Interviewing with Heart

“I’ve got big shoes to fill.”

This is what I think of as I anticipate this coming school year. I look back on those who have inspired me throughout the process of becoming an educator. I count in my head all the qualities I’m thankful for because of these people. I wonder where I’d be without the leadership, motivation, and self-confidence they instilled in me. I’m encouraged by the fact that if I am just half as good at teaching as they are, I’ll be ready to take on anything. Knowing the influence my role models have had on me is how I’m able to take a breath and plan for the 182 days ahead of me.

Three months ago, being an educator was not my plan. I was set to attend graduate school at Texas A&M for educational policy analysis. I wanted to fight for educators, not be one. When my husband found employment in a small town in West Texas, my plans changed.

It’s funny how if the classroom wants you, it gets you.

I interviewed for a fifth-grade social studies position in a 3A district with 87 percent poverty. The interview was sudden and unexpected, made by a connection my husband had through the school board. I had little time to prepare, especially since teaching wasn’t even on my radar at the time. I spent what few days I had reaching out to other educators I knew. I asked them what kinds of questions I should expect, what to bring with me, and how to keep my freaking out to a minimum. I was in awe of their eagerness to extend a helping hand and their tips on staying sane. Never underestimate the power of asking those who’ve come before you.

When it came time to interview, I walked into a room filled with eight people who were ready to drill me with questions—all four school principals, the special education coordinator, a coach, and two people from HR. Surprisingly, I was met with smiles, ease, and genuine care from every one of them. They were engaged in what I was saying—truly listening. It felt like my words were the most intriguing things they had ever heard. It helped calm my nerves.

Some questions were easy. “Use five words to describe yourself.” “Why do you want to be a teacher?” “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” Others were more difficult. “What would you do in this situation?” “How could you improve our school?” “What kind of teacher do you want to be?” While some were tougher than others, I had anticipated each one. That is until they asked me the last question.

“We have interviewed a number of other applicants. What makes you better than them?”

As I look back on this question, I wonder why it took me by surprise as much as it did. It is a logical and thoughtful question that any employer would want to know the answer to. I said nothing at first. The only thing that came to my mind was that I love teaching, but that seemed so remedial and cliché. Why couldn’t I think of something better?

A minute or so passed by, though it felt much longer, and I finally realized that the only thing that had come to my mind was the perfect answer. So, I began explaining what teaching meant to me. I spoke about the mentors I have in my life. I explained their love for lifelong learning, their passion for youth, and their readiness to lead. I poured out how there is nothing I wish more than to take after my role models. I painted a picture of how I wanted to make a difference in my students’ lives, just as my role models had done for me. I poured out my heart.

Anyone can tell an interviewer about themselves. Anyone can offer insight into how a situation should be handled or a problem solved. It’s the questions that elicit passionate responses that matter the most. I’m convinced my answer got me the job.

Aug. 21 was daunting. I used to wonder how I would feel when the first day of school got this close. I am thankful to be able to say that while there is a nervousness lurking in the back of my mind, I am overjoyed to finally fill my room with students and eager to make those who have paved this way for me proud.

I won’t let you down.

Sarah McCaslin recently graduated from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. She is a first-year teacher at Mary Deshazo Elementary in Muleshoe, TX.

Photo: Sarah outside her first-year classroom

For more interview tips, see ATPE Regional Representative Cynthia Villalovos’s column How to Get the Job You Want.

Not an ATPE member? Join today to take advantage of ATPE’s professional development opportunities for teachers, principals, and paraeducators.

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