Interviews are exciting. Stressful, but exciting. Whether you are interviewing for your first teaching position, heading back into the classroom after time away, or looking for a new challenge in a different district or grade level, preparing for your interview is key. By having a clear idea of how you might respond to some of the most common teacher interview questions before you get in front of your future principal, you’re far more likely to appear professional and feel confident. We’ve compiled a list of not only the questions you’d have most likely been asked before COVID-19, but also some of the new questions school districts have added to their interview repertoires. Spend a bit of time thinking about how you’d answer each of the questions below, and you’ll be ready to nail that interview!
1. Why did you decide to become a teacher?
It seems trite and like a softball question, but don’t let that fool you. Most administrators are looking for something more than, “I’ve just always loved kids.” If you don’t have a substantive answer, then why are you even applying? Schools want to know you are dedicated to enriching the lives of students. Answer honestly and with anecdotes or examples that paint a clear picture of the journey that you took to become a teacher.
2. How do you cope with stress?
This one didn’t always appear on older lists of commonly asked questions, but it’s showing up now big time. School administrators are well aware of the toll teaching in today’s world takes on educators’ mental health and wellness. While they, hopefully, are taking steps to help their teachers deal with the stress and challenges of the job, they want to know if you have coping strategies in place. This is a great place to talk about hobbies, family/friends, and anything else outside the job that you turn to when things get tough. It’s important to note that this is also a great opportunity for you to ask the interviewer what steps their district has taken to prioritize teacher health and wellness.
3. What is your teaching philosophy?
This question is tricky. Don’t answer with a cliché, generic response. In fact, your response is your teaching mission statement. It’s the answer to why you’re a teacher. It’s helpful if you write out your mission statement before the interview and practice reciting it. Discussing your teaching philosophy is a chance to show off why you’re passionate, what you want to accomplish, and how you are going to apply it in this new position, in a new classroom, at a new school.
4. What did you like/dislike about working remotely?
If you were working or going to school during the pandemic, you’re likely going to be asked about how you dealt with the challenges of working remotely. Be honest. If you hated teaching via Zoom and couldn’t wait to get back to in-person instruction, you can say so. You may want to add, however, that you appreciated the opportunity to learn more about how technology could be used to engage different learners. Similarly, if you loved teaching from home, but you’re applying for an in-person position, you may want to be clear about the fact that while you loved being able to be at home, you love building relationships with your students in-person more.
5. How do you use technology in the classroom?
Technology is at the forefront of education, so your interview is the time to show off that you’re savvy. Talk about why you’re excited to use technology with students. How did you manage remote classrooms and engage students? What technology did you incorporate and use while teaching at home and in the classroom? Your administration needs teachers who are tech-savvy and have innovative thinking around technology.
6. Describe your classroom management structure.
If you’re a veteran teacher, discuss how you handled your classroom in the past. Give specific examples of things that worked the best and why. If you’re new, then explain what you learned as a student teacher and how you’ll map out a plan to run your first classroom. No matter how long you’ve been teaching, familiarize yourself with the school district’s philosophies on classroom management and discipline. Mention how you’ll incorporate their philosophy and stay true to your own. If you’re unable to find out much about the school’s policies beforehand, ask the interviewer to explain.
7. How do you feel about classroom observations and walkthroughs?
This one sounds simple, but be careful. It’s fine to say observations make you nervous, but most administrators want teachers who are comfortable with other adults seeing what goes on in their classroom. This is a great chance to talk about how exciting you find it to share all the wonderful learning activities that happen in your classroom with students’ parents and administration, even if you still get a bit nervous when watched by other adults.
8. Do you think students are different than they were before COVID-19? What changes have you observed, and how have you dealt with them in your classroom?
This one might actually be easier if you’re interviewing for your first teaching job. If that’s you, feel free to explain that while you don’t have a basis for comparison that others might, your classroom management plan is set up with today’s kids in mind. If, however, you’re a veteran teacher, you may want to think about how you’ll answer this one beforehand. Many educators have been quite vocal about the negative emotional, behavioral, and mental changes they’ve noticed in their students post-COVID. If you’ve had similar experiences, you can be honest about them. But make sure you explain what steps you’ve taken to address these changes in a proactive and positive way. No school district wants to hire a teacher who is going to throw up their hands and proclaim, “These kids just don’t listen anymore!” Let them know you are going to meet your students where they are and help them reach your high standards.
9. How do you incorporate social-emotional learning in your lessons?
Many states and districts have added requirements for social-emotional learning into their standards. Explain how you will not only tend to the academic needs of your students but tie in lessons that satisfy the core SEL competencies. Describe how you will help students build their self- and social-awareness skills, how you will support them in building relationships, and how you will give them the skills to make responsible decisions.
