Don’t Make These Teacher Interview Mistakes

11 min read
Aug 18, 2022 8:00:00 AM

In today’s blog, you’ll learn five mistakes you should avoid when conducting any teacher interview.

According to many school leaders, the 2022–2023 recruitment cycle has been the toughest one yet — so if you’re still hiring teachers, know you’re not alone!

Not only are there fewer teachers in the candidate pool, but there are also more open positions than ever, especially this late into the typical teacher recruitment cycle. This creates an extremely competitive environment where, instead of the school interviewing the candidates, the candidates are in the position of interviewing the school.

If you aren’t doing everything you can to ensure your candidates have a great experience during their interview, you simply aren’t doing enough to combat the growing teacher shortage. 

The teacher shortage crisis means that every interview experience is critical to get right — because you might only have one chance to impress the right candidate. And you likely have a lot of competition!

Much like teaching, interviewing is a learned skill that requires a lot of practice and intentionality to truly do a great job. You aren’t a recruiter, you don’t work in HR, and interviewing isn’t something that comes naturally to a lot of people. Don’t be afraid to seek out advice, practice, and improve your interviewing skills!

To help you avoid making some of the mistakes that can turn a “yes!” into a “no way!” during an interview, I’ve collected some stories of teacher interviews gone wrong and what you should do instead!

young woman talking to man during teacher interview

Interview Mistake #1: Your Job Offer Takes Too Long 

Brad, a middle school math teacher, was excited when he found a position at the school right by his house.

He would do away with his commute and even be able to ride his bike to school! He thought the interview would seal the deal, but after a great interview, he didn’t hear back for weeks.

He sent a follow-up email to check on the status of his application. No one responded.

Sadly, he assumed he wasn’t chosen and moved on to interview at another school that offered him a job on the spot. A few days later, he got a call from the first school’s HR department, officially offering the job over a month after his final interview.

Brad declined the offer.

Not only had he accepted another offer, but he also felt the long wait was either indicative of poor processes at the leadership level or that he was a “backup” candidate who was being kept on the hook in case the school didn’t find someone better.

A slow recruitment process is a problem in any industry, but it’s a disaster in the competitive teacher recruitment field today.

If you aren’t willing to make an offer to a candidate quickly, you need to be willing to lose that candidate. If making an offer to a candidate you’d like to hire isn’t your most urgent task, it should be.

While it’s easy to get slowed down by wanting to see just one more candidate or the feeling that “ the next one could be perfect,” in this environment, this wishful thinking will leave you with open positions at the beginning of the school year.

Even worse, it will burden your team as they struggle to pick up the slack from being understaffed, knowing that you could’ve had a hire if you would have moved a little more quickly. 

If you work in a large district where HR has their own process, you might be thinking that this is out of your hands. But that isn’t true!

While you might not be able to control the process, you can influence the timing by creating a sense of urgency with your district office and by setting clear expectations with your candidate ahead of time as to when they should expect to receive an offer.

If there is a candidate you love but you know it will take a few weeks to get HR to send an offer letter, stay in contact with them frequently, and make sure they know to reach out to you BEFORE accepting another offer. 

a happy interview candidate and principal walking and talking

Interview Mistake #2: Impersonal Teacher Interview Experience

Carolina, a Kindergarten teacher, shared that she once interviewed with a principal who didn’t seem to care she was there.

She was well-prepared and ready to make a good impression, but the principal didn’t look up from his computer screen even once. She assumed he was taking notes, but it didn’t really feel like he was interested in what she had to say. She was thrown off her game and couldn’t get a feel for how well — or how poorly — the interview was going because he was giving her no active listening cues or feedback.

Carolina shared that it felt like an interrogation rather than an interview, and she knows she didn’t put her best foot forward because she was so caught off guard by her interviewer’s demeanor.

While taking notes during an interview can be important, it shouldn’t come at the expense of being a present and active listener.

If you want to really get to know your interviewee, you need to do your best to put them at ease. Staring at a computer screen won’t do you any favors.

Go old school and grab a notepad to make sure you don’t get distracted by incoming emails, and write down only what you need to know. You don’t need a verbatim transcript of the interview to know if someone is a good fit.

middle aged woman giving a teacher interview to a young man-1

Interview Mistake #3: Asking Inappropriate Teacher Interview Questions 

Ellen is an experienced elementary school teacher who remembers her first teaching interview vividly.

She was young and didn’t have much professional experience aside from student teaching, so she went in determined to make a great impression with her professionalism and commitment to education. 

The interview started fine, but the principal’s line of questioning seemed to veer into questionable territory when he asked her about her personal life.

He asked if she was married and if she was planning on having children soon. She was understandably surprised by this question and asked why he would need to know. The principal explained that he’s hired young women before and they always quit to stay home with their babies after a year or two.

Ellen gave a non-committal answer, and the interview continued. She didn’t get the job, but a classmate from college — who happened to be male — did.

While she was happy for her classmate, she still has the lingering feeling that being a younger woman might have put her at a disadvantage.

Anyone conducting an interview needs to be up to date with the legal and ethical boundaries they should operate within.

This is incredibly important for not only the candidate experience but also to protect schools from lawsuits and candidates from discrimination.

As a rule, unless your HR team informs you otherwise, sensitive personal questions are off the table, so don’t ask about the following:

  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Family planning
  • Race/ethnicity

Even an experience like Ellen’s — where she can’t say for certain that she wasn’t hired because of her gender — could be enough for a school to be in serious trouble for discrimination.

