Preparing for the Interview

Getting Ready to Answer Questions
During your interview, you will be asked about specific past experiences related to teaching. Instead of delivering a roster of every tutoring or field experience you’ve had, appraise your experiences beforehand and the presumed expectations and requirements of the position. Identify applicable experiences and specific examples of your work.

Behavior-Based Questions
Most schools conduct behavior-based interviewing on the assumption that past behavior is the best predictor of future job performance. Interviewers using behavior-based questions want clearly stated answers that describe a problem encountered, the action taken, and the ensuing result. Think “PAR”—problem/action/result—and practice answers that keep you on par.

Example of PAR: The interviewer asks about the challenges of managing a classroom. Briefly describe an issue that you encountered and how you and your cooperating teacher introduced a new routine that solved the problem (no long, drawn-out stories):

Our students weren’t putting away their supplies at the end of the day because they were anxious to get out the door. My cooperating teacher and I created a poster listing three steps for cleanup. Ten minutes before dismissal, we hung the poster on the chalkboard and led the students through the steps. Those who finished early could line up first. This worked so well that we didn’t have to give warnings or detentions anymore!

Use the terminology you have learned in your education courses! Read the 10 InTASC Model Core Teaching Standards and use them as the basis of your discussion.

Videos of Actual Teaching Interviews
In the Videos area of the Resources Catalog, you will find four videos by Dr. Michael Whitman. Download the questions he uses in his interviews. Then watch “It’s All About the Interview” to learn exactly what he wants to hear and see. Then watch:

  • Interview 1. Kelly is qualified to teach K−12 Special Ed, K−6 General, Middle School Social Studies, and Dance. She also has a Reading Specialist certification. She is a career changer with a wealth of life experience.
  • Interview 2. Bailey is just finishing her student teaching. She did one semester in first grade and one in fourth grade. She will be K−6 certified. She is quite nervous but does a good job.
  • Interview 3. Jami is qualified to teach Math in Grades 6−12. Her student teaching has been challenging because she has no classroom management background. Her interview goes well, showing a great example of a secondary teacher interview.

Watch our webinar about using professional academic language when interviewing and talking with teachers.

See Interview Questions for a list of possible questions—both common and uncommon—and ideas about how to answer the questions. Write answers to all the questions and review them before each interview. You can even take them in your portfolio as a crutch if you want.

Also listen to the podcast or watch the webcast of Interviewing—Common and Uncommon Questions (and How to Answer) with Dr. William Sterrett.

Your Elevator Speech, or Commercial

When preparing your response to the probable question, “Tell me about yourself” or “What should I know that is not apparent on your résumé?” you will want to prepare an approximately 3-minute speech that explains something significant:
  • Why you went into teaching
  • Why you changed jobs and how that will make you a better teacher
  • How you relate to students
  • Something of value about your becoming a teacher.

Read Interview Questions for examples and more guidance.

Practice, Practice, Practice
By now you should have lots of questions with answers. How will you remember all of it? And how will it sound natural and conversational?

Have people help you practice by asking you interview questions. Ask your cooperating teacher or supervising teacher, as well as other teachers in the building, to do mock interviews with you. Even ask family members and friends or even past teachers to “interview” you. The more practice you have, the easier it will be. As you become more comfortable, your passion and creativity will begin to shine!

When you feel ready, ask the principal where you are student teaching if he or she will interview you. This may be a mock interview or a real interview, so treat it like it’s the real thing!

If you can get someone to video you during an interview, do it! Then watch the video (cell phone video works fine). Do you say “um” and “uh” too much, or do you have a distracting habit such as tapping your fingers or twirling your hair? Get rid of those mannerisms. Study your body language. Is it open, or are your arms folded rigidly across your chest? Did you set a big purse and notebook on the table and block the interviewer’s view of you? Do you act like a confident teacher? Do you project passion and excitement as you interact?

How to Dress
Before you begin interviewing, do an inventory of your wardrobe and plan to shop for appropriate clothing. Purchase clothing that is neat and reasonably conservative.

A business suit is the most appropriate apparel for an interview. On both men and women, suits look professional and make a great impression. When you wear professional attire, you are telling an interviewer that you are serious about fitting into the school community. You want interviewers to notice you, not your clothing.

