Being a teacher is incredibly rewarding. After all, you get to shape how your students learn, grow, and see the world around them.
Of course, teachers have things they need to learn, too—like how to answer interview questions in a way that’ll nab you a job at that amazing school you’ve had your eye on.
You’ll still get asked the more general interview questions like “What are your strengths and weaknesses?” or “Why do you want this job?” But you’ll also face more specific queries about, say, working with students or designing a lesson plan.
To help you prepare, check out these common teacher interview questions—with advice on how to answer them and example answers. Plus, learn what skills and qualities hiring managers are looking for and get some bonus tips for nailing your next interview.
What are hiring managers looking for when interviewing teachers?
No matter the specific role or workplace, hiring managers look for common themes in qualified teaching applicants:
- Teaching skills: Unsurprisingly, how you work with students on a group and individual level is crucial. “Do they know how to have an effective classroom where all kids are learning and engaged?” says Dan Swartz, Managing Director at Resolve Talent Consulting, LLC, a firm that specializes in education recruitment.
- Data proficiency: In today’s modern school system, data is also incredibly important, Swartz says. He wants to know: “Have you been able to master or are you proficient at the use of data?” So whenever possible, give examples of how you used data to guide you. For example, have you gleaned insights from individual test scores or overall class performance metrics?
- Subject matter expertise: Candidates have to show that they’re adequately knowledgeable about the content area they’re looking to teach, whether it’s history or science. “[A lot] of times there are state standards,” Swartz says. So when it makes sense, try incorporating “how much you know about the standards or how much you can use the standards for your instruction,” he says.
- Teamwork: Being a team player when it comes to working with other teachers, administrators, aides, and staff means you’ll help not only students but also the entire school thrive.
- Organization and accountability: Candidates who are on top of deadlines and can meet classroom goals will go far. “As an administrator, I need to know that I’m going to be able to get lesson plans from you,” says Rob Sheppard, an ESL teacher who started his own online English school, Ginseng English.
- Commitment to students: If there’s one thing that can’t be taught, it’s care for students—so interviewers want to know you have it. “The rest of the stuff, educators can teach.” Swartz says. “They can teach you content, they can teach you how to be a more effective teacher delivering your lessons, but they can’t teach the belief in students.”
Keep these themes in mind as you prepare for your teaching interview and look for opportunities to communicate them whenever possible—especially in response to these common questions.
Need some tips for writing your teaching resume? Find a full guide here.
- Why do you want to be a teacher?
- What’s your teaching style or philosophy?
- How would you handle a student you found difficult to teach?
- How do you motivate students?
- How do you like to communicate and build relationships with parents?
- What are you learning right now?
- Tell me about a time when you worked with a team to solve a problem.
- Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult challenge.
- Tell me about a time when a situation changed or something unexpected happened at work and how you dealt with it.
- Tell me about a time when someone gave you feedback and how you handled that.
- How would you handle [specific subject situation/misconception]?
- Walk me through a typical lesson.
- What questions do you have for me?
- Bonus teacher interview questions
Why do you want to be a teacher?
“You have to know who you are as an individual and as an educator, and you have to know what you can bring to the school,” says Calvin Brown, Senior Recruiter at Alignstaffing, an education staffing firm. This question gets to the heart of that passion and self-awareness.
How to answer
Rule #1: Don’t say, “Summer vacations!” But seriously—this one should be easy to answer. There’s probably something that made you want to get into education. Maybe you enjoy teaching your friends new things, are a facts wizard bursting with knowledge, or love connecting with children. Focus not just on what you like about teaching but also on what you can bring to the table.
For example, you might say: “I really admired my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kim, and even after I left her class I still returned to her for advice and guidance over the years. It’s that sense of warmth and acceptance she provided me that inspired me to become a teacher. I want to be that person others can lean on as they navigate the rough waters of growing up.”
What’s your teaching style or philosophy?
Interviewers want to see that you really want to help students develop inside and outside school—not just push them toward some academic result. Basically, you care about people and their success, and you’ve thought about what that success looks like and how you’ll help students achieve it.
How to answer
You’ll want to be honest about your specific style and mindset when it comes to teaching. But also consider what this school’s philosophy is like, and try to emphasize where your values naturally overlap.
For example, you might talk about how you take a community approach to education, which means “knowing that you’re one piece of this person’s journey,” says Mary Findley, Senior Teacher Success Manager at Skillshare and a former Teach for America Core Member and elementary school teacher.
