You've gotten all the necessary schooling, passed the right tests, attained the proper certification and done your observation and student teaching. The next step in becoming a teacher is to actually land a job, and you'll need to have a successful interview before that can happen.
Depending on each institution's practice, you may be interviewed by a single person, a panel of staff, a school board or other combinations of school personnel. In some cases, you will have to field questions from students.
Despite the variety of interview setups possible, there are several critical areas of teaching you will always be expected to address. For example, here are 10 common teacher interview questions and the best way to answer them.
1. 'Why do you want to work in this school?'
Hopefully, there are several reasons why you've chosen this particular school and can answer this easily. Even if it's not your dream job, you can find a way to convince interviewers that you're very interested in this post. It's a good idea when preparing for any interview to do your research first. Visit the website, read their Ofsted report and check out their reputation on sites like Mumsnet and on social media.
Arrange a visit to the school if possible. This will help you get a sense of the atmosphere, the students and your potential colleagues.
All this preparation will help you give specific reasons on why you've chosen to apply. Whether it's their inclusive teaching philosophy, their reputation for community involvement or their comprehensive curriculum, be sure to address how your expertise and enthusiasm will help those aspects thrive. Mention any areas where you can add value, like an extracurricular activity in your subject area that the school doesn't currently have.
2. 'What is your teaching philosophy?'
Whether you're asked this specific question or directed to 'tell me about yourself’, you'll want to be prepared with a detailed explanation of your personal philosophy. This will be based on methods learned during your schooling, your personal beliefs on how and why to communicate your knowledge to students, and your experience in any previous teaching roles.
It's a common interview mistake to ramble and go off on too many tangents. This can be detrimental for any job but especially so for a teaching position where effective communication is a core skill. An excellent way to structure your answer on implementing your philosophy is to use the STAR method:
- Situation: Describe a point in a lesson where some or all the students were having difficulty grasping the right concepts or arriving at the correct conclusion. Did some of the students have trouble with fractions or a grammar rule, or interpreting a novel?
- Task: Discuss what your mission was in this instance, whether it was to get all students more engaged in the material or if you needed to assist one or more of them on a topic without holding back the rest of the class.
- Action: Applying your personal teaching philosophy, what methods did you use to solve the problem? Did you give certain students extra help? Did you assign a different kind of assignment that the children found more interesting?
- Results: Talk about how your methods and actions achieved livelier discussion on the topic or better grades or had particular students now caught up to their peers' level.
Another important point to consider as you formulate your response is the school's mission and philosophy. If the school likes to focus on the individual student's educational interests or uses a more structured environment to teach, be sure that your answers align comfortably with their goals. You don't have to upend your entire philosophy just to mimic theirs but do show that your methods are adaptable to meet both your desired results and theirs.
3. 'What do students look for in a teacher?'
There may be clues to how to answer this in the job description you were given. Desired attributes usually include a passion for teaching in general, making the subject matter relevant, good communication skills and a fondness for working with young people. When high school students themselves were asked about teachers, they requested an instructor they can trust, who listens to their needs and concerns, and who is patient, understanding and kind.
When answering this question, you once again want to give some examples of how you feel you meet these criteria. Share an anecdote, for instance, about how you brought your own collection of science fiction novels to class and let the students borrow any they wanted. Explain how this helped inspire a relationship of mutual trust, created a personal connection to students when they discussed the books with you one on one, and inspired students to read outside the classroom.
4. 'If I walk into your classroom, what would I see?'
For this question, your answer should focus on the students themselves. Particularly for primary and elementary school interviews, your description can include displays of your pupils' best assignments and artwork. A math teacher interviewing for a high school position might talk about using the bulletin board for photos of the school's top mathletes winning a local or national competition.
The bulk of your answer should stress the students' engagement level and a supportive learning environment. Fortismere school headteacher Helen Anthony tells the Guardian that she prefers answers that reference 'animated discussions' and 'students clearly making progress as evidenced in oral and written contributions'.
This could lead to further questions about the impact you've had on your pupils' performance – feel free to bring examples in a portfolio, including positive feedback you've received.
5. 'Tell us about a time you had to manage disruptive behaviour from a student.'
