ESL Job Interviews

I had an interview with a fairly large private school in Toronto.   This is  a school with several branches over the country.  It was what I would call a “high stakes” moment.   Even though I prepared for a fairly long time, I think that I could have done much better.

For my own benefit, I am writing an entry so that I remember precisely what the interview was like.  I admit here, that I am the last one to give advice.  I feel a bit like a beggar sidelining as a financial planner, but at the risk of criticism, it is at least fresh in my mind what pitfalls might occur.  I really wanted this job, and I felt like my preparation time was not used as efficiently as it could have been.   Having said that, this entry may also be helpful for those who wish to know what a ESL job interview is like, from someone who has just participated in one.


First of all, let me describe exactly what was required for the interview.  They asked for:

-Two references with contact information

– Certificates attesting to my B. A and TESL education

– A one hour lesson plan.  In this particular case the lesson plan was for a low level learner, and it was on comparative adjectives.

When I arrived at the office, I was also asked to fill out an application.   As silly as it sounds, this blindsided me a bit, because I was focused on preparing my lesson plan.   I will describe the application. First, there was a section on personal details; address, phone number, etc.  Then, there was a section on employment history asking of a list of three employers and their contact information.

Finally, there was  a section asking questions on TESL knowledge.  This section consisted of about five questions.

The first one was:  list the 8 parts of speech.

The second was:  analyze a sentence by identifying all the parts of speech.

The third was: define the terms “irony”, “metaphor”, and “asimile” and “abridge

The last question was: what is your teaching philosophy in two sentences.

After filling out the application I went to a table with the director and head teacher of the language school, and the interview proceeded.  They asked me questions concerning my CV.

Here are a couple of the questions that were asked.

“Tell us a bit of your teaching experience.”

They modified the question:”what is your greatest strength/weakness?”  Here, it became: “What do you like to teach most: reading, writing, communication, or grammar?”

“How would you deal with classroom management issues?”

Then, I presented my lesson plan.  They asked me to treat them as if they were students, and present the lesson exactly as I would, on a white board.

After that, they began to give me some information on the school itself.  One thing that was noted was that the teachers start by taking lessons here and there as substitutes.  After a three month they start to take on lessons as full time teachers.  Then these teachers are laid off after the summer, as the student numbers also dwindle.  This information was important, as it highlighted that the interview period continues as the teachers begin to make a reputation for themselves with the new school.


Obviously, if you want to prepare, you can use the description above  as a sort of recipe for what you will need in an ESL interview.

I did some things well in my interview, and other things badly.  I got so nervous I made a mistake on the application that would have my grammar teacher chiding me and shaking her head in disbelief.  However, let me say this about how I would prepare in a perfect world:

1) All 5 W’s of the interview should be written down, and committed to memory.  The top three of these are who, when,  where.

2) Documents/documentation printed and placed in a folder.  These include a: CV, Lesson plan, and certificates. All relevant contact information for employers on hand, ready to be copied into an application if need be.

3) Preparation  and intimate knowledge of the grammatical details of the sample lesson, with special care paid to lesson time, lesson level, and lesson subject.  From now on, I have decided to use the Azar grammar to clarify the points before looking on the internet.  Dividing up what needs to presented should be the task, with no scrambling.

4) Preparation should include not only outline the grammatical rule, but also research to address questions on exceptions.  

5) Rehearsal of the presentation itself.  A lesson is a scripted performance, and you are your own director.  You need to know how you will behave physically.

6) Job spiders:  Basically, this is a technique of visually mapping your CV.  You review each of the  experiences on your CV and draw a “spider”.  Here is an excerpt from recruiter .com that describes what the map is attempting to do, which is to create a mental image of tangible achievements:

“This will be a critical element of your resume. You are not just creating a list of the places you went to school and the degrees you earned, but rather the skills and abilities that you have that will be a positive complement to the company. You want to show not just what it is that you do, but what happens when you take these skills and apply them to a position. You want to create a situation in which your employers can envision you in the position and helping them overcome the challenges and issues that they are currently facing.  ”

Here is a really formal version of visually mapping your CV, but you can make yours just with lines and bubbles sketched in a notepad:

What is good about this is that he is connecting his skills to his experience.  This type of mental map has to be strong in your mind when you go into an interview situation.

7) I forgot some fundamentals from school that I should have reviewed before hand.  One thing I was not aware of, (although I am sure it was outlined to me at some point) is that articles are adjectives.  This makes all the sense in the world.  However, as a new graduate, some important details need to be refreshed.  With more experience I will remember these like a second nature, but for now, I need to drill the essentials, again.

8) Appearance: It is not usual for men to check their appearance closely.  Right before a job interview, it may be important to do so with care, in a mirror.

9)”What colour is your own parachute?” is a classic job search book.  I found that going through the chapter on interviews before an interview is helpful psychologically.  It primes you so that you are thinking of exactly what it is like.  It is such good general advice.


What learning Spanish is teaching me about ESL

I have had an interesting experience lately.  I am starting to learn Spanish, giving me insights into the exact feelings of someone trying to understand and remember new grammatical forms.

I would not say it easy, but I have been finding learning a new language very rewarding as well.  It is a bit of a blow to your confidence to be able to describe the world only in very simple terms again, as if you were reliving child hood.  However, at the same time, it feels fresh, like taking a picture of something familiar and realizing you never looked at it properly.  I am learning the words for numbers, colours, and then various different kinds of actions.  For example: to speak (hablar), to eat (comer), to drink (beber), to live (vivir).  With each of these new verbs, I also learn their conjugation in the present.  The patterns of their formation come very slowly, and I have to think about each one.  I learn how to say hello, to introduce myself and state my profession.  I learn how to describe my tastes a little; that I like to listen to music (escuchar musica), and play Chess (ajedrez).  Within a small prescribed box, I can now discuss my family (mi familia).   But at the same time, the type of information I am beginning to read in the new language is becoming slightly more complicated.

Yesterday, I read a story that I am familiar with in English.  It was the story of a lazy cicada (cigarra) watching a line of industrious ants (hormigas) stowing away their food.  He mocks them for not appreciating the summer, as he sings and enjoys the day.  They say they are saving the food for winterand you can guess what happens, before long, it is winter time and the cicada is homeless.  He goes to talk to the anthill and begs the ants to let him in, but is out of luck , and is chided by the industrious ants. Because I knew the story in my native language, it really helped me understand the vocabulary in the second language.  There were just enough clues.

I am learning the concept of scaffolding from the inside.  I am being given support; the aid of first language translation, simple pictures,and guessing games, so that slowly this support can be removed, and I will be able to read and speak on my own.