You could answer with: “I believe when students are challenged with realistic goals and given the support they need not to just get the answers right but to be able to use those lessons to solve future problems on their own, everyone comes out on top. I think that as a teacher, it’s my job to support my students through the lessons I give, but also through the various challenges they may face at school, and to partner with them as well as other support systems to help them feel motivated, comfortable, and happy in the classroom.”
How would you handle a student you found difficult to teach?
Students don’t all learn or behave the same way, which may make it a challenge to have them all in one classroom at the same time. Difficulties with students can look like many different things, from falling grades to disrupting lessons. So interviewers want to know that you’re up to the task of helping students with the varied obstacles they may face.
How to answer
A good answer delves into figuring out the cause of a student’s behavior, as that’s often the most important step. “When students are disengaged, it’s either because the content’s too challenging, it’s too easy, or there could be some outside-of-school factors,” Findley says.
Your response should show that “you’re meeting the student where they’re at and building on their strengths,” Findley says. It should also emphasize that you’re “collaboratively discussing” solutions with the student rather than ordering them around.
If you have an example story to tell, that’s a great way to state your case. Just make sure your story is well structured to convey the message you want. Consider using the STAR method whenever you’re answering an interview question with a story—i.e., make sure you cover the Situation you found yourself in, the Task you needed to complete, the Action you took, and the Result your action had, in that order.
You could say: “For me, the first step would be to pull them aside and talk about the issue privately. My main questions would get at the root cause of this student’s behavior. Once I know that, I try to work with them to come up with a solution. I used this strategy in my last classroom, where I had a student who couldn’t seem to stay in his seat during lessons and I found out that sitting still too long made him feel confined and nervous. We talked about how his behavior affected the rest of the class, and we agreed that when he was feeling really anxious he could raise his hand and I’d let him take a lap around the classroom, but only when it was appropriate. I also decided to make some of my lessons more active and hands-on so that other students could benefit from getting out of their seats every once in a while.”
How do you motivate students?
Interviewers want to see how you influence students to do what you need them to do. Findley adds that this is an especially important thing to vet for when hiring remote teachers, because motivating others over video requires a lot more creativity than when you’re teaching in person.
How to answer
Motivating your class is really about having a personalized approach, Findley says. You’ll want to show that you can engage a classroom, as well as take into consideration various students’ needs and drivers. Brown adds, “You have to know your students, you have to know their strong points [and] their weak points.” So make sure that your answer shows an individualized approach.
Take this sample answer: “Positive reinforcement is super important to keep a student motivated, so one thing I like to do is throw out rewards or bonuses when they perform especially well. This could be candy, or a star, or a sticker, or even just a compliment—whatever I can tell students enjoy receiving, and it’s different for everyone. I never want students to feel left out or favored, so I always try to be fair and consistent with everyone. But it’s those little moments of recognition I think that keep them happy and excited to learn.”
How do you like to communicate and build relationships with parents?
Part of being a teacher is working with parents and guardians—i.e., the people who influence how your students learn and behave in the classroom just as much as (if not more than) you do. Building trust with the adults in your students’ lives can often help you build stronger relationships with the students themselves and create some consistency between school and home.
How to answer
“I’m looking to see that a candidate will take every opportunity to interact with parents in person,” Brown says. “Ultimately, I’m looking for candidates that believe parent collaboration is key to a student’s success, and they will take the time to maintain an ongoing, open conversation.”
To show you take building relationships with family members seriously, you could say: “I think it’s really important to get to know the important family members in each student’s life. Which is why at the beginning of the school year I like to have individual meetings with each student’s family. I’ll also send out a survey to get a better understanding of the student’s home life, needs, and family dynamics. Then, throughout the year, I build on that foundation by touching base to share positive updates and small wins in addition to discussing any challenges the student might be facing academically or behaviorally.”
What are you learning right now?
This question is about showing that you’re curious and believe in continuous learning—qualities that are important in a teacher as well as for a teacher to pass on to students. In other words, Findley says, the interviewer’s asking: “What are some personal interests? How are you developing yourself both within your professional career [and] personal development as well?”
How to answer
Hopefully, you’re doing something to help yourself grow—it doesn’t have to be extensive or even career-related! Maybe you’re reading a series of books about a topic, taking a class, or practicing a new skill. Use this activity to show that you have an “always learning” mindset and an appreciation for continuing to get better at something.
