Interviews: Phone and In-Person

Pre-Screen Phone Interview
The following information details my experience with the Teach Away pre-screen phone call. I do not know if this is the standard for every candidate, but it was mine.

So. At 1:00PM EST, Tuesday, December 14th, I received a call from Teach Away for a prescreening interview. I don't remember in detail the questions she asked me, but I remember the basics of the conversation.

One way that I prepared for the interview was by filling out an application for a high school English teacher in Portland, Oregon. Yes, I was really applying for the job, and that helped me all the more because I gave serious answers to the many questions it asked. And the application was for an alternative school and so asked questions specifically concerning how I might deal with discipline issues.

For the phone interview, here are ten general questions that I vaguely remember:

1. Why would I make a good candidate for teaching in Abu Dhabi?
2. What are my strengths as a teacher and how would they make me a good teacher for Abu Dhabi?
3. What is one example of a difficult challenge I faced with a student(s) and how did I overcome it?
4. What classroom teaching strategies/methods/approaches do I use in the classroom?
5. How might I deal with a classroom of students with low English proficiency to high proficiency?
6. What strategies do I use to ensure how all students are learning?
7. Why do I want to teach in the Middle East/Abu Dhabi/abroad?
8. How do I manage problem behavior, and how do I prevent it?
9. What is my teaching philosophy?
10. What experiences do I have that would make me an effective teacher in Abu Dhabi?

Like some of the questions above, I did feel after the interview that many questions were very similar to each other, which sometimes gave me a chance to emphasize certain things while also adding details that I might have forgotten. Qualities that I emphasized were sense of humor (a big one), flexibility, and multicultural awareness, and I tried to give specific examples of times I used these qualities. The fact that some of the questions were so similar gave me the opportunity to give several examples for abstract human traits. I used my military experience in general and from Saudi Arabia, my traveling experience to a small village in Bolivia, South America, and especially my natural curiosity which allows me to connect easily with young adults and children because I am naturally interested in them and they are interested in me.

I also intentionally used specific examples as much as I could because that is what gives reality and meaning to all the abstract ideas. I thought of specific times I used collaborative grouping and project based learning and how the students took ownership of their learning. For example, I once designed a fairy tale unit where students were required to work together on a performance project where they could choose to create a film, play, or simply a fairy tale book and demonstration. The students delved into the project because it was their own creation, and they practiced the writing process as well as working together and assigning roles. Likewise, sense of humor and flexibility are abstract, so I thought of times when I used humor or talked about how humor always makes learning more fun.

Also, I mentioned that giving students a chance to collaborate in their native language gives them a chance to think critically about material. It's difficult to think critically and use a foreign language at the same time, so using native language helps the process of learning.

As far as teaching philosophy goes, everyone has their own, but I read on one of the New School Model documents that a major ideal in the education reform is that all children are capable of learning and that the teacher is responsible for student learning. The model favors child-centered learning and "whole child" philosophy (specifically Kindergarten). My personal philosophy is that the teacher provides the tools for students to learn and teaches them how to think critically and take charge of their own learning. Ultimately the student needs to take responsibility for learning, but the teacher needs to provide opportunities and lessons that teach and inspire responsibility. I don't think this contradicts the idea that teachers are responsible for student learning--I think it simply defines more precisely what the teacher is responsible for providing to all students.

Anyway, that's my experience for the pre-screen interview. It was very successful and I was immediately told that I would be moving forward to the in-person interview!

In Person Interview
This page details my experience with the in-person interview including my preparation. I doubt it is the same for everyone, but this was my experience for the London interview on February 12, 2011. Also, as a small warning, I tend to be somewhat meticulous in my preparations by over-planning to the extreme, and I also had two months to prepare for this interview. With that said, I imagine some of my preparations could be useful for those who don't especially like to make detailed plans for themselves! I like to reinvent the wheel, so to speak.

Document Preparation: For the documentation, I was required to upload documents to an online profile, prepare hard copies (in color) for the interview, and bring a digital file (CD or USB memory stick) of all the required documents. A detailed checklist was sent to me via email.

For the hard copies, I bought a plastic, opaque folder with pockets and a center clip.

For the CD digital files, I stuck a thin CD sleeve on the inside cover of the folder (using sticky tack). I also stuck a small transparent pocket above the CD sleeve for the passport photos. I stuck one of the passport photos to the Visa application form (using sticky tack).

The following is a list of documents for the interview and how I prepared them:

1. Color COPY of Passport detail page: Should be enlarged to letter size or A4. I used photoshop for this.
2. 4 Passport photos (against a white background).
2. Resume: My most updated version.
3. Highest Qualification: Color COPY of diploma, not transcripts.
4. Teaching License: Color COPY. My teaching license was being renewed at the time, so I brought the expired one, but I recently received the new one and emailed it to Teach Away.
6. Criminal Record Check: the type that needs fingerprinting. This was not required to have completed by the interview date, but I had it done on time. Must be the ORIGINAL. If you don't have it completed on time, I am not sure if you will need to send the original via mail to Teach Away.
7. Two Reference Letters or Records of Employment: Mine were 1-2 years old. They did not actually keep the originals because I brought color copies with me! Bring COPIES and ORIGINALS with you.
8. Security Clearance Form: this must be the ORIGINAL

Informational Research and Personal Writing: I spent time researching Abu Dhabi and the educational reform. I downloaded three documents from the ADEC Website. I did not study these in depth, but they were so helpful when it came to understanding the educational reform and the high degree of planning and serious expectations from the project. It helped me personally because I was able to tell the interviewer that I understood the serious undertaking of the UAE (and consequently my own if I were to teach there).

