Careers advice

Common job interview questions for teachers in NZ

Ready to be the one being graded for a change?

Last updated: 18 September 2023

As a teacher, you’ll be used to answering questions. But when those questions are coming from a job interview panel, rather than your students, it can feel a little different.

When applying for education jobs, you’ll need to prepare for interviews in the same way as job seekers do across a whole range of professions. And, one of the best ways to do this is by having some go-to responses to common interview questions up your sleeve so that, when the pressure is on, you don’t fluff your lines.

To help with this crucial prep, we’ve collated a bunch of common teacher job interview questions so that you can get a feel for what to expect, and wow the panel with your fluent responses.

1. Why do you want to work in this school?

The ‘why here’ question is common in job interviews across a whole range of employment sectors, but can be a particularly gnarly one for teachers. While, for example, someone working in IT might be able to give specific examples of products they want to work at in a given company that makes it stand out over others, why are you picking this school?

Remember, personal reasons like ‘it’s close to where I live’ won’t get you very far here. What the interviewer really wants to understand is whether you’ve done your research about the specific institution, and what drew you to it over the other options.

Good things to talk about in this answer include:

  • Feeling a connection to the school’s ethos and values (you’ll usually be able to easily find these on their website).
  • Talking about the school’s reputation (if it’s a good one) and admiring what it has achieved.
  • Other things you can add beyond the basics of the role – for example, if the school has an emphasis on sport, and you could assist in that space, this could be a good thing to mention.

2. Tell me how you plan your lessons

This common teaching interview question gets down to the bread and butter of how you approach the daily responsibilities of your job. The most important thing from the panel’s perspective is that they end up hiring someone who is an effective educator, and a lot of that comes down to planning.

Even if you’re early in your career, perhaps this is your first teaching job application, you want to show that you have a defined process on how you structure your lessons. However, you don’t want to simply describe this process to them, you need to go beyond that and explain why you do things this way. Ultimately, this is a behavioural interview question, and that means providing details on how you came to take this approach, and giving examples of how it has worked for you in the past.

Of course, if you know the school has a broad teaching philosophy that you’ll be expected to adopt, you need to show how you’ll weave this into your lesson planning.

Interviewers will want to know how you go about panning your lessons.

3. You encounter two students fighting in the yard, what do you do?

This is another behavioural interview question, and one that lends itself perfectly to the STAR response method. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result, and is a commonly adopted approach to answering behavioural questions.

So, in this case, it would look something like this:

  • Situation: Encountered students fighting.
  • Task: Need to find a way to de-escalate the situation and get to the bottom of what happened.
  • Action: What would you do to achieve those objectives?
  • Result: What outcome would you hope your action would deliver?

As well as interest in the real material of what you would do in this circumstance, the interviewers are also trying to understand how you think and approach different situations. There are no strictly right or wrong answers (though we wouldn’t advise telling them that you’d get stuck in yourself), but, again, think about what you know about the school and its values. These values are in place for a reason, to guide the behaviour of staff and students alike, so this is another opportunity to show that you’ve read and understand them.

4. How do you help struggling students?

Lesson plans are important, but what happens when a student, or several students, simply don’t understand the material you’re teaching them? Good teachers need to be able to cater to different abilities, personalities and learning styles, meaning that you’ll have to adapt to what’s in front of you.

As well as having some solid strategies of your own to draw upon, again (and we realise we sound like a broken record here), refer back to school’s values. Where possible, draw on real life examples of how you’ve done this in the past, in line with the values, to prove that this wouldn’t be a new challenge for you and that you have what it takes to help students of all abilities learn.

5. Talk to us about a current educational issue

This question takes you outside of the classroom and asks you to consider the broader issues facing educators and education institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Schools will want to know that you’re staying on top of the ever-changing learning landscape so that when an issue crops up in class, you won’t be completely blindsided. What you choose to talk about here will be heavily influenced by current issues, the institution you’re applying to and your own personal experiences, but make sure it’s something you’re confident talking about and a topic that is really relevant right now.

Examples of areas you could explore in answer to this question include the impacts of poverty on a child’s learning opportunities, how schools can make better provisions for rainbow students or meet the challenges of misinformation online.

6. What role do you see for technology in the classroom?

Chances are, classrooms look a whole lot different today compared to when you were at school, even if you’re a relatively recent graduate. From old problems like students being on social media rather than paying attention, to new challenges like the advent of ChatGPT and what that means for plagiarism in assignments, technology is something that effective teachers need a handle on.

Of course, there are also benefits to technology in education, like improvements in screen readers for visually impaired students and new ways of engaging learners. The point here is that the interviewers want to know that you’ve considered these issues, and come up with a way to meet them head on.

A great way to impress here is to provide examples of unique ways that you’ve woven technology into your lesson plans, and the positive results you’ve seen. This sort of innovation can really help you stand out from the crowd.

When a lesson isn't going well, how do you respond?

7. Tell us about a time a lesson didn’t go to plan

This is kind of similar to the ‘what is your biggest weakness?’ interview question, in that it puts you in the uncomfortable position of needing to talk about something that isn’t a strong suit for you.

However, unless the interviewer is a real piece of work, they aren’t actually trying to wrong foot you. What they really want to see is whether you’re able to acknowledge when you stuff up, and what you’ve learnt from these experiences.

For example, maybe, early in your career, your lesson planning wasn’t on point, and you raced through the material for a lesson much faster than you thought you would, meaning you didn’t have anything planned for the remaining time. Awkward. You can then describe that you learnt from this experience that you always plan more than you could get through in one lesson, so there’s never a dull moment for the students.


Al Hall
Al Hall

Al Hall is a regular contributor at Trade Me Jobs and Trade Me Property. He’s dedicated to helping people succeed in their aspirations to find their dream job and place to live.