Tough Education 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 tough education interview questions is critical to securing a job offer.

Tough Education Interview Questions - How to Overcome Them

Three Main Steps are Involved in Answering 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 interview questions 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 by many school 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 teaching 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.

Tough Education Interview Questions

Here are some of the toughies. When I coach teachers in preparation for interviews, these questions come up often.

Some of the top problem questions asked in teacher interviews include:

Tell me about yourself.
Why did you pursue a career in accounting prior to teaching?
What is your biggest weakness?
Why would you apply for a grade one teaching position when you don't have experience with that grade level?
Why were you fired from your last job?
Why should I hire you?

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 questions is to emphasize your strongest personal strengths, and back them up with examples that demonstrate your value to the school district.

If the above questions were not challenging enough, here are 8 tough interview questions and answers to start practicing these techniques. It includes a few good questions for principals and administrators. Also see 10 School Administrator Job Interview Questions and Answers and School Principal Job Interview Questions and Answers.  

Knowing the interview questions and their answers can also be very helpful, as you can well imagine. We have created two eBooks to help you do just that. The first is A+ Teachers' Interview Edge and the second is A+ Principals' Interview Edge.

Even if you feel confident in your interview ability, if you have not had a teacher interview in a long time, review the most common teacher interview questions. Half the game is won in interviews if you feel confident. If you are feeling insecure, you are more likely to be fidgety, go off on tangents and fail to look the interviewer in the eye.

Develop confidence to answer tough education interview questions by practicing, and practicing some more. Ideally, ask teachers teaching at the same grade and subject level as you to drill you. These teachers may know the specific teaching techniques, methods and tools used at your grade level. This means they will ask you the specific questions that will arise in the interview rather than the general questions others may ask you. Some experienced teachers can also help you flush out and provide more complete answers.

Another good option is using a teacher job coach. An interview coach can do more than simply help you practice answering questions.

Many teachers contact a teacher 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.

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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.