1. Comprehensive New School Model Click here>
2. 10-Year Strategic Plan Click here>
3. ADEC Higher Education Strategy Click here>

Secondly, I wrote down many questions that I thought would be important to practice for the interview. I mostly based these questions off the pre-screen interview, and I wrote the answers to these questions.

Interview Outfit: I believe I did very well on my outfit that day! The interviewer actually commented on it. He pointed out that I had a mixture of old fashioned with modern in the outfit, old-fashioned and modern hairstyle, and really cool glasses (he complemented me on those two or three times!).

Basically, I like fashion and I like to use it to my benefit because first impressions do count, and the outfit can and will take you very far. When I look for an interview outfit, I look for something that fits my personal taste in fashion. I wanted an old-fashioned style but with modern highlights. A pencil skirt just below the knees is what I was specifically looking for, but a skirt length just above the knees would normally be fine. I didn't even consider slacks/trousers as an option because I feel that a skirt is the best option for professional interviews. I also wanted to find a jacket that did not look so much like a business suit with buttons down the front and a collar. At first I was opposed to black because it seems so conventional, but what I found was perfect. It is black with no buttons, no collar and has a pretty angle to the hem. Shoes were actually the easiest for once--Clarks had the most comfortable pair of heels, not too high or low. I say that all my pre-interview efforts paid off well, and going for the best possible first impression took a little effort and was key to starting on the right foot!

For my hair, I wore it in a double French braid, hence the comment about old-fashioned mixed with new. I wanted a look that is stylish but simple and subtle. A double French braid with the two braids rolled into a low bun. I wore a necklace (but it was barely visible) and no earrings, but I would have worn small pearl-like earrings if I had remembered!

Practice Interview: My husband asked me some of my questions on the day of the interview, which seriously helped me to loosen up. He tried somewhat successfully to make me laugh, but I seemed to disappear into myself too quickly. I felt hollow.

The Interview: It turns out that I actually enjoyed the interview (but I was also happy when it was done), and it was different from what I would normally expect in an interview. It seemed that the interviewer wanted a deep discussion about some philosophical ideas; for example, why Abu Dhabi, why now, what do I believe about human beings in general, am I good at reading people, how would I feel if a principle told me that my students must get a 90% or better... He didn't want the easy answer--anyone can say, "Yes, I can read people well" (he actually asked me to read him when I said this; very scary!)--he wanted personal and well-thought-out answers that got to the heart of who I am as a teacher and individual.

The interviewer asked me for my feelings about the fact that many girls are expected by their fathers to get married after school--their marriages are already being arranged. He said some girls will not see the relevance of school because they are only going to get married and take care of the home, and he wanted my response to this: "How will I get these girls to see the importance of their education even if they are only going to get married?" My answer included having lessons that pertained to their life and future and interests. Meal planning, managing a family, and social life all have potential writing exercises and performance projects for the students and something from which they can gain personal fulfillment. The students might be interested in making movies or fashion shows, projects that would require a great deal of planning and collaboration but would also offer excitement and real-life learning (and obviously I don't know if I would have enough resources for something like a film/fashion project or even the permission, but these are just ideas). He seemed to like my answer, anyway.

One of the big ideas we discussed was road blocks and how every teacher (every human being) faces them at some point in career/life/relationships. He said that all teachers will face this point in the UAE, the point when they ask, "What am I doing here?" "Should I even be a teacher?" "I don't know if I can do this." It will possibly be, it will be, the most challenging point in my career and life. He wanted me to give him an example of when I faced such a roadblock in my life or career or relationships and how I dealt with it.

He also asked me in a round-about way: "Do you want your students to like you?" I explained why I would want my students to like me--because otherwise they will not want to learn from me. He enthusiastically agreed with me in a way that seemed to suggest he would not take no for an answer (or that "no" would be a very wrong answer and that the only right answer is "yes, because otherwise they won't learn anything"). I was happy to give the "right" answer, anyway! And after we talked about this for a bit, he asked me a final question: "Can you do it? Can you handle this teaching job?" Another one of those tough questions because I didn't want to sound too hasty. Inside I was saying, "Yes! Yes!" but I had to be thoughtful about my answer.

Overall, I do feel that my preparations helped because I learned a lot about myself and was confident in my strengths and experiences and what I could offer a school in Abu Dhabi. And after the interview, I was even more confident that this was something I wanted to do.

After Interview: Wow! It took me quite awhile to calm my nerves after this interview. But I felt that it was a success. The Teach Away coordinator told me I would have a decision and possible offer by Thursday (this was Saturday).

My husband met me and we went for a beer to celebrate a successful interview!


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  2. How did you answer the question about the principal who wanted to give high marks?

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