Let’s be honest, the hiring process is one of the most stressful, crucial parts of your job. Finding the right team of teachers you know will challenge and support the students while promoting the school culture you’re trying to create may take trial and error. But, to avoid any false starts or wrong fits, it’s important to take the time to figure out deal breaking qualities you need your teachers to possess.
Learning how to prepare for a teaching interview, and knowing what questions to ask teachers is vital. Having a plan for your the interview process will help you know right away if a candidate will fit in and meet your expectations. It’s never good for morale, or the reputation of your school, if you realize someone is just not the right fit after they’ve started their job.
We were inspired by this question on our Principal Life Facebook page from Kristy S. who asked, “Any advice for hiring good teachers? As a new admin I have already been burned twice this year by choosing an applicant who didn’t fit. Any suggestions?” We compiled the best responses below—all great ideas that veteran principals have found to be essential when expanding their team of teachers. Qualifications will vary for everyone—but these top 10 tips will work for all your priorities when it comes to hiring!
1. Look inside their heart by posing scenarios
Sometimes what you need to know about the teacher comes from within. Anyone can practice perfect answers to cliche questions like “what are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?” But, they can’t pretend to be someone they’re not.
“Ditch the traditional interview questions and pose scenarios. The answers speak to their hearts. Skills I can teach. The heart of a teacher? Not so much.” —Bird B.
2. Trust your instincts
Sometimes you meet a new person and you just click. Sometimes the hiring process is more intuition than anything else. If you’re attracted to someone’s energy—pay attention to that feeling.
“We have a conversation about school, what lead them to this point, and so on. I don’t have a list of questions—I trust my gut because I want to see how they interact when their guard is down.” —Fanny L.
3. Watch them in action
Again, it’s easy for candidates to “prepare” for interviews and come up with great answers to the questions they are expecting. But actions do speak louder than words for a reason. You’ll never really know if a teacher can live up to the promises they’re making without seeing it for yourself.
“I once had to do a demo lesson at a school for an interview. It was a great hiring experience. As an admin, I would love to do this! Interview, then have the top candidates teach a 20 min lesson…” —Fawn N.
Anitra C. concurred, going on to say, “We did this too but had the [candidates] do it in a real classroom. They were prepped ahead of time with the grade level and skills we wanted to see, and given the opportunity to be creative.”
4. Be a little nosy
Listen, you can’t always trust what former colleagues might have to say about a teacher candidate because not everyone gets along. What was a wrong fit for someone else might be the perfect fit for you. But, if several people are wary about a hiring candidate you’re interested in—especially people not listed as a reference—you should take that into consideration.
“I do background checks and always ask, ‘who else should I speak to about this applicant?’ I’ll call people not listed on application and network to find out who knows the person. I’ve had pretty good luck by leaving no stone un-turned.” —Kristie R.
5. Throw a trick question at your candidate
Finding out how potential teachers will handle and react to uncomfortable and out of the ordinary situations with students is very telling. You can have a prospective teacher come in and propose the best lesson plans in the world—but if they can’t connect with their students or show compassion, it could lead to bigger issues.
“One of my favorite questions: You’re working with a small group of math students at a table when one throws up on the manipulatives. What do you do? I’ve had interviewees say, ‘Ewwww!’ or focus in on gloves and custodians. The candidates who knock it out of the park are the ones who not only say how they’ll clean it up and make sure the sick student is helped to the office, but how they’ll talk to the rest of the class to make sure the sick child is welcomed back later and not embarrassed.” —Bird B.
6. Like Frankie once said, “Relax!”
It’s human nature to tense up when in a very rigid and nerve wracking situation—like a job interview! So, if you want to really get to know your teacher candidates, don’t shy away from questions about their favorite books or ask for anecdotes regarding their mentors.
“I like to have relaxed interviews. We laugh a lot. It helps people relax and you tend to see the real person. Also, get students to walk the candidate to your office … then ask the students what they think … they nail it every time!” —Karen B.
7. See if the candidates did their homework
When you’re hiring a new teacher, you’re really hiring a new member of your family. You need to make sure that it’s reciprocated. Does this person really want to join your family and support the culture you’re building, too?
“Ask candidates what they know about your school. The answer will tell you how much time and effort was spent on research. And, ask hard questions about gaps or red flags on their resume, like, ‘What was going on in Spring of 2012 when you had two “D” grades on your transcript?’ Also interview in committees—you get great perspectives.” —Maureen B.
8. Walk them through your school
You can tell a lot about whether a teacher will fit in at your school by simply showing them around. Do they smile at the students and staff? Are they asking questions about the banners on the walls or commenting on the student art that’s displayed? These are subtle ways to get a sense of how they’ll connect to your culture.
“I start interviews by touring candidates through the school. They don’t know it, but the interview has already started and typically by the time we sit down in my office, I know whether the candidate is right for our school.” —Kim S.
9. Trick questions are okay
You can come up with your own tricky interview questions that speak to the core values you feel are most important for teachers to possess at your school. But, for fun, you can certainly borrow a few of these to get you started!
“I always ask, ‘How do you want to be remembered by students and colleagues at the end of your career?’ The answers are always very telling. The ones who say ‘I want to be remembered as fun’ get stroked off my list right away. This question always brings out philosophy and character that the more obvious ones do not.” —Kathy B.
Stacey U. says her favorite question is, “What’s most important? What we teach, how we teach, or who we teach?”