Teacher Interview: How do you motivate students?

Speaking honestly, motivation from outside never really works in a long run. You can tell your students (or employees) whatever you want. Rewards, punishments, promises, illusions… Unless they want to do the work, unless they see the connection of their personal goals with their education, they just won’t give their best. And it doesn’t matter if they love or hate you as a teacher. So what can you actually do from your position? And why do the interviewers ask you this question? We will try to find the answers…

First of all, students’ motivation is one of the biggest challenges we face in education. With so many distractions in place, and all the challenges we face as humanity (climate change being the biggest one), many students simply struggle to see the reason why they should try hard for a better future. Some of them actually believe there isn’t any bright future for their generation. It isn’t easy to motivate these people, and the principal wants to hear what’s your take on the issue.

Secondly, even though motivation from outside doesn’t work, as a teacher you can actually say something or do something to ignite the motivation from within, to help the students see why it makes sense to pay attention and try hard to achieve good results. And you can also make the lesson fun (or boring), which has a profound impact on the motivation of the children.

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. I tried to include a variety of answers on my list, and hopefully at least one of them will resonate with you. Or you may combine two of them to a perfect one. Anyway, once done with the answers, do not forget to check also the last section of this article, for additional hints on how to impress the hiring committee with your words.


7 sample answers to “How do you motivate students?” interview question

  1. My way of motivating students is simply making the lessons fun and engaging. I try to include some interactive content, such as educational games, and it also important to mix up various teaching methods, so there is a variety and an element of surprise. In my opinion, especially at this age group, children still love to play, and most of them hate “serious work”. That’s why it is pivotal to make them feel as if they were playing, while in fact they are learning an important subject.
  2. In my opinion, the most important thing is to help them see the reason why they should try hard. One thing that really helps, in my experience, is connecting the lessons with the real world. Children and young people are naturally curious. Once they see that what we do here isn’t just a theory, once they understand the application in their life and how having the knowledge can help them down the road, they will become motivated. Of course, we will never motivate everyone. Some students will struggle, or they will even act disruptively, regardless of how hard we try, and what we show them. It took me some time to accept it as a teacher, but we do not have another option.
  3. Few things worked in my last place of work. Public school in a bad neighborhood, changing four principals in five years, you can imagine teachers did not have it easy in the classes. I tried what I could–different teaching methods, rewards and punishments, and so on. And though I succeeded with some students, and they were motivated to try harder, others simply spoiled the morale in the classroom. Eventually I decided to leave them and look for a job elsewhere, and that’s basically the reason why I am here.
  4. This is my first job application, and I do not have a lot of experience from classroom yet. My goal is to approach each lesson seriously, preparing as well as I can, and trying to include the students in the lesson. Give them a word, let them express themselves, make them feel important. I believe such things can help with motivation. As I said though, I am just starting my teaching career and it will take some time until I understand what works well with different students. I can assure you though that I am ready to try my best in every lesson.
  5. Positive encouragement can do wonders, in my experience. Many teachers focus on the negatives, pointing out the mistakes, scolding the students for this or that. But that isn’t my approach. I prefer praising people, even when they achieve just a little progress. Staying positive and encouraging others, I typically manage to create a positive atmosphere in my classroom. Everything is easier in such an atmosphere. Of course, this won’t work for everyone. But in my opinion, you will always have good and bad students. Trying to make from everyone an A-grader would be a lunacy…
  6. I always ask them the following questions: What is your goal in life? Why did you decide to attend these lessons? Why did you choose this school and another one. Some do not have any answers. In such a case, I help them to find their answers with additional questions. Anyway, once we both know why they are studying, and what they expect from life, I find it much easier to motivate them, and it is also easier for me to structure the lessons in a right way.
  7. As with everything else in education, I am a proponent of an individual approach. Each student is different. You can motivate some with simple encouragement, or with a simple “threat”, such as that you’d call their parents if they’d not do their homework. Some students will listen to anything and anyone, but for some you really have to make the lesson engaging, using teaching methods such as flipped classroom or learning by playing, to make them motivated in the subject. And some students won’t get motivated at all, regardless of what you do. So it really depends. As a good teacher, however, you should try your best to understand your students, and eventually apply the most fitting method of motivating them.


Ensure them that you won’t get discouraged

Experienced teachers will definitely agree that some students will simply always lack motivation. And it isn’t necessarily a mistake of the teacher. For one reason or another (and there are many such reasons in 21st century), they just do not care at all about school, and each attempt to motivate them will end up in vain.

Ensure the interviewers that you count with some disappointments that belong to teaching. You know that you cannot convince or motivate everyone. You will try your best, and certainly many students will try hard. But some won’t, and that’s okay with you, because at the end of the day you are a teacher, and not a magician.

Your attitude matters more than your methods

As you can read in the sample answers, there are many ways of motivating students (or at least trying to do so). And each of them can work, in certain circumstances, and with certain students.  School principal and other people in the interviewing panel are well-aware of this fact.

What matters the most for them is not the method you narrate, but your attitude. As long as they see that students’ motivation matters to you, and you will try your best to make your students interested in the lessons, they will be satisfied with your answer…

Ready to deal with this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
Latest posts by Matthew Chulaw (see all)