Interview Questions for Math Teachers

Interviews are a bit odd and may not work all that well. But, every teacher is going to find themselves in the position of an interviewer or interviewee at some point in their career. Regardless of your role, it is worth taking the time to think about what information you want to learn or communicate during this process.

Before we get to the questions, it is important to think about restrictions. My experience has been that interviews are short, really short. Often, they are scheduled for just 30 minutes, but by the time everyone arrives, finishes the small talk, and actually get to interviewing, there are only 15 to 20 minutes. So, let's limit ourselves to 5 questions. And, let's order the questions with the most crucial ones first. That way if time runs low, you have collected the most important information.[2]It is also important to note that, as the interviewer, there are certain questions you are not allowed to ask. Some of them are straight forward: don't ask how much money a candidate has. Others are less intuitive. Even if it is just polite small talk, you cannot ask a candidate if they have children. The assumption is that any question you ask will be used to determine whether an applicant is hired, so you cannot ask about protected traits, beliefs, et cetera.

Let's get to the questions:

If I visited your classroom for a few minutes every day of the school year, what would I notice? 

Most teaching interviews involve a sample lesson, but this only gives a small window into a teacher's classroom. I want to know the routines and practices that teachers use and build on throughout the year. Do you use number talks once a week? Do you build students' understanding of proof through structured discussions and writing? This questions gets at what a teacher believes is most important for teaching mathematics, but, by asking what you will notice in the classroom, you force the applicant to describe actions and practices not just beliefs.

What is the ideal curriculum for your classroom? How would you use it? And, when you need activities outside of its scope, what resources would you draw from?

Curricula are very powerful in transforming teachers' actions and lessons. I want to know what type of curriculum an applicant prefers because that suggest a great deal about their beliefs. Most, if not all, teachers draw from resources outside of their curriculum. So, I also want to hear that a teacher knows where to find strong tasks.

How do we help students develop a positive mindset about mathematics, particularly problem solving?

Regardless of the course or grade level, I want every math teacher working to strengthen our students' mindsets about mathematics. This does not happen by magic. It takes thought and reflection. I want to hear a candidate connect mindset to different aspects of their teaching, especially feedback.

How do you assess students? What types of feedback do you provide?

Feedback and assessment are incredibly powerful aspects of teachers' practices that impact student learning and confidence. I want any potential candidate to have a well-articulated approach to assessing and providing feedback to students. I also want to hear examples of formative assessment and how those assessments are used to guide future lessons and work.

[Insert Large Scale Content Specific Question Here]?

The details of this question depend on the position the teacher is applying for, but it should give the teacher the opportunity to demonstrate their pedagogical content knowledge (see below) for a big conceptual idea that students in their courses will be wrestling with. I want to see that this candidate knows more than just how to "do the math" covered in a course. I want to hear that they know how to help students make sense of big ideas they will be teaching.

From Ball et al. - (2008) - "Content Knowledge for Teaching : What Makes It Special?"

You might, for example, ask a fifth or sixth grade teacher the following: "5th and 6th grade students spend a significant amount of time studying operations involving fractions and decimals. Still, many find story problems that require these ideas challenging. How do help students become better solvers of story problems involving operations with fractions and decimals?"

Final Thoughts

Those are my go-to interview questions. But, like many, I adjust the questions based on how a candidate responds. When I am the one being interviewed, I am thinking about these questions too. I want to be sure to communicate my beliefs about assessment, curriculum, mindset and feedback even if I am not asked directly.

What questions do you like to ask or be asked? I asked this question on twitter and was reminded of some wonderful questions including: