Being a teacher is an incredibly rewarding job. You have the opportunity not just to engage individuals, big and small, on a specific topic (or range of topics), but to shape how they learn, grow, and see the world around them.
Of course, teachers have things they need to practice and work on, too—like answering interview questions in a way that’ll nab you that dream job at that amazing school.
In a teaching interview, you’ll still get asked the most common interview questions like “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses” or “Why do you want this job?” But you’ll probably face more specific (and trickier) queries about say, working with students or with other teachers, as well.
To help you prepare, check out these common teaching interview questions you’re bound to encounter—and tips for answering them.
- Why Do You Want to Be a Teacher/Work With Children?
- What’s Your Teaching Style or Philosophy?/What Adjectives Would You Use to Describe Your Presence in the Classroom?
- How Would You Handle a Difficult Student?
- How Do You Motivate Students?
- How Do You Like to Communicate/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 Helped Someone Become More Successful.
- Tell Me About a Time When You Accomplished Something Satisfying/Overcame a Difficult Challenge.
- Tell Me About a Time When You Influenced Another Person to Your Satisfaction.
- Tell Me About a Time When a Situation Changed 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?
What Are Hiring Managers Looking for When Interviewing Teachers?
If you’ve never been in a teaching interview before—maybe you’re changing careers or just starting out in the education space—there are common themes hiring managers tend to look for in qualified candidates, no matter the specific role or workplace:
- Teaching skills: Unsurprisingly, a candidate’s teaching skills—how they work with students on a group and individual level—are 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, says Swartz, data is also incredibly important: “Have you been able to master or are you proficient at the use of data?” To go a step further, he wants teachers to give him examples of how they used data to learn or improve upon something—whether they looked at specific test scores or overall class performance metrics.
- Subject matter expertise: While being a great influencer is key for succeeding as a teacher, so is expertise. Swartz notes that candidates have to show that they’re adequately knowledgeable about the content area they’re looking to teach. “[A lot] of times there are state standards. So in some way incorporating in your interview response just how much you know about the standards or how much you can use the standards for your instruction, that’s another big piece,” he says.
- Teamwork: “Everybody’s interviewing for teamwork,” says Swartz. “And I know that’s kind of cliché, but it is really, really important.” Being a team player when it comes to working with other teachers, administrators, aides, and staff means you’ll not only allow students to succeed, but also help the entire school thrive.
- Organization and accountability: “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. Candidates that are on top of deadlines and can meet classroom goals will go far.
When planning out your responses to these questions, 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,” says Calvin Brown, Senior Recruiter at Alignstaffing, an education staffing firm. When someone looks frazzled or caught off guard by a basic question or behavioral question—those questions that often start with, “Tell me about a time when”—he says, “I start to question, okay, can you really handle that kind of population or have you handled this kind of situation before?”
“If you have a situation or a story with a great outcome, absolutely share [it],” says Brown. Stories are also a great ways to highlight your expertise and skill set if you don’t come with a traditional background in education. Swartz adds, “Even if you’re not a teacher with experience, you can still highlight how you go about your work by giving past examples and scenarios of engaging” others.
And when you go to tell a story or answer a question, “It sounds obvious, but [your] response needs to be relevant to the job that you’re applying for,” says Sheppard. Make sure you’re considering what this role entails and the mission or values of the school and tailoring your dialogue accordingly. If your experience and passion aren’t at all related to the job, you’re not going to get anywhere.
1. Why Do You Want to Be a Teacher/Work With Children?
“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 Brown. This question gets to the heart of that self-awareness and passion. The interviewer wants to know: What drew you to this field, specifically?
How to Answer It
It’s obvious of course, but you don’t want to say, “Summer vacations!” This should be easy to answer simply because there’s probably something you can think of that made you want to get into education. Maybe you love teaching your friends new things, or 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, as Brown suggests, bring to the table.
For example, you might say: “I really admired my third grade teacher, Mrs. Kim, when I was younger, and even after I left her class I still felt myself drawn 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 oftentimes tough waters of growing up.”
2. What’s Your Teaching Style or Philosophy?/What Adjectives Would You Use to Describe Your Presence in the Classroom?
An interviewer wants to see that you’re not just trying to push students toward some goal or academic result, but really want to help them develop inside and outside school. Basically, you care about people and their success, not just your own professional achievements.
How to Answer It
“A good answer would be a community approach. So 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. In other words, you see teaching as more than just standing in front of a whiteboard barking orders.
You’ll want to be honest about your specific style. But also consider what this school’s philosophy is like, and try tailoring your response to encompass those same values (so long as you’re being truthful).
