Teacher Interview Questions… and Answers [Interviewing to become a Teacher – Part 3]

You have sent off your interview package, you’ve been given an interview date and time, and you’ve cemented your strong pedagogical foundation, and working knowledge through interview preparation. Now what do you do?

You pre-write the answers you’re going to deliver during the interview, of course. But how can you possibly know what questions you’ll be asked, you may think. Keep reading, and find out.

This is the third part of this multi-part series explaining:

  1. How to Land an Interview
  2. Preparing for an Interview
  3. Interview Questions… and Answers

My background is with the Toronto District School Board, and this information is shaped through the lens of the many interviews I and my colleagues have been through in the TDSB, and surrounding GTA boards.

This advice also applies to boards both inside, and outside of Canada. It is also useful for experienced teachers who are looking to interview when changing schools, seeking leadership positions, or looking to become administrators.

How do I prepare for my interview questions?

The countdown from being offered an interview, to the actual interview itself can be very nerve wracking. You may find yourself struggling to figure out what questions you’ll be asked, or what the interview process will be like.

To best prepare you’ll need to prepare for:

  • Step one: The five rules for a strong interview
  • Step two: The importance of using frameworks
  • Step three: The five types of questions
  • Step four: The strong finish

Remember: Not every interview will be your best interview, but each interview will get you that one step closer.

Step One: The Five Rules for a Strong Interview

Before we get to the rules, you might want to know what the interview process is like. I can only speak for the Toronto District School Board process, but this is how it goes:

  1. You are given a thirty minute window
    • Going over that time limit is often detrimental
    • You will need to keep track of time on your own

  2. You will have given five different questions
    • Sometimes you are given the questions fifteen minutes in advance
    • Sometimes you do not know the questions until they’ve been asked

  3. Two administrators will listen to what you say
    • They will likely be looking down at a sheet of paper
    • The sheet of paper has checkboxes that are ticked as you say specific words

  4. You will be asked if you have any additional questions for them
    • You do.
    • See: The Strong Finish

  5. You will (probably) hear back about your interview
    • If successful, you will be offered the job
    • If unsuccessful, you will be asked if you want feedback at a later date

Rule one: Speak as if you have the job

One of the most important parts of interviewing is how you present yourself. How you present can be as important as what you say. You need to project that confidence by speaking if you are already in the position.

If you hire me, I will try to engage my students with multimodal lessons, and when I get to the building I’ll discover who the like minded teachers are that I can connect with to work together on something we’ll do in the future.

Teaching in your school, I’ll build departmental capacity through a shared leadership model, connecting with building-leaders, and strengthen the school community by adding my multimodal approach to lesson design with their previously successful strategies.

In the second response, the person is saying the exact same thing as in the first response. They believe in multimodal lesson design, and they have a desire to work with other people in the department. Unlike the first response, the second speaks as if they already have the job, and ensures that correct terminology is used. These terms may be the ones beside the checkboxes that the administrators are looking at.

Rule Two: Use frameworks to guide your answers

Frameworks are a way to guide your response, allowing you to best organize your thoughts. It also allows you to present information in a predictable and memorable way.

Just as you’re speaking as fast as you can for thirty minutes straight, the administrators who are interviewing you are taking notes as fast as they can. Through the use of frameworks, you provide a tool that helps guide their ability to best record, and best remember your words.

There are three main frameworks:

  1. First I will… Because… Which will lead to…
  2. I will… Then we will… Then I will… Then we will…
  3. In my classroom you can see this demonstrated as…

Rule Three: Always sell yourself

This should be obvious, but you’re at an interview. You’ve already been selected as one of the top five candidates, beating out a dozen or more others just to get this spot. This is not the time to talk about what you aren’t great at, or where you need to improve. This is a moment to project yourself as the greatest educator there ever was, or ever will be.

If you are asked a question about something that isn’t a strength for you, redirect the question and express your tangentially connected strengths. If you find yourself feeling awkward celebrating your accomplishments – push those thoughts away. They’re your accomplishments. You accomplished them. You need to celebrate them! If you don’t express all the wonderful things you’ve done, no one is going to know.

And, even if you’re interviewing for an administrator that knows what you’re like in the classroom, if you don’t say those things during the interview – and check those boxes while those boxes are being checked – they may not be able to consider them when they make their decisions.

