Over the last several years, social science research on educational success has been coalescing around one indisputable fact. If you control for socio-economic factors, the most important influence on student success is the quality of the teacher.
Recently, a friend of mine, who is a vice-principal at a middle school in downtown Toronto, mentioned that although a majority of new teachers they hire every year succeed in the classroom, a significant number do not.
Part of the problem, apparently, is the interview process.
Typically, a teacher interview tends to last somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes and usually involves the candidate answering a list of questions posed by two or three interviewees, usually some combination of the principal, vice-principals, and/or departmental head. Most of the time, the newly hired teachers live up to the interview answers they gave. Sometimes, however, they don’t.
When I interviewed at Wilfrid Laurier University in 2008, my interview was a day-long affair, beginning first thing in the morning with a meeting with the Chair of the Department, and ending with an interview-dinner with two political science professors in the department. In between, there were countless other meetings and interviews with other faculty members in the department, graduate and undergraduate students, senior administration personnel, and university staff.
The two most important parts of my day-long interview, however, were the job talk and the teaching demonstration. The job talk was a one and a half hour session attended by departmental faculty members and graduate students in which I had to deliver a 35-minute presentation on my research. For the remainder of the time, I was subject to a variety of challenging questions from the audience about my presentation.
The second main element of my interview was the teaching demonstration. Prior to my interview, I was told that I would have to teach a 50-minute lecture on the courts in Canadian politics to a second year class of about 100 students. And that’s what I did, except in addition to the 100 or so students in the class, my future colleagues were also in attendance to assess my performance.
Admittedly, this process is not perfect. But it does have the advantage of allowing the interviewers to assess candidates more comprehensively, moving beyond the typical interview conversation by adding a real-time assessment of the candidate’s skills and teaching philosophy.
The second round of hiring for elementary and high school teachers will soon be commencing in Ontario. School administrators should consider adding a live teaching demonstration to the interview process to ensure that interview rhetoric is backed up with performance.