Special Education Careers

Special Education Teacher Interview Questions and Preparation

This guide was created for administrators looking to hire a new special education teacher. After reading, you’ll understand how to create a job description, and which questions you should ask in an interview. By asking soft skill, hard skill, and behavioral interview questions, you’ll gain helpful insights into the best candidates for your school. 

Interview Preparation and Questions

When you need to hire a new teacher, start by posting a job description. Then you can interview candidates using the three question types covered in the guide. 

  • Before the Interview
  • Soft Skill Questions
  • Hard Skill Questions
  • Behavioral Questions

Before the Interview

Before you conduct the interview, you can attract a pool of candidates through job sites, teacher conferences, or word of mouth. 

Always include a job description for your opening. Include things like grades taught, subjects covered, and teacher expectations in the description. 

You should also include a job qualifications list. A typical list should look something like:

  • Bachelor’s degree required, preferably in education
  • Strong communication and interpersonal skills required
  • At least two years of special education teaching experience preferred
  • Experience teaching students with a variety of disabilities

Including a list will weed out unqualified candidates and show teachers exactly what you’re looking for. 

Once you have your pool of qualified candidates, it’s time to get ready for the interview process. 

Soft Skill Questions

Soft skills are a mix of a teacher’s personality, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills in the classroom. While they don’t always apply to special education specifically, they’re important factors to account for. The following questions are good places to start for uncovering a teacher’s soft skills. 

“Why are you interested in special education?”

The purpose of this question is to see how passionate a teacher really is about helping  students. Someone who answers this by saying, “I just thought it’d be fun to try” probably isn’t the best candidate.

Look for candidates who are driven to make a difference, empathetic, and have a personal connection to the field. A better answer would be something like, “I’m a teacher, and my niece has autism. I love the idea of teaching kids with disabilities, and I’m obsessed with helping them reach their full potential.”

Look for candidates who are empathetic and focused on the students. These answers are up for interpretation, but make sure you identify candidates exuding excitement and passion. 

“What’s the biggest challenge in working with students with disabilities?”

Being a special education teacher can be stressful and frustrating. Occasionally, a teacher may struggle with a specific student, encounter a rowdy classroom, or become overwhelmed with daily demands. 

Therefore, it’s important to find a teacher who knows what they’re getting into. Look for teachers that maintain a positive attitude and keep the mood light. 

For example, a bad answer to this question is, “Sometimes kids can get bratty, and it really gets under my skin. I wish they would just calm down and do their work.” 

A better answer is, “Students can act up sometimes, but I always take a deep breath and respectfully ask them to adjust their attitude. I love these kids, and I want to create the best learning environment possible.”

A teacher that’s not afraid of criticism and who maintains a playful attitude is desirable. If your candidate doesn’t expect many challenges, they’re probably not the right fit for your school. 

“How do you stay organized?”

Unlike general education teachers, special education teachers handle a classroom of students with several different individualized education programs (IEPs). Therefore, teachers must create strategies, plans, and programs for each student. This can lead to chaos if the teacher is unorganized. 

Ask this question to see how organized your candidate is. A poor answer would be something like, “I don’t do much organizing because I don’t feel the need to. I just figure it out as I go.”

A much better answer is, “I keep a hard copy of each student’s IEP document in my desk drawer and a digital copy on my laptop. I have separate folders for grade level, subject, and student name. I have a planned syllabus created for the entire semester, and I follow it as closely as possible. Organization is extremely important to my success.”

While a poor answer doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker, it can give you valuable information on how your candidate will conduct the classroom. The more organized teachers are, the more able they will be to quickly identify and address each student’s needs.

Hard Skill Questions

Hard skills are specific skill sets and abilities that teachers have in their toolkit. Hard skill questions help you find out exactly what a candidate is competent in doing. The following questions are great places to start when measuring hard skills.

“How do you incorporate consequences in your classroom?”

The task of disciplining students comes with any teaching job. This is especially important in special education because there are specific disciplinary regulations that apply to students who have a disability. Look for a teacher who handles challenging behavior effectively while also factoring in disciplinary rules. 

Since each student has unique needs, a one-size-fits-all consequence system isn’t appropriate in special education. An unfavorable answer would be something like, “If any student misbehaves, I give them a detention. No exceptions.” This demonstrates a lack of empathy. 

