It’s often difficult to guess what you’ll be asked in an interview for a teaching position, but you can count on a few hard-hitting questions to prepare in advance!
Of course, there is a certain amount of anxiety that almost always goes with the territory, and that is to be expected. However, not being ready to answer fundamental questions is a red flag and will not give job-seekers the edge they need when competing with other highly qualified teachers.
Prospective or experienced teachers can take a few minutes in advance to inventory or review information and issues that they are likely going to have to address in an interview. Depending on how many educators actually conduct the interview, there may be more questions to consider, particularly subject-related ones; yet, the following are essential for anyone to be prepared to give a strong interview. Principals, especially, like to ask these questions because your answers themselves, as well as the manner in which you respond, can say much about you. Having a response at your finger tips not only gives a good impression, and that is that you care about how you are perceived, but also allays nervousness about the interview process itself. You may even consider writing them out in advance so that you can arrange your thoughts in coherent manner. Remember, you only have one chance to make a good first impression. I have included sample responses and talking points to a few questions. I hope you find these helpful.
Question 1: What is your philosophy of education?
Be ready to describe your personal philosophy of education and professional goals as an educator as they relate to student achievement and citizenship. Express a belief that every child can and will learn and that you, as an educator, want to make a difference. You also may want to be familiar with your state’s goals and philosophy of education, and that information is available at your state department of education’s Web site. Your deeply held beliefs on teaching and learning can be expressed here.
Here’s an example: I am a “Failure is Not an Option” kind of teacher. To me, that means that I am absolutely committed to the success of each of my students. Let’s face it, kids are not perfect. They come to us with a lot of strengths—as well as baggage and serious problems. That is why we teachers are needed—to encourage their strengths and work with them. I certainly do not have control over what happens to them when they are not with me. For better or for worse, they are my students. I will do my best with them when I have them, hold high and reasonable expectations for them, and will not tolerate excuses for poor performance.
Question 2: What is your approach to classroom management?
If you do not already have one, prepare a classroom management plan including rules, procedures, expectations, floor plan, etc. Emphasize that you are proactive in your approach, not reactive, and that classroom management is enhanced significantly when lessons are stimulating, students are engaged and actively involved, and no two days are alike.
One possible response might sound like this: Being proactive in my approach will allow me to anticipate sources of potential disruption so that daily routines, procedures, and rules are not left to chance but follow protocols developed with input from students. I have found that the more my students are meaningfully involved in interesting activities, the less they will act out. I believe that a teacher should always be closely tuned in to what’s happening — or not happening — in the classroom. I hold occasional classroom meetings because they give students an opportunity to voice concerns and feel as though they are a part of the class. I am a leader in the classroom and set a positive tone conducive to learning. My expectation is to create a warm and friendly environment where everyone and everything is valued and respected and everything works like clockwork.
Question 3: How do you know when you have been effective as a teacher?
The measure of a teacher’s success is the success of his or her students. Teachers need to be responsive to test data as well as the psycho-social and moral development of their students. An effective teacher establishes a positive, safe classroom environment where all students are challenged with high, yet realistic expectations. You should be familiar with No Child Left Behind and its emphasis on accountability for students and teachers. Be prepared to articulate your support of improvement goals to boost student achievement.
Question 4: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Think of things that you do especially well, particularly those tasks for which supervisors, colleagues, students, or parents have commended you. What aspects of your teaching can you improve upon? The bottom line is that no one is perfect, and your ability to be able to articulate those items shows that you engage in self-evaluation and that you consider professional development important to your future growth as a teacher.
Responses could include some honest remarks such as these: As a teacher, I feel really good about the fact that both students and parents have given me kudos on being positive and enthusiastic in the classroom. I guess that’s because I genuinely like kids, I enjoy being with them, and it must show. I have also been complimented for having patience and helping students learn complex concepts with which they have had difficulty in the past. On the other hand, I know that I am behind the 8-ball on technology, and I admit that I am sometimes intimidated by it all. Nevertheless, I am determined to make the use of technology a high priority and learn practical applications in my classroom. I have already decided to take a class at a community college and work with colleagues who are having success in my area.
Question 5: How do you handle misbehaving, disruptive students? Are there things you would not do when disciplining students?
As a teacher, you want to be resourceful. Don’t hesitate to seek assistance when necessary, including consultations with colleagues and parents, but take affirmative steps first. There are always reasons for misbehavior, and your goal as a teacher is to address them to the best of your ability in the same way that you would attempt to determine why students are reading below grade level. Your approach should always be to respect students, despite their troublesome behavior, and model the behavior that you would expect from them at all times. Don’t lose control, and never touch a student in anger.
