Teacher Interviews

It’s that time of year again: student teachers are graduating and looking for jobs, and supply teachers & LTOs are looking to find work for September.

In much the same way as students should never be surprised by the material/questions on our tests, I firmly believe that a school board’s interview process, question topics, and look-fors should not be a secret or come as a surprise to any teacher.

A few acronyms to get out of the way:

  • OT: Occasional Teacher (day to day supply teacher)
  • LTO: Long Term Occasional (a teacher hired for a duration of minimum 10 days and maximum of one semester).
  • Contract Teacher (a permanent position; don’t ask me why they coined this as “contract” which would mean short-term work in any other industry)

DISCLAIMER: While I am an OCDSB secondary teacher, I am not in charge of any part of the hiring process. Everything written in this post reflects my understanding of the process at the time of posting and is not an official account of the OCDSB’s hiring process. Please contact the OCDSB directly if you have any questions.

“The Lists”:

To get on “the lists”: The hiring process in Ontario was complicated significantly by the introduction of regulation 274 a couple of years ago. First, a teacher new to our board will apply for an interview in order to be added to the OT list. The interview will occur at a central location with one OCDSB principal and one OCDSB vice-principal. Once on that list for at least 10 months and having taught at least 20 days, a teacher can apply for an interview in order to be added to the LTO list. These lists only “open up” a couple of times per year.

To get a specific LTO posting: At peak times of hiring (Aug-Sept & Jan-Feb) the school board looks at the LTO list which is organized according to seniority and makes decisions centrally about which LTO-eligible teacher will be given which position, according to seniority; no interviews. At less busy times of the year you may be granted an interview at the school for which the LTO was posted (see the next paragraph for that process), or the board might still centrally assign a teacher to the position.

To get a specific contract position: As far as I understand, teachers are not assigned centrally to these positions; they are always interviewed first. However, the interviews will be granted to the top 5 senior teachers qualified for that position off the list. I see to remember hearing that you have to have at least 4 months in an LTO position in order to qualify for a contract position.

So if you’re lucky enough to be granted one of these elusive interviews, what follows is a list of items I suggest you bring with you as well as topics / questions that may be part of your interview.

Suggested items to bring to your interview:

  • Your portfolio (tagged with specific pieces you plan to show; lesson plans, unit plans, student work, student feedback, etc.). Don’t wait for the interviewers to ask to see your portfolio; many of them won’t. Offer pieces to view as you answer questions (e.g. if you’re explaining how you would plan a unit, pass around your portfolio open to a sample unit plan you’ve created). Your portfolio (w/ your philosophy of teaching, certificates, etc) can also be useful to yourself as you prepare your answers to the questions; it reminds you of your accomplishments that are worth mentioning.
  • Copies of your résumé & cover letter. Even though you sent them in electronically when you applied to the post, the admin team may not have a printed copy in front of them during the interview. In fact they might not have even seen your résumé or cover letter before interviewing you. Make sure to include links to your classroom website, Twitter feed, and/or blog on your résumé.
  • A pen and paper to prepare your answers.

What to Wear:

Dress professionally.

For men: Nice slacks (dress pants, khakis, etc), button up collared shirt and tie. Facial hair should be nicely groomed.

For women: Dress pants or a nice knee-length skirt with a nice top or sweater. Nothing too short or low cut; nothing skin tight (NO leggings unless covered by a skirt or dress); no crazy jewellery; simple shoes; subtle makeup; hair nicely groomed.

Arrive Early:

You will be given 15 – 30 minutes before your stated interview time to prepare your answers to the questions. There are usually 5 to 7 questions listed on a sheet of paper. You will be given a private space where you can compose some notes to help you answer those questions. That question sheet and your notes will be collected from you at the end of the interview; you will not be permitted to leave with them.

The Interview:

You will most likely be interviewed by the principal and one or two vice-principals. It will last approximately 30 minutes (which gives you about 5 minutes per answer). The interviewers will be making notes about your answers as you talk, so they may not look at you very often; don’t be insulted. Don’t talk too fast or they won’t be able to write everything down.

Sample Interview Questions / Topics:

  •  “Tell us about yourself”
    Almost every interview I have had started with this one. “Well I was born in Ottawa in 19__ …” is probably not the answer they’re looking for. Use this opportunity to give a snapshot of your teaching background and positions. It might also be a good spot to explain where you see yourself going; how does the current position applied for fit into your long-range plan?
  • Classroom management / Behaviour / Discipline
    The question might be a generic “Tell us about your behaviour management philosophy” or it might be more situational such as “Tell us about a time when you had a difficult student in terms of behaviour and how you responded.” or “A student in your class exhibits behaviour X. How do you handle it?”.
  • “Explain to us how you would teach X”
    It might be a whole unit (overall expectation) or one specific lesson (specific expectation). Many colleagues have suggested having a sample unit plan and one lesson plan that you have created for the course for which you’re interviewing. This could be in your portfolio. At the very least, you should have looked at the curriculum documents for the course before the interview so that you have a working knowledge of the expectations.
  • Assessment & Evaluation (A&E)
    This is almost guaranteed to be one of the questions right now as September 2014 will see the implementation of two new A&E documents in the OCDSB: the Evidence Record and the Assessment Plan. Both are based on the framework of Standards Based Grading. You should be familiar with these documents and the philosophies behind them. If you’re not familiar with them, I would suggest that you find a teacher that is and ask them to give you the run-down.
  • Collegiality / Teamwork
    “Explain a time when you have worked as part of a team to run or create X”     or
    “You are creating an exam for a common course with one of your colleagues but you’re having trouble agreeing on what to include. What do you do?”
  • IEP / Special Education
    “Describe how you ensure you meet the needs & accommodations for students with IEPs in your classroom”    or
    “A parent emails you, concerned that his child’s accommodations as per the IEP are not being met. What do you do?”
  • Differentiation
    For gifted AND remedial.