You want a teacher who looks at every situation differently, has experience handling disciplinary issues, and who identifies what’s causing the misbehavior. 

A better answer would be, “I always try to see every situation from the student’s point of view. I also try to discover what’s causing the misconduct so I can address it and prevent it from happening again.”

“How do you tailor your teaching to each student with disabilities?”

Like disciplinary practices, teaching strategies should be adjusted for the needs of each  student. Students have different IEPs, and teachers must be willing to address the unique needs of each child. 

This applies to both teaching and testing. Oftentimes, teachers won’t give every student the same test. Tests may need to be customized for each student’s strengths, and your candidate must understand this. There are also state regulations for reporting and recording evaluations, so these need to be factored in too. 

An undesirable answer would be, “I have a standardized curriculum and testing sheets for each class. I don’t think tests should ever be customized for individual students.” This shows a lack of understanding of accommodations and modifications within a curriculum 

A teacher should be able to understand every student’s needs and establish a specific plan for each student’s education. It helps to look for teachers who’ve taught students with several different disabilities. 

A great answer would be, “I have experience teaching students with Autism, ADHD, and deafness. I read every student’s IEP and create a teaching plan for each student. I create tests for every chapter, but I customize each one based on the student’s needs .”

Behavioral Questions

Behavioral questions dig into how a candidate has acted in the past. They can uncover how someone has responded to stressful or challenging situations. Consider asking the following behavioral questions to your teaching candidates. 

“How did you maintain a relationship with a difficult parent?”

It’s inevitable that disagreements between parents and teachers or administrators will arise. This is especially true when working in special education 

There can be disagreements over teaching methods, disciplinary procedures, and more. It’s important to find a candidate who sees things from the parents’ perspective, but also who isn’t a pushover. 

A poor response to this question would be an imbalanced answer like, “I told them it’s my classroom. I make the rules, and I don’t care what parents think.” Another poor answer is, “If the parents want their child to receive a better grade, I’ll make sure they receive it. The most important thing is that the parents are happy.”

Look for more balanced answers like, “When I have to handle a difficult parent, I schedule a meeting to understand the situation from their point of view. I re-emphasize that my teaching methods work, and I see if there’s a way to incorporate their suggestions if appropriate. I am always respectful of their opinions.”

“How else have you gotten your students engaged besides regular classroom activities?”

The answer to this question can really demonstrate how important the role is to your candidate. Great special education teachers use creative ways to engage and build relationships with their students. 

A less desirable answer would be, “I like to stick to the class material only. Anything else is a distraction.” This shows that the candidate isn’t very motivated to get to know students on a personal level and assumes they’ll always be engaged in class. 

A great answer would be, “I love to switch it up with costume days, holiday parties, and weekly games. I’ve found that it gets my students way more excited for class, and it helps me get to know them better.”

“How did you correct a lesson that wasn’t working in your class?”

This question is meant to gauge a candidate’s problem-solving skills. Sometimes lessons don’t go as planned, and you need a teacher who can identify this quickly and make appropriate changes. 

You want to find candidates who aren’t ashamed to talk about their failures. Teachers who talk openly about what went wrong, how they identified it, and how they fixed it demonstrate that they can handle classroom issues. 

An answer that raises red flags is, “I never have any problems in the classroom. Every lesson always goes perfectly.” 

Helpful answers include something like, “One time, I had a weekly English lesson that turned into a disaster. None of the students understood what I was teaching, and I could tell by the lack of hands raised. To fix it, I scheduled a call with three other special education teachers at my school. We developed an action plan to fix it, and it’s now one of my favorite lessons to teach.”

Conclusion

To summarize, start your interview process by attracting candidates through job sites, conventions, or word of mouth. Next, create a job description so teachers know what the job entails. 

Once you’ve got some interested candidates, interview them by asking soft skill questions, hard skill questions, and behavioral questions. Soft skill questions give you a better idea of a teacher’s personality and interpersonal skills. Hard skill questions reveal a candidate’s specific teaching abilities. Behavioral questions uncover how a candidate has responded to challenges in the past. 

Asking the right questions is crucial when hiring a new special education teacher. By asking the questions covered in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to hiring a qualified, empathetic, and passionate special education teacher.

I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment below or shoot me an email! I’m here to help!

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

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