10. What impact does trauma have on student learning? How do you address this in your classroom?
Whew, questions like these are tough. As our understanding of the role trauma plays in learning grows, the need for educators to know about it and how to deal with it in their classrooms does as well. If you’ve received professional development about the topic, this is a perfect opportunity to show off a bit. If not, take some time to learn more about how trauma can affect not only students, but the individuals who work with them. That way, you’ll feel more comfortable discussing the issue when it comes up.
11. What role do you believe diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives should play in your classroom and in the school?
Questions about DEI initiatives, policies, and mindsets are challenging but have definitely become standard in most teacher interviews. Many school districts want to know that incoming educators are open to having the challenging conversations and doing the difficult work of building anti-racist curriculum and policies. In more traditional districts, interviewers might be on the lookout for teachers whose views might be “too progressive” for the parents in their schools. Answer these questions truthfully. If you feel strongly that anti-racist policies are important and want DEI initiatives to be respected and valued in the district where you work, you should know that before you accept a teaching position.
12. How will you encourage parents to support their children’s education?
The home-school connection is imperative yet tough to maintain. Administrators lean on teachers to keep open lines of communication with parents. They even see you as a “publicist” for the school, reinforcing the culture, strengths, and values of the school to parents. So, answer this question with concrete ideas. Share how parents will volunteer in your classroom and how you’ll maintain regular contact, providing updates on both positive and negative events. It’s great to also share your plan for providing resources to parents when students are struggling.
13. What are some methods you use to check for understanding as you’re teaching?
It’s one thing to prepare a high-quality lesson plan, but if students are not following along, what’s the use? Explain how your instruction will be responsive to students’ needs. Will you incorporate tech tools for assessments? Or implement exit slips summarizing what they’ve learned? Do you have a quick-check method, like thumbs-up/thumbs-down, to quickly scan for understanding?
14. How do you assess students’ progress?
Here’s your chance to preview your lesson plans and reveal your methods for keeping on top of students’ social, academic, and physical development. Explain the types of quizzes you give because you know that they’re most telling about students’ strengths and weaknesses. Give insight into how you use oral reports, group projects, and seat work to determine who’s struggling and who’s ahead. And share how you implement open communication with your students to discover what they need to succeed.
15. What are your thoughts about grades?
Grading and assessment are set to become hot topics in education in the next few years. While many feel that we’ve become lax in grading during the pandemic and want to tighten up traditional grading, others are arguing for drastically changing our grading systems. Regardless of what you believe personally about this issue, it’s a good idea to start by knowing how the district you are interviewing in handles grades. You can (and should!) absolutely discuss how you believe standards-based grading to be superior to traditional methods, but make sure you also state that you can and will follow district protocols and believe you can accurately measure student learning in this way.
16. Why do you want to teach at this school?
Research, research, and research more before your interview. Google everything you can about the school. Do they have a theater program? Are the students involved in the community? What type of culture does the principal promote? Use social media to see what the school proudly promoted most recently. Then, ask around. Use your network of colleagues to find out what (current and former) teachers loved and hated about it. The point of all this digging? You need to know if this school is a good fit. If it is a good fit, you’ll demonstrate how much you want the job by explaining how you would get involved with all the amazing school programs you’ve heard so much about!
17. What is the greatest challenge facing teachers today?
Remote learning? Hybrid learning? Diversity and inclusion? Social-emotional learning? Engaging parents? The challenges are plenty! Think about your specific school, district, city, and state. What issue is most pressing, and what can you, as a teacher, do to help?
18. How would you handle a parent challenging your teaching methods/curriculum/classroom management?
Even a district that is going to strongly support its teachers against parent complaints may ask how you will handle such conflicts when they arise. This is a great opportunity to discuss how you stay calm in tense situations. Discussing how you prefer to call parents who are upset rather than emailing, or how you would forward particularly angry emails to a supervisor just to keep everyone in the loop, are excellent ways to show that you are a calm and proactive educator.
19. How can you meet the needs of a student with an IEP?
Today’s inclusive classrooms require that teachers know how to meet each child’s unique educational needs, especially those with disabilities. Perhaps most importantly, meeting the needs of students with IEPs (and 504 plans) is required by law. Districts definitely want to hear that you know that and you will be following those legal requirements. Even if you have not worked extensively with special needs students, educate yourself on the process and be familiar with the lingo. Prepare a couple of examples of ways you can differentiate instruction to support their particular needs.
20. How would you handle a situation in which you believe a student doesn’t need all of the accommodations listed in their IEP?
This is a variation of the last question, and it’s also a bit of a “gotcha” question. It’s important to remember that Special Education paperwork is legally binding. Meaning that if an IEP states that a student gets extended time to complete work, preferential seating, or any other specially-designed instruction, they have to receive it, or the district has broken the law. An administrator or principal who asks this question wants to know that you are aware of how important following a student’s IEP is and that you won’t ignore things when you don’t think they are needed. Make sure you express that you understand that. Even better, however, is if you do that and then acknowledge that part of your job as a teacher is to monitor how a student is performing and let the student’s case manager (or whoever is writing their IEP) know if you believe they do not need a particular support or if they need more. This way, you demonstrate a strong understanding of how the IEP works and that you play an important role as a member of that students’ support team.
