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Get a Teaching Job: Interview Advice

Jordan Catapano

You received your invitation to interview at a school – congratulations! Here are a few tips, including interview questions for teachers, to help you feel prepared, and hopefully get a teaching job. Good luck!

Get a Teaching Job: First Impressions Count

Most new interviewees don’t realize that their interview begins the moment they walk into the building. The time they arrive, what they’re wearing, the way they interact with the secretary, how they sit while they’re waiting – all of that helps to craft an initial impression.

Also, many new interviewees don’t realize that they are interviewed by everyone they interact with. Whether interacting with a superintendent or a custodian, all current personnel have the chance to weigh in on how much they like or appreciate a certain person.

Who you are as a person – not just who you are when you answer interview questions for teachers – matters to a prospective employer. You want to demonstrate that you are a person who is kind, positive, and confident. And your first impressions help to communicate these attributes.

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So here are a few first-impression basics to keep in mind from the moment you get out of your car at the interview:

  • Smile. Be happy.
  • Shake hands with everyone – especially everyone in the room who will be conducting the interview. Squeeze firmly, and make eye contact when you do it.
  • Arrive early. This might require you to find out exactly where the school is beforehand. Anticipate traffic and driving time. Do NOT get there late, or even “On time.”
  • Look and act confidently. Stand up straight. Speak audibly.
  • Make eye contact. When speaking and when listening, make sure you communicate with your eyes that you are engaged in the conversation.
  • Demonstrate patience. Don’t feel like you need to rush anything or anyone. Wait to be greeted, to be seated, and hear out what your interviewers want to tell you.
  • Dress like a professional. Put on your best attire, make sure your hair looks good, and shine those shoes. You don’t have to look attractive, but do look like you take appearance and performance seriously.

All of these first impressions occur without you even needing to say anything. If you’re going to be the leader in a classroom, your conduct at an interview should demonstrate the type of characteristics that would make a school proud to have you lead their students.

Some Practical Advice

No two administrators are looking for the exact same thing, but here is some general advice that interviewers regularly give about what they’re looking for.

Research the school. Make sure that you spend time before the interview learning specific information about the school. Look at their state report card, their recent newsletters, their school calendar, and their website. Get a feel for the community and the academics. It’s important that interviewers see you are not just looking for “A Teaching job,” but that you’re looking specifically at their school and you took the time to learn a little bit about it.

It’s all about students. Schools look for candidates who care about the students they’ll be teaching. Are your answers student-centered or content-centered? Interviewers can find loads of candidates who know all about the content, but it’s especially important that teachers care for students and their success.

Have a positive attitude. It’s been said often that you can teach an employee the content, but you can’t teach them the attitude. Demonstrate that you are a positive, optimistic person. You’re up for the challenges. You roll with the punches. You see the best in people. This means that you smile, you demonstrate a willingness to learn, and you avoid speaking negatively. A HUGE turn-off for employers is when a candidate speaks negatively about previous places they’ve worked.

Be a team player. Also demonstrate that you’re not just there for your specific students, but there for the school at large. You want to contribute to the entire institution. Talk about going above and beyond your job description, being flexible with the current needs of the school and students, and your willingness for collaborating with your colleagues.

Be a learner, not an expert. You want to exude confidence, but don’t pass yourself off as an expert on all things education. When you believe you’re an expert, you stop learning. Show that you have confidence in yourself and your teaching fundamentals, but also show that you’re willing to learn and try new things. This also helps to take the pressure off of you – you don’t have to have all the answers. You just need to be willing to grow.

Demonstrate your learning and connectedness. Show that you’ve read more than your assigned readings in your education program. Talk about your Twitter connections, the blogs you follow, your favorite TED Talks, and the inspiring voices in education you tune into.

Don’t ramble. State your answer clearly, and let that be it. If you don’t have an answer, don’t ramble until you land on one. Take a moment to think about your response, share it, and stop.

Emphasize what makes you unique. There are lots of “Teachers,” so how will you be more just another teacher? Talk about specific attributes or activities you’d bring with you. This way you’re not just the math teacher, but the math teacher who specializes in using small-group, problem-based learning strategies. You’re not just the English teacher, but the English teacher who uses classroom blogs and facilitates student debates. This helps you stand out from the pack and be remembered.

Speak the language … but only the language you know. Show that you know the latest and most relevant education terminology. If you can speak intelligibly about formative assessments, growth mindset, and standards-based learning, then that demonstrates your ability to communicate about education in the language of the field. Of course, don’t just bring up buzzwords for the sake of doing so. Actually know what you’re talking about!

Some Common Interview Questions for Teachers

Read these questions and consider how you might answer them using the advice listed above. Actually practice answering them out loud, as though you were in a real interview setting.

  • Tell about a time something happened unexpectedly and how did you respond to it?
  • Tell about a lesson that worked really well for you.
  • Tell about a student you’re proud of.
  • What’s one teaching failure you experienced, and what have you learned from it?
  • What can you bring into our school culture and community?
  • Describe a situation where your work or an idea was criticized. How did you respond?
  • What have you done that shows initiative?
  • Give an example of a major problem you faced and how you solved it.
  • If you were to get the job, what are the first three things you would do to make yourself the best teacher?
  • What needs to be done to improve education in the United States?
  • Do you have any questions?

An Administrator Might Try …

  • To have a conversation with you. This gives a better feel for who you are rather than a traditional question-answer format.
  • To make you feel flustered or uncomfortable. Don’t get too flustered. They just want to see how you think or respond under pressure or criticism.
  • To get you to laugh. Loosen up. It makes the whole process go better. Throw in a few jokes of your own.
  • To put you on the spot. Don’t get nervous or defensive. Remain calm and answer honestly.
  • To have you speak negatively. Some questions might be framed to get you to criticize someone or something. Don’t fall for this trap; be honest, but remain positive and optimistic.
  • To learn what you’re passionate about. It’s OK to talk about more than just teaching. If the opportunity arises, reveal a little more about yourself and what makes you excited.
  • To find your digital footprint. Do you have a digital footprint? Do you need to clean it up and make it more presentable? It’s practically a given that a prospective employer will search for your digital presence – make sure what they find is flattering!

What questions do you have about a teaching interview? Or what advice would you give to others? Share your thoughts with our community in the comment below!

Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website

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