You could answer with: “I would say I’m strict but fair when it comes to teaching. 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 learnings to solve future problems on their own, everyone comes out on top. I also 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.”
3. How Would You Handle a Difficult Student?
Difficult students, naturally, exist in every classroom. And difficult can look like so many different things. So interviewers want to know that you either have in the past handled a difficult student or can handle them appropriately should you need to.
How to Answer It
“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,” explains Findley. A good answer delves into figuring out the cause, as that’s often the most important step.
Then, your response should show that “you’re meeting the student where they’re at and building on their strengths,” she 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.
You could say: “For me, the first step would be to pull them aside and address the issue privately. My biggest questions would be about deciphering what might be the root cause of this student’s bad behavior. Once I know what may be contributing to their difficulty, I really 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. We talked about how his behavior affected the rest of the class and why he kept moving around, 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.”
4. How Do You Motivate Students?
Similar to the question above, 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 virtual teachers, because motivating others over video requires a lot more creativity than when you’re teaching in person.
How to Answer It
As Brown points out, “In order to get them to the next level...you have to know your students, you have to know their strong points [and] their weak points.”
So it’s really about having a personalized approach, says Findley. You’ll want to show that you can engage a classroom, as well as take into consideration various students’ needs and drivers.
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 overindulged, 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.”
5. How Do You Like to Communicate/Build Relationships With Parents?
Part of being a teacher is relating to students. But often the other half is about working with parents and guardians—people who influence how your students learn and behave in the classroom just as much as (if not more) than you do. Your job will require you to work with those adults to ensure your students meet expectations.
“We know that the children that we staff need consistency at all times,” says Brown. “So doing it at school and doing it at home are going to be two things that have to go together.” Building trust with the adults in your students’ lives can often help you build stronger relationships with the students themselves.
How to Answer It
“I’m looking to see that a candidate will take every opportunity to interact with parents in person,” says Brown. “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,” he adds.
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 invite parents to my classroom and have individual meetings with the families. 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 always try to touch base with families to share positive updates and small wins about the student in addition to discussing any challenges the student might be facing academically or behaviorally.”
6. 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 It
Hopefully, you’re doing something to help yourself grow—it doesn’t have to be career-related! Maybe you’re reading a series of books about a particular topic, or attending a class, or making yourself practice a new skill. It doesn’t matter how extensive your learning is. You just want to express a growth 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!”
7. 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, staff, and other teachers to help students succeed. Thus, an interviewer wants to know that you can get along with just about anyone.
How to Answer It
“Don’t be afraid to lean into the conflict that you had in the team effort, but don’t emphasize the conflict—emphasize how you got through the conflict to have something that was effective,” says Swartz. 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. Again, this doesn’t have to be an example that happened in the classroom.
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 improve upon a student’s behavior.”
8. Tell Me About a Time When You Helped Someone Become More Successful.
Swartz puts it plainly: If there’s one thing that can’t be taught, it’s care for students. “The rest of the stuff educators can teach. 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...as a candidate articulating that through an example that you have really sets you apart from other candidates,” he says.
How to Answer It
Swartz gives an example answer from a social worker he once interviewed for a teaching position. “She did everything for the [child],” he explains. “If she needed to do a house visit and spend hours there on a Saturday, she would do [it]. And so the whatever-it-took mentality and the investment in, ‘I’m going to make sure that you succeed despite all the barriers’ was impressive.”
9. Tell Me About a Time When You Accomplished Something Satisfying/Overcame 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?” He 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 It
Pick something that required you to stretch yourself a bit, but ultimately led to a successful outcome.
Maybe you could say: “When I was in sales, 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. I was patient and listened to their complaints, and we worked together to come 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 that feeling of turning someone’s day around felt truly great.”
10. Tell Me About a Time When You Influenced Another Person to Your Satisfaction.
Interviewers don’t want to just hear that you can influence students, but how you plan to do it.
Swartz says that you need to communicate that you understand the person you’re influencing and are tailoring your message accordingly.
How to Answer It
Swartz says that one particular story that stood out to him over the years is the experience of a teacher who convinced his entire school to adopt a technique to help teachers connect with their students. After discovering that this new teaching method really seemed to work, they decided to get it implemented across the school.
“So they talked with the assistant principal and they got the assistant principal on board and they had the assistant principal talk to the principal to consider some of the changes,” he recalls. By partnering with various staff and respectfully sharing their ideas, the teacher eventually got the approval to make the change schoolwide.
“In a team environment where you may need to influence people and you need to have good team relations, they were very careful and thoughtful about how to bring this up so that it was received well,” he adds.
