On Interviewing

From the beginning, I was very excited to conduct interviews with teachers for our project. I found that interviewing people is something I really enjoy doing while my sister and I were working on our graduation project. For our graduation project we conducted life reviews on camera with members of our community. These interviews will then go to our local historical society to serve as historical reference for our community. We still do not know in what format they will be preserved; perhaps in a DVD hardcopy and maybe a website?

Before we conducted our first interview for our graduation project, I remember I read as many articles about Terry Gross and her history and methods as an interviewer that I could find. Something that was interesting to find was that she too used to get nervous before interviews, and would often end up speaking in a very high voice. In an article I read, she said she began taking singing lessons, which she continued for many years, to help her develop and have better control over her voice. She said while she was taking singing lessons she was not doing it to necessarily become a better singer, but so that she can better “live in a song.” Terry has also said that radio is so appealing to her because it has “just enough theatre.” These aspects of radio which I do not think are always thought about seem very beautiful to me.

As Terry Gross has illustrated throughout her career, conducting a good interview is very much an art form.

Every time we conduct an interview I learn something new. Some people give overwhelming amounts of detail, threads for us to catch onto and knit threads of conversation; others are so excited, they give brief details their eyes glimmering at you, and you need to be quick in your thoughts and questions to invoke the memories and thoughts and carefully pull the stories out. Overall one needs to be a good listener and to adjust to the emotion of the conversation. If someone is sharing something with me that is extremely personal and special, I try to acknowledge the gravity of the situation and understand that this is a gift that may only be ever for me to hear if a person tells me to remove it from the recording or my notes.

In Government class this year, we watched “All the President’s Men.”  After having interviewed people, I could not help but identify with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as journalists pursuing their own project that is important to them. I particularly identified with them as a close team. The way they ran about together searching for information, picking each other up where one struggled to find the right words to a question, the way they listened closely in on each other’s phone calls, trying to read each other’s expressions; it all reminded me of how Cali and I work as a team and how we worked as a team on our graduation project.

woodstein

 

There were so many moments in the film where they were trying to ask for interviews or word a question the right way to spark a story or particular detail from a person that I felt “hey, we do that!” Something that was particularly interesting throughout the film was watching how their movements, facial expressions, diction, and approaches changed every time they interviewed a person. When someone was a bit nervous or evasive, clearly afraid under the pressure of the entire web of the situation, Bernstein and Woodward were much softer, Bernstein in one instance actually stuttering, smiling, speaking slowly on purpose to appear more harmless in the context of the entire scandal. Over time interviewing people, we are learning to do some of these things ourselves. This was just really neat. (NPR, here we come!)

calimaryterry(We actually got to meet Terry Gross at WHYY in Philadelphia on a night called “Ask Terry” where they were celebrating Terry’s career and allowing the audience to interview Terry!)

 

As we began our interviews with teachers and students to develop empathy with users of the American public education system for our project, I tried to apply some of the same basic skills of interviewing that I learned while working our graduation project. We wrote out a guideline list of questions that we wanted to get to in the interviews for teachers and students:

Questions for Teachers

  1. Tell me about your experiences in school as a student?
  2. Tell me about why you wanted to become a teacher?
  3. Did you always want to be a teacher?
  4. Why were some of your teachers your favorite teachers?
  5. Tell me about your first day of teaching
  6. How have your teaching methods evolved over the years?
  7. What is your favorite part of your day, what is your least favorite part of your day and why?
  8. Do you feel like you get to spend most of your day doing your favorite part of your job?
  9. What has held you in this profession?
  10. Have your reasons for wanting to be a teacher changed over the years?
  11. When do you feel like you are being most effective? When do you feel like you are not effective in teaching? Why?
  12. What do you believe your responsibilities are as a teacher?
  13. When do you feel like you are most curious?
  14. When do you think students are most curious?
  15. What role does curiosity play in education?

 

Questions for Students

  1. Tell me about your experiences in school as a student?
    1. Do you like school? What do you like about it?
  1. What is your favorite part of your day, what is your least favorite part of your day and why?
  2. What is/was your favorite class? Least favorite class? Why?
  3. Do you have a favorite teacher? Why are they your favorite teacher?
  4. Tell me about your first day of school this year
  5. How do you think you are different as a student and a learner from when you first entered school to now?
  6. Tell me about how you feel throughout your day.
  7. Tell me about how you feel when the school day is over
  8. When do you feel most engaged at school? When do you feel least engaged?
  9. Tell me about when you feel most curious
  10. Is there a difference between being a good student and a good learner?
  11. If there is a difference, do you feel you have experienced both?
  12. What do you feel your responsibilities are as a student?
  13. What do you feel your responsibilities are as a learner?
  14. What do you think the ultimate goal of your education is?
  15. Where are you curious?

