Teacher Interview Tips

teacher tips Jan 31, 2018

Once you've got your resume polished up and sent out, hopefully you'll soon have some interviews lined up at schools. Competition for teaching and school leadership positions can be fierce, but with the right preparation you can ace your interviews and have schools lined up to hire you.

The key to a dazzling interview is simple: research the school you'll be interviewing with, prepare responses with a structure that makes your answers memorable, and create a "cheat sheet" to help remember your perfect answers. 

Here's exactly how to do it plus some handy downloads to help you prepare! 


Once you find out you have an interview, start researching that school. You want to know its demographics, access to technology, testing data, percentage of ELL & IEPs, graduation rate, attendance, school improvement plan, any special initiatives, etc. 

Look at its website, school profile, state and district pages, as well as any school Twitter, Facebook, or other social media accounts. These are all ripe for information on what kind of person they're looking for. 

How to Answer Each Question Perfectly

Now that you know the school, its focus, students, etc., it's time to start organizing how you'll take that information and use it to guide your answers to likely interview questions.  

Based on your research, you should have a pretty good idea on the broad themes you'll be asked about. Differentiation, a typical lesson, classroom management, using technology, data, and communicating with parents are all likely topics. 

Now, it's time to plan out how you'll answer any question out those topics. 

Here is the number 1 key to making a great impression and answering each question memorably and thoroughly: 

Plan to structure each of your responses into 3 parts

Do this every time, for every question. This does several important things:

  • prevents you from rambling
  • prevents you from being too brief
  • makes it easier to figure out what you will say. 
  • provides clear signals to the panel (or interviewer) what they need to know about you.

Well, what are the 3 parts? Very simple. They are - 

  1. Your experience
  2. Your beliefs/philosophy
  3. What you'll do once hired

If you want to see some examples, I recommend you check out my Instagram's "featured stories" section. I go through all of these there. Sometimes it's better to hear these spoken, so you can hear and get a feel for how they flow together. 

However, here's the key points for each aspect and a sample 3-part answer to a common interview question: 

Part 1: Your Experience

Many questions will be about what you've done in the past, so it's good to start there. Try to have a mental Rolodex of anecdotes and experiences that demonstrate your best qualities as a teacher. A good anecdote is way more memorable than any talk about what you believe. 

Let's say the question was, "What is your teaching philosophy?"

You might be tempted to give your philosophy right away. Stick to your structure, however, and you'll have a more memorable and meaningful answer. 

Sample Response: In my 2nd year teaching I had this student named Marco. At first, I really struggled to get him to do more than just enough to pass. All he cared about was soccer, but he tore is ACL and was really depressed. I met with him after class and showed him my ACL surgery scars (on both knees). We talked for an hour about how he can come back stronger than ever next year. After that, he was one of the most motivated students in my class. 

Part 2: Your Beliefs & Philosophy

Next, you pivot from that experience to what it speaks to about your beliefs. These are the values that guide you and what you'll bring to the school.  

Sample Response: Because the heart of my teaching philosophy is that every student can learn and has the potential to do amazing things. But it starts with relationships. I believe students achieve more when they have that connection with their teacher. In fact, I read a study in the Journal of Early Adolescence* that showed teacher-student relationships is one of the strongest variables for success is among low income students. 

* Another great strategy is to casually drop in references to studies you have read (like that one), research, books, etc. Show that you are a lifelong learner yourself! 

Part 3: What You'll Do Once Hired

Finally, you pivot again with a transition like, "What you can expect from me here is..." or "If I was hired here ..."

This way you're getting that important mental image of you already working there in their heads. It builds their confidence in you and provides concrete examples of how you'll improve their school with your presence. 

Sample Response: So, what you'll see from me here at CHS is a dedicated teacher who builds positive relationships with all students and doesn't let any child fall behind, just like with Marco. 

If possible, it's great to loop back to your anecdote like that to complete your answer. 

This 3-part response is the perfect way to sound prepared and give answers that show what you've done, who you are as a person, and what you'll bring to their school. It ensures you answer each question thoroughly without rambling and gives interviewers clear cues if they're scoring you on a rubric (see the sample interview download for an example) 

Your Cheat Sheet

To prepare, I come up with talking point notes about all 3 answer parts for all of the likely interview topics I'll hear. I then organize all my planned responses onto a "cheat sheet". Here's one I used for an assistant principal job interview I had a few years ago: 

You can download the same editable template here and use it to plan out your own responses. You'll see there's pages for both teaching and administration interviews. Each is broken down into 9 probable question topics and then 3 parts: experience, beliefs, and WWID (what would I do). 

I rehearse each of those bullet points, so even if it just says, "cheese poofs", I know how I want to connect that to the topic and what I want it to inform them about who I am (the "cheese poofs" story is for another day 😂).

I bring this with me to the interview and study it while waiting. I might even have it open during the interview. This is something you need to make a snap judgement on. You should definitely bring a folder of resumes to pass around (if they don't already have copies), and a possibly a teacher portfolio as well. Keep these notes in there also. 

I interviewed with one panel where everyone had a few papers in front of them and were at least 2 seats away from me at a long table. So, after offering resumes (they had copies already made), I slid my cheat sheet to the top of my open binder and used it during the interview. No one noticed and I moved on to a 2nd round of interviews. 😊

Now, if panel members were sitting closer to me or it was a smaller table I wouldn't risk it. You never know the set-up you'll be in though, so it doesn't hurt to be prepared to take any advantage you can get. 

For many interviews, the panel gives you the questions that they're going to ask on a printed sheet when they start. That might be a good time to slide your notes right under that sheet and steal glances when needed. 

Still, I recommend studying and rehearsing your cheat sheet. Think of how you will adapt each to fit specific questions. To help you with that, I've included below a full interview question set and a dozen sample interview questions. 

Sample Questions

You can download a full Assistant Principal interview question set here. These were the actual questions my former school actually used to hire a new AP. 

Additionally, here's an image of a different panel interview question packet with notes the panel was looking for and the rubric used for scoring:

Finally, below are additional sample questions that a school might use to interview you for a new teaching, Assistant Principal, Dean, or other position: 

  • Opening Statement: Please briefly describe your background and highlight any previous experiences, education, and training you have that best qualifies you for this position. 

  • Describe one or two professional activities that you feel have made a positive contribution to your school.

  • What strategies do you use to resolve disciplinary problems in the classroom? 

  • Describe a situation in which you had to manage multiple tasks in a short amount of time. What strategies did you use that were successful? 

  • How do you hold yourself accountable within the framework of a team?

  • What is your experience in using formative assessments in the classroom?

  • Minority student achievement and "Closing the Gap" are everyone's responsibility. Describe steps you would take in developing a minority student achievement plan. 

  • Describe a time when you used assessment data to direct changes to your instructional practice. 

  • What strategies do you use to determine if an instructional practice or lesson is succeeding? 

  • Describe a challenging educational decision you have made. Explain what made this decision so tough and how you stood by your decision. 

  • Professional Learning Communities or PLCs have been around as a philosophy and reality for some years. Some of our PLCs are strong while others are inconsistent. Our goal is to ensure that each department and the school as a whole becomes a strong PLC. How would you help that support that process? 

  • Is there anything you would like to share with the panel related to this job that you didn't have an opportunity to express during the questions and opening comments? 

Hope all of this advice is able to help you out! 

If you want more advice on becoming the best teacher you can be, please check out my Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages. I try to share as much helpful things as I can to help you out in all aspects of teaching! 

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