    “Tell us about a lesson in which you differentiated your instruction”     or
    “You have a student who has significant gaps in her learning. What do you do?”    or
    “You have a student who consistently finishes his work well ahead of his classmates. What do you do?”
  • SIPSA goals
    Speaking of SIPSA, you should try to find what the current SIPSA is for that school as those goals may find their way into interview questions. Contact a teacher teaching at that school, or the admin team to ask about their SIPSA ahead of time.
  • Technology
    “Explain to us how you incorporate technology into your classroom”. Have specific examples to share and describe the impact it had on student understanding of the learning goal.
  • Communication
    There may be some questions relating to communication with colleagues, parents, and/or students.
  • Extra-curricular Involvement
    “How will you get involved at our school?”
  • Why you?
    “What sets you apart from other candidates?”
    “Why should we hire you over the other qualified candidates?”
  • ELL: English Language Learner
    “Explain how you support ELL students in your classroom”.
  • “Describe a time when X happened, what you did, and the result”
    X could be a lesson didn’t go as planned, a student misbehaved, you had a conflict with a colleague, a parent was unhappy, etc.
  • “What would you do if …” situational questions
    There is an endless number of situational questions that could be asked such as “What would you do if 60% of your students failed the most recent test?”. Come up with questions you think would make good situational questions and practice your answers to them.
  • At-risk learners:
    The best I can do for you on this one is lead you to have a look at OCDSB documentation mentioning at-risk learners because I don’t see anything on their site dedicated to this topic specifically. 
    Google search for OCDSB + at-risk learner
  • Professional Development/Learning:
    “Tell us about the last book you read to further your own learning about teaching & education” or “tell us how you keep up to date with current teaching practices”. These days, a lot of my own learning is online, so personally, I might redirect the book question to be more about what I’ve been reading online on the many teacher blogs & Twitter accounts that I follow.

I’m sure there are many interview topics or questions that teachers have encountered that I forgot here. Leave a comment below or send them to me via Twitter and I’ll add them to the list for the benefit of everyone.


You are entitled to request a debrief from your interviewers regardless of whether or not you were successful in the interview process. You should always take advantage of this opportunity to hear about your strengths & weaknesses from the interviewer(s). This process provides you with the information you need in order to improve your interview skills for the next round. And if you do request a debriefing make sure you show up to it; that principal has taken time to meet with you & it will not look good if you do not show up!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

Update: A follow-up blog post to this one:
A Principal’s Perspective on Teacher Interviews

Update: This video on how to use visual note-taking to prepare for an interview has some great tips!

Useful Tip! Videotape yourself answering practice questions; get a friend or family member to interview you using some of the questions above. Then watch the video to get an idea of what your answers sound like, things you did well, and what you might be able to improve.


Bonus: “5 Things You Think Principals Want to Hear (And What They Really Want to Hear)”:


11 thoughts on “Teacher Interviews

  1. Pingback: Wheeler's thoughts on teaching

  2. Thanks for the detailed information. I was wondering when the OT list “opens up” what are the criterion for who actually gets invited for an interview? Is it first come first serve or skill based selection? Thanks!

    • Hi Ryan, I’m really not sure other than I know it’s not first come first served. I imagine it’s based on our resume but who decides which teachers get interviews is something I don’t know. I’d recommend contacting the HR of whichever board you are interested in & ask them that question. I’d love to hear the answer once you’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth.

      • Tried that! If you go to the website (no information there) you can get the contact for HR admissions for OT, Sharon Parr. If you dial the extension listed for Sharon you get a generic automated infoline recording telling you nothing much and directing you back to the website, then it disconnects.

        I will keep on trying, but they don’t make it easy. If someone doesn’t get an interview how do they know what to change for next year? It seems crazy to me…

      • Agreed. What about tweeting the board your question? Or asking them for working contact info to get a real live person.

  3. Pingback: My Blog in 2016 | Wheeler's thoughts on teaching

  4. Why are the questions for OT assuming that new teachers would have experiences and examples for all their questions/situations? Shouldn’t the interview be a bit more general rather than specific?

    • Hey Sarah, a lot of the questions I included in this post are questions I’ve seen for many positions, not only those for new teachers. Often for a given position, you can have anyone from a brand new teacher, to a seasoned veteran teacher applying to the same job posting which then makes sense that the questions are phrased that way. Are you saying you’ve noticed that in interviews to get on the OT list, the questions are such that you’re expected to have experiences and examples? I agree that makes it tough for a new teacher. When I think back to interviewing as a brand new teacher myself, I drew on my time as a student teacher during practicum in the class for experiences and examples to back up my responses. If I didn’t have a specific example I could share, I would respond with how I would plan to handle the scenario when it were to arise. How have you been handling these types of questions thus far?

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