Education Opinion

Handling Negative Questions In a Teaching Interview

By Ariel Sacks — May 10, 2017 4 min read
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In my recent post about interviewing, I advised not to speak negatively about yourself or your teaching. Interviewers know there is no such thing as perfection, but we want to get a sense of what contributions you might bring to the job. Sharing negative experiences can spark your interviewer’s imagination in unpredictable and detrimental ways. But what if you are expressly asked about an area of weakness or something else that veers toward the negative?

Here are some suggestions for responding to questions that open a potentially negative can of worms, without getting negative about yourself or your teaching. Hint: use your growth mindset.

1. You are asked why you want to leave your current school. If you’re coming from one teaching position to another, it’s good to prepare for this question, but your answer probably shouldn’t be longer than about one sentence. This is not the time to share active frustration. (Again, don’t open portals in your interviewers’ imaginations that you’ll later wish you could close.)

Ideally any issues you bring up about your current/previous school would be things that the new school is well-positioned to solve. Here are a few examples that reveal general issues from the current job, while gesturing positively toward the future:

  • I’m looking for a smaller school community, and I also want to have more freedom over my curriculum.

  • I want to work closer to home, and I’m looking for a school that has more resources to support classroom learning.

  • I’m looking for a school that offers students a more structured environment and teachers more support and professional development.

If you’re asked to elaborate, you can go into more detail about what you want and why, rather than focusing on what’s lacking about your current place.

2. You may be asked to share about a time that you struggled in the classroom or when something went wrong--and how you responded. This question is really about how you handle conflict, and who you are not only as a teacher, but a learner. I think it’s a great opportunity to show your ability to reflect on your experiences.

In answering this question, the important thing would be not to dwell for too long on what went wrong. Even if there’s “a good story” there, save it for happy hour, not a job interview! Once you’ve basically described the problem you encountered, make sure to really answer the second half of the question by explaining steps you took to solve the problem. You don’t need to claim to have cured whatever it was completely. I think interviewers are looking to see character here: qualities like persistence, reflection, compassion, and flexibility, rather than perfection.

3. You’re asked to share a weakness or flaw in your teaching. Personally, I wouldn’t ask this question as an interviewer, but it definitely happens (I’ve been asked this question). I think there are two ways to go here.

One possibility is to share something that has been a weak point or fear of yours, but that you’ve already done significant work to overcome. Although it may not be your strength, take time to describe how you’ve improved in this area. In this case, it would be okay to delve into a heavier topic, such as classroom management, navigating co-teaching, or taking on leadership role, because you will use the opportunity to highlight your growth.

Another way you might answer this question is to acknowledge an area in which your teaching is currently less developed, but that you’re eager to learn and improve upon. Ideally, though, this would be a less fundamental area, so claiming it as a weakness doesn’t raise concern. For example, you might say that you would like to get better at integrating online resources more regularly into students’ learning, or find ways to get students moving physically in your lessons, so they are not sitting all period. In other words, describe an appealing possibility, rather than a glaring weakness.

Avoid identifying fundamental areas of teaching as weak points in an interview. Do not say, “My weakness is organization.” This may be true, but it will trigger visions of chaos for your interviewers. (I actually said that in an interview for my very first teaching position. I didn’t get that job...) Instead, you might address a small piece of organization--for example, “I want to get better at putting students in charge of managing the classroom materials.”

Similarly, don’t say, “My weakness is unit planning,” which is an essential piece of teaching. That makes it sound like you are not up to the job. Perhaps you say (if this is the case), “Since I’ve been working with a scripted curriculum, I’m excited to plan original units, but I will probably need some support in that area.” Or you might address a small piece of unit planning: “I want to work on how I end my units, to build in time to celebrate the work before moving on.”

The common denominator in all three of these questions is viewing a potentially negative topic as an opportunity to discuss growth, rather than falling down a treacherous rabbit hole. In fact, answering these kinds of questions well allows you to reveal your growth mindset about your own teaching.

More advice on landing the teaching position you want--

Tip 1: In an Interview, Be Prepared To Be Specific

Tip 2: In a Demo Lesson, Critical Thinking Is Key

Tip 3: Don’t Be Negative About Your Teaching

The opinions expressed in Teaching for the Whole Story are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.