The Dreaded Teacher Interview

Teacher Interviews: How to Get Them and How to Get Hired’ by Robert W. Pollock is a life-saver for teachers preparing for interviews. Personally, I find nothing as intimidating as the interview process. While it’s easy to find general tips and sample questions online and from colleagues, I’ve found that really solid, specific advice and sample answers are scarce. Here are a few gems from this marvelous book, mixed with a little from articles from my wider reading, and my own personal experience.

My first bit of advice when preparing for interview comes from painful personal experience, and that is to thoroughly research the school you’re applying to before the interview, preferably by talking to people who have worked there. The high of being successful at interview can quickly wear off when you find yourself in an unsuitable school for you.

Interview questions are designed to hit the different areas the job role described in the person specification, so make sure you read this beforehand. They also fall under several central themes, so it’s important to be aware of this and make sure your answers for each section are equally strong.

These themes are:

* You are a child-centered teacher who cares about the individual student

* You have strong subject knowledge and a passion for your subject/s

* You possess the skills needed to teach your subject effectively, e.g. assessment strategies, planning skills etc.

* You possess classroom management skills

* You have personal and professional qualities and characteristics that will add value to the school community

General Rules for Responses:

Listen carefully to the question and try to identify which ‘theme’ it fits into and what the interviewer is really trying to get at. Make a general, genuine statement about the topic, for example, a question on how you use homework as a tool for learning may be answered with an introduction like, “I really feel that homework is a key tool for learning because…”. Go on to outline one or two specific examples of your own experience, being sure to give relevant context and a positive outcome. If applicable, mention any ways you would enhance the experience next time. When you’ve finished, resist the urge to ramble, and end with an assured statement that reassures the interview panel that you are excited and motivated about this aspect of the job role.

Key Questions and Ideal Responses:

Tell me about yourself / why your background qualifies you for this post.

This is a a very common leading question and is also the most commonly mis-handled. Pollock wisely advises, “This is the perfect opportunity for you to sell yourself and your skills, but too often a candidate will just review the same information contained in his or her resume. Worse yet, he or she embarks on a long narrative that wanders all over the lot and never addresses the issue raised in the question.”

The key to answering this question, is to understanding the specific needs of the department and school, and giving examples that match your experience to their needs. Schools are looking for outstanding, enthusiastic, competent teachers, so get across that you possess these qualities, however they may also have a need for more extra-curricular activities in a specific area or a specialism with a particular ability or age group and this could put you head and shoulders above the rest. In order to answer this question fully, you must research the school beforehand, and identify your key selling points.

Describe a classroom challenge that you have encountered so far in your career, and the steps you took to resolve it.

A strong answer to this question might begin (as with most good responses) with a general statement on how you approach any challenge in the workplace. For example, that you recognise the problem and try to ascertain what the root cause is, that you are flexible in finding the right resolution and that you ask for assistance from colleagues when necessary.

Pollock offers a fantastic response for the next part of your answer, which will outline a specific example from your own experience:

“When I took over a class as a permanent sub, the class had had five different teachers in two months. There were no classroom routines and students were unruly and hostile. I determined there were two root problems. The first was a lack of a classroom structure and the second was the presence of a group of alienated students. As a class, we decided to suspend all academics for two days. We used the first day to identify some problems and some possible solutions. The students developed three classroom rules we would all follow and posters were made for placement around the room. The second day, we examined the curriculum and I listed the things we could study that fitted into our curriculum. We decided which of those areas to pursue. We began our work with an improved, although not perfect, level of participation and energy. Although it took over a month to establish a good routine and mutual respect, the cooperative approach to decision making was a sound strategy that we all made work.”

How would you cater for a year 7 pupil who is joining the school with special needs?

This type of question is very common – the ‘what would you do if…’ question. One of the difficulties with this type of question is that the interviewee often feels that the question does not provide enough information on the fictional situation they are being given, and their natural response would be to say, “it would depend on the situation”. It should be clear, however, the theme that the question is testing you on, in this case SEN, so once you’ve identified this, you can make your initial statement about your commitment to each and every student regardless of background or ability. Stress that you understand and have a good knowledge of the specific challenges that different special educational needs pose to students and that you know how to employ a range of strategies that are designed t support these students.

Now onto the specific part. I had this question in an interview, from a school governor who also worked at one of the feeder primary schools. I commented on the fact that I was aware that primary schools offer a different type of support to SEN students, which is often more intensive and based more on one-to-one tuition than in secondary schools, and therefore strategies to help the student adapt to a new approach to support would need to be put into place right away. I then outlined a small range of strategies that I have used with students, giving examples of how I matched my support to their needs. I also emphasised the need for collaboration and communication between the teacher, parent and specialists from within the school.

What is the role of homework in your classroom?

Homework can have many purposes. Some that you might want to mention in your response to this question are:

* to consolidate learning

* to assess independent learning

* to add depth and breadth to learning to tackle time limitations in the classroom

* to create a link between the home and school environments and to involve parents or guardians

* to encourage independent learning and self-discipline, and prepare lower age ranges for coursework / exam preparation

A good description of how homework is used will include some specific examples with positive outcomes, and, importantly, how the homework is used to shape future planning.

Some More Common Questions… 

How do you use assessment to track the progress of individual students?

What are your strengths as a teacher? What are your weaknesses and how are you addressing them?

Describe what makes a ‘good’ lesson according to Ofsted criteria.

Tell us about a good lesson that you’ve taught and why it was successful.

Describe a lesson that didn’t go as planned and tell us what you leaned from the experience.

How do you address differences in ability in your planning?

Tell us about the qualities you believe a good teacher possesses. Of these, which are your strengths?

What do you do to inspire and motivate students in your subject?

How do you develop good relationships with parents and guardians?

Describe the ways that you use technology to enhance learning.

What does good classroom / behaviour management mean to you?

How would you deal with low-level disruption?

What could you offer the school community outside your own department?