Here’s what that sounds like: “I used to speak Italian in college, so I’ve recently picked up Duolingo to try to reteach myself some of the basics. I’d love to continue to become more fluent so I can travel to Italy and talk with locals!”
Tell me about a time when you worked with a team to solve a problem.
Parents and students aren’t the only people you’ll be interacting with. You’ll frequently need to partner with aides, school staff, and other teachers to help students succeed, so your interviewer wants to know that you can work with just about anyone.
How to answer
Telling a story about a team situation where things didn’t go perfectly is a great way to show you can communicate and collaborate with others even when times are tough. “But don’t emphasize the conflict—emphasize how you got through the conflict to have something that was effective,” Swartz says. “Even if you’re not a teacher with experience, you can still highlight how you go about your work by giving past examples” from another context.
For example, you could reply: “In my last role as a project coordinator, I had to partner with our account managers to meet a really tight deadline set by a client. We were all a little frazzled because the project required a lot of revisions, but we put our heads together and divided the work, even staying late a couple days to make sure we finished on time. I definitely don’t think we could have accomplished it without working together, and I believe the same is true as a teacher working with other staff—you can’t go it alone if you’re going to successfully foster a learning environment that works for all students and supports them as individuals.”
Tell me about a time when you faced a difficult challenge.
Brown says that with either of these questions, the interviewer wants to hear: “When you come across things that are obstacles, how do you overcome them?” In other words, the interviewer wants to see that you can solve problems in an intentional way. Brown also emphasizes that accomplishments and challenges often come hand in hand. So answering this question shows “that drive for achievement” that interviewers want to see in teachers.
How to answer
Pick a story where you had to stretch yourself a bit, but ultimately got to a successful outcome. Remember to also talk about your problem solving process in addition to the results.
Maybe you could say: “When I was in retail, I dealt with one particularly difficult customer who wasn’t satisfied with their purchase. Most of my team was struggling to connect with them, but I was determined to set things right. So I was patient and took the time to really listen to their complaints without guessing what the problem was or assuming what the solution should be. That not only helped me understand the root of their issue, but helped them see I was going to work with them. In the end, we came up with a solution that seemed like a good compromise for the customer. They left the store in a lot better of a mood than when they entered, and turning someone’s day around felt truly great.”
Tell me about a time when a situation changed or something unexpected happened at work and how you dealt with it.
You might spend hours preparing to teach a particular unit, “but then something will happen and it throws off your whole lesson plan,” Swartz says. So interviewers want to see that you can think on your feet and handle a conflict when it arises.
How to answer
Share a story that makes it clear you can stay calm, cool, and collected when a situation changes.
You could give the example: “When I was a camp counselor, I often had to keep campers entertained through rainy weather or a blip in the activities schedule. The first time it happened I didn’t really know how to handle the group, so I decided to put together a one-sheeter of activities and games and share it with the other counselors so we could refer to it in the future. I can confidently say no camper was disappointed with the change of schedule—they loved all the games, and the staff was relieved how smoothly things went after that first time.”
Tell me about a time when someone gave you feedback and how you handled that.
Receiving and implementing feedback well is important for your growth as an educator. “This is actually most critical for veteran teachers,” Swartz says. Since they’d be most likely to “communicate a level of, ‘I’ve already gotten this, I’ve already arrived, I don’t need any extra feedback.’”
How to answer
Consider a time when you got feedback that was tough to take but ultimately made you better at your job. Talk through how you received it (hopefully with an open mind!) as well as how you made the change.
For example: “At my last school, one of the teachers on my team shared with me that students had been talking about how lost they were after a recent math lesson. They were complaining that I went way too fast. It was rough to get this criticism because I’d thought this class was happy with my teaching style and learning a lot. But I knew I had to take it to heart. So for all my classes—not just the one that complained—I implemented a color-coded card system. Each student received red, yellow, and green cards, and I got in the habit of stopping every few minutes to ask for cards. Students would hold up red cards for me to slow down, yellow if everything was going well, or green if I could speed up. I’d adjust accordingly and over time, I noticed more and more yellow cards as I discovered the best pace for each class. This also had the added benefit of me seeing who was holding up a lot of red cards so I could offer them extra assistance or attention outside of the lesson.”
How would you handle [specific subject situation/misconception]?
Depending on the subject matter and classroom you’re signing up for, this question can really vary in how it’s delivered. But “Being able to correctly show a mastery of [course] content versus just the knowledge of the content” is key, Swartz says. Do you *really* understand the material you’re teaching inside and out?