While education is the main focus of being an instructor, behaviour management is also an essential part of your role and will come up in one or more teacher interview questions. This is a chance to share your personal philosophy and strategy on dealing with a disruptive student, but you should also reference school policy and how it informs your response.
Once again, employ the aforementioned STAR method to succinctly explain a situation where you dealt with a difficult pupil. Consider selecting an example that involved collaboration with other staff or the parents, and specify how your actions and decisions led to a positive result. Follow-up questions might ask what you learned from that situation, and what you might do differently if faced with it again.
6. 'What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?'
This is one of the most common interview questions in any field. This is a chance to really sell yourself to the school. If you find it difficult talking about yourself in a uniformly positive light, take time to practise your answers beforehand so you don't get stuck during the interview. Talk about specific skills that directly relate to the teaching position, like successful lesson plans and communicating well with parents.
Try to give some examples of how your skills contributed to your students' achievements and engagement. Be careful not to exaggerate your expertise, especially if you'll be required to prove it by teaching a lesson at the end of the interview.
When discussing your weaknesses, avoid suggesting something large like an entire subject or a main required skill. Choose something manageable and frame it as an area that needs improvement. For example, UK and Hong Kong educator Katie Tollitt suggests an area like time management: 'You could say that "sometimes I have so many ideas in lessons that we run over. I'm working on my time management, and now I'm cutting it back down to a 60-minute lesson"'.
7. 'Tell us your stance on a current issue in education.'
You may be well-equipped for standard queries about your teaching style and behaviour management, but another important interview tip is to prepare as best you can for tough questions. These might be brainteasers or psychological curveballs like the infamous 'If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?', but one of the more common teacher interview questions involves your knowledge of current issues.
Gail Larkin, long-time headteacher and former president of NAHT, advises getting up to date on educational issues before the interview and being ready with at least three different topics. You'll want to find news items that you have a definitive opinion about and that could directly impact your class, but don't go too niche – select some news items that have far-reaching effects. The Tes website is a great resource for UK teachers, as is Education Week in the US.
8. 'How do you keep parents informed and involved with their child's learning?'
This may be grouped in with other interview questions about your teaching style or student discipline, but the school will definitely want to know how you plan to interact with your students' parents. Talk about your use of regular emails, newsletters, conferences, open office hours and any other forms of communication.
Give examples of how you get parents involved with their child's progress, like signing off on assignments, contributing to collaborative projects like science fair experiments or family tree research, and volunteering for field trips. Be ready to discuss how you enlisted the parents' help with a child's learning difficulties, discipline issues or bullying. Discretion is a vital component of parent/teacher relations, so avoid using real names when citing examples.
9. 'Teach and evaluate the lesson.'
No matter how much experience you have had teaching, this can be a nerve-wracking experience. You'll have to teach a lesson to unfamiliar students in a new school setting, whilst being observed and graded. Stress can make you forget some of the most basic public speaking skills, so remember to maintain positive body language and a warm smile, and to avoid talking too fast.
Ask for a seating chart before you begin or ask the students to introduce themselves if it's a small enough group. Your interviewers will be impressed if you can then refer to pupils by name in your evaluation.
The lesson may not go perfectly, but that's okay because an important teaching skill is being able to self-critique. Your assessors will want you to note any problems, as well as how you would improve or use different tactics for the next lesson. Also address how you were successful, referencing a lively group discussion or the individual student's progress, and how you would build on it.
10. 'Do you have any questions for me?'
You want to show the interviewer that you are interested in this position, so your answer to this should never be 'no'. Ask questions about the student culture, interaction with the community, your expected goals for your first year or how much parents are involved in activities. Use your research about the school to ask specific questions, perhaps about a recent change in leadership or reduction in class size.
Avoid asking about salary, time off or other perks; anything that hasn't been addressed in the job posting can be enquired about after you've been offered the position. Steer clear of possibly uncomfortable questions, like why the previous teacher left. Keep your questions focused on the work with students and the success of the school.
As you can see, having a successful teaching job interview requires extensive preparation. Since being a teacher requires plenty of prep work for each lesson, consider this just more practice and experience that you can apply throughout your career.
Have you recently interviewed for a teaching position? Join the discussion below and let us know what questions you had to tackle!