A woman’s suit should be conservative in color and style, with the skirt knee-length or longer. Slacks are acceptable if they are tailored and match the suit jacket; classic pumps look best with either choice. A conservative style extends to accessories, also. Jewelry should be understated. For example, a small necklace and basic post earrings are preferable to multiple bracelets and large hoop earrings. You can carry a purse along with your portfolio; however, the less you must carry, the easier it is to manage your load and shake hands with your interviewers.

A dark suit with a white shirt and a conservative tie keeps the focus on you as a professional. Save those wacky ties for your students to enjoy once you’ve been hired. Avoid the blazer-and-khakis look; it’s fine for faculty meetings but is not considered appropriate for interviewing. And, of course, carry your portfolio and working pen (test it) to the interview.

Do not wear heavy make-up, expensive jewelry, overly short skirts, or overly high heels. Do not show too much skin. No piercings (other than an earring or two per ear for women) or tattoos should show.

What to Take
Take multiple copies of your résumé (see Writing Your Résumé), a copy of your official transcript, copies of letters of recommendation, your interview portfolio (see Portfolios), a working pen or two, and blank paper for any notes.

Do Your Homework
You should have already done research on the school system and specific schools to which you are applying. This research should have been used in writing your cover letter. Revisit the school system’s website and learn everything possible to match your skills and capabilities to their district and specific schools. What should you look at and take notes on?

  • School calendars – If possible, check for last year, this year, and next year. Are they on a balanced calendar or year-round calendar? Has it recently changed?
  • Mission Statements of the district and schools – All are similar, but with some different areas of focus. Some schools may have a science lens or arts lens or base everything on projects or the arts. Get familiar with their focus. How will you work in that structure?
  • Demographics – This may be on the website or in the School Improvement Plan. Get to know the ethnic composition of the student body.
  • Principal’s welcome page – Often the principal has a letter or a video. You’ll learn quite a bit about the principal and school and how you’ll fit.
  • Faculty pictures – Is there a good mix of ages and genders among the teachers? Will several be retiring soon? Does the building have many young teachers and few mentors? Is the principal male or female? How much support staff is available: teacher coach, language helpers, special ed teachers, instructional aides, and others?
  • Salaries – In most states, the school systems must post their salary schedules publicly. Sometimes finding it is difficult, so use your research skills. It may not be up to date but will give you some idea of what you will make your first year.
  • School Improvement Plans (SIPs) – These should be public and provide insight into the “flavor” and issues in that building. For example, one SIP mentioned an ongoing head lice problem affecting attendance, but the transient nature of the student body meant the problem couldn’t be resolved. This was a red flag for the applicant.
  • Parent Teacher Organization – Usually a school’s site includes a PTO or PTA section. This will help you understand parental involvement and financial and emotional support from the group.
  • Test scores and school rankings – Some websites have recent test scores or government report cards available. You will learn if the school is 4-star, A+, or needs to make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). For example, a Four-Star School in Indiana ranks in the top 25% of the schools in Indiana. Many states have a school report card.
  • Pictures and videos – These will tell you much about the students, teachers, and staff. Where is their focus? How do they interact? What original things are they doing?

Other ways to find out about the school and district:
  • Visit the Department of Education data website.
  • Call local home realtors and ask them questions.
  • Drive around the district and look at homes and stores, the density of housing, the people who are out on the streets or at the parks.

Professional Associations and Acronyms
Know your specialized professional association before you interview. Visit their website and review the “big issues” (if any) that are hot topics for your grade level and/or content area.

NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children)
AMLE (Association for Middle Level Education)
CEC (Council for Exceptional Children)
IRA (International Reading Association)
MTNA (Music Teachers National Association)
NAEA (National Art Education Association)
NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English)
NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies)
NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
NSTA (National Science Teachers Association)
SHAPE (Society for Health and Physical Educators

Get familiar with acronyms like STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards), and CCSS (Common Core State Standards). For a longer list of acronyms, see Other acronyms you should know are: DOE or SBE, RtI or RTI, IEP or PEP, SPED, ELL, LEP, ESL, AYP, ELA, LMS, PBIS, and SIP. You should also know about some of the important education bills and their sections: IDEA, ESEA, Title I, Title III, and Title IX.

Once you’ve done all the homework, you are ready to ace the interview. Best of luck!