Congratulations! You're going to be interviewed for a plum teaching position in a choice district. It may be a small step for you — but how can you make sure that it turns out to be a big leap for your career? asked experts — elementary-school principals — to share their best advice on how to shine in your next interview.

Before You Go . . .

  • Know who you'll meet. Find out if you will be speaking with a principal or a panel of teachers, administrators, and parents. "We expect nervousness," says Dr. Elaine Kanas, of the Siwanoy School in Pelham, NY. "But we also look for someone who can meet with a group and remain energetic and unflappable."

  • Do your homework. "We want teachers who know something about our district and show enthusiasm for our school," says Francine Ballan, principal of Green Acres School in Scarsdale, NY. Check out the school or district's Web site. "Read" the walls when you visit.

  • Be prepared to show what you know. The interview is just the start of your journey toward a new job. Marianne Tully of Tappan, NY's Wm. O. Schaefer School, says: "You can look great on paper, talk a good game — but can you be effective in a classroom?" Expect to be observed teaching as part of the hiring process.

What to Bring

Our experts advise you to bring three essentials to a winning interview: a show-and-tell portfolio, letters of recommendation that burst with specifics, and a can-do attitude.

Portfolios should contain just a few samples of your work and student work, says Kanas. "What you choose reflects what you think is important," she points out. Roberta Kirschbaum, principal of the Bruno M. Ponterio Ridge Street School in Rye Brook, NY, adds: "It's how you talk about it that counts." Include two or three letters from supervisors, cooperating teachers, and principals, advises Ballan: the more specific they are in covering your instructional technique, creativity, collegiality, and classroom climate, the better. "I look for phrases like 'I highly recommend'," says Kanas. "What's missing is revealing, too." Your energy, vitality, passion about teaching needs to be clearly evident in your attitude, counsels Kirschbaum. "I'm looking for teachers with grit and self-confidence, whom I can trust to be caring with students," she says.

What Kinds of Questions Will You Face?

When you're in the hot seat, you want to be able to say to your interviewers: "Fire away!" Think about how you'd answer each of these questions and you'll be ready.

  • What special talents do you bring to our school? Could you start a writing program or coach a sport? "I look for a desire to add to the school community," says Kanas.

  • How do you communicate with parents? Bring evidence of letters you've written home that describe projects you've designed, says Kirschbaum.

  • How do you reach all learners? Show that you are aware of the range of learning styles and differences, and be specific about how you address that, says Kanas.

  • Recall a teaching experience that went poorly. What would you do differently? "We applaud people who can pinpoint what went wrong," says Tully.

  • What are you reading professionally? Keep up with trends and show that you are a learner, says Kirschbaum.

  • Describe a day in your classroom. "This gives us insight into a teacher's methods, practice, and classroom management techniques," says Ballan.

  • How do you know your students are learning? "I need to know how teachers use assessment to guide instruction," says Kanas.

  • Do you have any questions for us? Comment on what you've seen in the halls, says Tully. Do ask about staff development opportunities and teaching materials; don't ask about salary or sick days.  
  • And finally, when you get home, send a thank-you note! "Every teacher I've ever hired has dropped me a note," says Kanas. "It shows you care."