The Demo Lesson

I’ve had a lot of teaching jobs over the past four years. This means n>4 interviews. There seems to be a lot of different ways that schools go about finding and screening candidates for their positions. I think in some ways private schools–at least in the last few years of the budget crisis–have an advantage. For instance, most public schools can’t start hiring until they know what their budget allocations are going to be, which in the past few years has meant during the summer. However, the timeline for private school jobs is right-about-now.

Since the schools are hiring while school is in session, they can have candidates come and visit, talk with their potential new colleagues, get a feel for the school, and…teach a demo lesson.

I’m curious whether this happens much in public schools. I haven’t taught a demo lesson for any public school job I’ve applied and interviewed for. Not a real one, in front of students. I did do a mock lesson once, and I’ve been asked to submit video of myself. Again, once. But I know the CA teaching cert. programs require video-taping. Does this ever get requested/submitted for interview purposes?

Any-hoo.

The demo lesson is the hardest part of interviewing, in my opinion. But it’s also the most fun part, since you’re interacting with kids. And when things go well it can be a great experience. I mean, you teach your favorite, most engaging, best planned-out lesson in your arsenal. But there’s always the fear that things will go horribly, horribly wrong. You don’t know the kids, you don’t know what they’ve been doing (usually you get a quick note from the teacher about what topic they’re on, but does that really give you a sense of what they know? no.), sometimes you don’t even know *how* they’ve been learning. Does the teacher lecture and then students work? Do they do explorations? How much help do students expect to get from a teacher? And then there’s always the option–which is sometimes a request–to teach something that “matches up” with whatever they’ve been doing. Great way to up the anxiety level.

Other teacher via email: We’ve been working on circle graphs. Feel free to do something along those lines if you want to.

Me (in my head): WTF is a circle graph? Do they mean a pie chart? Maybe I’ll just do the border problem…

It’s kind of nerve-wracking when you start analyzing it. Seeing as how I’m going to be giving one next week, perhaps I should stop.

But the thing is, I feel like this is a really great way to learn about someone as a teacher. Yes, it’s a cherry-picked lesson. Yes, having multiple adults in the room may affect the way the kids behave. Yes, it’s a little contrived.

On the other hand…picking something that you believe is a “good lesson” tells the school what it is you value, it’s not really fair to assess someone’s classroom management of a group of strangers, and there’s not a lot you can do to make the situation more authentic. It’s a good system and leads to a lot of interesting and authentic conversations–even if the lesson isn’t the most realistic scenario ever.

Now it feels a little strange to me to think about how people made the decision to hire me to teach, without them ever seeing me teach. What were they thinking? I mean, I had a boyfriend once who worked in construction, so I can talk about power tools and carpentry and I sound like I know what I’m talking about. But, put a nail gun in my hand and I wouldn’t know what to do with it. People might get hurt.

Odds are good that no one is going to lose an eye because an administrator hired someone without watching him/her teach a lesson. But, when I run the world, I certainly think that I would require teachers to do at least a mock lesson, or submit a video tape of a lesson that they believe is excellent. It’s pretty easy to figure out what someone wants you to say in an interview. It’s really hard to fake a demo lesson.

2 thoughts on “The Demo Lesson

  1. Demo lessons are de rigueur at the college level, whether four-year or two-year, private or public. At the research university, you give a talk about your teaching, but no actual demo lesson typically. And my experience in the public K-12 system mirrors yours-no demo and summer hires.

    I remember the feeling two years ago, when interviewing for my present position, of having to decide what face to put forward in my demo lesson. This one was to be even more contrived, since it was before the hiring committee only, and it had a time limit of 20 minutes.

    I thought long and hard about whether to give the straightforward expository lecture they were expecting or to do the lesson that is true to me as a teacher. Since I had a job at the time, and one that was continuing, I was in the right place to take the risk of the more exploratory lesson that represented what I would actually do.

    And I got the job.

    Good luck with your own demo lesson!

  2. I agree that while a demo lesson is staged and never totally authentic, a potential employer can see a lot… I loved sitting in on demo lessons when my school was hiring. I know a lot of charter schools that require demo lessons (at least one even assigns minor misbehaviors to their students, although ours were always instructed to behave “normally”), and one that then sits down with the candidate to give feedback– and see how the candidate responds to both positive and negative feedback.

    Along the lines of your carpentry example, I’ve met candidates who could talk a great game in terms of instructional practice, relationship-building with students, and approach towards work/feedback/team, and were undone by a sample lesson in which they did nothing that they said they would. And, the added pressure of doing it in front of an audience w/ unfamiliar students provides a great window into how a candidate acts and reacts under stress… which is, after all, a key component of the job.

    Best of luck!

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