Does the thought of answering questions at teaching interviews fill you with dread?
For many, the answer is a resounding YES! Not only is the application process extremely time-consuming, but if you are lucky to reach the interview stage, you will deal with on-the-spot pressures too. Most schools will observe a lesson you’ve prepared before moving to formal interviews. If you reach this stage then you’ve done well. However, this is often the point where candidates struggle the most. After all, you can prepare a lesson, knowing to some degree how it will go. But how can you predict what will be asked in an interview? (Sometimes it doesn’t go well at all! click here to see what to do next, after being turned down for a teaching job.)
Answering questions at teaching interviews is a skill you need to develop. Fortunately, there’s a way.
Thankfully, most schools look for the same sorts of qualities in a candidate, regardless of the subject, or level of responsibility. The questions asked by schools then, are broadly similar, or at least they aim to draw out the same elements from candidates’ responses. Schools want to appoint someone who is hardworking, dependable, honest, self-evaluative and looks to develop their own skills and knowledge.
If you are applying for a Leadership position, then you should prioritise extra qualities that are more specific to leading staff. These include having a clear vision and priorities for the role, developing successful strategies to solve problems, being able to lead teams of colleagues and being analytical and self-critical.
How would you deal with interview questions without preparing a detailed answer in advance? For most of us, the answer would be ‘requires improvement’. But in reality, with a little self-reflection, you will have an arsenal of anecdotes that you could bring out to demonstrate your capability in all of these questions.
Take a look at the questions below and see how you would respond:
Popular Questions at Teaching Interviews
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why do you want this job?
- How would you deal with a difficult colleague?
- What would you do if a student disclosed X?
- How would you deal with apathetic parents of an underperforming student?
- How would you teach topic X to a more able / less able group?
- What was the last book on teaching that you read and how did it impact your teaching? (Read this post on my Top 19 Teaching Books for some inspiration!)
- What is your biggest weakness?
- How do you think your observed lesson went?
- What value do you bring to the department?
- Tell me what an outstanding lesson looks like?
- Describe an “outstanding” school?
- What is more important: attainment, progress or achievement?
- How would you deal with a student complaint against a member of staff?
- What would you do if you disagreed with an instruction given by a senior member of staff?
- Do you have any questions to ask us?
General tips for answering questions at teaching interviews
- Be authentic. Tell the truth and justify everything with reasons based on actual experience. Headteachers and governors can smell a “fake” response a mile off.
- Don’t just tell. Instead, show. Use examples of how you have dealt with situations from your own experiences. This could be about managing the expectations of students, building relationships with colleagues, overcoming a personal challenge regarding a teaching method, etc.
- Go beyond your teaching experience and show how you have dealt with similar situations outside of school. In other words, how do you demonstrate the values the school wants, in your personal life? (Be careful not to over-share though!)
- Be reflective. The best teachers can evaluate their performance, showing how they could have dealt with situations differently. As always, have examples at hand. Are you still evaluating? how many times have you altered your practice? (The more the better!)
- Show that you pay attention to detail. Have examples that demonstrate how you diagnosed an issue leading to underperformance and then show how your response to that made an impact. You can read this post on Black Box Thinking For Teachers for some inspiration!
- Do your research on the school. The role you are applying for is at THEIR school. If they have specific priorities then show your knowledge of them. This could include closing the attainment gap between boys and girls at Key Stage 4, or it could be gaining more A/A* grades at Key Stage 5, for example. The fantastic Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) wrote an excellent post on this and other ideas about preparing for interviews here.
- Use data. Instead of saying “I have excellent results”, say “last year my classes achieved X% in their GCSE exams. This demonstrates your attention to detail.
- Work out in advance what YOUR vision for the role is. Keep referring back to that vision throughout your responses. The more your vision comes through, the less doubt there will be over your character (a MAJOR point that interviewers consider).
- Structure your answers using the STAR technique. Click here to see how this works.
- Be a “Purple Cow”. Lots of candidates will give the same sorts of responses to standard questions. Be memorable by answering the questions in a unique way.
There are a lot of good books out there on answering questions at teaching interviews, but having read a lot of them, they often aren’t useful for teaching interviews. For that reason, I’ve narrowed down my recommendations to a couple of excellent books which will make teaching interviews a much easier and less stressful experience. I’ve included affiliate links to both books below.
My first recommendation is 50 Teaching Interview Questions & Suggested Responses: For Primary School Teaching Interviews by Mark Thomas and Lynne Ryder. This book contains most of the commonly asked questions and gives excellent guidance on how to respond in a way that maximises your chances of success. The authors have decades of combined experience as headteachers, so if they tell you to mention something at the interview, then you’d better do it!
My second recommendation is Why You?: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again by James Reed. Whilst this book isn’t specific to teaching, the questions he asks and answers within it are often asked in teaching interviews. James covers the main areas usually examined in the interview, including character, experience, career goals, competency and even those curve-ball questions like “If you were an animal, what would you be?” Reading this will undoubtedly prepare you for interviews at any level, from NQT to Executive Headteacher.
I loved and hated interview questions at different times in my career. Hated when I hadn’t prepared or rehearsed a good enough answer. Loved when my prepared answer showed my true ability and future potential.
Share this with anyone applying for teaching positions, I promise they’ll thank you for it!
P.S. If it doesn’t go well, read my 10 rules on staying sane after a rejection here!