The most common TEFL interview questions and how to answer them

A TEFL interview can be a bit different to your regular, run of the mill job interview. There are though, a few common questions that are likely to crop up in an interview for a job teaching English abroad. Here are some of the biggies, and how to prepare for them:

NB: remember that you should always have an interview for a job – if you’re offered a job without an interview, that can be a real red flag.

1. “Why do you want to teach in…”

Quite a simple one – this is the interviewer trying to suss out your knowledge of the place. Working out how much research you’ve done, how much you care about the position, and how keen you are to move to the location (or why you’ve moved there already). You can be honest, but keep in mind that you’ll want to display your knowledge, commitment to the role and location, and your ability to research. Show the recruiter that you’re serious.

2. “What do you think are the issues with students from…”

This is a way of seeing how familiar you are with context specific issues with students of certain areas. It might be that if you’re teaching in China, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, or anywhere, most of your students will have the same first language. Are there specific issues that affect these students? It could be something like false friends in Spanish, where words sound alike but are different in meaning, or it could be languages lacking certain phonemes (sounds) that are present in English, and so are difficult to pronounce or differentiate. The key thing is to do a bit of learning about the students first language and understand what specific issues they may have, and how you’d address them in the classroom.

3. “What are the challenges teaching here / teaching this age group?”

If you’re interviewing for a role teaching a specific age group, for instance Young Learners, your interviewer will certainly ask this question. This’ll be to work out whether you’ve developed expertise in teaching this age group, and how deeply you’ve looked into any considerations related to teaching them. Similarly, if you’re teaching English for Academic Purposes, they might want to know if you’re up to scratch on issues like paragraphing and referencing, or if you’re teaching a wide range of ages, then you’ll need to talk about how to adapt your classes to different levels and abilities.

You might also need to talk about the challenges of teaching in the local context. There may be subjects or cultural protocols that you’ll have to be careful of. Again, this is a good chance to show that you’ve really researched the role.

4.”What’s your approach to teaching?”

Everyone has their own style, and their own approach to teaching English. Here, this question is used to see whether your teaching style and philosophy will be suitable for the role, as well as gauging how much you reflect on your teaching practice.

If you haven’t taught yet and it’s your first job, then you’ll have to talk about what you think your approach would be like based on what you’ve studied during your qualification. You can talk about approaches you find interesting, methodologies that you’d like to explore, and current concepts and debates in the field of English teaching. You might like to discuss the range of activities that you like to teach, and even any areas where you’re trying to improve your practice – this shows that you’re a reflective and serious educator, and is sure to wow the interviewer.

5. “How would you deal with a difficult student?”

Discipline is always a tricky thing, and you have to be aware of how to handle difficult students in the classroom. Likewise, you need to know good strategies for when your initial disciplinary measures don’t work. If you’re interviewing for a YL job, you might say that at first you’d write the students name on the board (a common technique) and if they continued to misbehave give three warnings before asking them to leave the class. If it’s an adult class, you might say that you’d politely ask them not to disrupt the class, and make them aware that they are impacting others’ learning. How you choose to answer this question is highly personal, but you should make it clear that you understand the necessity of discipline in ensuring a good classroom experience for all students, and you don’t allow one student to ruin the learning of others.

6. “What is the atmosphere like in your classes?”

Again, ‘what will the atmosphere be like in your classes’ if you’ve yet to land your first teaching job! This is a time to differentiate yourself and show your own personal brand of educating. Perhaps you think discipline is the most important thing, or perhaps you strive for a fun, open class in which people feel comfortable learning and communicating. Or perhaps you want to go for a balance. Either way, you’ll want to choose a word that you think describes the general pace, atmosphere, and feeling in your class – energetic and lively, or studious and calm? There’s no correct answer here, but you’ll want to tailor your response to fit the teaching context and your own personal knowledge and opinions on foreign language education.

7. “What are your plans for the future?”

Questions about your plans for the future are usually ways of seeing two things. The first is whether you’re likely going to be a good long-term investment, i.e. will you stick around, complete your contract, and ultimately renew your contract, and secondly, do you have the potential for a senior role? The reason for this is that the TEFL industry has a high rate of labor turnover and it’s not easy to keep well-trained, dedicated and enthusiastic staff. This means that if you stay around, it’s not uncommon to be in a senior position in just one or two years, as long as you show your potential. If you have long-term plans, your employer will be more likely to invest in you in terms of additional training and qualification support, as well as putting you first in line for any progression opportunities.

You should of course be honest, as it’s an early stage and you never know – you might end up staying longer than your initial contract. Be flexible too, and don’t be scared to leave doors open or say that you’re willing to stay, if there are opportunities to progress.

8. “What considerations might there be teaching in this culture?”

Consider all aspects of culture here. You might find, depending on where you teach, that even things like punctuality can be vastly different (although that doesn’t mean you’re allowed to be late!) Really though, there are a lot of things that you need to be familiar with working in a culture outside of your own, everything from where genders are segregated to what are acceptable topics for class discussion can be affected by cultural values and the teaching context. Show that you’re aware of this and are highly culturally sensitive. This ensures that you demonstrate the professional attitude the recruiter will be looking for, as well as an ability to learn more about the host country.

9. “What resources would you use to teach this topic?”

Another teaching methodology question, this could be to do with physical resources, e.g. using blocks, sticky balls, board games, or realia. It could equally mean how will you find the resources such as worksheets, materials, texts, or other intellectual materials to teach the topic in question. If for example, the answer is what resources would you use to teach high level business English students the vocabulary for different sectors of their country’s economy, you might say that you’d use real, authentic texts taken from a reputable source like an economics magazine, and then compose comprehension questions based on them. Hopefully, you’ll have planned for this and thought about this prior to the interview.

10. “How would you like to be taught a language?”

Sounds simple, but this can be an great way of putting the potential teacher in the shoes of the learner. Asking them to consider how they would want to be taught, and what they consider to make a good teacher can be highly revealing. Try to show consideration of what you would like, but also recognise that this isn’t suitable for everyone – we all have different learning styles, and a great teacher knows what makes each student tick.

11. How would you deal with large class sizes?

Quite often if teaching in public schools, you’ll be faced with teaching classes of 30 students, and even up to 50 students in some contexts. It’s not unheard of in some public schools for the teacher to have small portable microphone! This question is to check you’ll be comfortable, and to make sure that you have the class control techniques to deliver a class effectively to a large number of students. Of course, a class size this big isn’t ideal for learning – but it’s the reality many face, so best to be prepared for it!

With all of these questions, really it’s a case of knowing the role, knowing the teaching context, and also understanding your own ideas about thoughts about the practice of educating. If you reflect thoroughly on what you think and believe about teaching, and do your research on the context, the role, the company, and the language, you’ll be prepared to answer any question that’s thrown at you.