 

These are all questions that I have always wanted to ask teachers simply out of curiosity. When we actually began interviewing teachers, we scheduled some of our favorites right away. These were always very fun because we were just able to hear stories from the lives of and have conversations with people we love. However, we also knew that it would also be very intriguing and necessary to interview teachers whose classes we did not have as great of an experience in; otherwise we would be missing extremely important information that would help us to understand and gain empathy towards these teachers we did not always have an extremely exciting time with.

A little while ago, we interviewed someone whose class we did not have as great of an experience in after interviewing some others teachers who we did have more exciting or enjoyable experiences with. I was very interested in trying to better understand this person and their thoughts on education, what keeps them teaching, why they originally wanted to be a teacher, and what may have changed for them as a teacher over the years. I was not sure what we would discover, but I was surprised to find that I could not really find anything in this person’s interview that explained to me why they were not really outwardly excited about their subject or passionate about curiosity.

Something that was prominent to me about all of this was that before and even it seems after we conducted interviews with people, the teachers that we did have an exciting, empowering, or enjoyable experience with were consistently more transparent in really every way than the teachers that we did not have great experiences with. It was much more difficult to find the motivations, desires, and passions of the teachers who didn’t appear as outwardly excited about their subject.

He/she told us things that gave us general answers, but no personal anecdotes that really helped explain why they are doing what they are doing.

He/she wanted to become a teacher because he/she enjoyed his/her subject and he/she thought it would be more fulfilling than other areas to work in. This was similar to what some other teachers had said. Like other teachers, this person also said he/she disliked the pressure that common core standards put on them and their students to learn subject matter by a certain time as it makes the experience of learning more stressful and would likely give less time for curiosity.

If some of this person’s answers were similar to other teachers that we felt more curious, passionate, and empowered with, why did their words not always translate into actions of outward excitement and passion and curiosity in class like some of our other teachers?

Perhaps because teaching can be very difficult. I am just one person who happened to have not quite as much as a thrilling experience in this particular class as I have had elsewhere. I have just noticed with my sister overtime that there seem to be certain actions taken and philosophies held by teachers that seem to foster more joy, curiosity, and creativity in students than others. I guess what I was referring to two sentences ago is really the big struggle with teaching: how to engage and empower students? One of the teachers we interviewed said that he thinks that the goal of education is to get students excited about anything. His reasoning was that once students are excited about something, they will make connections with all sorts of things and use skills they have learned and develop new ones and learn new things about the world as they pursue a passion they are interested in.

Something that was interesting about this interview was that at the end of this interview, we asked this teacher what they thought their responsibilities were. Throughout the interview, we dance around this subject, asking what teachers enjoy most about their day, when do they feel most effective. At the end of this recent interview, when we asked what this teacher thought their responsibilities were, they paused for a moment seeming to ponder the question, and then said they didn’t know.

This was different. We tried to ask questions that might inspire some memories, anecdotes, or ideas and philosophies that might reveal what this person thought their responsibilities were, but we were unable to hear this person directly discuss what they thought their responsibilities or goals were in teaching.

This made me wonder even further exactly what the focus for our project should be. How could we redesign the system of public education in any way that could improve things like individual differences between teachers? Is that even right? Would one really want to even do that?

One way that we talked about getting out of the pits of despair was to stand back, think about our goals, and refocus our project. Taking some time to stand back has actually recently made us think that perhaps redesigning an entire system of education is perhaps not feasible or even desirable. There are so many different areas we could potentially choose to focus on in this project; administration, the actual architecture of the classroom, the lesson plans a teacher might use, how teachers are taught to be teachers… To change one thing in the entire web might have a chain effect of changing other things, and not necessarily make any improvements.

Getting this response from this teacher seemed to just add another potential area of focus to the project that made the prospect of trying to redesign an entire system seem a little too ambitious in not a good way.

Recently we have been wondering if we should choose a different focus for our project. Recently, the idea of creating a class centered around curiosity seemed to be an exciting new, more attainable goal. This class could be a class that encourages curiosity in students and tries to make up for the lack of curiosity and wonder that is left out in other classes… More recently an idea of perhaps going in a different direction entirely has come up ….. Like making a book or a kit to encourage curiosity and help people to remember things that might help them live a happier, more thoughtful, curious life, like Thomas Armstrong’s 12 qualities of genius.

I am SUPER intrigued by this last idea…

~ Mary

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