11. Tell Me About a Time When a Situation Changed at Work and How You Dealt With It.
“Teachers create lesson plans...but then something will happen and it throws off your whole lesson plan, like a student gets sick or somebody else comes in and pulls the student for something,” says Swartz. So interviewers want to see that you can think on your feet and handle a conflict when it arises.
How to Answer It
Make 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 camp schedule. The first time it happened we didn’t really know how to handle the group, so I decided to put together a one-sheeter of activities and games we could use should we need to go off course in the future. I can confidently say no camper was disappointed with the change of schedule—they loved all the games, and our staff was relieved how smoothly things went after that first time.”
12. Tell Me About a Time When Someone Gave You Feedback and How You Handled That.
You know that thing about teachers needing to have a growth mindset? Well, receiving and implementing feedback well is important to showcase that.
“This is actually most critical for veteran teachers [to show] because veteran teachers would be the ones who in most cases communicate a level of, ‘I’ve already gotten this, I’ve already arrived, I don’t need any extra feedback,’” says Swartz.
How to Answer It
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: “My last boss pulled me aside once to give me some advice on how I could better lead meetings. It was certainly tough to hear that I wasn’t connecting with my colleagues as best I could, but I knew that improving would benefit not just me but our whole team dynamic. I decided to sign up for Toastmasters for some public speaking tips (my boss was kind enough to cover the cost of it), and run my presentations by my manager before doing them. I now feel like I’m doing a much better job at running meetings and definitely saw improvements as to how I worked with others on my team.”
13. 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. The interviewer may ask how you’d handle students incorrectly understanding a topic or performing poorly on state exams.
“Sometimes I’ll present one of our objectives for a semester or for a course that they might be teaching,” explains Sheppard. “And I’ll ask, ‘How would you assess this, or what would you consider evidence of learning for this particular outcome?’” (Hint: This is where proving you can handle data might come in.)
“Being able to correctly show a mastery of the content versus just the knowledge of the content” is key, adds Swartz.
How to Answer It
You need to show you can “reverse engineer” the problem, Swartz explains. There’s no exact right answer to these kinds of questions. Rather, you’ll want to explain your process for deciphering the subject matter or issue and then your approach for resolving the conflict.
Take this example question he 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 say: “One problem that could occur 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.”
14. 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,” says Findley.
How to Answer It
This question requires a bit more preparing on your part than a typical interview question. If you have an example lesson from a previous role (whether you were a teacher or taught something to someone at work), 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. It’s better to use an example that could use a bit of tweaking rather than one that went swimmingly—this shows that growth mindset interviewers will be on the lookout for.
Read More: 5 Steps to Acing Your Interview Presentation
15. What Questions Do You Have for Me?
While this is probably the easiest interview question in the book, it’s also one you should actively prepare for with thoughtful questions targeted at the specific interviewer and role.
“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 they ask where I can see that they’ve done their research about the position is a great question to me.”
How to Answer It
“Don’t just ask, when can I expect to hear something?” says Swartz. If you do have a question about next steps, make it your final ask after you’ve posed others.
Try one of the following to get the ball rolling:
- 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
Some Extra Tips for Nailing Your Teaching Interview
Findley advises that you really gather an understanding as to what the school cares about before going into your interview so you can show how you would bring that same passion. “A lot of schools now in particular have a really specific focus. I used to work at a school that was really focused on character goals,” she explains.
Swartz adds that all the other basic rules of interviewing apply here: Show up on time, prepare, and dress professionally. While “you need to dress to a level that communicates that you are serious and interested about this job,” he notes, you should also remember that interviewers want to see that you know what it means to work with students.
“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?’ You’re going to be bending over knees on the ground with the kids. So over-dressing would be a negative,” he explains. (Hint: Try going business casual when in doubt.)
Most importantly, says Brown, “Be confident in what you already know and your experiences prior.” Preparing for any interview is mandatory, but don’t try to over-rehearse your answers. Be yourself—or rather your best professional self—and you’re sure to land the right teaching job for you.
Photo of person in interview courtesy of Cecilie_Arcurs/Getty Images.
Previously an editor for The Muse, Alyse is proud to prove that yes, English majors can change the world. She’s written almost 500 articles for The Muse on anything from productivity tips to cover letters to bad bosses to cool career changers, many of which have been featured in Fast Company, Forbes, Inc., CNBC's Make It, USA Today College, Lifehacker, Mashable, and more. She calls many places home, including Illinois where she grew up and the small town of Hamilton where she attended Colgate University, but she was born to be a New Yorker. In addition to being an avid writer and reader, Alyse loves to dance, both professionally and while waiting for the subway.More from this Author