One of the problems we face nowadays, and not only in education, is an upward trend of special needs in young children. ADHD, Down Syndrome, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, are just some issues to name. They are more prevalent than ever. Why does it happen, and will it ever be so? That’s a million dollar question…
It would be great if we managed to address the core of the problem, and less children would suffer from all sorts of disabilities and disorders. Until it happens, however, and if it ever does, all we can do is turn our focus to quality special education, making sure that each child has a chance to study, and to find their place in our society.
Before moving to the interview questions, let me at least briefly thank you for choosing this career. You have an important mission, and you will face many challenges. But I am sure you didn’t choose the career for an excellent salary, but because you see a meaningful purpose in it, and it will help you overcome the challenges. Let’s have a look at 20 questions you may face while interviewing for the job of a special education teacher.
Why do you want to work as a Special Education Teacher?
Every interview starts with simple questions. Interviewers will either ask you to introduce yourself, walk them through your resume, or they will inquire about your career choice. They do so to get a quick understanding of who you are, why you want to teach children with special needs, and how good your communication skills are.
You can talk about a variety of reasons. The meaningful purpose you see in this job, especially considering how many children have special educational needs nowadays. Maybe someone from your family suffers from intellectual or learning disability, and this in particular motivated you to pursue career in special education. Or you simply feel that with your strengths and personality, you are a fantastic match for the job. One way or another, try to speak with enthusiasm. They should not end up with an impression that you apply for the job just because you earned your degree in the field, and do not known what else you’d do with it now.
Please tell us more about your experience with children with special needs
First thing to remember is staying positive, and focusing on the good things. Another one is talking about the activity—the experience itself—how you taught the children, played with them, navigated them through a lesson or through their early life. You should not talk about the results you achieved with them, at least not at this point.
The question is also your chance to demonstrate your knowledge of special needs—physical, developmental, emotional, while describing various people you had a chance to work with during your teaching practice, internship, studies, or even in your personal life.
On the other hand, your answer should not take ten minutes, or more. You should simply name the cases, give one or two examples, or tell a single story (of how you worked with a child with special needs, and what it meant for you). Then you can ask the committee if they want you to elaborate on your experience, or have any particular questions related to it. It is good to show some humility, admitting that you still have a lot to learn about these children, and how to work with them effectively in the classroom environment.
In your opinion, what characterizes a great special ed teacher?
This may come as a surprise to you, but I don’t see much difference between a great general ed. teacher, and a great special ed. teacher. Good teachers are passionate about their job; they do it with love, and care about the needs of the students, and about the goals of the educational institution.
Empathy and emotional intelligence belong to their strengths. They are good listeners and cooperate effectively with other staff members (this applies particularly to special education, think paraprofessionals, counselors, etc). Excellent communication skills, planning and conflict solving abilities are also essential. Even if you do not meet these characteristics, it’s still good to mention them. We all strive to improve in life (at least we should). Therefore it’s good to show that you understand what makes a good teacher, and that you try to become one, regardless of where you stand with your skills and experience at the moment.
What goals would you set for yourself in this job?
This question sounds simple. Only sounds. People in the interviewing committee are well aware of the statistics. They know that most children with medium and severe disabilities won’t succeed in their transition to the employment market. They will end up dependent either on their families, or the social system (which works with various levels of efficiency in various countries around the world).
Therefore you should avoid talking about unrealistic goals, such as ensuring that each child with special needs will finish the school, or graduate, or succeed in their life. Some will, and some will not—that’s simply how it goes, and changing it is outside of our control.
Focus rather on your daily job—saying that your goal is to understand needs of each student, and try your best with them in each class (and after school activity, if applicable). That’s the most you can do for them from your position. Aspiring for more will only cause you disappointment in your professional career.
Is there any kind of student (disability) you would find it difficult to work with?
Some special needs students are extremely difficult to work with. We all know it and it is not a secret. You should not idealize this job, or take it lightly. It is good to show honesty and say that you struggle to work with some students. After all, it would be difficult for everyone, including the most experienced teachers.
However, the key is to elaborate on your answer, saying that although it is difficult, you still love the job, and try to do it well—in any given circumstances. This way you kill two birds with one stone. You present yourself as a trustworthy and honest person, and at the same time you show that you stick to the right principles, even in the most trying circumstances of special education teacher work.
What is your philosophy when it comes to inclusion, integration, and segregation? Please share your opinion with us.
People have different opinions when it comes to education. Some principals prefer inclusion, some integration, and some like to combine it and experiment. Segregation is rare in most developed countries, but you’ll still find schools designed only for people with special needs–and in some cases they make a perfect sense.
In fact, you should have your own philosophy and should choose your place of work accordingly. It makes no sense to apply for a job at an education facility that supports inclusion, if you do not like to teach in such a setting, or find it contra-productive.
Speaking about good interview answer, the research you did (or hopefully will do) should help you. Try to understand what models they prefer, how they teach. Once you know it, all you have to do is to stick to the same principles in your answer. And if you are not sure what they do (or perhaps they are still trying to figure out the best way), share your own philosophy with them, and explain why you prefer inclusion or integration (or segregation, if applicable). As long as you share your thoughts with them, an interesting discussion may follow (if they disagree). Such a discussion can only help you succeed in this interview.
What would you do if a student complained about an assignment you’d given?
