Tough Teaching Interview Questions - How to Overcome Them

Don't kid yourself – in teacher job interviews, interviewers will try their best to detect problems or limitations in your skills. These deficits may affect how you will perform as a teacher.

For example, if you had a two-year gap in employment on your resume, many would consider it a problem or 'red flag.' Do you have a good reason for it?

Do you know how to answer the question, "Tell me about yourself"? Open-ended questions such as this are difficult to answer, and many candidates respond by rambling. Knowing how to respond to difficult interview questions is critical to securing a job offer.

Tough Teaching Interview Questions - How to Overcome Them

Here Are a Just a Few Difficult Teaching Interview Questions and Answers

Problem interview questions that may be asked include:

Understand that interviewers are more likely to hire someone who presents him/herself well, over a candidate with extensive credentials. The safest way to answer these questions is to emphasize your strongest personal strengths, and back them up with examples that demonstrate your value to the school district.

There are many difficult questions that will be asked during the interview. Many interviews last 45 minutes or longer, so you must be prepared for a variety of interview questions. Recognizing that situations for every candidate may vary, the responses to each question will serve to provide you with some general guidelines. It is extremely important to conduct extensive research on the district or school's needs in order to respond to these tough teacher interview questions thoroughly and competently.

Describe your philosophy of discipline.

This philosophy is based not only on discipline, but the underlying topics that are concerned with it as well – morals, ethics, values, personal responsibility, and so forth. Though families should serve as the primary resource for instructing children about these concepts, some fail to do so or do not set a good example; thus leaving it up to formal educators to take the lead and help develop our leaders of tomorrow.

Discipline in a classroom should be fair and consistent. Students must know the rules and procedures right from day one and understand the resulting consequences for obeying and breaking the rules. The classroom must be managed in an orderly fashion, where students are able to maintain maximum focus, productivity, and learning. Discipline does not solely rest on the individual, but is also influenced by the class as a whole, as well as the atmosphere of the learning environment.

Teachers should exhibit good morals and values, display proper manners, teach right from wrong, mediate peer conflicts, employ effective and impartial listening, and show support for students and colleagues. Teachers should also emphasize following the Golden Rule, promote tolerance and compassion, and strive to help each student reach his/her full potential via strong discipline and focus.

Furthermore, it is a good idea that instructors maintain communication with parents and really encourage parental involvement within the school community, as well as promoting education in the home. If parents are more aware of what their children are learning in school and what type of behavior they should observe in the home, they are far more likely to set a good example for their children and reinforce the need to gain a solid education and develop into respectable, caring, and productive members of society.

What types of manipulatives do you use? How do they positively impact the classroom and help students?

Your answer to this question should point out at what level you use manipulatives and which manipulatives you use. You should talk about the ones you use most frequently and also about the results you obtained.

Here's a response example that you could adapt during the interview to your own experience:

"Manipulative elements always enhance student learning as they provide excellent tools for creating and supporting "learning by doing." I believe that manipulatives promote the retention of concepts and information over time, as well as motivate students to participate in lessons.

Computers are great for getting students involved in learning. Computer programs are manipulative in the sense that students can participate in activities that would be impossible in the classroom, such as searching the world to find Carmen San Diego, learning geography along the way. Other computer programs provide beautiful graphics that promote learning science and math. In addition, computers simplify writing by making writing and editing easier and faster. Another terrific technology is CDs. There are wonderful programs on CD that teach fractions, for example, with explicit graphics that help students understand sometimes difficult concepts.

Besides computers, I use math manipulatives constantly. Teaching math by rote does not promote understanding of mathematical concepts. I use Cuisenaire rods to teach addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. The more the children use the rods to work out problems, the more they create a conceptual understanding of these processes, instead of just learning rote math facts. I also use manipulatives to teach fractions, measurement, and telling time.

There are so many to mention, but I'll finish quickly by saying that games, puzzles, and projects, such as history dioramas and murals, are great for motivating children to learn.

How do you handle classroom discipline?

For obvious reasons everyone will have a different answer; it will depend on your teaching style, grade interviewing for, and past experiences. The interviewer will be looking to see if you have a plan, you know how to implement it, and if you think that discipline is an important part of the position. What I have found from coaching clients is they fail to provide a clear action plan that can be backed up with examples. Also it is important to find out what is the philosophy of the school or district, this will give you some additional information. A few things to bring up when answering this question is the following:

It is essential to develop ground rules the first week of class, this allows the students to understand what is and isn't acceptable behavior. These rules are discussed and agreed upon with the students, this makes the students accountable and responsible. You may want to touch on your philosophy of classroom discipline. This of course would depend on your style; you will have to be honest with yourself. But you may believe that you reduce negative behavior by offering the students a intellectually stimulating, organized, and respectful environment.

