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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is a Ph.D student at the University of South Florida, where he also works as a teaching assistant, supervising and teaching pre-service teachers. Steve holds a master's degree in...
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Interviewing for a Teaching Job? You Need to Read this!

As a supervisor for pre-service teachers, part of my role involves helping them prepare for job interviews. Facing principals and other school administrators in an effort to land a job can be a very nerve-wracking experience.  One of the best ways I found to help prepare teacher candidates, both psychologically and practically, is to bring in principals to conduct mock interviews and discuss the types of questions that surface during interviews.

These sessions have produced quite the “insider” knowledge, and while every job interview is different (as are principals), if you are planning to ever interview for a teaching position, you need to keep reading.

What I’m going to share in this blog is a series of questions that you will most likely encounter during an interview. I will also talk through some possible ways to answer these questions, based on what principals say works best.

Question 1: Tell me a little about yourself.

This is usually the first question you will be asked. It also might be the hardest to answer because it is so broad. Your best approach is to start with some information that makes you unique or interesting but then find a way to bring it back to your mission, your reasons, for teaching. For example:

When I was in high school, I had a teacher that truly inspired me. I knew at that moment I wanted to become a great teacher, someone that inspired others.

Or

I grew up as a migrant student. I know what it’s like to move from school to school, struggling with the language. That’s why I want to work with these students…

Always bring it back to the mission and avoid clichés and general answers, such as:

I just love kids and want to work with them.

Question 2: What is your classroom management philosophy and system?

When answering this question, you need to articulate your beliefs and a clear plan for managing behaviors and procedures in the classroom. Again, be specific and positive. Some examples:

I believe in the power of relationships. I think getting to really know students can help me manage the classroom. For instance, I plan to greet them every morning at the door, spend time asking them about themselves, holding class meetings to allow students to have a voice. If there’s a situation between students, I will hold meditation meetings and help them resolve differences.

Or

I believe students need structure and clear expectations. Thus, I plan to spend the first few weeks of school really making the expectations and procedures clear. Students will know exactly what’s expected of them and there will be clear, immediate consequences, for instance, if classroom rules are broken. I will also invite students to help me come up those rules…

Question 3: Tell me about a time you faced a difficult student? How did you handle it? Were you able to turn the situation around?

Give a concrete example. Here’s a possible response:

I remember I had one student that refused to do her work. I tried several strategies (mention them) but nothing worked. I invited the student to lunch one day and while talking, I learned she loved art and drawing. I began tying some assignments to the arts and her motivation increased. She started doing more work…

Question 4: What are your strengths? What are your areas of improvement?

When talking strengths, discuss qualities, characteristics and abilities that relate to being an effective teacher and talk about how it will help students. For example, maybe you are strong in communication or have an ability for establishing rapport with people. Maybe you are highly creative or very organized-explain how this will benefit your role and the students. Now, be careful on the part where they ask about weaknesses. Mention a quality, for instance, that needs developing but do not belabor the point. Don’t spend more than 30 seconds to a minute on the topic—rather turn it around by explaining how you are working on steps to get better in this area.

Question 5: Why do you want to work at this school?

To answer this question effectively, you need to have done research in advance. Google search the school prior to the interview and read about its demographics, programs, needs, etc. Find out everything you can. You want to connect your strengths to the needs and unique aspects of the school. For example:

Well, being a science magnet school, I believe my passion for science and background in this subject really makes me a good fit. For instance, I started a STEM after school club at my previous school, which the parents and students loved, and I think, if you’re interested, I could create a similar opportunity at your school…

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to cover every possible question you might face. Some other standards questions principals ask may include:

  • How will you communicate with parents?
  • Tell me about a time you collaborated with other teachers to solve a challenge?
  • How will you go above and beyond this position?
  • What grade level/position do you want to teach and why?
  • How do you use data to drive instruction?

Having a sense of what types of questions will come up in the interview certainly helps you prepare. You can think about possible answers, write them down, ponder them, and practice mock interviews with others. You have the “inside” information you need to land your ideal teaching job.