If you’re afraid you might accidentally ask a question that is in a gray area, write every single question down, and stick to your script.

three women sitting at a table talking

Interview Mistake #4: Burdensome Interview Process

Mark, a history teacher, shared that during an interview he was asked to teach a few lessons the next day as part of the interview process.

He was a little annoyed that it would take up the majority of a PTO day for him, but he was willing to do the work to get his dream job. He planned to do one of his favorite lessons and hoped for the best.

When he got there, he was surprised to discover that the classroom he’d be teaching in did not have a regular teacher. He was essentially substituting for the entire day with the principal, department head, and assistant principal popping in and out to observe.

Mark did his best to make sure the students learned something, but he was at a huge disadvantage. He didn’t have access to attendance or student information, and the class had been down a teacher for over a month, meaning they didn’t have the foundational knowledge or classroom behavior norms he thought they would.

Not only that, but he was also worried about the school’s safety procedures. He wasn’t an employee but was being left alone with 30 students he had never met before that day.

Mark shared that he felt like he was being taken advantage of and that they were using interview candidates as stand-in substitutes because they were so short-staffed. While he can’t know this is true, he certainly didn’t feel like his time was valued or his teaching skills authentically evaluated in this type of interview.

While many schools want to see a teacher in action before they offer them the position, a full day of free teaching places a truly unnecessary burden on the interviewee.

Teaching is a professional skill, and it should be treated as such. You’d never expect a software engineer to spend a day debugging code for free. And you certainly wouldn’t ask a doctor to treat a patient during an interview just to “see how they do.”

Why is it the norm to expect it from teachers? Not only is it an arbitrary hoop for a candidate to jump through but it’s also disrespectful of everyone’s time. 

Forming an opinion of a teacher’s ability based on one lesson delivered to students they have no relationship with is, at best, inauthentic, and it simply doesn’t have much bearing on how the teacher will actually perform in your school.

Additionally, if you make your interview process burdensome on candidates, you have to be prepared to lose a candidate to another school that does not require demo teaching interviews.

If this is the current practice at your school, it might be time to reevaluate. The best teaching candidates are often being recruited by more than one school at a time, and if your process is more difficult and time-consuming, you’ll likely lose out on the top-tier candidates.

beautiful-worried-woman-sitting-at-a-desk-in-front-2021-08-27-16-16-43-utc

Interview Mistake #5: Unprofessional Interview Experience

As a teacher-turned-recruiter, I’ve sat both in the hiring seat and in the candidate seat during teacher hiring season. Neither was an easy place to be.

Early in my teaching career, I ended up moving to a new state, meaning I had to start my teaching job search from scratch. As a relatively new teacher looking for a pretty niche combination of Spanish, ENL, and/or theater jobs, I ended up on my fair share of job interviews.

Most of them were fine, a few of them were great, and one of them was so terrible that I was sure I was being filmed for some weird reality tv show where they see just how much a teaching candidate will put up with before they run from the building.

I was excited to get an interview for a teaching position after moving to the Chicago area.

They were looking for someone who could not only teach Spanish but also run the school drama department. In college, I studied Spanish Education and theater, making this role seem like a perfect opportunity for me.

Unfortunately, no matter how good the job description might have been, the interview experience was so terrible that I had no desire to move forward.

When I signed in, the front office staff told me how much the principal hated the last teacher and that they hoped I’d do better. During the interview, I was told how terrible the recent musical was, and it was heavily implied that the subpar performance was the reason the previous teacher was let go.

The principal criticized the previous teacher’s selection of musical, the use of recorded backing tracks, the staging, the student actors, and the costumes — and, despite me not seeing the production or having any familiarity with the show in question, asked what I would have done better and then vehemently disagreed with my thoughts.

At the end of the three-hour interview, I was never asked a question about my experience or education. But I was asked to monitor an unrelated classroom while someone ran to lunch, which they called a mock-teaching experience.

As I walked out of the building, the principal inexplicably told me the previous teacher’s first and last name, where she ended up moving to after she was let go, and how he once told her that the musical was an embarrassment in front of the entire school.

I left, knowing that if I took this job, I would almost certainly be the next teacher he was talking about during an interview just like this one.

Despite having no other offers, this experience was so negative that I rescinded my application by email from the school’s parking lot.

One of the surest ways to make a negative impression on a teacher is to talk badly of other teachers.

If you’re asked why a position is open, be honest, keep it simple, and resist the urge to become defensive.

Avoid unnecessary negativity by focusing on the future and on what you hope this candidate will be able to accomplish with your school — not on what someone else failed to do.

two school staff members discussing title i and title ii funding

How to Improve the Interview Experience for Teachers

Once you’ve done the incredibly difficult work of getting a teaching candidate to apply to your position and interview at your school, don’t discourage them by giving them a subpar interview experience.

Not only will you lose out on a candidate that you ALMOST had but you’ll also likely damage your professional reputation amongst that person’s network.

In a difficult recruiting environment, you need to be sure that every interviewee, even if they aren’t offered a job, has a pleasant experience at your school. You can learn some ways to give this pleasant experience in my other recent article here.

Unfortunately, it’s harder to build a good reputation than it is to ruin one.

The last thing you need in a teacher shortage is to be known as a school that wastes candidates’ time, requires teachers to jump through hoops to get an offer, or, worst of all, treats teachers with contempt.

Are you thinking, “Interview advice is great and all, but what if I can’t even get applicants to my open positions?”

SchoolMint can help you!

With Enrollhand by SchoolMint, you can get targeted teacher recruitment ads for social media, telling your story to potential employees.

We’ll bring you the candidates so that all you have to do is conduct a great teacher interview!

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