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You will want to get an example of your plan; use a real situation to show your expertise in this very critical area. Whether you use the red light/green light, time-outs, or removing the student from the classroom, it is vital that you can back up why it is effective and use examples. You will want to explain why you feel the discipline action is effective and why you enjoy using it.

It is also important to indicate there are always two sides to every story, so if the action involves discipline of two students, you must listen to both sides. Indicate that you try to get the students to resolve their own disagreements, which may involve compromise. And end the discussion by asking them, "How will you handle the situation next time?"

Again, you must be honest when answering this question or any other question during the interview, but by organizing your thoughts and stories will make your response concise, truthful, and show your skills to the district.

Let's imagine an interview for a grade one teaching position wherein the interviewer asks: "Describe your classroom's physical appearance." Having prepared ahead of time, you understand the interviewer[s] attempt to determine:

*Your teaching style,* Your ability to effectively manage the class, * The level and quality of student interaction, * Your teaching philosophy,

Within this context, you might respond: "Upon entering my classroom you will find a lively and colorful room completely centered upon children and active learning. Sight words, the alphabet, numbers, and inspirational quotes cover the walls while large bulletin boards proudly display student's work. A large area contains a carpeted reading or group corner specifically for storytelling, show-and-tell, weather discussions and calendar and day-of-the-week conversations. This classroom includes an abundance of age appropriate reading materials and student mailboxes where children place personal journals, home reading books and workbooks in the morning and then collect newsletters or other parent communication at the end of the day."

NOTE: Presenting floor plans successfully used in the past demonstrates strong organization, preparation and classroom management skills. Indicate various potential seating plans used throughout the year and offer pictures of your old classrooms as a way means to provide the principal and interviewing board a first-hand view of your potential classroom. As the saying goes, "a picture is worth a thousand words."

Remember, each person's answer will vary depending upon teaching style and philosophy. The district representatives will look to see if your style is compatible with their needs. Thoroughly researching each specific district needs will allow you to tailor your answers which is the key to a successful interview.

In what ways do you help special needs students?

The interviewers want to appraise your general knowledge, as well as expertise, in addressing students with special needs. As "special needs" may refer to many different things, such as paying attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, physical ailments, learning difficulties, or lower I.Q., you should be prepared with a few ideas for each.

Consider a response like this:

In my experience, I have been the teacher of a child who was a slower learner than others. After learning about his difficulty, I kept in mind that learning begins where the child is, not where I set the bar. So, I used interventions to help him.

I remember I gave him extra time to complete his work. I helped him learn self-monitoring skills and I observed that daily assignment sheets really helped him. I gave him extra time to think before answering questions and, sometimes, prompted him. Finally, I asked for more family engagement and had regular meetings with his mother to discuss his progress and the areas that still needed improvement.

What are your thoughts on team-teaching?

I am sure many of you have participated in team-teaching and realize the benefits of this strategy. The interviewer who asks this question wants to discover, if you are flexible, enjoy working in a team environment, have experience in this area, and what your viewpoints are on the subject.

It is always wise to speak about some of the positive aspects of team-teaching, such as:

It is an effective strategy for teaching large groups of students. It is a method for teachers to collaborate in generating ideas ... two heads is always better than one! Talk about team-teaching experiences you have had, and the positive results that transpired.

If you haven't had any hands-on experience, you may explain that you enjoy working in a team setting and are excited about the possibility of participating in this approach. OR, maybe you have done some reading on the subject and can share some of the insights you gained with the interviewer ... this will definitely be impressive!

Do you have any questions for us?

An interview isn't just about responding to the prospective employer's questions; it is an opportunity for you to impress the panel with examples of your foresight regarding the position they are offering. By asking questions, you can also determine if the job is a good fit, it also shows your interest in the position, and helps to develop rapport. If you feel comfortable, and the interviewer seems amenable, you may ask questions at appropriate times throughout the interview. Once you have been in the interview for a few minutes, you will start to get a feel for your comfort level in this regard. If you don't ask questions during the interview, you will most likely be given the chance to do so at the end of the interview. So be sure to take advantage of this great opportunity!

So what questions should you ask? First, only ask questions you can't get answers to through your research, for example, by investigating, you may easily determine how many students attend the school -- so, think of a different question to ask. Be sure you think carefully about what questions you would like answered, make them genuine, and recognize that it is always advantageous to ask questions. Remember, don't try to dominate the interview with your questions, keep in mind your position as the interviewee. A good idea is to practice asking the questions you created in front of a mirror the day before the interview. Write your questions down on a professional pad of paper or an index card and bring them to the interview.

Some suggestions of appropriate questions are provided here ... ask them only if they are not addressed in the interview and if you don't have access to the answers. If the questions are structured correctly, you will provide yourself with a further opportunity to sell yourself, for example; "I am very interested in team sports, what extracurricular activities are available for teacher participation?" What does this show the interviewer? You are a team player and are willing to participate in extra-curricular activities.