How to answer
You need to show you can “reverse engineer” the problem, Swartz explains. You’ll want to explain your process for identifying the issue and then your approach for resolving the misunderstanding or difficulty that your students are having in mastering the material.
Take this example question Swartz gives: “What are some of the common misconceptions students might have when solving the problem 31.8 + 0.45? How would you address these?”
A good response might be: “One common problem is that students won’t line everything up by the place value or decimal. They may line the five up right below the eight and therefore get the wrong answer. I would teach them to line the decimals up and then put zeros as place holders so they don’t get confused. I would also encourage them to draw a line from each addend all the way down to their sum to make sure all the decimals are in line. I always remind students to read carefully and double check their work to avoid common mistakes like this.”
Walk me through a typical lesson.
The interviewer isn’t just looking for a quality lesson that’s accurate and engaging. They also want to know how you think about planning lessons. “A lot of it’s going to be about debriefing your process, like what went well...and then what are things that you can work on,” Findley says.
How to answer
This question requires a bit more preparation on your part than a typical interview question. If you have an example lesson from a previous role, that’s great. If not, consider whipping up a quick lesson plan you might like to give. Talk through what it’ll look like from start to finish, why exactly you decided to take that approach, and allow the interviewer to ask questions about your process.
If you’re leaning on a past experience, also highlight the parts of the lesson you would change based on how it went—which will demonstrate your ability to adapt and grow as you teach.
What questions do you have for me?
While this might seem like the easiest interview question in the book, it’s one you should actively prepare for with thoughtful questions targeted at the specific interviewer and role.
How to answer
“Don’t just ask, when can I expect to hear something?” Swartz says. If you do have a question about next steps, make it your last one after you’ve posed others. Until that point, “Ask some serious questions about that school. That’s your opportunity to interview them as much as they’re interviewing you, and they are going to respect that,” Swartz says. “Any question that [candidates] ask where I can see that they’ve done their research about the position is a great question to me.”
Here are a few suggestions to get the ball rolling, but be sure to come up with your own *specific* questions about the school and role:
- What do you wish you knew about [role]/[company or school] when you first started?
- What qualities make someone successful here?
- What are you most excited to work on/accomplish at [company or school] right now?
- What drew you to [company or school]?
Read More: 51 Great Questions to Ask in an Interview
Bonus teacher interview questions
In addition to the questions above, you might get queries like these:
- Why are you interested in teaching at this school?
- What is your greatest professional accomplishment?
- How do you use technology in the classroom?
- What would you do if a student is in danger of failing your class?
- What adjectives would you use to describe your presence in the classroom?
- How do you deal with pressure or stressful situations?
- What makes you unique?
- Tell me about a time when you helped someone become more successful.
- Tell me about a time you faced a conflict with a student, parent, or other teacher.
- What is your experience with remote instruction?
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, how did you ensure your class stayed on track and engaged and learned as much as possible?
- Do you have any experience teaching a student with an IEP? How did you ensure their success?
Some extra tips for nailing your teaching interview
- Research the school and what they care about: “A lot of schools now in particular have a really specific focus,” Findley says. For example, “I used to work at a school that was really focused on character goals.” Knowing a school’s focus going into your interview will help you show you would bring that same passion. And when you go to tell a story or answer a question, Sheppard adds, “It sounds obvious, but [your] response needs to be relevant to the job that you’re applying for.” Make sure you’re considering what this role entails and the mission or values of the school and tailoring your response accordingly.
- Dress for the job: “If you show up in a three-piece suit at a school building they’re [going to be] like, ‘Do you know where you’re going to teach?’” Swartz says. While “you need to dress to a level that communicates that you are serious and interested about this job,” he says, you should also remember that interviewers want to see that you know what it means to work with students. If in doubt, try going business casual.
- Pay attention to non-verbal communication and brush up on other interview skills: When planning out your responses, don’t just think about what you’re going to say but also how you’re going to say it. “I always look at body language first,” Brown says. When someone looks frazzled or caught off guard by a basic question, “I start to question, OK, can you really handle that kind of population or have you handled this kind of situation before?”
Most importantly, “Be confident in what you already know and your experiences prior,” Brown says. Be yourself—or rather, your professional self—and you’re sure to land the right teaching job for you.
Regina Borsellino also contributed writing, reporting, and/or advice to this article.