It’s that time of year! Teachers all over the country are interviewing for a new position. Maybe you’re a first year teacher, excited to get into your first classroom and wondering what grade level you will teach. Or maybe you’re more experienced and just looking for a change in environment. Either way, you are likely dreading the teacher interview process and thinking about how you can make the best impression possible to increase your chances of securing your dream job.
I have a lot of experience in the teacher interview department. In my 5 years of teaching, I’ve worked at 3 different schools. The job hunting process is no stranger to me! So, to help out anyone who might be wondering what some common teacher interview questions are, or how to stand out when you have no experience, I’ve compiled a list of some of my best job interview tips for teachers.
Preparing for a Teacher Interview
Before you ever set foot into that conference room where you will hold your first job interview, set aside some time to prepare ahead of time. Come up with an answer to some common interview questions (which I’ll get to in a minute), select your outfit, and do a little background research on the school you’re interviewing for. A little story about that…
Do Your Research
After my second year of teaching, the private school I was working at closed permanently. Everyone was looking for new jobs and one of my coworkers had an interview at a school with several openings. He told me about it because he knew that I was still looking and wanted to stay in private school. He ended up not even having his interview at that school since he got hired at his first choice before it happened, but I still applied and scheduled an interview.
One of the very first questions the principal asked me was, “Why do you want to teach at our school?” So I talked about how I’ve taught at a private school and public school, and gave the reasons why I was looking to stay in a private school. I went on and on and on about private schools…and when I finished, she said,
“That’s great! We are actually not a private school, we’re a charter school.”
I was mortified!!! And I knew I had blown the interview at that point. My former coworker had told me it was a private school, but I should have done my own research prior to interviewing at this school.
I actually did end up getting that job, and working there for 3 years, and it was a wonderful experience and opportunity. But I still always go back to that moment and realized I should have read up on the school before interviewing so I didn’t look like a complete idiot in my interview.
Choose Your Outfit
There’s a little bit of mixed information out there on what’s appropriate to wear to a teacher interview. Some schools’ dress code for teachers is pretty casual (jeans everyday), while others are a lot more formal. Many lie somewhere in between – such as jeans on Fridays only, and the rest of the week is more business casual. If you are able to find out the school’s dress code before your interview, that can be helpful.
However, I say play it safe – dress a little more professionally than you would on a normal day of teaching. Even if the dress code is super casual, what can dressing nicer hurt? I’m not talking suit and tie, or even necessarily high heels…but maybe some nice slacks and a pretty blouse. Or a pencil skirt with a feminine top. For guys, slacks and a collared button-down with a tie. You certainly don’t need to go TOO formal – most teachers aren’t dressing in full business attire all the time – but you still want to look professional and put together.
Common Teacher Interview Questions
Another thing you want to do prior to your interview is have an answer to some common interview questions. I’ve compiled my own list below of questions that I find commonly come up in job interviews, especially for teachers, along with a quick tip on the best way to answer (based on my experience). I encourage you to research further and look at other lists of questions as well so you are well-prepared!
- Tell me a little about yourself. – I hate this question, because it isn’t a question. And it’s so vague and broad! This is a good time to talk a little bit about your experience and why you became a teacher. Show them that you are passionate about this career! Don’t give your whole life story, although that can be tempting. This isn’t the time to overshare – keep it short and to the point.
- What is your classroom management strategy/how will you handle discipline in the classroom? – This question will almost certainly come up. Have a plan. It might entirely change once you get into your classroom and meet your students (because of course there’s no one size fits all for classroom management), but come up with a baseline plan. You might ask (or try to find out ahead of time) if the school has a policy on discipline and emphasize that you would follow that. Administrators also like to hear things like “parent communication,” “building relationships with students,” “talking to students about their behavior and discussing better choices.” Things like that.
- What are your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher? – Be honest. List one or two of your strong points, and be specific. Give examples if you can. Then list one or two things you are working on. Administrators know that they are not hiring perfect teachers. It can be tempting to try to make your weakness actually sound like a strength. (“Oh, I’m just such a hard worker, I never know when to stop working!”) I think honesty is always the best policy in this case. They already know you have a weakness. Just tell them what it is. Give an example if you have one, and then – and this is important – tell them how you are working on it. Be honest, but don’t leave them thinking that that’s as good as it’ll ever get with you.
- What is the most recent book you read and what did it teach you? – Thank goodness for my church small group, or I wouldn’t have had an answer to this question. I’ve only been asked this in one interview but I was so not prepared for it, so I wanted to include it here. Think back to a book you recently read (not fiction – something to help you grow as a person or teacher) and come up with one or two things you learned from it. I wasn’t a huge reader at the time I had this interview, and if I hadn’t been part of a book study with my church a few months earlier, my answer would have been, “Umm…I don’t really read…?” and that would have been super embarrassing.
- Are you a team player or do you prefer to work independently? – Honestly, I think the right answer to this in most cases is that you’re a team player. Most schools are comprised of grade level teams and want to hire people who will collaborate and work well with others. My answer is always that I am both. I enjoy working with others and collaborating, but I’ve also learned how to be independent (I always throw in that I’m an only child, so it kind of comes with the territory). Basically, I’m adaptable and can work with any situation. I think either of those answers is acceptable; I would never say that you don’t like working with other people, no matter how true it may be.
- On a scale of 1 to 10, rate yourself as a teacher. – I’ve only been asked this once, also, but it’s kind of a loaded question. I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be humble or confident here. I would say rate yourself somewhere between a 6-7 (based on experience). It’s high enough that it shows you have confidence in your abilities and are a proficient teacher, but it’s not cocky. I would follow up with, “I will always be learning, and know that I always have room to improve.”
At the Teacher Interview
When you arrive at your interview, you want to be polite, and respectful. Shake hands when you meet the interviewers (my first interview had FOUR people in it – the principal, assistant principal, and two teachers from the grade level I was interviewing for). Smile and introduce yourself.
When answering questions, be real. Be yourself. They are listening to your answers, but they also want to get to know you. If you are normally a bubbly and fun person, don’t get all monotone and serious at the interview. If you are normally more reserved and laid back, don’t act like you’re the life of the party and start cracking jokes. Show them your personality! They want to see you, not the person you think they want to see.
Be confident, but not cocky!!! This is so important. You are not the best teacher in the world and they know that. You aren’t fooling them! You have had struggles and made mistakes and they want to see if you will admit that to them. Another story –
In my interview for my first job (the one with four people), they asked me to share a specific situation in which I had to discipline a student and how I handled it. I don’t remember my answer, but I came up with something that had happened when I was subbing one time.
Two other people were interviewed that day for the same job. One of my coworkers later told me that one of the other girls they met with answered that question by stating, “I’ve never dealt with any behavior issues in the classroom.”
And that answer pretty much single-handedly ruined that job opportunity for her. Not only is that probably not true (not sure what students she was teaching if it is), the real reason that question is being asked is so that they can get a feel for how you handle problems. Which you absolutely will come across. It was cocky, it was most likely not true, and the interviewers now have no idea if she even knows how to handle difficult students. Don’t be that girl.
Last thing I want to touch on – don’t stress out too much! Remember that the people who are interviewing you are people too, and they’ve all been in your shoes before. They may seem scary, and it’s totally normal to be nervous, but it’s important to just take a deep breath, prepare ahead of time, and just do the best you can. That’s all you can do!
I hope these teacher interview tips have been helpful for those of you looking for a job this summer! Good luck on your job hunt!