teaching demos in interviews (part II)

I wasn’t all that nervous. I guess I was something approaching confident. I felt quite prepared and had the sense I knew what I was talking about. I thought I had some good ways to catch the students’ attention and some interesting points to get them thinking. The topic was something I’d given a great deal of thought. I had not to that point delivered very many presentations (if you’re interested in presentations I’ve done since please click here) but I was ready to knock ’em dead and land what seemed at the time like a dream job.

There were some problems. A major one was how I’d completely misunderstood the task. I was not to deliver a sample lecture or presentation to a classroom full of interested and passionate undergraduate students enrolled in a teacher education program. Instead, I was apparently expected to deliver a “sample lesson” to a completely uninterested audience of two professors in the program.

Since that somewhat fateful day I’ve wondered how I managed to misunderstand the expectations. Actually, come to think of it, I know a few other people who participated in the interview process and they had different understandings of the task as well. Looking all the way back to the 2009 email I received from the university the outline of the interview process read (along with other components):

Mini-lecture for 15 minutes

Choose one of the following courses:

  • TEE (Teaching English in English) in Primary
  • TEE in Secondary
  • Teaching English to Young Learners

I prepared was something of a lecture on the topic of teaching English in English to secondary students but it turns out they were looking for (or decided mid-way through the day they were looking for a lesson that incorporated one of the three categories above.  I delivered a 10 minute talk (they sort of cut me off there at the end before I could power through the full 15 minutes) on something like pragmatic and thoughtful use of L1 in class and the reasons teachers might and might not use English in class. I think it was interesting enough and surely important back in the halcyon days of thoughtless TEE in Korea. It was the end of the day and I was the last presenter/demo giver. I think they’d probably heard enough by that point.

Interestingly, (or at least it seems so now with the benefit of a great deal of hindsight) I delivered the talk to these bored professors as though I was talking to a full room of curious and impressionable university students. I walked paced around the room a bit. I made eye-contact with non-existent people in the corner. I tried to own the room in my then best impression of a TED-talk. My gestures were expressive (as is my wont) and surely ill-fitted to a room of two people fighting off apathy, boredom and an afternoon snooze.

I did not get the job. Neither did the Korean woman who’d just finished her PhD at Yale. Neither did two North American gents I know well. The person who got the job ended up running into problems and was relieved of his duties soon after he was hired. At least his demo matched the (unexpressed) expectations. I learned later through my sources he did a nice little sample lesson and got the interviewers/professors/judges/jury/pretend students to actively participate in a mini-English lesson designed for young learners.

sour grapes

This is just a picture.

There’s a reason I’m sharing this story 8 years and 3 months after it occurred (and I believe and hope for the first time on this blog).  A Korea-based friend recently asked me, “Any sage advice for a guy giving a demo lesson for a job?” and I offered some thoughts. My off -the-cuff ideas (though probably more basic than sagacious) were:

  1. Have an objective.
  2. Meet said objective.
  3. Consider being explicit about said objective.
  4. Keep it simple.
  5. Maybe try to actually teach them something. Like something small.
  6. Try to teach them something while avoiding being condescending.
  7. Don’t be afraid to tell them something.
  8. Be careful with feedback.
  9. Mostly try to be friendly and approachable and match the image of what you think they are looking for in an English Teacha.
  10. Make your presence felt.

Of course, it’ s a bit of a challenge to offer tips without a sense of what the institution is looking for. That said, I wonder what advice (sage or otherwise) you’d offer, Dear Reader. I also wonder if this sort of demo lesson is a thing in other countries and what the process entails.

Finally, BTW, and FYI I called this part II because I previously wrote about demo lessons in job interviews here but that 2013 post was more about the process and an experience I had on the other side of the interviewer’s desk. I’d be very curious to hear about other’s experiences with this. One of my new year’s resolutions is to be less rubbish better at responding to comments.


