By far. It isn't even close.
When a position is open on our staff, we usually put together a panel of interviewers. The questions, usually determined by and delegated to the group as a whole, are spelled out beforehand, and given to the candidate when they sit down. After introductions, the questions begin.
Even though it isn't usually one of the prescribed questions, I usually try to work the same question in at some point of every interview. It's simple, but can often be extremely telling.
I ask, "Why would you want to teach middle school?"
I've heard a range of answers, but there's only one perfect one - the kids.
If someone answers, "I like the kids," or "Kids this age are fun," they get a big fat gold star from me. I don't care how much experience they have, what their portfolio looks like, or how they describe their view of co-curricular planning. We can teach them to teach. What we can't do is teach them to like kids.
As great as a kid-focused answer is, a bad answer can communicate just as much. Answers like, "I'd like to try this out before teaching high school," or "The hours really work with my schedule," raise small red flags. While these answers don't mean the candidate isn't qualified (or wouldn't do a good job), kids deserve more than someone looking to use their middle school teaching job as a stepping stone or as a convenience.
But what I really want to tell you about is the worst answer I've ever heard. It isn't even close.
To be honest, I wasn't in on this interview. A friend of mine (there are quite a few of us who use this question) told me about it after he interviewed a number of teaching candidates.
Towards the end of an unremarkable (yet not disastrous) interview, he decided to pull the question out.
"So, why do you want to teach middle school?" he asked.
"Oh, the parking is just so much easier than in high school."
I'm not kidding.
That's really what the candidate said.
Can you imagine being a parent of a student in that teacher's class?
"I'm so happy to be here! The parking is just wonderful!"
The parking. The PARKING!?
She didn't get the job. It wasn't even close.