How to Hire the Perfect Teacher; Interview Like a Pro

For the past several years, springtime has brought about the opportunity to interview teachers for the upcoming school year.  Interviewing is a skill and an art that I was never taught,  In fact, my only experience with it before I became a principal, was the experiences I had myself when I was interviewed for a job,  This in no way made me an expert, or even slightly qualified for that matter.

As usual, whenever it was time to interview a candidate, I would go to the Internet to google possible interview questions.  Sometimes I would sit together with other teachers from the school and think about our current practices and what types of things we would want new hires to be versed on.

Often times the questions looked something like this:

  • What types of assessments do you use to determine the reading proficiency of your students?
  • Tell me what a typical science lesson would look like in your classroom.
  • You have a student who speaks very little English, how would you support that student?
  • How do you work with team members?
  • You notice two students fighting during a soccer game at recess, what would you do?

Although good, these types of questions never really seemed to get down to what I really wanted to know.  In fact, all these questions really demonstrated was the interviewees ability to answer the questions.  It reminded me of taking a written test to see how good of a driver you are.  Really, I knew nothing about how effective the teacher was following these types of interviews.  What it would come down to was who answered the questions in the way I thought they should be answered.  It was simply a chance for a teacher to show what they had memorized or what they knew; not what they did.

This year, I wanted to do better.  Somehow I had to get better at choosing the best candidate for the job!  As I was discussing this on twitter one day, Todd Whitaker pointed me towards his book Six Types of Teachers.  In chapters 9 and 10 of the book, Todd brought up some great points and got me thinking.

How can a teacher demonstrate their teaching skills, during an interview?

With this in mind, my trusted colleague and I set about constructing a different type of interview question.  In the end, we came up with the following three questions:

  1. How would you impact the academic achievement of your students?
  2. How would you impact the community and belonging in your classroom?
  3. How would you impact the culture and climate of the whole school?

Being very open-ended we were very curious to see how interviewees would respond to these questions.  We deliberately used the word “would” as in “How would you…” because we wanted to see if the interviewee could put themselves in a classroom in our school.  Had they taken the time to find out about this place, our students, our goals and how they would fit in here.  We didn’t necessarily want to know “How do you….” we want to know “How would you…”

In order to fully answer the questions, candidates were notified of the questions before the interview.  They were asked to bring to the interview an artifact or evidence showing how they would make the impacts we identified.

English: Children and their teacher at the Mou...

English: Children and their teacher at the Mount Nathan State School, ca. 1913 Several schoolchildren standing beside a timber one-room school in the Gold Coast hinterland. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the interview, we had a very specific and purposeful job of probing or asking more questions.  We wanted to get down to the nitty gritty.  Once a candidate explained for example, how they would impact the academic achievement we would ask three main questions:

  • What is the purpose?…. the purpose behind the task, of doing it in this way etc.
  • What are you teaching (by doing this big project or unit)?
  • What did your students learn?  How did you know they learning it? What did you do if they didn’t learn it?

Following the interview, we were able to have a very rich discussion about the artifacts and examples the candidates brought forward.  None of the questions we asked led them into our way of being, and none of the questions gave right or wrong answers.  Presumably the candidates showcased their very best which gave us the opportunity to visualize their fit at our school.  We knew that if a teacher featured differentiation, personalization, engaging students in different ways or assessment it was a part of who they are and what they do.  If they didn’t even bring it up, probably it does not mean much to them.

For now we are going to stay with these three interview questions and work on honing our skills of listening and visioning.  I am most interested to hear about interviews you are conducting.  How do you find the just right teacher?

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  1. Your new questions seemed to elicit more valuable information from the interviewees. The following, complimentary articles: “Interview Tips for Prospective Elementary Teachers,” and “Interview Questions for Prospective Elementary Teachers,” may be of interest. See: and click on the title of your choice.


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