BBI and Teacher Hiring


In my work as a consultant, I’ve been learning about Behavior-Based Interviewing [BBI]. “Based on the premise that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance, this interview style uses specific questions based on candidates’ skills, background, and experience to determine if they can do the job” (Deems, 1994). Interviewers ask candidates to tell them about a time when they dealt with a particular situation, what actions they took, and what the results were.


I was never interviewed this way. For new teachers starting out, even with a supportive interviewer who’s good at offering prompts, it must be hard to generate specific stories of accomplishment. Once I’d had some classroom experience beyond my meager six weeks of student teaching, though, I think I would have done okay.


Because I moved several times for my husband’s career, I actually endured the interview process six different times! I got the first four jobs with a single interview, but the last two times involved multiple schools and weeks of nail-biting waiting. Most of those interviews began with the predictable “Tell me about yourself…” approach. Few invited me to show anything significant about myself as a teacher. Surely a BBI approach would have been more meaningful.


My last interview  led me to Glenbard West High School, where I spent most of my career. It was by far the most memorable. After I met with the department chair and the Assistant Principal for Curriculum, I was passed on to the Principal, Dr. Robert D. Elliott. His questions kept surprising me. At one point he asked me what I’d do if I had $500 [a princely sum in 1980] and a weekend in Chicago. I responded that I had young children, so some would go to a sitter and we probably couldn’t stay overnight, but then I listed theater and museums and the lakefront. He smiled as though my response had been informative. He quizzed me about my years in Madison, gently mocking me for being a hippie [which I barely sort of was…]. We seemed to connect until he asked, “Do you always have a lesson plan that you absolutely must follow?”


“No,” I replied, “because…”


Before I could finish, he stood up, slammed his hands on the desk in front of him, and scowled at me. “You had me till then,” he muttered.


“But… please may I explain? I always have a lesson plan to follow… it’s just that sometimes students need something different. Then I have to adjust and figure out what that is… but I get back to the plan and make it happen eventually…” My voice quaked.


“Ah,” he said quietly, sitting back down. We finished with a handshake, and three days later he offered me the job. I believed I’d found paradise.


In hindsight, I wish he’d asked me more about what I’d done as a teacher, that he’d used a more BBI approach. I could have given him an example of assessing student needs and how I’d adjusted a particular lesson plan. Then he might have been as impressed as he was during his first formal evaluation visit when – sure enough – a student’s need disrupted my carefully designed plan and he watched me analyze and adjust it in real time. I’ve come to see BBI as an asset to both interviewer and candidate, a great way to pick the right fit.






This quote by Robert Browning adorned the wall of my classroom for many years. Recently I posted that I’d started this blog on Facebook. I asked former students and colleagues to send me stories and memories they were willing to share. One of my students wrote about Browning’s quote: “I used that quotation just the other day, thought of you, and smiled. It’s not often you wax poetic while at work, but I think our client appreciated it…” Another responded, “I still quote this, too!”


Why does this quotation have such staying power? The expectations that others have of us so often shape our own. I wasn’t an indifferent student in public school, but the subjects that did not come naturally to me often took second place to my social life. Two teachers challenged that attitude – both of them became role models for me in my own teaching.


In seventh grade science Nat Sloan required us to borrow a book from his collection, read it, and report on it to the class. I chose Patterns of Culture by Ruth Benedict. This book shattered my naïve sense that the culture in which I lived was the norm. She studied three different societies and the unique cultural traits in each, arguing that “recognition of cultural relativity will create an appreciation for ‘the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence.'”[1]  Learning that the ID bracelets and letter jackets of our dating world held no more validity than rites from other cultures rocked my world. Reading such a demanding and empowering text taught me that I could do more, learn more. I didn’t learn until later that my own mother had studied under Ruth Benedict at Columbia. I did get to see Nat again at my 50th reunion, and he continues to inspire me.


Garnet Almes also demanded more of me, and she always got it. Stern and unrelenting, she expected our best in Algebra. She challenged my dependence on my natural talent for math, urging me to tackle harder work and to challenge myself. A force of nature, she, too, shaped my views about teaching. When she retired from my hometown’s public schools at 65, she moved to Virginia and taught several more years at a private school. Then she moved to Florida and met her husband, marrying late in life. We visited her there in the early 80s, and – along with Nat Sloan – she had been an honored guest at our wedding.


Goethe wrote, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be and you help them become what they are capable of becoming.”  The banner in my classroom signaled my commitment to that philosophy. That students remember it and value it affirms its worth.


[1] from the new foreword by Louise Lamphere, past president of the American Anthrolopological Association



In 1988 I fell for a middle-aged, weather-beaten, loud, impassioned hero in a movie. In Stand and Deliver Edward James Olmos portrayed Jaime Escalante as the savior of students that I strove to be. Convinced that anyone with ganas, a Spanish term for drive and desire, could overcome barriers and learn, Escalante taught math at Garfield High to disadvantaged students with limited math backgrounds. The barrios of East Los Angeles provided an unlikely setting for success, but Escalante led these students to succeed on the demanding AP calculus test year after year. Their results seemed so impossible that Escalante and his students were accused of cheating, but they triumphed by passing the test a second time under strict supervision.


I, too, believe that all students can learn. The first time a student from one of my remedial English classes returned from a successful semester in college affirmed that philosophy. Escalante said, “Ask ‘How will they learn best?’ not ‘Can they learn?’ “


Teachers who have a passion for learning, who believe in their students, break down learning opportunities into manageable increments, provide support and encouragement, give honest feedback, and create opportunities for success after early failures. So often I’d look a student directly in the eye and say, “There’s nothing here that you can’t do.” And then I’d try to figure out what they needed that I could provide to help them succeed.


Too often we provide a one-size-fits all to a given class, no matter how diverse. Good teachers explore the methods that best work for their learners. Although I’m a very visual person, I learn best by doing, and I need a reason and a context. The American History lectures I endured in high school depended entirely on my auditory learning skills, my weakest modality, and I never found a reason to memorize the dates. In college I discovered political science classes that focused on the who and the why – suddenly the when became meaningful. Good teachers intuit their students’ strongest learning styles and teach to them. They provide context, the scaffolding needed for making meaning.


I had some teachers like that when I was a student. Like Jaime Escalante, they believed in me and made me believe in myself. Don’t all learners deserve that?