A good friend and former colleague called the other night to ask what interview questions I would pose to candidates for an 8th grade science teacher opening. My friend is volunteering to serve on a mock interview committee for a graduate teacher education class, and his team will interview a student seeking middle level science certification. Since I am a former science teacher, my friend thought I might have some good questions for him. I did my best. My two were, “What does analysis, inquiry and design look like in a science class?”, and “How do you bring rigor, relevance, and relationship-building into science lessons?” When we hung up, I thought more deeply about the future science teacher and the critical questions he and other future teachers must answer to thrive in the very complex world of education.
In Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should know and be able to do, Bransford, Darling-Hammond, and LePage cite Schulman’s (1998) six characteristics shared by all professions. These commonalities are: 1) Service to society, 2) A body of scholarly knowledge, 3) Engagement in practical action, 4) Uncertainty, 5) The importance of experience, and 6) The development of a professional community. Depending on whom you speak with, teaching is either regarded as a profession or a pseudoprofession. I prefer profession, but acknowledge there are times when individuals and institutions may miss the mark. With professionalism in mind, I’d suggest another question for the budding science teacher: “How will you contribute and add to the science teaching profession?”. Depending on his/her response, I’d follow-up with “How will you serve others?”, “Put learning theory into practice?”, “Understand the complexity of education and student learning and act accordingly?”, and “Develop into a master teacher or teacher leader?”
Teaching is a wonderfully rewarding vocation. It’s also hard work. Period. Unfortunately, prospective teachers’ preconceptions (and those of the general populace) about teaching are shaped by their own experiences as students. Experiences which are incomplete, filtered, and not reflective of all that precludes effective teaching. Darling-Hammond and others speak about this in Preparing Teachers for a Changing World: What teachers should know and be able to do. Much like watching a professional ball game or a Broadway show, effective teaching appears to be effortless. Hidden, however, are the thousands of hours of preparation, learning, and skill development that occurred prior to the event. So, another question series I’d like to ask the future 8th grade teacher is, “Are you ready to put the time in? To challenge yourself to think differently? To take risks? To seek out mentors who will guide your development, and to do the same for others later in your career?
Now more than ever, we need to graduate student teachers who are metacognitive in their work, who recognize their inherent biases and preconceptions shaped by their experiences in school, and who are self-directed learners moving along a continuum towards master teacher and/or teacher leader. We also desperately need to grow and distribute leadership throughout the school building, expanding instructional leadership responsibilities as schools ramp up Common Core Standards, Next Generation Assessments, and Professional Accountability Systems. With teacher leadership in mind, I’d close my interview session with a warm handshake, sincere best wishes, and a copy of the Teacher Leader Model Standards.
Hammerness, K., Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J. Berliner, D., Cochran-Smith, M., McDonald, M., and Kenneth Zeichner (2005). How teachers learn and develop. In L. Darling-Hammond and J. Bransford (Eds), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.