teaching demos in interviews (story+scattered thoughts)

[The completely fictional five-year moratorium about commenting about a previous place of work has been lifted and I am finally ready to share some stories about working there.]

He was drunk. I’m sure of that. I don’t want to speculate that he was a drunk but I am certain that he was drunk that morning. It was about 11:00 am on a Saturday so we can maybe assume that he’d been out late the night before. Very, very late. He looked like it and smelled like it. His counterpart was the pleasant smelling and generally pleasant Miss Park. She spoke English quite well and was willing and able to have basic conversations in English. They were the “students.” The prospective teachers were asked to prepare a short demo lesson on “the present perfect.” Looking back, I fell even sorrier now for the candidates than I did at the the time, as that was all the information they were given. “Prepare a demo lesson on ‘the present perfect.'” They were not given any further information on the students or the course goals or what we were looking for or how they would be evaluated. I am guessing that the candidates prepared their demo lessons with actual university aged students in mind and didn’t expect a drunk (hungover?) Mr. Chu with his wrinkled suit and soju breath and Miss Park with her favorite spring dress on and pen in hand, eager to learn more English . I don’t think the candidates were ready for me and the director either. There we were, perched behind the “students,” like high-ranking officials ready to determine the fate of a gladiator after a grueling fight. The teachers taught their mini lesson and then faced questions from myself and the director. I recall questions like, “What would you do if ____?” and “How would you handle _____?” which are not necessarily problematic but were not so much based on what we just saw, which leads me to think we could have skipped the pretense of the demo and let Mr. Chu sleep it off. I also remember the director asking some tricky “gotcha” sort of grammar and methodology questions which I don’t think served much of a positive purpose.

It was not a great experience for me and I think the applicants probably felt the same way. Actually, they almost certainly had a more negative experience than I did.

can see the benefits from having people do a demo lesson in order to determine their suitability to be hired. I really can. I just think there must be some key information candidates need to receive beforehand. To start, some questions that come to mind include: Who are the students? What are the goals of the program? Is there any sort of form or format required for the lesson plan? Just telling candidates a grammar point and expecting them to craft a lesson on this doesn’t seem like a reasonable way to go. I am sure there are more. I am hopeful that other such questions will be added in the comments.

The other set of questions that comes to mind involves the criteria for the lesson and what the teachers will be evaluated upon. In the (great) comments in a previous post someone mentioned that it would behoove candidates looking for teaching  positions in her school to use tech (PowerPoint at a minimum) in the demo. This is something I would not assume and would need to be told or I would be out of luck.  I think this is the kind of information that might be helpful to let candidates know beforehand. Thinking back to my experience judging candidates mentioned above I am not really sure what our criteria was or what we were looking for. This seems to be an indication that perhaps the teaching demo wasn’t being used to its full potential. I am wondering what factors would need to be in place for such a demo to be as helpful as possible. The first few things that come to mind include real students, clear criteria, and chance to discuss what happened (and perhaps articulate beliefs or walk through reflecting on the lesson with the interviewers). I think offering free classes to students for the purpose of an interview would be easily done in many contexts and I think it is a shame that we didn’t do it. Actually, I think a lot of what we did was unfortunate so here I am trying to think about it and learn from it 5 years later.

[This is the first in what might be some sort of series. It is also the first in my attempt at madness  5 posts in 5 days as suggested by Tyson Seburn over at 4C in ELT]



  1. livinglearning

    Ah, the demo lesson.
    I was lucky: one school gave me pages in their textbook that they wanted me to teach, so I used the same lesson for the other demos I had to do since no one else specified ANYTHING. “Teach for 20 minutes,” they said. “On what?” “Whatever you want. Prepare something.”
    In the first demo lesson I gave, the teachers were absolutely deadpan. It was like teaching to air. It really drove home to me that teaching is interactive. In the second one, the “students” tried to catch me out with tricky grammar points. I didn’t know the answers (it was something about the correct order of adjectives and I ended up telling her “because the book says so” or something).
    Things I wish I had known: who are the students? Will they participate? What is the purpose of the lesson? What is being evaluated? What technology is available?
    In both interviews, I left with the sense that the demo was more of a formality than anything else – to make sure I wasn’t an absolute dud or something. 😉

  2. Tyson Seburn

    I’ve never been asked to do a demo lesson. I don’t know why. Perhaps it isn’t common practice here. It seems impractical for an interview process of many candidates. Maybe it’s when you narrow down after an initial interview, but couldn’t you have missed someone who isn’t stellar during the interview but spectacular in front of a class? Furthermore, doing a demo lesson while being observed in a class with no real students is artificial. Many filters can affect performance. I’d almost rather see a lesson plan in advance instead, but that doesn’t encapsulate how well personality adapts to a group of teens/university kids/adults, etc. I’m not sure how I really feel about them.

    • mikecorea

      Hello again Tyson,
      (catching up on comments as you can see)
      I actually think demos offer some sort of value. I fully agree with you that they are more suitable for the end of the hiring cycle with just a few candidates. I’d love to see people in front of a class if possible. I think someone else mentioned sending a video of a current class and I think that might be a good way to collect info. I guess I’d like to also see how aware people are of what they did in the class possible impacts on student learning. Perhaps I am dreaming too much. Anyway I am not in the hiring business these days.

      Thanks again for reading and commenting and supporting and for the challenge!

  3. Jonny Lewington

    I don’t think that fresh CELTA graduates should be asked to do demos, as a general rule. I think it should only be asked of teachers who come claiming that they are already half decent, experienced teachers. If you take on someone new to teaching, you should expect that they will need a lot of PD before they are reasonably decent teachers.

    • mikecorea

      Hi Jonny,

      Thanks for commenting. I appreciate it. I think you make an intersting point about newly qualified teachers and the expectations that we might have for them.

      I guess I am torn in that I think a demo can be a good way to collect information about a teacher and to see if they might be a good fit for the school.

      In the particular case I was describing teachers were expected to be experienced and capable…what’s more they were given very little support once hired. This is something I’d like to blog about another day!

      I like your point about the need for PD and I think it is unfortunate that this doesn’t really happen much in Korea as far as I can see.

      Thanks again for commenting!

  4. gotanda

    Can’t see any point in the demo lesson at all. I’ve witnessed more than a few and don’t find them at all useful for selecting new faculty. And, as you pointed out, the interviewers often don’t care for them either. In these days of cheap and easy video, the request for a recording of 10-20 minutes of actual teaching seems much more valuable.

    Anecdote: I was once asked to do a demo lesson at an interview for a large private university in Tokyo that shall remain nameless. Apparently there was some miscommunication since I had been asked by email to bring sample teaching materials. They asked if I could just do a demo anyway. I point blank refused to do so since I was completely unprepared for it. Luckily, I *was* prepared with a print out of the email inviting me to the interview and the request for materials packets. I passed around my sample handouts instead. I was offered the job. Didn’t take it.

    How did that unpleasant experience for the candidates work out for the person who got the job? Not really a good way to start off, is it? Did they recover from that first impression?

  5. Pingback: A personal misfire as an observer–revisited | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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