How to Deal with Bad Interview Questions


From the Marshall Memo #432

In this Educational Horizons article, Berry College (GA) professor Mary Clement advises teacher candidates on how to respond to poorly thought-out interview questions: talk about teaching and learning. Bad questions fall into these categories:

Outdated questions – For example, “Tell me about yourself” or “Where do you see yourself in five years? Ten?” Clements suggests this answer to the first question: “I just finished an intensive 15-week student teaching experience that prepared me to teach 7th grade. I had an incredible supervising teacher, and I learned strategies and methods to reach diverse students who didn’t have 7th-grade skills when they started the year. Shall I explain more?”

Hypothetical questions – For example, “What would you do if a student were to fall asleep in class” or “What would you do if a student called you a foul name?” Clements suggests this response: “I haven’t had this happen yet, but I have taught long enough to know that we need to understand who our students are and that we need to get them help for their social and emotional issues. I would follow my management plan when needed, but I would also know my students well enough to know when they need to talk with me or a counselor about problems that are blocking their learning, like not enough sleep or anger issues.” 

Illegal questions – For example, about your personal life, family status, children, religion, native language, or disabilities. When asked this kind of question, candidates have a choice: they can say that time is limited and they want to talk about teaching, or they can respond like this: “You have asked me a very personal question. I will respond by saying that yes, I have children, and having children has made me a better teacher. I can share with you how I talk to parents, as I know how I want to be addressed by teachers of my children.”

Crazy questions – For example, “If you were an ice cream cone, what flavor would you be and why?” or “If you were a plant, what would you be and why?” The goal of questions like these is to gauge candidates’ reactions and see if they can think on their feet. Clements suggests this response to the second one: “I could be any plant. You know, students are like plants. Plants need sunshine and water to grow. Students need positives and support to learn, and I am certainly positive and supportive.” 

“From Résumé to Teaching Job: What You Need to Know” by Mary Clement in Educational Horizons, April/May 2012 (Vol. 90, p.16-23), http://www.edhorizons.org 


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Replies to This Discussion

What if you were working at a school district for 2 1/2 years (part of that time was a leave replacement position), and you resigned "due to personal reasons, (it wasn't a good fit between you and your supervisor) as this was the best choice for you professionally and personally.  How would you answer the question, what happended at ______ school district? I have been staying professional in my response, but many employers seem to ask for more specific details.  Unfortunatly, by giving  details, I would be speaking negatively about another professional in the field.  

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