Finally, don’t be tricked with a “What’s your greatest weakness?” question. Never express a weakness. Instead spin something positive from that.

For Example:

  • I find it difficult to accept a departmental culture that shuns Universal Design for Learning, and find myself taking an opportunity to lead by example to highlight a stronger way forward…

  • One weakness I have is that when I am presented with a request to implement something that has been proven to limit student success, I push back with data-driven responses to highlight…

  • When students try to sneak by as high-performing, under-achievers I cannot allow them to coast by. Instead, I use informal assessments to evaluate their achievement gaps, and provide opportunities for them to demonstrate…

Rule Four: Be thankful at the beginning and the end

Being polite counts. There’s no big secret to this. It’s just something that not everybody thinks of, and it’s something that can be easily forgotten when you mind is racing one million hyperbolic miles an hour.

Greet your interviewers with a smile, and with courtesy. Let them know that you value their time.

When leaving, thank your interviewers for the opportunity for the discussion, and let them know you’re looking forward to future opportunities to discuss the best ways to build capacity within the building, through shared leadership geared towards student success.

Rule Five: Jump directly into your response

The clock never stops ticking. You don’t have time to give a history to why you are about to answer the question in the way you are. You also don’t want to use filler sentences, to make it seem like you are unable to provide a direct response.

Avoid sentences like, “I’m so glad that you asked that question. Let me tell you why I believe that shared leadership is crucial to…” Instead, simply begin by stating, “Shared leadership is crucial to…”

Step Two: The Importance of Using Frameworks

Understanding the importance of the three frameworks is one thing. Being able to use them to your advantage is another. Consider these examples as ways that can guide your responses using the predictable organization that these frameworks provide.

First I will… Because… Which will lead to…

This framework allows you to sequence what you will do, explain why you will do it, and explore the benefits of that action.

For Example:
First I will implement a reading diagnostic for my students because it is integral that learning gaps are identified for immediate interventions, which will lead to additional program support that ensures all students have a strong foundation, regardless of current achievement, and opportunities gaps.

I will… Then we will… Then I will… Then we will…

It’s important to express how fantastic you are, but it’s equally as important to remember that teachers do not work in isolation. They are part of a variety of teams. There are course teams, departmental teams, cross-curricular teams, leadership teams, professional learning teams, and even sports teams.

In all of these instances, it’s not enough for the teacher to show off what they can do – they need to demonstrate how their addition to the team helps build overall capacity.

For Example:
I will provide my department members with previously successful chunked assignments, then we will have classroom ready exemplars of assessment opportunities that demonstrate the principles of Universal Design for Learning. Then I will continue to provide my department members with my resources that they can choose to use in their own classroom, reducing workload while enhancing student success through these new pieces. Then, we will be able to assess the overall achievement of our students, and compare it to previously collected data, in order to create a strong data-driven way forward that seeks to build departmental capacity, while enriching the engagement and success of all stakeholders.

In my classroom you can see this demonstrated as…

This is a unique framework that shows you are not only considering the question theoretically, but that it is one you have deeply considered, and that you have prior experience implementing.

For Example:
In my classroom, you will see my commitment to Universal Design for Learning by the arrangement of desks, that are spaced out to enhance mobility. You will see it through the anchor charts on the walls that highlight culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy, and by the subtitles that are always enabled when we watch video clips. You will see this through the colour-coded readings that allow students to engage with a text at the Lexile level they are most comfortable with, and through the digital classroom code on the board, encouraging students to engage by taking full advantage of the blended learning environment.

Step Three: The Five Types of Questions

This is, without a doubt, the most important part of this series. These are the five questions you are most likely to be asked during an interview, and the different pieces you should prepare to answer them.

If you have a virtual interview, you will be able to have your pre-written answers nearby for quick reference. If you are given the questions in advance, you will be able to quickly scrawl your bullet points from your pre-written responses to the question sheet. If you are not allowed to bring anything in, you’ll still be prepared as you have prepped, planned, and polished a variety of bullet points to the five fundamental questions.

Now, you may discover that you are not asked these questions. What happens then? Well, you will see that all of these responses are skills-based responses, and as such one quick transitional sentence will allow you to connect these answers to whatever you are asked.

Question One: Why are you Awesome?

Possible ways of asking this question

  • Tell me a little bit about yourself.
  • What makes you the best person for this position?
  • How have your skills prepared you for this opportunity?
  • Why should we hire you, over the other candidates?
  • What experience has best prepared you for a career in teaching?