Other potential questions are:

The Main Steps Involved in Answering Teacher Interview Questions

Provide the Interviewer With the Information They Want

Answer the question. Especially when you are nervous, it is easy to go off on a tangent and not provide a direct answer to the questions posed. A good practice is to echo the interviewer's question. Here is an example:

Interviewer: Why did you pursue a career in sales prior to teaching?

Answer: I worked for 5 five years in educational publishing sales prior to teaching because…

Understand what the interviewer wants to find out. They may be wondering if you are dependable, able to handle a classroom, or if you are a team player and honest in your dealings with others. It will be frustrating for an interviewer if they have to repeat questions in different ways to get a complete answer.

There are many ways to prepare to answer different types of interview questions.

Ensure the answers are targeted towards your teaching position, whether it be elementary school teacher, math teacher, music teacher, and so on. While there will be some commonality across questions, very different demands and questions will be asked of these positions.

(Here's a tough education interview question you may not have come across yet, and the answer: Can a school be too student-centered? How would you tackle this question?)

Be Brief and Concise

Don't give too much information. Talking when you have nothing more to add can dilute the key points you are trying to make. Present the answer in a concise manner and a way that is to your 'best' advantage.

Think before you respond. Get in the habit of organizing your answers.

Use Transition Words

Transition words and phrases will help you lead the listener from point to point. Importantly, you will come across as a more intelligent and articulate speaker. Here are some examples.


Cause and Effect

I implemented a new math app. As a result, grades increased by…

Locate a list of transition words and phrases (many good lists by function can be found on the internet). Start using transition words in your practice sessions.

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Use a Formula to Answer Questions

This is one of the most powerful tools to providing well thought out, logical answers in a teacher interview. If you are asked a question related to how you resolve problems, here is a standard formula:

State the problem.

I took over a grade 3 class whose overall reading grades had fallen after the transition to an inclusive classroom model.

Describe how you solved the problem.

I took a three-step approach to improving reading literacy.

First, I switched to a more engaging textbook with more pictures and interactive exercises.

Second, I implemented a peer-to-peer reading circle, in which students tested each other on reading comprehension.

Third, I brought real world examples into the classroom through the media and internet.

Mention any quantitative and qualitative benefits that have arisen as a result of your solving the problem.

As a result of my reading intervention, class grades increased 10 percent in the first semester. Student participation increased 15 percent.

Use Paragraph Structure

A paragraph starts with a topic or umbrella sentence. It then moves from the general to the specific. Framing your answers with an umbrella statement will help keep you from rambling or straying too far from the main topic.

The above techniques are particularly useful when answering behavioral interview questions. Now used in most teacher interviews, behavioral questions ask you to describe how you dealt with past experiences such as potential conflict and other challenging situations. Reviewing secrets behind the use of behavioral interviews used by many districts will be a constructive investment of your interview preparation time.

Present Relevant Skills and Examples

Back up your response to questions with evidence. Types of evidence include skills, examples and quantitative and qualitative outcomes.

"Tell me about yourself" is the open ended question many teaching job candidates fear. One way to answer this question is by discussing your skills and attributes. Rather than throwing out skills in no logical fashion, try to organize your answer.

Remember to move from the general to the specific. You may first want to discuss general teaching skills, then class behavioral management and engagements skills, then math skills, and so on. You do want to avoid jumbling all these skills together and having your answers look like a scrabble board.

Use examples. When you are lost for words, coming up with an example is a useful technique. Let's say, the interview asks you: "How would you respond to a student who continues to ask questions on a math problem all of the other students have mastered?" Your first response may be to limit your answer to how you personally respond. Visualize this scenario in your classroom. Then you may explain how you use teacher assistant-led breakout sessions at the back of the class to provide independent instruction.

This is just a sample of the many types of questions you may ask in an interview. Be sure you don't overwhelm the interviewer with questions ... three or four questions is usually sufficient.

Furthermore, it is important to be honest when answering all questions during the interview, by organizing your thoughts in advance will serve you in delivering truthful and concise responses, while illustrating your skills and compatibility to the district.

Knowing common teacher interview questions and answers can also be pretty helpful as you can well image. We have created two ebooks to do just that, the first is A+ Teachers' Interview Edge and the second is A+ Principals' Interview Edge.

Many teachers contact a career coach because they feel unprepared. If you feel anxious, nervous or overwhelmed, practice will build your confidence and calm your nerves. If you have had some negative experiences, you may enter the teacher interview with negative thoughts. This negativity can be picked up in many different ways during the interview.

Learn more about Candace Alstad-Davies by reviewing my about me page. From that page, you can review testimonials and frequently asked questions.

Have questions, please connect by sending an email to Candace or call toll-free at 1 877 738-8052. I would enjoy chatting with you.