Teacher Interview Questions: How do you keep students engaged and motivated?

You can have the best lesson plans in the world, and a superb attitude to your teaching mission. Yet if the students lack motivation, if they aren’t engaged in the lessons, you will hardly achieve any real progress with them.

Principals and other leading figures at school have experienced this phenomenon first hand–during their own teaching practice. And since they care about the results of the students, and the reputation of their school (which depends on the results), you can bet that they will ask you at least one question about your ability to motivate your students.

And while there isn’t a one-fit-all approach here, and what works in one classroom may fail completely in another one, they at least want to hear that you have some ideas, and give the engagement and motivation high priority while teaching.

Let’s have a look at seven sample answers to the question. I tried to include examples for both inexperienced and veteran teachers, as well as some unconventional answers. Hopefully at least one of them will resonate with you. Do not forget to read also my notes below the list of answers, for some additional hints on how to ace your interview, and common mistakes people make while answering this particular question.


7 sample answers to “How do you keep students engaged and motivated?” interview question

  1. First of all, I try to understand my students. Who they are, what they want to achieve in life, what interests them. Communication and asking questions, as well as collecting feedback in the classes, is absolutely pivotal. Once I understand them better, I can adjust my classroom management and teaching methods to make sure that they are engaged in the lessons, and pay attention. Of course, this isn’t easy, and it is almost impossible to make every single student motivated and engaged in what’s going in the classroom. But we should try our best to succeed at least with the majority of them.
  2. In my opinion, everything starts with my attitude. Enthusiasm is like a flu. If they see that I prepared really hard for the lesson, get some extra materials for them, and am there not merely to give them a lecture, but to really teach them something, the engagement on their side will improve automatically. At least this is my experience. On the contrary, if students feel that you are in the classroom just to get through the lessons and go home, it will be much harder to ignite any engagement on their side.
  3. Using modern technology is the key nowadays. It would be wonderful to continue working with pen and paper and the blackboard, but we have to realize that with a short attention span and other problems young people face nowadays, this isn’t going to take us anywhere. On the contrary, we should use interactive presentations, videos, guest from real life, and alternative teaching methods, to make sure that students find the educational process interesting enough. Of course, we also have to stick to the lesson plans and it is impossible to, for example, show the children a documentary in each lesson. But we should include such things in our classes anytime the schedule allows it.
  4. This is my first job application, so I cannot really speak from experience. I just know that I want to try my best in each lesson, interact with the students, and try my best to make them engaged. I hope to learn how to do that from more experienced teachers, but also with practice. My eventual goal is to become the best teacher I can be–and make the students engaged, but I realize it will take some time until I learn this skill.
  5. Variety is the answer. If each and every lesson is the same, students’ engagement will fade, regardless of whether they find the discussed topic interesting or not. Hence it is important to mix it up, to apply different teaching methods, and, most importantly, to make the students involved in the process. In an ideal case scenario, they should talk 80% of time. We should create opportunities for them to express themselves, to be part of the lesson. Having said that, I also understand that some students experience mental & behavioral issues, and it is close to impossible to motivate them. We should not let that to discourage us, however. Hopefully with the help of assistants and paraprofessionals, they can still achieve some progress in their education.
  6. In my experience, the most important thing is to show them why it matters. They should see the application of the lessons in practical life–be it for their further studies, or for the job they will have one day. Unless we manage to convince them that what we do here isn’t a pure theory, it will be hard to make them engaged, at least in a long run. Other thing is my personal engagement. If students see that I am engaged in the lesson–that it means a lot to me to teach them something useful, at least some of them will follow with their own engagement. At the end of the day, law of action and reaction cannot be broken.
  7. Just like with everything else in teaching, I prefer individual approach. What works with one student may not work with another one. And as a special education teacher, I really have to take into account individual predispositions, limitations, and diagnoses of each student. In some cases, it is enough to be next to them–so they see we care, to make them engaged. In other instances we have to pick a specific teaching method, or even opt for punishment if they do not oblige and refuse to do the work. Individual approach can make all the difference here.


Plain lecturing won’t take you far in terms of engagement

Any answer you decide to go with, make sure to put emphasis on engagement. Ensure the principal and other people in the interviewing panel that you want to involve the students in the lessons.

You will ask questions, give them a reason to speak, or even try teaching methods such as flipped classroom. That’s the key. Unless they feel being a part of what’s going on, unless the barrier between the speaker and the audience is broken for good, you won’t achieve the desired level of engagement in your classes.

What’s more, you can talk about certain mechanisms for measuring engagement, such as formative assessments, or social and cognitive presence. If the subject is new to you, research for more information on it online.

Bore in an interview will likely be a bore in a classroom

One thing many job seekers do not realize is that what you say in an interview must correspond with what the people in the hiring committee observe while interacting with you. If they are bored to dead and yawning hard after listening to your dull monologue for fifteen minutes, they will find it hard to believe that you can actually make the students engaged in any lesson.

And that’s why it is important to make also your interviewers engaged. Ask them question. Praise them for something they achieved at their office, and then ask them to explain how they achieved it. Give them a chance to show off. Add some dynamics to your talk–numbers, stories, anything that gives your words some spark. Interviewers need to feel engaged in an interview with you first. Just then will they believe that you can achieve similar levels of engagement with your students…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky questions you may face in your interview for a teaching job:

Matthew Chulaw
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