Information to ensure you cover

  • Name the specific experiences that have prepared you
  • Give specific details about the experience
  • Directly connect the experience to what you will do in the classroom

Suggested Framework: First… Because… Results…

Question Two: Assessment and Evaluation

Possible ways of asking this question

  • Describe the process of planning, delivering, and evaluating an entire unit. What tools most aided your success throughout this process.
  • How have you used backwards planning to ensure high levels of student success?
  • Tell me about a lesson plan you created, and how you ensured it met the needs of your learners.
  • Explain how you highlight the difference between assessment and evaluation in your classroom.

Information to ensure you cover

  • Planning backwards from the Specific Curriculum expectations
  • Assessed foundation through Assessment For Learning
  • Built upon foundation through Assessment As Learning through multiple assessment opportunities for skills (formal / informal observations)
  • Support assessments through multi-leveled rubrics that tie directly to curricular expectations
  • Determined the comfort level of technology, and scaffolded digital literacy through blended learning environment
  • Culminated in differentiated projected-based Assessment Of Learning
  • Constructed unit around student areas of interest to create a Deep Learning experience
  • Reflected on areas of strength and need to enhance unit going forward
  • Address the integration of daily learning goals and success criteria

Suggested Framework: First… Because… Results…

Question Three: Equity

Possible ways of asking this question

  • Our school board represents a diverse range of unique voices from students, and within the community.  How do you work to ensure all voices are respected and welcomed?
  • Explore how the prioritization of equity is integrated within your daily practice.
  • Describe a unit plan you created that integrated culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy.
  • How will you ensure all learners feel comfortable in your classroom?

Information to ensure you cover

  • Touch on all forms of equity
    • Socio-economic
    • Different abilities
    • Mental health
    • Gender
    • Sexuality
    • Race
    • Culture
  • Value / honour student voice
  • Describe the importance of the community (parents voice / experience) in education
  • Connect the importance of all stakeholders for bringing about student success
  • How will you connect parent experience to your curriculum
  • Describe how and understanding of IEPs closes opportunity gaps

Suggested Framework: In my classroom…

Question Four: Technology

Possible ways of asking this question

  • How do you ensure student success through the use of blended learning environments, and access to technology?
  • Describe how the implementation of hybrid learning has improved student success in your classroom.
  • Which technological tools provide the best opportunities to close achievement gaps with your students?
  • How have you helped students overcome roadblocks to success through the full integration of technology?

Information to ensure you cover

  • Explain the importance of a Universal Design for Learning framework
  • Student access to materials when unable to attend class
  • Engage students where they are through specific app integration
  • Encouraging the natural differentiation of skill demonstration by self-selected tech
  • SAMR model
    • Substitution (Using a word processor instead of a pencil)
    • Augmentation (Adding links, and videos to enhance ease of access to information)
    • Modification (Using back channel chats to allow for in-class discussion participation, alongside those speaking orally. Creating new assessment opportunities based around interactive app creations and wireframing. Providing fully integrated blended learning environments that provide unique ways to engage with curricular content.)
    • Redefinition (I would argue there is no redefinition and that everything possible through modern technology was possible without modern technology, just more difficult. However, things like welcoming virtual guest speakers, or hosting international debates from a variety of sites are examples of redefinition. Having game designers connect with your class, and co-create a complete product, focusing on showcasing cross-curricular literacy and numeracy skills, while connecting to curricular knowledge is another example.)
  • Importance of hybrid learning
    • This is an important piece to speak on. There is a lot of resistance to hybrid learning, but it is something that will likely exist in some form for years to come. Because of that, teachers who speak to the benefits it brings to students, and show a desire to make it work, rather than resist implementing the ministry-directed model, will come off as stronger candidates.

Suggested Framework: I… We…

Question : Preparing to be unprepared

Possible ways of asking this question

  • How will you respond as an Occasional Teacher in the absence of a lesson plan?
  • If you are called to come into a classroom after the day has started, and there are no prepared materials, how will you ensure students still engage in valuable learning?
  • Occasional teachers often teach outside their qualification areas. What prepared you to confidently teach classes you are unqualified for?
  • How have you course-corrected a lesson plan you gauged to be unsuccessful, midway through delivery?

