressive list of links for further information. I'm going to share this article with my graduate students pursuing teaching careers in ESL - and other fields.
Posted by: Eric Roth  |  March 21, 2010 05:41 PM
(Note: Comments are owned by the poster. We are not responsible for their content.)

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