5 Questions Teachers Should Ask in an Interview
By Allison Burgeson
At the beginning of the school year, many teachers spend time teaching students to select just-right books to read during independent reading time. We teach students to choose a book to read that is at an appropriate level and of interest to them. We as educators need to do the same when we are looking for a school in which we want to teach.
As a new teacher, I struggled to suspend my excitement for a job offer long enough to make a logical decision about where I wanted to teach. I thought I just wanted to teach when in reality I wanted to teach at a school that would provide me with a supportive professional environment and helps me serve students in an inclusive and academically rigorous classroom.
We are not often taught to do this as teachers. We are taught to lesson plan, prep, and teach in our classrooms but not to market ourselves as effective educators. We are told to ask questions in our interview but not specifically what to ask about. Now is an excellent time to learn to ask the right questions in an interview to find the just-right teaching position for ourselves.
When preparing to apply and interview with a school, do your research. Be familiar with the mission statement. Find the school’s population and assessment data on the state website such as INView for Indiana. Know something about the school before you walk in. This will help you decide if you want to apply for a position at the school. Also, be aware of what you need to know more about. You may not be sure about some aspects. I’ve interviewed at schools that did not have data published on the INView website. It was important to me to understand why. In some cases, the school is too new and has no iLearn data yet. In other cases, the school went through a restructuring and the data stayed with the old school. I also always ask about strengths and weaknesses I see in the data to better understand the school’s needs.
Question 1: What is the school’s mission and vision?
When looking for a school to teach in it is important to begin with their basic mission and vision, which can often be found on a district and school website. When looking at a mission and vision statement, look for their core values. You can determine if those core values match your own. If you find that you agree with the core values present in the mission and vision of the school, then an application for employment makes sense. If you already know the mission and vision of the school, ask about it anyway. You could instead ask, “How is your school fulfilling its mission and vision in their community?”
Question 2: What is your core curriculum, instructional model, and behavior management procedure?
This could technically be three very different questions. I like to lump them together to see which one I get more details about. That tells me which one is a major focus for the school.
I am an absolute nerd about curriculum and instruction, so that is something I look for first. What curriculum does a school use and what is their basic model for instruction? If I cannot find that located on their website anywhere, that is usually one of my first questions in an interview. Others prefer to focus more on behavior management because they are more passionate about social-emotional learning or school culture.
Question 3: What does a day in the life of one of your teachers look like?
It is important to understand expectations for any teaching position. I always ask what a day in the life of a teacher in the school looks like from the contract start time to the end of each day. The more details they can give me, the better. When an administrator answers this question, I am always listening for how much instructional time is provided; how much planning time is allotted; what they include as extra duties required, such as recess; and what is given as the start and end time for the day?” I also always follow up with, “What are the expectations outside of the contract day.” I have a lot of responsibilities outside of school that takes up a lot of my time, so it is important to me that the majority of the time, there aren’t many extracurricular requirements. I also am interested in finding out how a school plans to compensate teachers for a lot of additional time outside of the school day if they need it. How a school respects your personal time says a lot about the respect they have for their employees.
Question 4: What are the professional development plans or new teacher supports that your school provides?
Ask about professional development and mentoring support for teachers. This was most important when I started teaching, and I probably didn’t ask this question when I needed to most. It is difficult to work for a school or district that has little to no support for new teachers when you are starting your career, and that did not work for me when I was a new teacher.
This question could also easily segue into a conversation about career advancement opportunities. Do teachers who work at the school have opportunities to move towards other professional goals with the school or district? You can decide if a school will allow you to achieve your long-term career goals this way.
Question 5: What is your teacher retention rate?
This may seem like an odd question, but it can tell you a lot about a school. If the retention rate isn’t good, that might be a red flag. It is possible that the school is in a turn-around process, so a high turnover might be expected for a couple of years. Either way, you will want to know this information before you proceed. Low teacher retention could also be the result of a lot of retirements or people moving on. Both could be for very practical reasons, but they could also be evidence of a toxic culture. If there is a high teacher retention rate, that is a good sign. That most likely means the professional culture is a positive one to which people want to return.
These five questions may not cover everything you need to know, but hopefully, they give you a place to start and more to consider when choosing your just-right school.