A good response could include some of the following elements: First, I can tell you what I would avoid at all costs when disciplining students — never get sucked into power struggles, which are characterized by a winner and a loser. Either way, the teacher loses. Other no-no’s include using school work as punishment, using sarcasm, punishing a whole class for one or a few students’ misbehavior, or resorting to corporal punishment — which reinforces the notion that physical punishment is a way to solve a dispute.
My goal is to teach students to be courteous to others, respectful, and accountable for their actions. I believe that students expect teachers to be fair and consistent. Sometimes a look, cue, or reminder can be sufficient to get students back on track. Talking with students directly, changing their seats, removal of privileges, speaking with parents, etc., have all worked for me in the past. I have also learned that some things can be ignored. I believe in consequences that students know about in advance and are included in my classroom management plan. Of course, if my own interventions don’t work, I won’t hesitate to work with counselors or administrators.
Question 6: What are your views and strategies on teaching included students with disabilities?
Federal legislation mandates a practice known as inclusion in which school districts must educate students with special needs in regular classrooms to the greatest extent possible. It is essential for the classroom teacher not only to understand this practice conceptually but also to be able to accommodate students in a regular classroom for part or all of the school day.
Question 7: What are your techniques for accommodating students with limited English proficiency?
Schools are becoming increasingly diverse with growing numbers of elementary and secondary school students with limited English proficiency. How will you engage these students in classroom activities? What resources, methods, and materials will you draw upon to ensure that students keep pace with the curriculum and standards set forth by the school district and state board of education?
Question 8: What strategies do you use to motivate students?
On a scale of 1-10, how important is motivation? Be prepared to give examples of how you would introduce a concept to your students in such a way that stimulates their interest and curiosity, especially those students who are not overachievers or internally motivated. How do you sustain motivation in order promote optimum learning?
Question 9: How do you manage difficult parents?
While all teachers want to have supportive parents, that doesn’t always happen. If parent-teacher relations become contentious, you need to be sure to stay focused on the issue at hand and avoid exacerbating the problem with other issues. Remain professional and responsive to parents, even when they are unreasonable or unpleasant.
Your answer should take some of these talking points into consideration:
- First, I will always take an opportunity to call home with good news because I know that will pay dividends when I need the parents to work with me.
- Parents like to be able to help their children improve; therefore, I will enlist their support and keep them informed of a concern early on—before it’s too late to do anything about it. I don’t want parents asking me why I didn’t clue them in sooner.
- Little things, like not returning phone calls, can give parents peripheral reasons to complain and derail the real issue
- Most importantly, I always try to convey the reality that we are on the same team and are both interested in the same thing: the best interests of their child. I try to convince parents that it would be in their child’s best interests for us to work together.
- I have learned to be careful when saying things that may be interpreted as attacks on parenting skills. I stick to the facts underlying a student’s bad behavior or poor performance and try not to make parents inadvertently feel that they have failed.
- I am prepared with recommendations for improvement and invite the same from parents and students. I am clear in pointing out that it is improvement, not perfection, that I am expecting.
Question 10: I have interviewed two other candidates for this position and they, like you, are well-qualified. Why should I hire you?
This is your opportunity to give it your best shot and explain how and why you would be the best choice. It is the time to emphasize additional things about yourself that you haven’t had an opportunity to say during the interview. Most importantly, you want to be sure to say that you would be an excellent role model for students and that their progress, welfare, and safety are of utmost importance to you. You want to convince the principal and others that they would find you to be a positive, collegial member of the faculty.
Being familiar with key educational issues always promotes a positive impression. In other words, try to have some insights on differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, character education, peer mediation, etc. should they come up in conversation. Doing some prior research on the school and district demographics, issues, challenges, and strengths also shows your awareness and involvement in education outside of your classroom.
Expressing a willingness to learn and grow as a professional and confirming your commitment to the success of each child in your care will be sure to leave an upbeat and confident feeling with the principal. Exude poise, confidence, and professionalism. Lastly, convey the depth of your understanding on the awesome responsibility and importance of being a teacher.
Samuel J. Spitalli (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an adjunct professor at the Institute of Teacher Education, Teacher Certification Program, Palm Beach State College, Lake Worth, Florida, where he teaches courses in Classroom Management. He was previously a director, assistant principal, department chair, and English teacher at Township High School District 211 in Palatine, Illinois.