10th April 2018

Top 10 Interview questions to identify great English language teachers

By Tom Garside

It is a common misconception that people who grow up in English speaking environments are automatically qualified to teach English. If you are recruiting teachers to work at your centre, here are some key questions that will tell you more than you think about prospective teachers:

1) Why did you choose to get into teaching?

People get into TESOL for a range of reasons, both positive and negative. Someone who just wants to travel may be a good teacher, but will they really be motivated to succeed and take control of their own development in the future? Be wary of teachers who cite money or personal circumstances for their decision, as these are often not motivations that will lead to a dedicated professional attitude on the job. This said, everyone has their own reasons for training to teach, and this is relatively minor compared to other factors.

2) What was the biggest thing you took away from your training?

There are a lot of different teaching certificates out there - just because an applicant has done a TEFL course doesn’t mean that they can teach effectively. Some courses run for a matter of hours, some are spread over months, and some are purely theoretical, with no attention to how to manage the classroom environment in practice. A teacher who can comment on their initial training in depth while using correct terminology, speak with enthusiasm and talk the talk is probably much more engaged in their work than someone who gives generalised opinions about their first introduction to teaching. You want a teacher who has the vocabulary to discuss what they do in the classroom, find what works and fix what doesn’t independently. The language they use to talk about their induction course is a good marker of these important factors.

3) How many hours of observed teaching did you do on your TESOL/TEFL course?

Not all teacher training courses include observed classroom time, and the only way to learn deeply about how the classroom works is to get up and do it with someone who can give constructive feedback on performance. As a marker of quality, a course that includes at least six hours of observed teaching practice gives a good range of practical experience, feedback and real advice on quality of delivery. Beware of teachers who taught unobserved, or who have only ever taught in one-to-one settings; without guidance early on, bad habits can become persistent, and therefore harder to fix. Ask new teachers what kinds of lessons they taught, and what kind of reflection or feedback they received after teaching. This is another good marker of how ready the applicant is to step into the classroom and think about what they are doing there. 

4) Tell me about the last grammar lesson you taught.

The ability to teach grammar effectively is the mark of a good teacher. Look for applicants who focus on the students and their development rather than their own actions in class. A good teacher will focus a grammar lesson on getting the students to produce the language they are teaching rather than doing repeated exercises in writing. Look for communicative activities that get learners up and about, speaking to each other and reflecting on what they learn. These are the teachers who will engage students, and reach positive outcomes in their lessons.

5) Tell me about a lesson that didn’t go to plan - what happened and what did you do to fix it?

Any teacher knows that things do not always go to plan. The ability to reflect on and learn from negative experiences is key to a teacher who is involved in their own development. Good teaching requires flexibility and the ability to change the plan to fit the needs of the students. If the response to this question is relaxed and positive, the teacher you are interviewing is probably capable of dealing with problems as they arise, meaning you can trust them to handle the everyday challenges of teaching. Evasive or overly positive responses may not show this kind of quality in the applicant

6) What areas of your teaching do you want to improve?

Teachers that are worth their salt are involved in their own continuous development, an essential attribute of a progressive teacher who will improve what they do from course to course. If a teacher can openly identify areas that they know they need to work on, they are telling you that they will get better at what they do at your school. Listen to that development area, and make sure that you follow up on that area of weakness as a manager, and you will make a step towards improved quality from the outset.

7) What 3 qualities define a good teacher?

The answer that you want to hear when you ask this question really depends on what kind of teacher you are looking for. Anyone can talk about being approachable and passionate about the job, but how many teachers answer this question from the point of view of their students. A great teacher puts the students’ needs first, so hope not to hear lots of talk about what the teacher does themself, and more about what the students can do as a result of their good practice.

8) What makes your students laugh?

Student engagement is key to language development, and if the learners are not happy, you have very little evidence that they are motivated to be a part of the class. Look for teachers who think about how to use humour to build rapport with their students and coworkers, and you will build a more positive learning environment all round.

9) What is your golden rule in the classroom?

This is several questions in one. Are you asking about discipline or pedagogy? The answer that focuses on a proscriptive rule that the teacher uses to keep students in line (such as ‘students must put up their hand to speak) might tell you a lot about how they want their students to work. Conversely, more interactive rules (such as ‘every student must speak out at least once in a lesson’ or ‘I want my students to feel comfortable making mistakes’) show a more holistic aim to their teaching.

10) How do you involve weaker students in your lessons?

This is a key challenge for teachers working in larger classes, where quieter students often get left behind. Some attention to differentiation (doing things slightly differently according to the different confidence levels and needs of individuals in the class) shows a teacher who can focus on every learner in the room. This type of approach leads to greater performance from everyone, and more effective outcomes overall. Remember, the questions you ask and the answers you value depend ultimately on the type of delivery that you want to happen in your school, so selecting a good set of open-ended questions which have a range of responses can let teachers tell you more about how they work, what kind of classes they lead and whether they are a good fit for your centre.

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Tom Garside, EfA’s former Director of Teacher Training, has 18 years of teaching and training experience in Europe, New Zealand and China. He holds a degree in Linguistics and French, Cambridge CELTA and DELTA qualifications, a Post-Graduate Diploma in TESOL and an MATESOL. He has trained teachers in Europe, as part of the European Union Comenius teacher development project, provided initial training for the Trinity CertTESOL and provides in-service training for native and non-native-speaker teachers in a wide range of teaching situations. He is the author of the essential CertTESOL course supplement, Tesol: A Gateway Guide for Teachers of English.