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The Teacher Interview

That time of year thou mayst in schools behold
When teachers come to be interviewed.

I just finished talking with a new headmaster at a classical school who will be participating in our headmaster coaching program and we got on the topic of teacher interviews. What red flags should he look out for that would indicate that a teacher might not fit his school, he asked. And there’s one of the essential questions you need to ask before you do an interview yourself.

I believe there are two fundamental inabilities for a teacher: one, the inability to think about ideas, and two, the inability to communicate those ideas to the students’ souls.

What indicators should you look for to see if your prospect has one of those teaching diabilities (TD’s)? First, of course, is what you can learn about their experience. If they have proven to be unable to manage a classroom, then they can’t communicate an idea to that classroom. If their students perform poorly, they aren’t learning.

But that’s hard to discern in an interview. I’m very interested in what others can add to this, but here I’ll try to reason out and reflect on how you can determine whether a teacher can think about an idea while you talk with them. Maybe I’ll get to the second TD in this post or maybe later. We’ll see.

Indicators of ability or inability to think about an idea (I can’t imagine any one of these would be sufficient to establish a case, but you need strong evidence for, not lots of evidence against, these abilities):

  • Ask what they’ve read and how much time they spend reading. Beware of inanity.
  • Ask open ended questions that require thoughtful replies.
  • Determine whether they can see connections between their specialities and other “classes” or “subjects”.
  • Ask why they want to teach in your school and what is wrong with any other school.
  • Ask what drew them to classical education.
  • Ask what beer they drink (this is a very subtle question that will get past the defenses of almost any teacher no matter how suspicious. The only trouble with this question is that I haven’t yet figured out how to interpret their responses.).
  • Ask for a metaphor for teaching (or almost anything really – the ability to compare is one of the clearest marks of an active intelligence).
  • Ask what ideas they like to think about.
  • Ask what the purpose of education is.
  • Ask what happened to education over the last 50-100 years.
  • If it’s a Christian school, ask what Matthew 6:19 ff has to do with education.
  • Ask them why they are wearing what they are wearing. No, don’t ask that. They might have some beer hidden on their person somewhere.
  • Ask whether they would rather be an exaltation of larks or the quadrature of the lune.
  • What does X have to do with teaching (e.g. gardening, religion, space exploration, our economic mess, television viewing, etc. etc.)

Of course, what you really want to know is whether they can absorb, represent, use, and communicate an idea. A poor memory won’t help.

What questions have you found helpful, and what other red flags would you watch for?

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