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How To Answer The Top 4 Toughest Interview Questions for Teachers

by
Micah Fikes
Micah Fikes on July 24, 2018

Some people approach job interviews like they would approach a large dog. They walk a mental line between fight or flight as they try to look strong, but secretly pray to see a metaphorical tail wag from the interviewer.  A fortunate split from the metaphor exists in that an interview is (hopefully) prepared for, while chance meetings with large animals are rarely expected.

In the spirit of preparation for a meeting with this large dog, I would like to list and discuss some of the questions you are likely to confront in a face to face interview.

Let’s take this on in the format of a list, starting with a question best shown in one of my favorite moments from television: Michael Scott’s interview with David Wallace from The Office

 

1. List Your Strengths And/Or Weaknesses

 

interview questions for teachersWhen David asks Michael to list his strengths, Michael responds “Why don't I tell you what my greatest weaknesses are?  I work too hard, I care too much, and sometimes I can be too invested in my job”.

When asked again to list his strengths, Michael humorously exposes his tactic by declaring that his weaknesses are actually strengths.

The unfortunate side effect of preparing for interviews with a list of common questions is that many folks want to learn to beat the question rather than to just answer it effectively.  The reason an interviewer asks you that question is not to trip you up.  They really want to know if you are capable of self-evaluation. 

Everyone has weaknesses.  If I ask a potential employee this question, the answer I want to hear is something like I have a poor memory and have to constantly take notes.  That is acknowledgment of a weakness, paired with the action of managing it shows more character than dodging the question by redirecting the interview.   

Also, don’t be shy about your strengths.  Some people have difficulty complimenting themselves.  If this describes you, read “How Full is your Bucket” and take the Clifton StrengthsFinder assessment.  This will educate you in how to maximize your strengths and it will give you a third party to cite (alleviate the audacity) as you list them in an interview.

Other variations of this question include:

  • Which three words best describe your strengths?
  • Which three areas of your life do you need to improve?
  • What do your students say about you?
  • What do parents say about you?

 

2. What Is The Difference Between A Student Participating In A Lesson And A Student Engaged In A Lesson?

 

interview questions for teachersMy wife fielded this question in an interview recently.  In retrospect, she really appreciates the goal of this topic.  It addresses the issue of being satisfied with a low standard.  Employers want high standards for student engagement to be the natural default for new teachers.  This question is designed to separate those who understand and strive for student “buy in” from those who train students to perform. 

This reminds me of one history teacher's reaction as he noticed students passing a note during class.  He snatched the folded note out of the hand of his student.  He looked at the student and said “You know my policy! I’m reading this out loud right now!”  “NO!!!! PLEASE NO!!!!!” the student begged.  But he didn’t flinch nor hesitate as he unfolded the note.  His class was riveted (engaged).  He then proceeded to read the Declaration of Independence, as if it were a breakup letter. The whole thing was a set up!  I guarantee that his kids understand the underlying context of the Declaration of Independence. I also know that they were engaged that day. 

I can’t answer this question for you, but I can direct you to imagine your own classroom.  How do you achieve excitement for a lesson?  The answer to that question will lead you to a great response in an interview. My answer would include students competing with each other.  It would include students acting out a scene from a book rather than reading it.  In a physics class, it might be a challenge to build the fastest or furthest reaching rocket.

I will say this – engagement usually requires a challenge.  If you don’t provide a challenge to your students, participation is all that you can hope to accomplish.  How will you challenge your students?

Other variations of this topic include:

  • Anything with the phrase “student-centered” in it.
  • How do you get your students to higher levels of thinking?
  • What will your classroom look like an on average day?

 

3. Describe The “Cycle of a Lesson” For Your Class Or Subject

 

interview questions for teachersIn other words, do you have a clue what a lesson cycle is? 

I include this question in the list primarily to inform you that you must prepare for it.  Every content area and every teacher obviously has a different answer. 

To answer this effectively, you must have intimate knowledge of two things...Your content and a valid lesson cycle.  I can’t help with the first component, but ECAP’s lesson planning coursework will definitely provide you with the latter. 

In a hurry?  Go online and look at the components of a lesson plan to educate yourself. Or, just click here for our cheat sheet. Here we provide the student with 5 components.  Take these and match them up with activities for your lesson.  Also know that there are many varying models for lesson plans. If you look at them all, you’ll likely conclude that the elements are all very similar across the models.

Variations of this question:

What does the first 90 seconds of your class look like?
How will you close a lesson?
What lesson plan model do you prefer?

 

4. In Your Classroom, How Do You Differentiate For Students With Varying Skill Levels?

 

interview questions for teachersDo some research in the following:

  • Differentiated Instruction
  • Theory of Multiple Intelligences
  • Individualized Instruction

These are some prevailing theories and methods used to ensure individualized instruction for students.  Don’t tell anyone I said this, but they all look the same in the classroom.  Find your own solution to provide individualized instruction and preach it.  Know this though...declaring that one method is superior to another is tantamount to declaring that you are either Republican or Democrat in an interview.  Make sure the audience is receptive before you go there! 

Many good answers to this question include using practices like scheduled one on one instructional time with each student, group work, students teaching students and work stations.  Like these solutions, your answer needs to be practical rather than wordy.

 

Build Your Custom Suit Of Armor!

 

It’s easy to get bogged down in specifics with common interview questions.  A better approach is to build an effective teacher's “suit of armor”. Every good teacher must be armed in the following areas:

Relationship skills – Your relationship with your students is the most important factor.  Most students don’t recall what they learned nearly as easily as they recall how they felt in your classroom. Relationship is where your student derives his/her opinion about education. If you don’t feel like you are armed in this area, read Addressing Our Needs: Maslow Comes To Life For Educators and Students to get started.   

Classroom Management plan – This means that you have a list of procedures for your classroom.  You will teach and reteach the procedures until your kids get it right.  You have consequences that are fair, effective and appropriate.   If you are an ECAP intern and you feel too light in this area, complete your Connections course.  Alternatively, read the book we gave you entitled: Classroom Management by Harry Wong.

Effective Lessons – This includes knowing your lesson cycle, applying differentiation, using formal and informal assessment often and ensuring student engagement.  This includes entertainment value (yes, you need to have entertainment built in). This is about getting “buy in” from your students. This is also about achieving the desired level of thinking through your lessons. ECAP carries many training titles that will enrich the new teacher with skills and information in this area.  

If you came here looking only for a list of questions for the interview you have tomorrow, check out this article and the parent site. 

 

Teaching Job 

Written by Micah Fikes

Micah is the Director of Curriculum & Technology. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in British Literature, from the University of North Texas and a Master of Arts in Teaching, from Louisiana College. In his previous career, Micah served for 14 years as a banker and bank manager. For the majority of this period, Micah managed the Downtown Fort Worth location of Frost Bank. In 2005, Micah finally surrendered to his true calling to be an educator. After a brief, but fulfilling term teaching high school English at Flower Mound High School in Lewisville ISD, Micah went to work for the family business, training teachers.

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