Lean into the interview

Seventeen years ago I switched from employment with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) to a new position as a teacher with the Peel District School Board (PDSB). When I retired from the latter board in 2006, I had been teaching for over thirty years, in one capacity or another, in schools across the Greater Toronto Area.

About eighteen years ago, while working with the Toronto District School Board, I attended a presentation in Scarborough by a language arts coordinator who had begun his career as a 19-year-old teacher, fresh out of a one-year course at a teachers college in Toronto. The presenter, whom I’ll call Ron, had begun as a teacher, moved on to positions as a vice principal and principal, and was at this stage a language arts coordinator.

Ron now works at a local university, where he has responsibility for the training of teachers.

I’ve kept in touch, from time to time, with Ron by email since that presentation. The presentation had to do with the role of storytelling in the primary language curriculum, as I recall. The reason that I enjoyed it was that I enjoy language, and I enjoy good presentations.

Lean into the interview

I met Ron at a Starbucks in Scarborough recently. We hadn’t met in person for about eighteen years, since his presentation to teachers at a school in Scarborough.

Some years ago, the Peel District School Board was looking for teachers. Enrolment had been growing in that board, and advertisements for teachers had appeared in the Toronto Star. At that point, I was seeking to switch to a new board, and applied.

At my first interview at the PDSB, I was standing outside the interview room, at a school in Brampton, when I overheard the interview team discussing the next interview. After a few moments, I realized that they were discussing my resume. There was something in my resume that raised a question mark in the mind of the lead interviewer. Some moments later, I was ushered into the room and before long, I was confronted with the question, which I answered with aplomb.

Some time later I turned up for second interview, having gotten past the first round. This time I was asked a question that I did not answer in a way that met the criteria that had been established by the interview team. That meant that I would not be heading into a line of teaching, namely the education of developmentally disabled students, that I had been involved in for many years.

Some time later, a principal phoned me to arrange an interview for a position teaching what was then called a General Learning Disabled class. I sent an email to Ron, the coordinator I had met at the Toronto District School Board, and asked for advice. He said: “Lean in to the interview.” That’s pretty well all he said. I knew what to do. I got the job. In subsequent years I taught a Grade 4 class.


In my previous career as a volunteer, I did volunteer work on behalf of people who stutter. These days that is a small, albeit still important, part of the work I do as a volunteer. Ron finds the topic of stuttering fascinating. In our recent conversation, I remarked that perhaps it’s because he’s super fluent. I know a lot about stuttering, and have shared what I know in varied formats, including a brief article entitled If I stutter, what help is out there for me?

I’ve also made a video, edited by Steven Toepell, based on a presentation in which I’ve summarized what I know about stuttering.

I’ve kept in touch with Ron, ever since his presentation at a Scarborough school close to twenty years ago, because I enjoy anything to do with words and language. I much enjoyed that presentation. I’m delighted that he’s still in the education business. I’m delighted that I’ve had the opportunity to touch base with him again.

When we were at the coffee shop, a young teacher with the Toronto Catholic District School Board who had been in Ron’s class about three years ago stopped to speak with him. I think she was on a lunch break. She remembered so well the class that she had attended. They spoke for a long time. I bought a blueberry muffin and relaxed elsewhere as they talked.

Ron and I spoke for several hours. Among the topics we covered were: (1) the fact that there’s noting ‘new’ about play as being a central feature of the experience of kindergarten students; (2) the central role of impression management in a person’s life; (3) the fact that accurate information about stuttering is not easy for teachers to come by. With regard to the latter point, Ron said that when he first met a Grade 2 student who stuttered, early in his teaching career, he somehow figured out that it’s not useful to finish the student’s sentences.

Which in turn reminds me that the text for a typical presentation, when I give a talk about stuttering, includes a reference to things that a non-stutterer can do when speaking with a person who stutters.

What can you, as a fluent person, do when speaking with a stutterer?

  • Use natural eye contact and facial gestures to show you’re listening.
  • Look the person in the eye every once in a while, even when that person is struggling with words. That tells us we are still part of the human race.
  • Give the person enough time to finish his or her own sentences.
  • Use a relaxed pace in your own speech, but not so slow as to sound unnatural.
  • Avoid remarks like “slow down” or “take a deep breath.” Such advice is not helpful.


2 replies
  1. max
    max says:

    What types of questions did they ask at the interview? I have found that if you tell yourself the stuttering is okay and GOOD- anxiety decreases and it becomes much easier.

  2. Jaan Pill
    Jaan Pill says:

    By that stage in my life, as I’ve noted in online articles and presentations, most of the time stuttering wasn’t any longer an issue for me. I didn’t stutter during the interview. I focused on selling myself – on getting across the fact I was a great teacher. I did mention the volunteer work that I had done on behalf of people who stutter, and I think may have referenced a journal article or two that I had written on the topic of stuttering.

    That’s what I thought of when I received the advice: “Lean into the interview.” There are many situations in life, I’ve found, when “leaning in,” whatever that might mean for a given person, in given circumstances, is the way to go. I’m really pleased I received that advice.

    For people who stutter, who stutter during interviews, being open about stuttering makes a lot of sense, in my view. But each person has to make their own decision.


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