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Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Tips for Teaching Interviews

It's that time of year!  Schools are beginning to look at their staffing for next year, current teachers are making plans for their future, and new teachers are keeping a close eye out for teaching job opportunities. Here, I've compiled some tips and information on how to ace teaching interviews.  This definitely won't be one size fits all, but it's a good starting point!



I will be the first to admit that the number of interviews that I’ve HAD is a much smaller number than the number of interviews where I’ve been the interviewee.  My perspective here comes from both angles— The teacher interviewer and the teacher interviewee.

What to Expect During Teaching Interviews
What should you expect during a typical teaching interview?  You’ll almost always be one of many teachers that an interview committee is speaking with that day, as most districts have protocols they follow about how many people must be screened before making a selection.  They also have protocols about the number of people giving input on a hiring decision, which means it’s fairly rare to go into a one-on-one interview.  The most common scenario I’ve seen is the principal, the assistant principal, and 2-3 teachers (some who will be on your team and some who won’t be, since positions change) doing the interviewing.  When you sit down in the interview, most of the time, everyone on the interview committee will read a question round-robin style.  When you’re answering, speak to the whole room, but I typically recommend that you make more eye contact with the person who asked you the particular question.

The Interviewers

There are a few types of people you need to be prepared to meet during an interview: 

There are interviewers who try their hardest to be warm and welcoming.  They take plenty of notes, smile the whole time, and make eye contact while asking questions.  They nod their head while you answer questions, and they tend to ere on the side of being overly accommodating, which can make even the most unqualified candidate feel like they are nailing it.

On the other hand,  I’ve seen the sweetest colleagues of mine go completely stoic when they’re interviewing.  Their goal is to get down to business and see who you are as an educator.  They want real answers, and they don’t necessarily want to make you feel like you’re nailing it when you’re not. These interviewers will make eye contact, but they usually won’t smile.  They’ll furiously write down every word you say (or on the other hand, they won’t write down anything, which will make you equally as nervous), and they’ll probably give you a nod or two when you’ve answered their question. You'll leave the room wondering if you bombed it, but they will probably smile big and say, "She was amazing!"

These are the people that will cause you to question your interview skills and make you give a big “I don’t know” when people ask how your interview went.  Again, I want to emphasize that neither style is better, but I feel like it’s so important to be prepared for both as you are going into your first few teaching interviews.  Don’t let people like me leave you feeling like you nailed it, and don’t let people not-so-like-me intimidate you to the point that it impacts your ability to ACTUALLY nail it. 

Now that you have a good idea of what you’ll encounter when you sit down to a teaching interview, here are some more general tips I can offer you having been on both sides of the proverbial table.

On Portfolios

Every college preparatory program I’ve ever known requires that teacher candidates create a portfolio full of lessons, their mission statement, etc.  I’ve never pulled one of these out during an interview, and I’ve never witnessed someone pull one out during an interview.  It’s not a bad thing to have with you if you get stuck, but time is often of the essence, and fumbling through a portfolio can take up precious time.  Instead, find every opportunity to show your awesome communication skills by explaining different lesson plans, giving an example of parent interactions, and giving a casual but heartfelt impression of your “teaching mission statement.”  Half of an interview is seeing who you are as a human.  Instead of spending precious moments leafing through your portfolio to give an example, use your words and use your heart. 

On Communication 

In order to use your words, though, you are going to have to go into this interview completely prepared.  Think through the types of questions that might come up (more on that later) and practice your answers.  If there is a specific learning experience that you want to make sure you highlight during your interview, THINK THROUGH exactly what you are going to say about it.  In fact, brainstorm a list of specific experiences that you would consider highlighting during your interview and think about what you would say about them. 

On Research 

Researching the school and district is absolutely crucial to your preparation.  It will help you anticipate what types of questions might come up, and it will help you brainstorm talking points. YOU MUST RESEARCH YOUR SCHOOL/DISTRICT.  

If you ask a question at the end of the interview that could have easily been answered with a quick swipe through the school’s website, the interview team will get the feeling you aren’t taking the interview seriously.  Likewise, if you ask a question based on something you saw when you researched, they’ll know you’re taking this more seriously. 

On Honesty 

Have you ever met someone who looks really good “on paper” but then ends up treating you poorly in real life?  Don’t be the person in an interview who looks great on paper and in the interview and turns out to not be who they say they were.  I’ve seen this happen several times over the years and have thus become wary of those who appear overly book smart in interviews and who give obviously canned or "perfect" answers.  

If you’ve never taught using a math workshop approach, don’t talk about how you’re a pro at that or how you love using a workshop approach.  If they ask, or if your research has revealed that they use math workshop at the school, tell them about what experience you DO have that would support math workshop and emphasize the fact that you are excited to implement it (if you are, of course) and know it will be great to learn alongside the children. 

If you’ve never used Daily Five, but you know the school does, research the heck out of it to show that you’re willing to do so, but own the fact that you’ve never taught with it— just be sure to emphasize that you are eager and willing to learn about it and implement it alongside your teammates.  

