Get the job! {How to ace a teaching interview!}

Tis' the season - for hiring teachers, that is! And if you're a teacher who is new to the profession, you're probably wondering, "How do I get my first teaching job?" 

You've applied, and applied.... and. applied. And now finally you have an interview! You feel like you've conquered some ancient civilization and taught the indigenous people how to create a successful aqueduct system! You are AMAZING!

Then, suddenly, you feel a pit forming in your stomach.  You have to interview. {gulp}

Interviews are intimidating, and depending on what job market you're in, you could see a number of interview styles: panel, principals, district office, teacher teammates... the possibilities are endless! You've scoured the web for possible interview questions, and have found sites that list a few:

- What is your teaching philosophy?
- What made you become a teacher?
- What are your strengths?

Some sites list more specific questions - and even offer possible answers for you. 

But here's the thing, you've read enough data-driven textbook chapters to build a space shuttle out of the pages.  You know better.  School districts want results.  They want candidates who can meet state standards and improve student achievement.  They want candidates who are passionate, who care, and who know how to skillfully craft lessons around standards in a way that engages students.  The problem is this: how do you show all that you know in an interview?
Memorizing interview questions and answers may help you say the right buzz words or imply the right things - and you might even get the job.

So for the next three Sundays, I'm going to be showcasing some *tips* for nailing the interview and getting that teaching job! Here's the first two!

Tip #1: Know your 'audience'
A little research will go a long way in being able to predict what kind questions you'll be asked in your interview.  What is the district's student demographic? Of the schools that have openings? Knowing the student body will help you predict the questions and better prepare.

What this means is that in a district that has a high percentage of English Language Learners, you can pretty much guarantee that you'll field questions like this:

- How might you differentiate a social studies lesson for a group of students who are Beginner or Early-Intermediate English Learners?
- Name some strategies you might use during literacy to meet the needs of your English Learners.

But in a district in an area where there are very few English Learners, but a high population of high-achieving students, you'll probably be asked something like this:

- If a parent complained their child was not being challenged in math, what would you do?
- A student frequently gets 100% on all their exams.  They are often misbehaving in class.  What is your plan of action?

Obviously both type of questions could be asked in any district, but the bottom line is: don't spend hours preparing for an interview question that you have a low probability of being asked.  Research the district - and try to think about where their focus may be.

Tip #2: Examples, examples, examples
You have some solid student teaching experience under your belt, or maybe you've even completed a year or so of teaching. Whatever the case may be, you've been in the classroom and have worked directly with students.

This is key - and possibly one of the more important tips listed.  In interviews, it is very obvious which candidates have maximized their experience and which have not.  Give examples of specific things you have done with students.  Don't just refer to the pedagogy and theories.  Tell your interviewers how you implemented what you are talking about - paint a picture so that they, too can see it.  Then, they can actually see you doing it at their school.

So you might get a question like this:
- Describe your literacy block.

A generic response might include some buzz words like 'differentiation', 'flexible grouping', 'guided reading', 'small-group instruction', or 'one-on-one instruction'.   The problem is, even though you might be saying all the right 'words', interviewers can't picture your classroom clearly enough to assess whether you would fit on their team, at their school, in their department, etc.

It's okay to start with generic terms: "I differentiate by using flexible grouping."  But then you need to put your money where your mouth is.  Talk specifically about a direct experience.  Like, the "two kids in your student teaching class" that were really struggling with a particular sound.  Explain how you gave a quick assessment to see if they were the only ones who were confused.  Talk about how you would pull them to a quiet spot and reteach them the concept.  Go into detail about the lessons that you used, what worked, what didn't, how you figured out when they 'got it' -- or when they weren't getting it, and what you did differently.  Tell all about what the other students were doing during this time, how were you able to meet with this small group? The more specific you get, the more desirable you are -- because schools love to hire teachers who can problem solve regarding the needs of their students.

If you just stop at, "I differentiate by using flexible grouping" -- trust me, most interviewers won't ask for more detail - and you won't get to share it.  Be specific from the start.  And do it for every question.

Stay tuned next Sunday for the next two interview tips!


  1. I found that having a great portfolio with lots of examples of student work, my work, pictures, diagrams, etc. was so helpful. When they asked questions, I felt great being able to flip right to a specific example. I think it made me look well thought out!

    I have to agree that examples work well, ESPECIALLY for a new teacher! Examples show your experience. Before you go, you should think of specific examples of your tough kids (academically and behaviorally) and your triumphs.

    I also agree with knowing your audience! I always write down a few things I noticed they value- especially if I can tie them to some of my experience or something I really enjoy teaching. I also write down a few questions I have.

    I would also make sure you've read a teaching book recently, in case they ask!

    I also drove there the day before, to make sure I knew the way (or left WAY early), and used the time in the car to rehearse my answers out loud.

    Basically, be prepared- not just for A teaching interview, but for THIS SPECIFIC teaching interview!

    Luckeyfrog's Lilypad

    1. Great thoughts, Jenny! Those are some very useful tips, too!

      I totally agree with reading a recent teaching book. :) That is another really common question.

      Great comments! Thank you!

  2. Anonymous6/25/2014

    thank you so much for posting!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post! I am currently a student studying to be a teacher, and next year I go into student teaching. The post has given me a lot to think about in terms of making the most of my experience and how it can help me when I go to interview. I think that a lot of college is so focused on learning the material and the terms, it is important to remember that experience really counts. Thanks for sharing!


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