Teacher Interview – What Questions Should You Ask the Principal?

Your interview for a teaching job can have different forms. You may interview in front of a panel, facing questions of different interviewers. Or you may interview online, one on one. Phone interviews are not uncommon either. Regardless of the form and number of people interviewing you, however, one thing is certain: school principal will have a seat, and they will typically lead the interviews. More often than not, they will also have a decisive word.

One of your goals is to make a good connection with the principal. At the end of the day, personal preferences always play a role. Principal will vouch for a candidate who’s honestly interested in their school and their work, someone they have a good connection with in the interviews. And in order to make any connection, you should have a dialogue with them. For having a dialogue, you should ask some questions.

In this articles we will look at some great questions you can ask the principal in an interview, and also at some questions you should rather avoid. Each question comes with a short hint, explaining why you should or shouldn’t go for it. Let’s start!


7 questions to ask a principal in a teacher job interview

  1. What do you expect from a great teacher at your school? Each principal has their philosophy, and the way in which they lead the school. They have some values and goals they follow. And though you may learn about these goals before your interview (and benefit from this knowledge while answering some tough teacher interview questions), you can also ask the principal what they expect from you. Let them talk. Once they share their vision with you, ensure them that you feel capable of helping them to attain it.
  2. What are the main challenges you face at your school right now? Each school faces some challenges. Some places struggle with attendance, others with discipline. And some places are just being rebuilt and modernized, and this is actually a positive challenge. Many schools struggle with the number of teachers or paraprofessionals. And though you cannot impact all these things from your position of a teacher, it is always good to show your interest in what’s going on. Of course, if you have on your mind some ideas on how to tackle this or that challenge, share it with the principal. An interesting discussion may follow, and this will certainly help you succeed in the interviews. And even if you do not offer any ideas, you will earn some points for being interested in their problems and in the challenges they face.
  3. How has the pandemic impacted the learning process at your school? This one is very actual, and will be actual for a few years down the road. Virtually every school in the world has been impacted by the pandemic. Administrators, teachers, counselors, students–they all have to adapt to the new reality, or at least to the restrictions set by their respective governing bodies. Show some empathy for the challenges they face, and use this dialogue as an opportunity to ensure the principal of your ability to deliver great teaching even in the present conditions of the pandemic.
  4. Can you share with me a bit about the expectations of other stake holders at school when it comes to XYZ? Teachers and other staff members, parents, students, local businesses, school board members, and so on. All bodies have some expectations when it comes to teaching and results the school achieves. And while you do not necessarily control the outcome for many of these bodies, you can at least show interest in their goals and wishes. At the end of the day, school principal can often feel pressure from various directions. What’s more, different stakeholders can sometimes have conflicting goals and priorities. Seeing your interest in these affairs, principal can sense a new ally in you. When it happens, you are often just a step away from a new employment contract.
  5. How do you measure success of your teachers? In 21st century, each school should have some mechanism in place to evaluate the performance of their teachers. Asking about this mechanism, you clearly indicate that you hope to be successful as a teacher, and that you want to reach the goals they set for you. Needless to say, every principal consider it a great attitude to your teaching mission.
  6. Do you offer continuous education for your teachers? Each good school supports continuous education of their teachers. What’s more, asking about it in your interview, you show the principal that you want to keep learning new things and progressing in your teaching career. That’s the attitude they are looking for. Once they present you with some options, do not hesitate to praise them for those opportunities, and ensure them that you plan to participate, trying to become the best teacher you can be.
  7. What are the next steps of the recruitment process? This one works well in any type of an interview. Asking about next steps, you send over a clear sign that you still want the job, after everything that has been said and done in the interviews. What’s more, you give the principal an opportunity to talk about next steps, on-boarding process, training of new employees, and any other processes they have in place for new hires.

* Special tip: You can also download the list of questions in a simple, one page long PDF, and look at it anytime later, while preparing for your interview with the principal:

Questions to ask the principal, PDF

3 questions you should rather avoid asking the principal in your teacher interview

  1. How is your family doing? Though extremely popular in certain parts of the world (for example in the Middle East, where it would be actually considered impolite if you did not ask), asking about family is not a good idea in the interviews in US, UK, or European Union. First of all, it isn’t considered polite. And though you should try to make a good connection with the school principal, you aren’t friends yet. Keep it professional. You will get an opportunity to talk about families once they hire you. What’s more, the divorce rate in extremely high in the “Western World”. Asking about wife/husband, children, or any other related matter, you can actually make the principal feeling uncomfortable, especially if they experience some crisis in their personal life. And making them uncomfortable is the last thing you want to achieve…
  2. Can you tell me about the biggest achievements of your school in last twelve months?  While this question can work in certain cases, you should do your research first, and make sure that the school has actually achieved anything significant in the last twelve months (three years, five years). With many schools it just isn’t the case, and the question can easily backfire. Once again, you will just make the principal uncomfortable, because they are the leader of the school, and they bear the majority of responsibility for the results and achievements. Unless you are sure the school has achieved anything great lately, I suggest you to avoid asking about their achievements.
  3. What is the salary offer? What about benefits? Mark my words: If they consider hiring you, they will start the talk about your remuneration and related things. And you should always leave it for them to start the discussion. If you ask about the salary and benefits and whatever, they can easily get an impression that money matters for you more than anything else. And that’s not an impression you want to make in your teacher interview….


Closing thoughts

Job interview should be a dialogue, and you should definitely ask some questions. On the other hand, you should let the principal to lead the meeting. Wait for your chance. They will either directly ask you whether you have any questions (typically towards the end of your interview), or an opportune moment will come for you to ask your question.

As you can see on my list, some questions are better than others. Make sure to do a good research before the start of your interview. It will help you understand more about the school, the principal, and eventually come up with a question that will make them feel good, or even one that will give them an opportunity to show off. I wish you good luck in your interview!

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Glen Hughins
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