95% of the time, your lack of experience in a school-specific implementation will not eliminate you from the running.  I previously taught in an International Baccalaureate school, and while having IB experience was a plus, we would ALWAYS choose an enthusiastic, willing teacher over one who wasn’t as enthusiastic and willing but had IB experience.  Teaching is learning, y’all! 


The Truth About Jobs

NOW, before I go any further, this is an important note, especially for first-year teachers who are newly navigating the waters of teacher interviews. I want you to keep in mind that you may end up in an interview situation where, no matter how amazing you are, you will definitely not get the job because someone else already has it.  

Let me give you an example:  In my former district, any teacher hired after August 1st is automatically considered an INR (Intent Not to Rehire) and their contract is only for one year.  At the end of the year, no matter how much of a rock star they were that year, their position still has to be reposted, and interviews still have to be conducted for that position.  In most cases, that person will get rehired on an actual contract and admin is just going through the protocol.  I’ve sat on many interviews just like this, watching the poor interviewees pour their hearts into the interview, not realizing that the person in the position is actually staying in the position.

Another example of this scenario is when there is movement within the school.  Depending on tenure and contract terms, I’ve seen teachers have to reinterview for specialty positions (interventionists, reading specialists) when they are already a “shoo-in.” 


**TAKE HEART!** Even though you likely won't know this is the case until after the interview, even if you suspect it's a formality, give it your all.  These interviews are not a total loss, as I’ve also seen many people in these interviews get called back for later interviews who are subsequently hired on in a different position.  Every single opportunity that you have to interact with the administration is an important one.  Rockstar teachers will stand out, no matter if they have a job for you right then or not.

General Tips for Teaching Interviews


  • Use “we” as often as possible when referring to your experience in schools.  It shows that you are a collaborative team player and willing to work with others and give credit where credit is due. 
  • While it's important to show a growth mindset and a willingness to adapt and learn, be prepared to talk about failures, both in the classroom, with colleagues, with parents, and with students. Do not sit in an interview and say you can’t think of any failures or professional weaknesses.
  • It’s okay to thoughtfully pause between a question and your answer.  Take a moment to pull your ideas together.  It shows that you are thoughtful rather than impulsive, and you’ll almost always come up with a better example the more time you think about it.   There have been several times that I haven't followed this advice, finish my answer, and then end up saying, "ACTUALLY, I need to add to my answer."
  • Ask for clarification or to repeat the question as needed, especially if they are long questions with multiple parts.  Again, don’t try to skim over an answer when you don’t know what they’re asking.
  • Never, ever, ever talk poorly about former colleagues, students, parents, or administration. Seriously, never. You can put a positive, learning-based spin on any negative situation, and this is the time to do that.  I can’t think of a time we ever hired someone who talked poorly about former positions.
  • Many schools have a school-wide behavior management program implemented (Love and Logic, Responsive Classroom, PBIS, etc.).  Be sure to look it up ahead of time so that you are familiar with it and possibly reference it at some point during your interview. 

  • S.M.I.L.E.  I will be the first to tell you that when I walk into an interview (or really, any situation that requires me to talk in front of people), I have a very physical reaction that I can’t help.  My face and neck turn bright red, my breathing gets funny, and my hands get shaky.  Every. Single. Time.  I know this happens to me, and I always go in prepared with a line like, “Eek! I can stand in front of kids and sing songs about verbs all day, but a room full of adults is something else!”  It’s a good way to break the ice, acknowledge that physical reaction that you can't control, and get things started.  Smile.  Be human.  I’ve said it a few times before, but they are not only looking at your pedagogical knowledge, but the interview team wants to know your heart, too.  Show it to them. 

Sample Teacher Interview Questions

Note: Most interview questions are lengthy and have multiple parts.  These are some of the more basic questions that you should know YOUR answers to ahead of time, but be prepared for more detailed questions, too. 

  • How do you accomplish vertical and horizontal articulation within a school?
  • How do you structure your reading/math block so that a wide variety of students’ needs are met?
  • Give an example of a time you had a difficult interaction with a parent and how you handled it. 
  • How do you encourage students to show grit (growth mindset) in their learning and in the classroom?
  • What does rigor mean to you, and how can you be sure you are providing a rigorous experience for all students?
  • How do you incorporate cultural awareness, worldwide views, diversity, and equity into your lessons and classroom?
  • How do you promote a cohesive classroom community?
  • How do you keep students engaged while still maintaining a rigorous classroom environment?
  • Give an example of a challenge with a student and explain how you handled it.
  • What is your policy on grading?
  • How do you decide on homework requirements?
  • How do you ensure ample communication between home and school?
  • What is your classroom management policy?
  • How do you incorporate technology into your classroom in a meaningful way?
  • How do you collect and use data to inform your instruction and monitor student growth?
  • What is your philosophy on working in a grade-level team?
  • What strengths do you bring to your grade-level team?
  • How do you handle [insert specific classroom management crisis/scenario]?  (My favorite version of this has been when a principal asked me what I would do if a student refused to call me by my last name...)
  • What is the most recent education-related book you have read or PD you have attended? Tell us about it. 

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