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)”:


Dear Substitute Teacher,

I have had some great supply teachers and some that were not so great over the years. The great supplies arrived early, engaged my students, left me a note about what they were able to cover, and got called on again for work. The supplies that arrived late, read a book or surfed the web while ignoring my students, or didn’t leave me any comment on how the day went, lost my confidence, and were not asked to return. Whether you are just starting out as a supply teacher straight out of teacher’s college or whether you are a retired teacher making a little extra pocket money, there are some things that you can do to get a leg up on the competition.

Substitute Teacher.PNG

Supply teaching IS a competition; you are competing against the other teachers on the supply list to get booked. If you are looking for LTOs or contracts then you are competing against other supply teachers for interviews.

My advice? Treat every moment you are in a school as a job interview. The administration, the secretaries, the teachers and the students are forming their opinions about your capabilities as a teacher every second that you are in the building. And if you don’t make a positive impression, you won’t be called back in as a supply nor are you likely to be invited in to interview for more permanent positions.

Your day as a supply teacher boils down to three things: making a great first impression, engaging with the students, and leaving a positive lasting impression:

First Impressions

Dress well – like it’s a job interview; no jeans, no miniskirts, no revealing clothing. If you have to ask whether or not your outfit is appropriate, err on the side of caution and don’t wear it. Have a simple, professional briefcase or book bag to store any materials – avoid carrying things loose in your hands. You should look professional and put together.

Arrive at least 20 minutes early so that you can find the main office, sign in, find your classroom and the work left for you, and get a nearby teacher to unlock the classroom door for you.

Smile and say “hello” or “good morning” to people as you arrive and move about the school. The staff and students will take notice of your friendly, positive demeanour.

It’s all about the students!

You have one goal for your time in the classroom: help the students to complete as much of the assigned work left by the teacher as possible.

– take attendance and send it to the office (have the students sign a sheet of paper if no attendance list has been left for you). Note the names of those late (and # of minutes late).
– write your name on the board to help the students remember
– write a list of work to be done on the board for students to refer to
– walk around the class as students work, talk to them about what they are working on, and help them if they are having trouble to the best of your ability
– have a few activities or worksheets prepared ahead of time for various subjects in the event that the teacher does not leave any work for the students or you are unable to find the work they did leave
– follow the instructions left by the teacher as closely as possible
– collect the students’ work at the end of the period (unless the teacher tells you to assign it for homework)
– ask a nearby teacher or call the office if you are unsure of any procedures or school rules (for example, student bathroom breaks, cell phones, etc)

– read a book or newspaper, or surf the web while the students work
– let the students convince you to tell them your life story or regale them with college/university anecdotes instead of them completing their work (no joke – I have seen this happen!)
– use your cell phone to text, play games, surf the web while the students work
– change or substitute the assignment/activity left for the students, no matter how much better you think you could make it. The teacher is expecting to return and have what they left completed so that they can move on to the next lesson with the kids. (I have had substitutes leave me a note saying “the students said you didn’t teach them how to do this worksheet so I played hangman with them” – so frustrating!)

Lasting Impressions

The most important thing you can do at the end of your day as a substitute is leave a note for the teacher about how the day went. You can do this on paper and leave it with the student work to be returned to the teacher or send them an e-mail. Things to include in the note:
– what the students were able to accomplish; they don’t always finish everything and that’s OK
– names of students you had difficulties with and an explanation of what happened as well as any consequences you assigned
– “thank-you for having me in” … show your appreciation for having been booked in for the day of supply work.

You will often have a break during the day with no class (what would be the regular teacher’s prep time). You could just hang out in the staff room and read a book or catch up on e-mail, but allow me to suggest two ways to make better use of that time:
1. Ask the main office if there are any duties they need covered. They might be scrambling to cover study hall or library duty and will be immensely thankful that you’ve offered the help.
2. Volunteer in another teacher’s classroom. Most teachers welcome an extra set of eyes and hands in their room – it’s very helpful to us. You get the chance to watch an experienced teacher in the classroom which can give you some ideas of strategies or styles you want to incorporate into your own teaching.

Should the day not go well – perhaps you didn’t enjoy the other staff members, or the students were particularly badly behaved – do not badmouth the school or the teacher … to anyone or on any forum. I heard a story of a substitute teacher who posted a message on Facebook about how awful she thought the school was where she had been that day. It was posted so that only her friends could see it, but a staff member from that school had a mutual friend with the supply teacher and heard about the comment through the grape vine. That supply teacher was never asked back. And news travels, so when one school or teacher does not want to hire you back, you might find that other teachers or schools will know your reputation even if you’ve never been in their building.

The job of a substitute teacher is not easy. Teachers are always on the lookout for supplies that we can trust and have confidence in to help our students with the work we have left so that we’ll be able to pick up with the next lesson upon our return.

Do you have any DOs or DON’Ts for substitute teachers that I’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!

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