Information to ensure you cover

  • Show up well in advance to work through concerns in new buildings
  • Contact the people responsible for occasional teachers (Office Assistant, Administrator, Department Head) well in advance, and build relationships that you can depend on for return jobs
  • Bring a class set of copied previously-successful materials that relate to cross-curricular skills, to ensure that strong learning opportunities exist, even in the absence of lesson plans
  • Discuss key areas to address with the subject team
  • Ask students to show prior work and hold a discussion to determine where they are
  • Build upon classroom needs using personal strengths
  • Create opportunities for students to demonstrate cross-curricular literacy skills
  • Ensure that meaningful student learning takes place throughout the period
  • Highlight that you understand occasional teachers will teach outside of their qualified subject-areas, so you have read through all core-subject curriculum documents, noting the skills-based strands, in order to prepare to present learning opportunities for students that are transferable, and relevant, no matter what the teacher plans to do next.

Suggested Framework: I… We…

Step Four: The Strong Finish

You can sense the interview coming to an end. You’ve just stopped talking at the end of question number five. It’s the 28 minute mark, and your throat is dry, adrenaline is pumping through you, and you have no real memory of anything that happened over the last half hour. But, there are still three things you need to remember.

Do you have any questions for us?

When you are asked this question at the end of the interview, do not answer by saying “no.” This is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your knowledge of the board or school, and highlight a personal strength.

Everyone needs to develop their own set of questions, but here are a few that might help you get started:

  • I connect strongly with your school’s focus on equity. I just finished reading We Got This by Cornelius Minor. What other texts do you think enhance anti-racist teaching?
  • I have a passion for guitar, and noticed your school doesn’t have an extra curricular for that. I’d like to lead that club. What other areas have students shown an interest in, that are currently not being fulfilled?
  • Building from your school’s improvement plan where it focuses on __________________ I have developed a variety of previously successful materials to enhance __________________. What is the best pathway for me to help bring these to the school community, to build our capacity?

Write down the questions

As soon as your interview is over, write down the five questions you were asked. They may be the five you prepared for, or they might be variations. The bigger your collection of questions becomes, the easier it will be to transition your prepared responses to them.

The more you interview, the more questions you’ll see, and the better you’ll be prepared for the next time.

They might include:

  • What is your entry plan to best demonstrate your leadership style as part of a departmental team?
  • What challenges do you expect to face once you accept this position?
  • How will you engage teammates who are resistant to implementing school policies?
  • Elaborate on how you use learning goals and success criteria to scaffold your lessons.
  • How have you aligned Growing Success to meet the needs of your special education students?
  • What aspects of your background best prepare you to be an educator?

Take a moment now to consider how you have already prepared responses to those questions through the prior five. Write a short transitional sentence that will allow you to bridge each of those questions to an answer you have already written.

While this may seem difficult at first, the more you practice, the more it will become second nature, as you internalize your own awesomeness. After all, that’s what interviewing is all about.

Always ask for feedback

A week has gone by. You’re sure you didn’t get the job. You would have heard something. Then the phone rings and… you didn’t get the job. You’re told that you were a strong candidate, but they went in a different direction. There’s no denying that sense of hurt and rejection.

There’s always a feeling of rejection when somebody says they prefer someone else’s performance to your exclusive performance.

And then they say, “would you like to set up a phone call to receive interview feedback in the next few days?”

The instinct is to say, “no.” and get out of that situation. But, that’s a mistake. Always say “yes.” While you are upset right now, the feedback that administrators can provide you is the most valuable feedback there is. If you’re still reading this series, then you are looking for ways to improve. There is no better way to improve than their feedback.

Maybe it was the response you gave to one of the questions, or your timing, or perhaps you were perfect but there was an internal candidate who was equally as perfect. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know, and if you never know, you’ll never be able to improve.

Every interview is a way to prepare for the next one. Never let this opportunity pass you by.

Next Steps:

That’s it. That’s all there is to it. With this information, you’ll be set to create your own pre-written answers, and will be prepared to implement them as necessary.

As always, Good luck!

Continue the Series:

Written by…

Michael Barltrop has been teaching since 2006, integrating comics, video games, and TTRPGs into his classroom. He has been the head of English, Literacy, Special Education, and Assessment & Evaluation and Universal Design. Feel free to reach out through Twitter @MrBarltrop!

Feel free to support the website hosting by buying him a coffee or sharing this post on facebook, twitter, or whatever social media is trending these days.

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