5 Interview Tips You Can Learn From My Adjunct Teaching

Dr. Joseph Barber

I’ll be teaching my Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare course again this semester at Hunter College, and here are some things I have been thinking about that might help you with your next interview:

1) It’s good to be in control – but you have to know when to adapt. I feel much more comfortable teaching when I know certain information: 1) where the classroom is; 2) how the IT works; 3) where all the exits are; 4) how many students will turn up on the first day; and 5) how many names I am going to have a hard time pronouncing. As I have been prepping my updated course, I have a plan in my head for what it is I want to get across and what I want students to walk away with. If all my students sat quietly in the room, then my plan would be flawless. But I don’t want them to do that, and so I have to be able to think quickly on my feet when they ask questions I have never thought about, or talk about their unique perspectives and how this changes their understanding of a subject. You can’t plan answers to questions you don’t know are coming…, is what you can take away from this. Most interviews are going to involve questions that you can plan for, such as: tell me about yourself, why do you want this position, and in what ways are you qualified? You also know that you should have 4 or 5 questions for them – that is the easy part. What happens if they answer all of your pre-prepared questions before you have even asked them? What happens if you get asked questions you have never anticipated being asked? If your pre-prepared questions get answered before you ask them, this is when you have to draw upon what you have heard people talking about during the interview itself to help you craft some new ones on the spot. If you are meeting with multiple people in separate meetings, draw upon the comments made by one interviewer, and ask another interviewer what their perspective is. Have questions about what people’s best experience has been working for the organization – chances are they won’t answer that one before you can ask it, and they might get a slight warm and fuzzy feeling when they do answer the question as they relive the moment. Unconsciously, you might be associated with that warm and fuzzy feeling, which is never a bad thing. When I get asked a question I have no answer to in my class there are a couple of strategies that I take. One is to simply state that I don’t know the answer, but that I will look into it before the next class – something hard to do in an interview setting. The other is to answer a slightly different question that I do have a better answer for, and then to try to explore how the two questions might be related, and where there might be similarities in the answers. These strategies usually work well together in my class, and it may be possible to adapt the second strategy for interviews. Come set up a mock interview at Career Services and we can talk about approaches for answering challenging interview questions.

2) Be relevant. My course has a very applied component to it, and I get a better sense of what to talk about the more I understand the students in the class – they will hopefully be the ones applying this information in the future, after all. Interviews are all about finding out how you might be able to apply your skills in the role you are interested in. To make your skills and knowledge as relevant as possible, you have to know who you are talking with – from both an organizational and individual person perspective (apparently corporations are people too, you know). Don’t stalk the people you’ll be meeting with, but find ways to show your interest in them and their organization through your answers.

3) Learn from your mistakes. Some lectures go well, some examples of complex topics make sense, but there are always going to be times when you fail to connect effectively with students in the classroom. Similarly, even with lots of preparation, not every interview goes as planned, and some don’t’ go well at all. Take a moment soon after the interview has ended to collect your thoughts, and write down the questions you were asked that you didn’t answer well, as well as the illustrations of your skills in action that did seem to resonant well. You’ll be able to use this information going into the next interview. You can always ask students for feedback on a course, but you can’t do the same thing with interviewers, and so you have to rely on your own recollection after the interview. Because stress and fear can impede the transition of short-term memory into long-term memory, the sooner you do this, the more helpful this exercise will be.

4) Drink plenty of water. What? What kind of tip is that? Well, there is never a situation that can’t be improved by being properly hydrated. If you have to give a job talk, a teaching sample, and talk with 15 different people in a row – all in the same day and without a break, then water will be your best ally to stay refreshed and energetic. You might not see this as a priority with all the hustle and bustle of the interview day, but make sure you stay hydrated.

5) Be passionate. I teach as an adjunct at a New York college not because I enjoy small salaries and a 12 hour round-trip on a cramped bus with no indoor waiting areas at the bus-stop. I teach because I enjoy the subject, and the students at Hunter College always come from diverse and interesting backgrounds that help to enliven the subjects we explore together. I always learn from my students, because they have had experiences that I haven’t. Many are as passionate about the subject (albeit from different perspectives) as I am. Even if you are interviewing for a job that you are not passionate about in a “this is the best job in the world ever” standpoint, you can still be honestly passionate about the opportunities there will be to use you unique set of skills and experiences to help achieve some common goal. Help the interviewers see that you do have some passion, beyond just the day-to-day tasks that you are qualified to complete, so that they can better imagine what you can contribute to their departments and teams. The interview is not the time for soap opera-esque displays of emotion, but you can still find ways to be passionate when you talk about what you have done in the past, and why that brings you to the interview in the present – as well as what your thoughts are about your own professional future.

Wish me luck for the new class starting this Friday. And when you have your next interview coming up, set up an appointment at Career Services and we’ll help you make the most of your preparations.

Guest Blog – Learning to Let Go: The Toughest Lesson to Learn

by Alyssa Schwenk, CAS ’10

When I was at Penn, I had a certain routine: up at 9, class, gym, library until 3. A late lunch with friends, then into the Daily Pennsylvanian offices to report, write, and edit until the wee hours. I’d break for dinner around 7, return to the office, go home around 12:30, catch up with roommates, do homework, and send emails until about 2:30, when I’d crash. Lather, rinse, repeat. I loved it.

Now — two months into my second year teaching in D.C. through Teach for America — I can’t give you a daily schedule. I have the broadest strokes: Up at ten till six, at school by seven, and the kids come at eight. After that — who knows. While there’s an academic schedule, no two days even resemble one another. Some days, my math lesson goes amazingly, and every one of my 23 kindergarteners can count to 20 (trust me, it’s a big deal). Other days, there’s a tough-tough-tough conversation with a parent, an administrator, or a social worker. Or there’s an earthquake. So it  goes. It’s an experience unlike any other, and one that I’m incredibly proud of doing on a daily basis.

