Teaching English as a second language can feel like being at a party as you play a one-woman game of charades to communicate with your non-English speaking students. A job this potentially entertaining and fulfilling is one you'll want to have in the bag, so preparing for the interview is critical. Anticipating the types of questions you are likely to be asked will help you to pull off your upcoming interview with aplomb.
Qualifications and Certifications
One of the first orders of business in your upcoming interview will be your qualifications and certifications. Your potential employer will want to know if you have a degree, and if so, if it is in English, linguistics or education. While a degree in marine biology might be impressive, it won't cut the mustard at many schools, even if you speak English better than Queen Elizabeth. For jobs teaching ESL at public elementary and secondary schools in the United States, you will need to assure the interviewer that you are certified by your state's board of education. Overseas jobs often require a TESOL certification, or in the case of university positions, a terminal degree, such as a Ph.D. in applied linguistics.
Many ESL jobs require prior teaching experience, and the school is certain to ask you about it during the interview. When answering, include related experience as well. For example, you can mention the volunteer work you've done helping refugees to adapt to life in the United States or your stint working in an orphanage overseas. Omit the time you worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant and helped the waitstaff to properly pronounce the word "shellfish." You may be asked what you've learned from your previous teaching experiences. This is an excellent opportunity for you to describe how you've learned to juggle the needs of second language learners with varying abilities or to tailor a curriculum to meet the individual needs of adult students. You'll probably also get the chance to tell how you creatively communicated with classes comprised of students who speak different languages.
Interviewers who are familiar with the varying techniques a teacher can use to teach ESL -- and not all are -- are likely to ask you questions about specific activities you've done in the classroom and how you address specific problems that can arise. The interviewer may wish to know how you work with students on accent reduction, which language competencies you feel it's most important to prioritize with a given group of learners or ways you will teach students with no knowledge of English whatsoever. Have specific answers in mind, as telling the interviewer "I just go with the flow" or "Whatever they feel like learning" will get your contact information tossed in the nearest trash can after you leave.
Extracurricular Experience and Abilities
The interview questions won't be limited to inquiries about second language learning. Many schools want to know if you are able to coach extracurricular activities, work with students of various ages or travel to job sites around the city. Tell stories that demonstrate your flexibility and tenacity, such as the time you took over coaching cheer-leading when your school was in a jam, even though your youthful attempts at cartwheels always left you lying in a sad heap on the ground.
An interviewer may want to know about cultural challenges you have faced while working with ESL students. Present these in a positive light, leaving out the story of the time you inadvertently told a subsequently hysterical Spanish-speaking mother that her son had been stabbed when in reality, he had been poked with a pencil. If you are applying for a job overseas, the school will almost certainly want to know about any prior experience you have living in another country, as such experience assures them that you won't readily fall victim to culture shock when you find a chicken foot in the soup and buy a ticket home before your contract is over.
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.