• Recommendation: Ask these important questions when you are interviewing for an ESL teaching position. (Spoiler alert: these are not about logistics and pay.)


 I once interviewed for an ESL teaching position at a school in Switzerland. I couldn’t imagine a more idyllic place to live and teach for a couple of years. The type of courses and the type of students that I would teach seemed like a good fit for me.  On top of that, it included free housing.

Fortunately, during the interview, I asked a question, and after hearing their response, I immediately knew that teaching there would have been a disaster for me.

During the interview, I answered the typical questions that they had asked me.  Then near the end of it, the interviewer (director) asked me if I had any questions, so I asked, “What are you most proud of about your program?”

The interviewer answered, “We believe that one of the greatest features of our program is how much time students get to spend with their teachers.  The teachers’ housing is right next to the student dorms, so there are lots of chances for students to interact with teachers outside class and in their homes. The housing location also makes it easier for teachers to supervise students outside class.”

I enjoy interacting with my students in class and when I run into them outside of it, but I was certain that I would quickly burn out under those conditions. The next day, I withdrew my name for consideration.

A positive impression I got after hearing the answer to that same question

During an interview at a different program at a college, I asked the same question, “What are you most proud of about your program?” That time, I was very impressed by the response.  The interviewer said that ESL program is considered an integral part of the college.  In other words, unlike ESL programs on many other campuses, this one is not separate from the rest of the campus.  In fact, the ESL instructors are even encouraged to serve on college committees.” That clinched my decision to accept the position when it was offered to me.

Two more important questions to ask when you are being interviewed

Needless to say, whether you ask these questions depends on the context. You may be in a situation where you just want some teaching experience, so it really doesn’t matter to you what the answer to the questions would be. On the other hand, if you are trying to decide between more than one program or if accepting the position will entail a major location change for you, what you hear in response to these questions could help you make a decision that you can feel more confident in and whether you decided to accept the positon or decline it.

Question: It seems that many programs have a special challenge. Does your program have one?

After several years of teaching in a big city, I was attracted to a position that was open in a rural area about two hours from the nearest major city.  The program was small and only had four or five teachers, which actually sounded like an attractive change from where I had been.

During the interview, I asked, “It seems that many programs have a special challenge, does your program have one?”  The director told me that a big challenge for them is recruiting students. Because of their remote location, potential students often don’t consider enrolling. Although the cost of living is relatively cheap, there isn’t much for studentsto do beyond studying. After hearing that answer, I felt that taking the job would be taking an unnecessary risk in that there was a real possibility that they might need to cut back on staffing if they couldn’t attract enough students.

An encouraging response to that question came during a different interview. The interviewer explained that their program had been growing, so they were able to add new levels to their program. But this meant that getting new students placed into the right level and courses was a challenge. Thus, they were exploring ways to improve their placement process, and they were especially interested in getting input from newly-hired teachers about this.

I was intrigued by that answer.  It seemed to indicate that they had their priorities right. And it sounded like something that I could contribute to if I was offered the position.

Question to teachers on a hiring committee: What do you enjoy most about teaching in this program?

Quite often interviews are conducted by a small hiring committee rather than just one person, and the committee can include teachers in the program.  In those situations, an interesting question to direct to the teachers on the hiring committee is: What do you enjoy most about teaching in this program? Answers to that question can sometimes help you picture what it would be like in your daily life as a teacher in that program.

I was excited to hear this response during an interview: “We have a solid curriculum with clear goals for courses, but teachers are given a lot of autonomy to teach the courses and use materials that they feel will best meet those goals.” I could visualize a class of students engaged in activities that I had personally invested myself in and could feel the satisfaction that comes from that.

On the other hand, my internal response was quite different during an interview for a position at a different program.  One of the teachers on the hiring committee explained that she loved teaching in that program because all 10-12 teachers work closely together sharing lesson plans and materials. In fact, instead of working in separate offices, they all have their desks in one big “Teachers Room”, so there is a lot of interaction among the teachers.

That type of working arrangement can be very appealing to some teachers who perhaps like the energy that can come from a room full of professionals continually exchanging ideas. They would immediately feel a part of the program.  However, some teachers would find it too distracting and would prefer a quieter space where they could feel more productive. Also, they might prefer to gradually develop professional relationships with colleagues before sharing materials and lesson plans.

In the previous posting, I answered a reader’s question to me about what I would say if I were interviewing for an ESL teaching position: “What would you say if you were interviewing for an ESL teaching position?” (A question from a reader)

Onward and upward!

David Kehe

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