Principals Share 30 Favorite Questions
For Future Teachers
In this tight labor market, many principals have to review hundreds of quality candidates. Separating the good from the bad can be a question of, well, asking the right questions.
We asked our “Principal Files” principals to share their favorite questions to ask as they screen potential candidates for an opening. The questions they provided get to the heart of an applicant’s skills and passion. Included: Thirty great questions for future teachers.
This hiring season, principals everywhere are sharpening their questioning techniques and taking another look at the questions they ask job candidates as they ready for the interviewing marathon.
So what kinds of questions are principals preparing? Interview questions cover a wide range of topics. “I’m looking for many things when I hire a teacher,” said Patricia Green, principal at Cedar Heights Junior High School in Port Orchard, Washington. “I seek a candidate who can truly communicate with students, parents, peers, and our community. I’m looking for someone who understands human growth and development, knows how to respond in age-appropriate ways to students, and realizes that the behaviors we teach our students are oftentimes equally as important as the subjects they learn.
“I also seek someone who has chosen teaching as a passion rather than as a job; if I find people who truly love teaching, then I know I have found folks who see each day as an opportunity to help others learn and grow instead of people who think about coming to ‘work.’
“Finally, I seek team players who are able to relate their subject areas to the world around them in order to help students understand the why’s behind the what’s they are learning.”
But how do principals discern whether candidates for teaching positions possess those qualities they seek? They ask thoughtful and challenging questions, such as the ones Education World’s Principal Files team members have been polishing as they get set to schedule interviews. We asked our “P-Files” team members to share some of their personal favorite questions with us so we might offer you.
Twenty Great Questions to Ask Future Teachers
Once the meeting-and-greeting is done and everybody is settled in, the first questions in an interview usually fall under the category of “tell me more.” Tell-me-more questions give everybody a chance to relax a little as they provide job candidates an opportunity to put their best feet forward.
I’ve read your application and resume, but what are the most important things I should know about you, your life, your experiences? Who is the real [insert applicant’s name]?
“What I’m looking for when I ask that question is whatever the person really wants to share with me,” principal Tim Messick told Education World. Besides the basic responses, “I’m looking for candidates to get away from the ‘canned’ responses. I’m interested in hearing what the candidates feel is most important. I’m looking to learn how they see themselves and what they value about themselves.”
“I have found that folks are often very candid and straightforward — very insightful — in their responses,” added Messick, who is principal at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina.
“This question generates a wide range of responses,” added Bridget Braney, principal at Orchard Hill Elementary School in South Windsor, Connecticut. “There are no right or wrong answers, but the answers can be very revealing.”
“Although much of what they have accomplished is listed on the applications, this opportunity to share tells me a little about them and makes them feel welcome,” said Betty Peltier, principal at Southdown Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana. “It’s good for me to know about their background and interests when I am introducing them to teachers on the staff. Additionally, this informal chatter gives me insight into how the candidates present themselves. I am looking more for their composure than for any particular answers.”
The typical introduce-yourself and give-your-qualifications questions lead to answers focused on what the interviewers might want to hear, but Patricia Green likes to add a little twist to the traditional question by asking
You have been hired as the newest member of our teaching team. In fewer than five minutes, how would you introduce yourself to a group of parents, students, and teachers from our school? The only thing you want to be sure to do is to indicate how your education, training, and work experiences have qualified you for your new role.
“That question adds a new twist; it challenges candidates to address their qualifications to the parents, students, and their peers,” explained principal Patricia Green.
Green is looking for candidates to share their specific qualifications for the job, but she also is looking for other things. “Often, their passion for this career, as well as their ability to build rapport with others, is evident in their responses,” she said. “I also get a chance to see how the candidate acts in an impromptu situation and how well he or she communicates under pressure.”
At Irving Elementary School in Kewanee, Illinois, principal Ellin Lotspeich uses her opening interview questions to try to get to see what is in a teacher’s heart. One of her favorite questions to ask is
Who has most influenced you to become an educator, and how did they influence you?
“I believe that personal life experiences in education relate directly to the type of teacher someone will be,” Lotspeich told Education World. “The candidate’s response to that question should come from the heart, and it will give me insight into the ‘heart’ the candidate will draw on as he or she relates to students.”
Are the Teaching Skills There?
With the background information out of the way, it’s time to dig a little deeper. It’s time to get a sense of what kind of teacher the applicant will make. Some principals, like Les Potter, prefer to interview candidates who have teaching experience. “I am fortunate I can get experienced applicants,” said Potter, principal at Silver Sands Middle School in Port Orange, Florida. “I can get a better read on them because I can check references. I will probably need to spend less time working with them one-on-one, plus experienced candidates know what they are getting into.”