When I’m on a search committee, while we are interviewing an applicant, I can’t help but start thinking about how I would answer the interview questions myself. It’s actually a good values clarification exercise (although perhaps best not to mentally practice it while interviewing someone). So I appreciate Kevin’s question.
Instead of writing out a script of what I would say, I’ll explain what I would include, in general, in my response to some of the more commonly asked interview questions.
Question 1: What is your philosophy of language teaching and learning?
Everything that I do in my classroom is based on the premise that language learning is about skill development. Speaking, writing and reading a second language involve using skills. And just like learning other skills, for example, driving a car, playing tennis, or learning a musical instrument, ESL students need focused practice to develop their language skills.
The teacher’s role in helping students develop their skills is to find or produce activities that will engage students and that are at the right level of challenge for them. The teacher is like a coach, setting up and introducing the practice session and then stepping back and being ready to offer support and guidance.
Also, just like when developing any skill, when learning a language, students should be given opportunities to make mistakes and to learn from them in a non-threatening environment. This means that the teacher needs to relinquish being the center of attention.
(For more about this, see Introduction to Teaching ESL: Student-Centered Approach)
Question 2: What do you think are some of the greatest challenges facing ESL teachers?
I think ESL teachers often have an image problem. Their image of a teacher is someone who stands in front of the class talking to the students and conducting the lesson with all the students’ eyes on him or her. In fact, I recently heard a teacher say that she felt like she wasn’t earning her pay if she wasn’t in front conducting the class. So the challenge is to break this image and realize that our job is to engage students in developing their language skills and for this to happen, the teacher has to stop being the center of attention. Teachers are doing their jobs when their students are learning how to write better by actually writing in Writing class, or read better by reading in Reading class and by speaking in Conversation class. Students will actually progress faster when the teachers are on the sidelines giving support.
This doesn’t mean that teachers should never talk to the class as a whole. But we should realize that we are still good teachers even when, or especially when, we are not talking and when students are engaged in an activity.