Is This What You Were Looking For?

There are some strange search terms that bring people to my site (my current favorite is “wtf graphs”) but by far the most frequent thing that people come looking for is information about demo lessons. This is one of the reasons why I started thinking about proposing a talk on them for NCTM 2013. A talk which @ChrisHunter36 graciously stepped up to lead–so that I could also propose my other session. We’ll keep you posted if and when it gets approved.

Now demo lessons, of the interview variety, are something I know a thing or two about, having given approximately 2,437 of them in the course of my professional career. And I happen to have some strong opinions on what it takes to prepare and present an effective demo lesson.

Number One Most Important Thing: 

The lesson has got to match your teaching philosophy.

One of the reasons that schools have asked you to come visit is so that they can get a sense of what your teaching style is, and what your approach to instruction looks like. They know that you’re coming in with next to zero information about who the kids are and that, no matter how long of an email the current teacher writes, there is no way you’ll really know what exactly the kids have learned in the past few weeks. So, they aren’t trying to see whether you can get them from point A to point B on a concept. They want to know what your philosophy is and how it plays out in the classroom.

Number Two Most Important Thing:

The lesson has got to match your teaching philosophy.

Not only are schools looking to see if you’ll be a good fit for them, but you are looking to see if the school is a good fit for you. You are keeping this in mind, right? If not, you should be. It took me a while of wanting to make everyone like me before I realized that it was just as important (maybe more important?) that I like the school back. If you teach something as a demo that matches your teaching philosophy and the school passes on giving you an offer…then the school wasn’t the right place for you.

Number Three Most Important Thing:

Teach something you feel good about.

Sometimes a school will request or suggest that you teach on a certain topic. Often, however, schools are just fine with you doing a stand-alone lesson. You can decide whether you want to honor their request or ask if you can do something different. [note: in my experience, and the experience of everyone I know, schools have said yes when asked if the interviewee can teach on something different than what the regular teacher has been teaching.] I once had a teacher ask me to lead a review session for her class, since her students were going to be taking a test the next day. I politely and respectfully said that I didn’t think this was an appropriate lesson for someone unfamiliar to the class to teach and that I didn’t feel it would give the school a good sense of what my teaching style was. They agreed. And they changed things around so that I could teach the lesson that I wanted to teach.

Number Four Most Important Thing:

Be yourself. And try to have a good time.

Unless you’re just teaching for the massive summer vacation and the huge paychecks, you got into this career because you love it. Let that excitement and joy show. Let your passion for teaching shine through. Don’t try to pretend to be some idealized super-teacher. You got asked to visit the school because they liked something about you. Take some deep breaths, relax. Try to ignore the adults in the back of the room and focus on the kids. If you do that, you’ll be golden.

2 thoughts on “Is This What You Were Looking For?

  1. Breedeen, I am intrigued. From my Australian experience, I can only guess what “demo lessons” are like, as I’ve never heard of them over here.

    Do you contract yourself out for teachers to observe teaching a class? If so, how many teachers watch you at once? Do you organise these outings, or do schools contact you to ask?

    If I get to NCTM 2013 as I intend, I’ll have to look up the session by Chris Hunter. And your “other session” as well.

    Good article, by the way. Great advice for visiting teachers generally.

    • We hope to see you at NCTM 2013, ClassProf.

      What I’m talking about in terms of a demo lesson is a practice that most independent (private) schools and many charter schools do with their prospective hires. As part of the interview process, schools will ask teachers to teach a lesson.

      Another type of “demo lesson” is when a coach or other experienced teacher teaches a lesson so that other teachers can observe. Chris will be talking about the latter in our session, should it come to fruition. And I’ll be talking about the former.

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