  1. livinglearning

    I’ve had to do demo lessons in two different countries now. Twice in Korea where I had the same experience as you – the ‘students’ were several bored-looking professors (or even staff in one case) in the department who gave zero visual or verbal feedback during the lesson (in one case) and cut me off early (in both cases). I think I wrote about those in the comment I left on your 2013 post. 🙂 And I have to say that I prefer those interview demos to the one I did in Japan. It was with real students about whom I knew nothing before the beginning of the lesson: not their level, not how many students there would be, not what they had learned previously, not what kind of lesson I should teach. It was nerve-wracking, and it didn’t go well. I was also poorly suited to the position (which I was not offered, of course) and so, in the end, it did exactly what teaching demo interviews should do: told both parties what they needed to know.

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the thoughts! I appreciate you commenting on part I and part II!
      I think you make a great point about the information (or lack of information) being given about students and aims and such. Your comment helped me see that real students are not always or neccessarily the best way. It is really just a weird thing to pretend to teach a group because in real life you’d already know the group and make decisions accordingly.

      Also, I think your point about the demo, doing “exactly what teaching demo interviews should do: told both parties what they needed to know” But still wonder if it needed to be so nerve-wracking. This learning about the suitability is something of a silver lining of what doesn’t sound like a great experience.

      Something on my mind now is about the balance between real life and artifice. Like, do we need to pretend to teach a lesson or could we just talk through what we’d do. I still think I’m against doing demos to fake students that are nothing like the demographic that would be taught for the job. I guess there is a lot of things to consider and it’s not so easy. Ahh the beauty of ranting and thinking more. 🙂

  2. Sandy Millin

    I wonder what exactly the potential employers in both of your cases thought they were going to get out of the demo lesson, and whether it was something they genuinely thought would help, or they just included because that’s how things are done in their institution/based on a ticklist they’ve seen somewhere. It seems to me that it just demonstrates how well you are able to act (I can pretend I’m teaching a group) or cope when you’re thrown in at the deep end (how often do you ever actually teach a group you know absolutely nothing about at all).
    As an interviewer at the moment, I reflected on some of my past interview experiences decided to ditch the random grammar questions (too stressful, does declarative knowledge really demonstrate a teacher can teach?) and attempt to give people a chance to show their ability to prepare. I ask interviewees to send me a lesson plan in the format of their choice for a 90-minute pre-intermediate lesson using a double-page coursebook spread, reflecting what I would want them to do in the job. We then discuss it in the interview, and I ask questions about anything I don’t understand. These include more questions about how they’d deal with the grammar point on the page and their understanding of it, especially if this isn’t clear from the plan. They’ve had time to prepare for this, so although they are put on the spot a little, I hope it’s similar to how students might put them on the spot in class. I also always give feedback on the plan, regardless of whether the interview is successful or not. It takes a few extra minutes, but the aim is to help applicants to improve in the future – I never want to forget what it’s like to be on the other side of that interaction.
    Happy New Year Mike (and Anne),

    • mikecorea

      Thanks so much for the response Sandy!
      You know what? While writing it I thought, “I wonder what Sandy thinks… I know she is on the other side of things.” Your answer was very helpful for me. I can see the insights that would be learned from the process you mentioned. I think your point about how it is (generally) uncommon to teacher

      Another thing I like about your idea is how applicants are “put on the spot a little” but not too much. You also mentioned it might be similar to questions from Ss. I think my current stance is that a bit of productive stress can be okay and valuable but I think it needs to sort of replicate what will be happening in real life.

      I just suddenly remembered a job I had in the past where I was a cover teacher for a large company and would have to just show up in random classrooms around Tokyo and teach a lesson. Perhaps for that job interview they would have been wise to put me in a similar situation to see how I fared. I think in most teaching situations this is not really needed.

      You wrote, “I wonder what exactly the potential employers in both of your cases thought they were going to get out of the demo lesson, and whether it was something they genuinely thought would help, or they just included because that’s how things are done in their institution/based on a ticklist they’ve seen somewhere” and I think that is a great question. I suspect it’s probably a matter of “We have to do something” and “we know just interviews have not worked out well before so let’s do something like a demo” but then things sort of fall apart in the planning. Just my initial thought really. Thanks again for the response. I will keep that question in mind!

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