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An Administrator’s Guide to the Best Teacher Interview Questions

The resume only scratches the surface! Use your interviews wisely to discover—and hire—top talent!

An Administrator's Guide to the Best Teacher Interview Questions

Making a hire who doesn’t work out well is all part of learning and growing as a school administrator. The candidate may have looked perfect on paper, but looks can be deceiving and resumes can be oversold. The job interview is your chance to go beyond what’s neatly typed out and understand who your candidates are at their cores. Asking cliche questions like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” rarely provides the foresight you need about someone’s work ethic and character. So, what should you ask? We went to top hiring experts to get their suggestions for the best teacher interview questions that will help you find valuable hires for your school and students.

1. Skip the Recap

You’ve already looked over a candidate’s resume before meeting in person, so asking about anything you’ve read—“How many years were you at your last school?” or “What grades have you taught?”—is redundant and wastes time. Instead, leadership coach and recruiter Elizabeth McCourt recommends finding something on the resume that jumps out and digging in there. For example, “I’ve looked at your resume and I found your semester in India intriguing—tell me about that.” It’s not only a great ice-breaker, but a smart way to discover what unique experiences a candidate has and how those could apply to the job.

2. Use the Past to Predict the Future

As Deb Cohen, author of Developing Proficiency in HR: 7 Self-directed Learning Activities for HR Professionals, explains, asking about strengths and weaknesses won’t yield an organic answer since candidates can prepare for that question in advance. Instead, try situational questions that bring up past job performance to help predict how a candidate will fit into your school’s culture. For example:

  • Describe a specific time when you were faced with an irate parent who tested your demeanor. What did you do?
  • Give me an example of a time when you needed to make a quick decision about a student situation. How did you arrive at the decision and what was the outcome?
  • Tell me about a time when a colleague was not being a team player. How did you try to influence the situation?

3. Change Your Setting

Nervous candidates don’t deliver their best, so it may be hard to determine if they’re a good fit for your school culture. To help your candidates relax, executive career coach Anne-Marie Ditta recommends holding interviews in a classroom or cafeteria instead of an office. It’s more casual and presents an opportunity to probe with deeper questions such as, “What does the setting tell you about the culture of the school? What would you do differently if you were arranging the room and why? How would you implement those changes?” Their answers can provide insight into how they think and approach projects, as well as their tendency to include others in their decision making.

4. Pull Out Their Passions

Some of the best teacher interview questions are personal questions about hobbies, past travels, or leadership idols. These questions can give great insight into how well a person will perform in a job. “Once they start talking about say, a hobby, follow up by asking what they’ve learned through it that can be applied to the job or how it’s helped them navigate past difficult situations in their life or career,” suggests McCourt. “When someone talks about the things they love, they loosen up and answer in a more honest and less prepared way.” Discovering common interests can also help you authentically connect with a candidate.

5. Peek Into Their Values

Patricia Thompson, Ph.D. and president of the management consulting firm Silver Lining Psychology, says that questions like, “What values are most important to you in life?” or “What drives you?” are direct ways to see if a candidate’s values are aligned with your school’s. Be wary of candidates who just repeat your school’s values if they’re listed publicly. Yes, they’ve done their research, but they may be over-managing their image. You can also ask, “What else drives you?” several times throughout the interview to get more insight if the first attempt is surface-level. Asking “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten in your career?” can be a clue into what past developmental opportunities and reception to feedback. And, “Tell me about a professional misstep you made and what you learned from it” lets you see a willingness to take ownership, grow, and be vulnerable.
Your hiring process will evolve and improve over time. By starting with our experts’ recommendations for the best teacher interview questions, you can learn more about who your candidates are as people, not just on paper.

Join our Facebook group Principal Life for more conversation about and insights into the challenges of school leadership.

Posted by Lauren Brown West-Rosenthal

Lauren West-Rosenthal is a senior editor at WeAreTeachers. In the fourth grade, she started writing "bonus chapters" to her favorite books. Her teacher was impressed -- and encouraging -- and a vast writing career was born!

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