21. How will you meet the needs of the students in your class who are advanced or say they’re bored?
School leaders don’t want to hear canned responses about how you can differentiate; they want you to give some concrete answers and support your ideas. Perhaps you help get kids prepared for scholastic competitions once they’ve mastered the standard (spelling bee or chemistry olympiad, anyone?). Maybe you offer more advanced poetry schemes for your English classes or alternate problem-solving methods for your math students. Whatever it is, make sure that you express the importance that all students are engaged, even the ones that are already sure to pass the state standardized test.
22. How will you engage reluctant learners?
Teaching in an age when we must compete with TikTok, Snapchat, and other forms of instant entertainment makes this question valid and necessary. How will you keep students engaged? Share specific incentive policies, lessons you’ve used, or ways you’ve built relationships to keep students on task. An anecdote of how a past student (remember to protect privacy) that you taught was turned on to your subject because of your influence would also help your credibility here.
23. Describe a troubling student you’ve taught. What did you do to get through to them?
This question addresses more than just your reluctant learners. This speaks to any discipline measures you’ve had to address. As a teacher, you need to control the classroom and provide a safe space for all of your students. Think about your approach to troubling students and any successes you’ve had in the past.
24. Tell us about a mistake you made with a student. What happened, and how did you address it?
This is a tough but important question. Your interviewer is asking you to be a bit vulnerable here, but be careful with your choice of anecdote. While we’ve all made mistakes when dealing with students, what you’re really looking for is an example where you made a mistake and then addressed it appropriately. Think carefully about a situation in which you didn’t handle things as well as you could have, but that you got it right in the end. Explain why you handled it the way you did initially, what caused you to reflect and change your mind, and how the situation was resolved.
25. Which activities, clubs, or sports are you willing to sponsor if you are offered a position?
While this expectation may be more real for middle and secondary teachers, being the new kid on the block often comes with a conversion of your title from teacher to coach. If athletics isn’t one of your strengths, you can still get an edge on your competition by sponsoring a science club, yearbook, or academic team. You might also share a special skill, like knitting or creative writing, and offer to teach it to interested students.
26. What three words would your peers, administrators, or students use to describe you?
Having been caught off guard by this prompt at a previous competitive interview, I would encourage you to have some thoughtful options to describe yourself. It’s tempting to say things you think your new boss might want to hear, like intelligent or hard-working, but don’t discount character traits or terms that paint you as a team player among peers and a role model for students. Some options to consider are empathetic, creative, caring, or cooperative.
27. What do you feel you can contribute to our school’s PLC for your subject?
The days of shutting your door to do your own thing are out, and professional learning communities are in! Go in ready to discuss topics such as common planning, benchmarks, and data analysis. This is a key time to highlight your strengths. Whether you shine in making high-level DOK assessment questions or have a plethora of student-centered activities for your subject, let the interviewers know what you have to offer to your prospective peers and what you hope to glean from collaborating with them.
28. Which component of your résumé are you most proud of and why?
Pride may come before a fall, but if asked about your accomplishments, don’t be bashful about conveying your worth. Have you won a grant for classroom materials? Share the details and how they helped your students succeed. Did you receive an award for excellence in instruction? Talk about how the application process helped you reflect and grow. If you’re a recent graduate, you can still brag on yourself: Describe your student-teaching experience and how it prepared you for opportunities like the job opening you’re vying for. Small things, like professional organization memberships, can also help you relay your interest in staying up to date on the latest educational research and best professional development.
29. Where do you see yourself in five/ten years?
With more teachers leaving the classroom than ever before, many districts are going to be looking for educators who are ready to stay put for the foreseeable future. That being said, if your dream is to become a principal, reading specialist, or some other role within the district, it is OK to mention that. However, it’s probably wise to state that your main goal is to be the best classroom teacher you can be and see what opportunities arise after five or ten years.
30. Do you have any questions?
While it may be tempting to get out of the hot seat quickly by answering with a simple no, this will generally be the final question and your last opportunity to leave a good impression. This isn’t the time to ask about when they might be making a decision about the position, salary, or benefit questions. The interviewer wants to know that you actually care about their school district. So, grab a journal or pad and jot some ideas down before your interview, and proudly pull these notes out on cue. If you are at a loss for what to ask, peruse the school’s website, check out their goals, strategic plan, or recent accomplishments, and refer to them specifically. Your potential principal will likely appreciate your inquisitive side if it is paired with genuine interest in their school.
If you’ve recently been on the job-hunting circuit, what common teacher interview questions would you add to this list? Share in the comments below.
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