I joined TFA immediately after graduating Penn in 2010, surprising even my closest family and friends. In September of senior year, excited and anxious about the future, I’d decided to apply. I wanted to try something new, to push myself farther: It was time to put myself in a situation that was bigger than me, one that made an impact in the world. I also was struck by how unbelievably lucky I’d been to spend four years at Penn, for being from a family with the savvy to make that happen, even if we didn’t have the resources. I wanted to give back. Like most major life decisions, it wasn’t exactly planned, but in retrospect, it made perfect sense.

Everyone I’d asked about TFA said, “It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” While I appreciated the enormity of the work, I also saw the phrase and the sentiment as partly cliché: If closing the achievement gap were easy, obviously it would have happened. Of course it was tough. I was expecting hard and frustrating and a learning curve on teaching. I was expecting to experience situations that I had never encountered. I was expecting steep statistical odds and long nights and a struggle.

But I was not expecting the crash course in emotions, acceptance, and letting go. It’s all in how you look at it. Nothing can ache more than watching a child, who you see every day, who you taught to do multiplication and whose shoes you tie and whose milk you open, not getting what she needs and deserves. But nothing can bring you as much joy as that same child figuring out how to really do subtraction for the first time. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a student dealing with a situation that can’t be fixed through hard work and strategizing, but nothing is more empowering than seeing that student learn to read, count, and think independently. Even just eight weeks into the school year, I can already see enormous growth in my five-year-olds. Seeing my hard work pay off in such a concrete, immediate and life-changing way — so soon after leaving college — is a rare and amazing privilege. It’s that ability to affect change in my students’ lives that keeps me going on a daily basis.

FYI: TFA (Teach for America)

by Erica Marks

“One day all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.”

Before joining the corps, the mission statement (above) was all I knew of Teach for America. Did I want to help? Sure. Did it seem easy? More or less. In the end, looking back on two strenuous, but fulfilling years, I feel like I did the mission some justice.

As an undergraduate business major at Pitt, I truthfully had no idea what I was going to do and where I was going to end up. I was applying for jobs that appealed to my major, but that didn’t appeal to me.  It was during this time of soul-searching, that I came across an opportunity that I knew nothing about, but seemed like it may give my career more purpose.  After a lengthy, three-part application process, I made the cut.

My assignment: Up and move to Charlotte (you rank your cities, I was thrilled about Charlotte, not the move) and take on an entire class of 1st graders with zero experience.

My preparation: Make a pit stop in Atlanta for a 5 week, intensive, hands on boot camp, teaching summer school.  The end goal of which was to get my group of students into the glory land of 6th grade (very happy to report that they made it).

My experience: From day one in the classroom, I knew I had underestimated my role.  To start, 20 six-years olds depended on ME to make them ready-minded 2nd graders, while simultaneously teaching them everything about everything.  Did I accomplish this? According to the data, yes. Was it simple? By no means. Did I fall in love with all 20 of these little rascals? 18 (not all of them were angels). It is now crystal clear to me why teachers have a summer vacation.

My motivation: The moments when the missing pieces of the puzzle fell into place; when Ke’Shaun stopped writing his letters backwards (even the word pizza was incomprehensible), when Raeven told me she wanted to be an author (that girl loved telling tales), when Maia became a math whiz and champion of Addition Wars (the kids preferred this game to recess, she was the fastest adder in the class!) and when Sade’s mom told me she wanted to be a teacher just like me.

My aftermath: In hindsight, all jokes aside, Teach for America has been my single-most meaningful experience to date. Do I recommend it? Yes, to those who want to be the change that shapes the minds of our youth and the force that strengthens our education system.


All I Really Need to Know I Learned from a Kindergarten Teacher

by Patrica Rose

Last week, in his New York Times Economic Scene column, David Leonhardt discussed recent research out of Harvard on the importance of a strong kindergarten teacher.

What makes this research different is that it was conducted by economists, who looked not at the short-term effects (test scores and the like) but at the earning power of subjects in their twenties.  And they found (doing follow-up on a study from the 80’s) that a 5 year old with a good kindergarten teacher then was making $1000 a year more now than a comparable student whose kindergarten teacher was not classified as “good.”  Thus the economists predict that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth $320,000 a year, if you take the increased earnings an entire class will amass over their careers.  Such economic benefits are substantial, and cannot be overstated.

Leonhardt goes on to advocate for higher pay for teachers, and while I am in favor of that, it is not my point here.  Rather it is to thank all those who choose teaching for a career: my mother and my own teachers, long since retired and many deceased, my children’s teachers at Germantown Friends School, starting with their own kindergarten teacher, a wonderful man who was indeed a standout, and all our Penn grads who are now in the classroom, including those who learned their craft at the Graduate School of Education, and the many other Penn alums who have chosen teaching as a career, or have decided to begin their professional lives in teachers’ corps programs like Teach for America.  We are proud of our 43 Class of 2010 alumni who are busy preparing to enter the classroom this fall with TFA.  All of you will have a lasting effect on your students’ lives – and maybe even their paychecks!

CareerCast: Teaching Abroad (An Alumni Perspective)

Interview by Patrick Cawiezell
Video Podcast by Angie Luo (CAS ’11) & Jaclyn Chen (W ’12) and Claire Klieger

Patrick recently sat down with CAS alumna Becki Young (’93) to talk about her experience teaching in Japan!

Want to watch this video on your mobile device? Click here to watch on Vimeo Mobile!