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How to answer eight difficult education interview questions

By Paul Matthias, National Director of Hays Education

You’ve been invited to an interview by a school and so are sitting down to do your all-important preparation. You know the basic questions which are bound to come up, but have you given a thought to those trickier questions which may arise? We’ve spoken to our teachers to put together a list of some difficult questions they’ve had and how to answer them.

1. Tell me about yourself

On the surface, this may seem an easy question as it’s simply asking you to just talk about yourself. However people can panic at the vague nature of this question and not answer it effectively. Really when a potential school employer asks you this question they want a brief insight into how you have achieved what you have so far, how you’re the best for their role and school and any interesting aspects of yourself that are education related.

2. Can you tell me about a time you’ve failed?

Although it can be automatic to feel defensive when you’re asked this question and hear the word ‘failed’, just remember that no school leader actively wants to trip you up. But don’t make the mistake of saying that you have never failed. Everyone has failed somewhere in their lives before and the worst thing you can do is pretend you haven’t; maybe you had a classroom management problem or a pitch which didn’t go well. A school leader will ask this question in order to learn how you have overcome previous mistakes. You should see this as your opportunity to show how you learnt from the experience, what you would do in hindsight and the strengths gained from it which you now utilise and can apply to their role.

3. If I walked into your classroom during an outstanding lesson, what would I see and hear?

You need to make sure that you plan for tricky questions surrounding your lesson planning and your classroom delivery. It might be that the second stage of your interview process you will have to deliver a lesson so in order to get there you want to allow the school leader interviewing you to envision what this would be like with your response. Make sure to go into detail on what lesson you would be teaching, the year group and your strategy. You could describe the resources you used and how the students utilised these. Just make sure that if you get to your second stage interview you can back up your vision in reality!

4. Tell me about a lesson that didn’t go well and what you did about it

This question is again utilised by school leaders to get a grasp on how you learn from your mistakes. The lesson you describe doesn’t have to be massively detrimental, but just an acknowledgement of what went wrong and how you rectified this. It might be that you noticed your lesson wasn’t going to plan part way through so then took the steps to get it back on track, or decided to forgo your original lesson plan as it wasn’t working in replacement of a different task. This kind of question is aimed to show your experience and how you react and work to different scenarios or a pressurised situation.

5. Talk to me about a current issue in education

This may seem a surprising question for an interview but was actually submitted by a teacher after they were asked it in their own interview. As you’ll likely know, education is a constantly evolving and changing realm to work in and increasingly many senior leaders are keen to employ members of staff who keep up to date with education news. Therefore even if you do think you keep relatively on top of education news, make a conscious effort to read up on a few news articles before your interview which you find interesting and would be happy to discuss and offer your opinions on.

6. What behaviour management strategies do you tend to employ in the classroom?

Behaviour management is a key component of teaching and you can’t be a truly brilliant teacher without employing effective techniques to manage students and their learning. A school leader doesn’t want to employ someone who can’t manage their students, so regardless of whether you’re an NQT or a teacher with years of experience, you want to be able to highlight your capability when answering this question. Maybe you’d go into detail how you utilise praise; developing a pre-emptive system through stickers, team points, and verbal praise to stop the negative behaviour before it even happens. Ideally, you would read the school’s behaviour policy before you go to interview and tailor your answers for that school. For example, they might be very anti ‘shouting’ which is a common tactic in schools, therefore you could appeal to this by explaining how you feel this is a negative strategy as it puts you in competition with the students as they try and compensate for your loudness.

7. Give me an example of a classroom situation where the children have been challenging – what did you do to overcome this?

This is an opening for you to highlight a successful moment from your classroom teaching. It might feel like you’re having to focus on a weakness, but there are challenging classrooms in all primary and secondary settings. You might describe how this was a long term issue which you developed a behaviour plan made up of several steps to overcome this, or you could show your confidence in explaining how you weren’t afraid to stop the class until you’d got your students back on track and regained authority in order to salvage your lesson. Just ensure you have a few examples of these scenarios up your sleeve that you can comfortably discuss.

8. How do you ensure that you are accountable for pupils’ attainment, progress and outcomes?

This can be a difficult question as it relies on you having prepared specific knowledge – it’s not the type of question you can answer caught off guard. You’ll need to discuss in detail the strategies you have used and learning objectives you have previously put in place to account and track progress; recalling examples from your past classrooms. You need to show your understanding of different levels in the class and the appropriate assessment techniques for your class and setting. If you work in a special school this will also be different than a mainstream school.

If you can prepare for the difficult interview questions like the above then ultimately you’ll feel more prepared and confident going into your interview at a school and will then perform your best.

To find out more, or to discuss your recruitment needs in this field, please contact your local consultant.

About this author

Paul has been with Hays since 1999 and the National Director of Hays Education since 2007. He is responsible for leading experts from 40 offices across the UK who specialise in recruiting for Early Years, Primary, Secondary, SEN, Further Education and Leadership staff on a daily supply, long term supply or permanent basis. His extensive experience is invaluable to ensuring schools, colleges, nurseries, academies and MATs have access to the best possible candidates.

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