A good answer to an icebreaker might be:
“I am delighted to be here today to interview with a district ranked in the top 5 in the state for student achievement. Having just finished student teaching in a neighboring district, Meadow Heights, I had a wonderful cooperating teacher who helped me apply everything I learned at Peabody University. One of the strengths I bring to teaching upper elementary school is the work I did last semester with the “Top Notch” reading program.” Additionally, during student teaching, I assisted with remote learning after the schools went online.”
This type of answer is called a professional profile, or an “elevator speech.” Strong candidates know to make their very first answer one that stands out. It outlines their best success or strength, while revealing a quick outline of who they are.
Master the basics
Basic questions are still asked in every on-site interview. These questions deal with lesson planning, long-term planning, teaching methods, classroom management, discipline, assessment, parent communication and teaching all students, and online lessons. Questions require candidates to explain their training, experience and expertise with the topic of the question. Behavior-based interview (BBI) questions are used to determine if the candidate has experience with the topic of the question, and can perform the skills needed, if hired. For example:
- Describe a sample lesson plan that guides your teaching.
- How have you planned a semester to determine the amount of content you will cover?
- Which teaching methods have you found to work well when teaching _____________ to students this age?
- Describe a classroom where you have worked. What routines and procedures did you use to keep the class organized?
- Describe a classroom management plan that you have used in the past. What were the rules and what consequences worked? Were there positive rewards?
- Tell about a grading system you used for a nine-week period.
- How have you worked with parents?
- How have you worked with all students, especially those who ___________?
- Tell us about your experience moving a class to remote/online teaching.
Tackle the newest questions
Today’s interviewers are increasingly savvy with their questions. Employers are more apt to have a typed set of questions with an evaluation rubric to assess candidates’ answers during the interview. The questions deal with implementation of the Common Core State Standards, evaluation and use of student data in planning and assessment, raising student achievement, differentiation, advocacy for all students and a teacher’s past involvement with professional learning communities (PLCs). Employers are looking for answers to their questions that demonstrate that the teacher candidate is aware of the topic and can discuss examples from their experience.
Here are eight new sample questions for post-pandemic 2020, with guidelines for what the employer seeks to hear.
1. How have you used student data to inform planning or assessment?
Sample answer: It has become quite common for teachers to use pre- and post-testing to better determine what our students actually know before we plan and teach lessons. With pre- and post-testing, I can also monitor the growth of each individual student. It has worked really well to prepare students for standardized testing. Let me show you one example from my portfolio.
2. Give an example of differentiation in a classroom where you have worked.
Sample answer: Working with the sixth-grade teacher next door, we divided students for a math activity, based on the students’ needs for review. I was able to work with students who really needed more one-on-one attention to attain higher scores. Even within my group, I modified how I presented information to students who needed more hands-on examples.
3. How have you worked to be an advocate for students who are at-risk in your school?
Sample answer: I currently teach at a high school that is striving to increase its graduation rate. I am assigned a homeroom and I monitor students’ grades, referring some students to peer intervention and others to counselors if I see danger signs of dropping out. While time consuming, I find that students who know that I am there for them come to me for help. This program makes homeroom teachers the advocates and it works well.
4. In our district, we consider ongoing professional learning to be critically important. Tell us how you have kept learning and how you plan to continue your professional growth.
Sample answers: From a new teacher: In addition to my classwork, I joined my professional association while a student. I have used the ideas from their publications and I read the website’s exchange to talk with colleagues around the country. I also attend webinars because I can attend from anywhere. I get great ideas instantly.
From a practicing teacher: Since we are seeing so many more students coming to our school from lower socio-economic areas, we read a book about teaching students from poverty. We gained some practical ideas, but more importantly, by meeting regularly, we were able to share our frustrations and our successes. I would like to implement something similar when hired here, like a professional learning community (PLC).
5. Describe a time when you faced a difficult task or problem. What was your motivation to work through that issue and how did you keep yourself positive?
Sample answers: To earn teacher certification, we had to pass several tests and complete videos for an online assessment while student teaching. I survived by starting early, going to the student teaching office for help sessions and taking time to go for runs to clear my head. With teaching, it’s the same—start early, attend the team meetings and run when I need to!
As a teacher with 4 years of experience, the toughest time is still the week of standardized testing. I plan for how to help the students with their stress and I don’t schedule anything extra for myself that week. The students and I do some calming activities, like re-reading a passage from a favorite book or playing a special game at recess.
6. Today’s teachers need grit, determination and perseverance. What is your determination to teach in our school with today’s students?
Sample answers: A personal story about how your teachers helped you is always a good answer. Additionally, tell something specific about your grit or perseverance to get your college degree and teacher certification. For teachers who are changing jobs, be ready to explain why you seek a different position, and do so in a way that indicates you are not just quitting a tough position. Know, and talk about, what you know about the new school.
When employers end an interview with the old question, “Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years,” they are really asking about your intentions to stay in the profession and in their school. A diplomatic answer might be “teaching, and helping others to enter and enjoy this profession.” It’s up to you to express your grit and staying power.
7. The 2020 pandemic brought new issues to our schools. Tell us about your experience with social distancing and keeping students safe within a classroom.
Sample answer: In student teaching I saw the use of small “pods” of 5th grade students in our classroom. Students were grouped so that if one student became ill, fewer students became ill. Of course, we sanitized constantly and we found the use of chairs facing forward with plexiglass to be useful.
8. All of our teachers are now using online programs for remote learning when necessary. Describe your work moving a class to online learning.
Sample answer: I took my last semester of college courses online, before student teaching, so I saw the value of the instructor building the community of learners. Since then, I have taught over 100 hours online. The points to remember include making assignments very clear, providing step-by-step instruction in the videos, and posting lots of visuals and examples. In other words, make the planning and delivery even more clear than in-person classes.
Dr. Mary C. Clement is a professor of teacher education at Berry College, northwest of Atlanta, Georgia. Her research on the hiring of new teachers has received national recognition.