Sooner or later, interviewers will start to inquire about specific classroom situations, trying to assess your readiness for the job, and your way of thinking. They can either ask you what you would do (situational questions), or what you did in your teaching practice before (behavioral questions). But it doesn’t matter if they ask you about past, or about the future; the intentions are always the same – to assess your readiness and attitude to various tricky situations that can, and most likely will happen as you teach children with special needs.
Conflict of two students, angry pupil, low discipline, complaining about assignment, chicane of students with special needs, are just some examples of tricky situations. On the top of that, it is important to ensure the hiring committee that you expect bad things to happen.
They prefer to hire candidates that are positive about teaching, but have a realistic view of the job. Don’t hesitate to say that you would seek help of school counselor, or any other specialist, if you struggled to solve the problem. People in hiring committees know that building a great school is a team effort, and they like to hire candidates who share the same opinion…
In your opinion, what is the impact of integration on general ed. students? How would you deal with it?
When they ask this question in an interview the chances are high that they integrate most students with special needs. Therefore you should focus on the positive impact. Explain how integration helps children with special needs to prepare for real life environment—where there is no segregation, and they will have to compete for jobs and love and anything else with everyone else out there in the streets.
You should also mention the good impact it has on general ed. students (which was the original question)—fostering right values, respect, and understanding for people who weren’t lucky in life.
You can also mention some challenges, such as mockery, and the impact the integration can have on the progress of general ed. students—since the pace of a lesson will be typically slower, and there will be more distractions during each lesson. However, this can easily be tackled with the help of assistants and paraprofessionals, who work with the children with special needs, to keep up to the pace of the lesson designed for general ed. students. Luckily enough at least in the “Western world” all schools employ such helpers.
A parent calls you because they are worried about their child’s low grades. What will you do?
Good teachers are not afraid to talk to the parents; they accept the responsibility, and they take action—regardless of whether we speak about special or general ed. children. Members of the hiring committee expect you to outline clear steps you would take during, and after the phone call with a worried parent.
You should say that you would encourage them, and ensure them that the entire team of teachers and administrators do their best to help their child to reach their full potential—within their possibilities.
On the other hand, you should also mention that not all expectations of the parents can be met, and each pupil cannot be the best student in a class, especially if limited by certain physical or behavioral condition. Show the interviewers that you are not afraid of this talk, and know what to say to the parents in worry.
What do you consider to be the toughest aspect of the job of a special ed teacher?
Perfect jobs do not exist. Every position has a bright side, and a dark one. Teachers who idealize their career, or believe that they will turn every student with special needs to a graduate, have a tendency to burn out quickly. No wonder that schools prefer to hire teachers who see their jobs realistically.
I suggest you to talk about tough aspects of teaching and admit that sometimes it is difficult to handle them. This can be emotional attachment to a particular student, dealing with a bad class where students do not respect the rules of discipline—regardless of what you do, failing to make progress with certain student with special needs—and seeing them dropping out, maintaining high quality teaching even when you do not feel good, etc.
All of that belongs to teaching, and you should ensure the hiring committee that you are ready to deal with it. The mission of a teacher and good feeling from a well-done job is simply stronger, and more important to you. You will overcome the struggles, the meaningful purpose of your job will help you push through…
What do you expect from the administrators and other staff members working for the school (or the district)?
You should keep your answer professional, and avoid offending any person in the hiring committee.
I suggest you to say that you focus mostly on doing your job well. After all, it’s not your duty to watch their work. Other people are responsible for assessing the work of assistant principals and other members of the team at school.
On the other hand, special education is not a field for individualists. It requires team effort. You should be willing to cooperate with other people at school and in district, such as psychologists, counselors, project coordinators and paraprofessionals, while trying to achieve a mutual goal—the best possible results of each student with special needs—helping them to get ready for adulthood, at least within the scope of their capabilities.
Do you have any questions?
Asking questions shows that you care about the opportunity, want to know more, and are motivated to get the job after everything that happened in the interviews. However, you should not ask about something that was clearly explained on the job description, or already said in an interview.
Good things to inquire about are the working environment, challenges the school faces, next steps of recruitment process, goals of the school, teaching methods applied in special education, etc. But you do not have to force a question, just to make sure you ask something. If the interview went well, if you discussed everything important, you can just thank them for their time and a great interview…
Other questions you may face while trying to get a job of a special ed teacher
- If you teach a lesson and your students don’t seem to be “getting it,” what do you do?
- Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
- What kind of relationship do you want to foster with your students?
- How would you assess the progress of each individual student? Which assessment tools do you use in your work?
- How do you keep students engaged and motivated?
- A refugee comes to your class in the middle of the year, a new student. You can see that they have special needs, but they are not diagnosed. What would you do?
- How do you determine each individual child’s potential?
- Why do you want to teach at this school, and not somewhere else?
Interview for a job of a special education teacher belongs to interviews with an average difficulty. As you can see on my selection, you may face some tricky situational and behavioral questions, and will have to demonstrate the right attitude in your answers.
On the other hand, the demand is especially high for special ed teachers nowadays, with more children than ever suffering from learning or intellectual disabilities, as well as from behavioral disorders. This makes your situation easier, because you typically won’t compete with many other candidates for the job. In any case, I hope you will succeed, and wish you best of luck in your interview!
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