Being a teacher is much harder than most people give it credit for. You’re responsible for inspiring, educating, encouraging, and managing students and making sure they’re attaining the objectives that they ought to.
A special education teacher has even more challenges working with diverse students with a varied range of challenges. You have to be able to demonstrate your education, experience, and relevant qualities.
Therefore, I decided to take a look at how to prepare to answer some of the most crucial special education teacher interview questions that may come your way.
So, let’s get straight to it, starting with…
What is “Special” Education, Anyway?
Thinking about making a change in your teaching career? Special education is an area you might want to explore. The “special” in special education refers to students who have needs that are different from those of other (dare I say?) “regular” students.
This means you work with students who may have physical or mental disabilities, different emotional needs, specific learning disabilities, or other challenges.
What do you do as a special education teacher?
Aside from teaching special needs students. You also work closely with their parents, school counselors, and parents to monitor your students’ needs and progress.
You may also have to create a targeted curriculum for each student that you teach. Individualized education programs that reflect their particular needs and abilities. Planning appropriate field trips, homework, and assessments are all a part of a special education teacher’s responsibilities as well.
Salaries For Special Education Teachers
Most special education teachers make between $35,000 and $80,000 per year. The average salary is $53,000 per year. Salaries vary widely and are based on qualifications, years of experience, workload, and the education zones where teachers work.
Skills And Qualifications Of A Special Needs Teacher
To enter the field of special education, you usually need to hold a bachelor’s degree in Special Education specifically, not just general education. At some schools, you may also need to hold a Master’s degree as well.
They might hire you if you are enrolled in a Master’s program and allow you to study while working. You will also need to pass a teacher competency test to demonstrate your knowledge of issues and practices relating to special education.
Previous experience is key…
But on top of your educational credentials, having teaching experience and/or experience working with special needs individuals is a huge bonus.
As for the skills and characteristics you need, these can vary widely. I would put patience at the top of my list, followed closely by empathy as characteristics to possess. Patience is a virtue anywhere, and being able to empathize with your students is essential to understanding their challenges and helping them to overcome them.
Communicating with parents…
You also need to be a very strong communicator. You’ll work with students and other colleagues to develop and provide effective programming. A lot of time will be spent communicating with parents. Giving them feedback about the students’ successes and areas for improvement.
In addition, special education teachers need to be creative to come up with multiple ways to explain or show concepts and engage students with vastly different interests and abilities.
Emphasize your strengths…
All of these skills and qualifications are points to focus on in your interview. It’s important to emphasize the strengths you possess that make you particularly great at working with special needs students.
So with that in mind, let’s look at some of the most relevant and most-asked interview questions that you can expect to run into.
Special Education Teacher Interview Questions that you need to be Prepared For
This is a diverse field with a lot of variation in students and practices. The related interview questions you should expect to encounter will be likewise varied. To clarify things, I’ve chosen a selection of questions and split them into categories.
With role-based questions, the interviewer will try to learn about you as an educator to see if your philosophy is in line with the school’s and also to understand your motivation and personality.
Operational questions are there to test your knowledge of theory and educational practices. Finally, practical or behavioral questions are to assess your ideas and strategies for dealing with specific situations.
Here are some of the most common questions to expect and suggestions to prepare for them:
Why do you choose to work with special needs students?
You will absolutely be asked this question in one form or another. It’s a sort of standard question (why do you want to do this work?) in any interview, but here it’s used to learn more about your personality and your dedication to special education.
Because this is a very challenging area to work in, and it’s not for everyone. A good answer would focus on two or three of the top reasons why you’ve selected this career. Try to show your passion and dedication, mentioning both what you might get out of the work and what you can bring to it.
Here’s an example:
“I had the opportunity to work with special needs students during my practical training as a student teacher and found it the most rewarding area I tried. Though it can be incredibly challenging, I really enjoy helping students to find ways to succeed.
I also think it’s incredibly important for special needs students to achieve a level of integration into the regular classroom, and it’s wonderful to help students achieve this critical step.”
Why do you want to work in our school?
Another standard question, you can be sure that you’ll be asked in any teaching interview. Rather than aiming at a more general explanation of your motivations to work in special education, here they want to know how much you know about the job and the school you’re applying for.
So do your homework. Look to the school’s website for recent news, including things like awards or accolades. Also, look into the structure of their programs. Anything else you can learn about their curriculum, methods, philosophy of education, and student stats is going to serve you well in this question. But don’t forget to include the ways you think you will mesh well with the staff team.
Here’s one answer that incorporates several of these factors:
“I’m drawn to this school because of the importance placed on special education here, evidenced by the allocation of resources given to special education programs.
When I discovered that this is the only school in this area with a dedicated speech therapist, I immediately wanted to join the team here. In college, I had a strong focus on speech therapy and would be thrilled to work with a professional in this area.”
Other role-based questions may include variations of these two, with a focus on your motivations, challenges, and your view of your role as a special education teacher.
Can you please describe a lesson plan that you’ve created and implemented?
Even if the school has asked you to provide a sample lesson plan as part of your application, you’re still extremely likely to come across this question in your interview. This is because they’re both looking for interesting and unique ideas, as well as assessing your ability to self-reflect.
For that reason, select a lesson plan that you can use to demonstrate both qualities. Give just a brief overview of the plan. Be sure to include some healthy criticism by stating, positively, what you might adjust to make this lesson plan even more effective.
An example might go something like this:
“At my previous school, I created a lesson plan focused on mathematics for a small class of students. The students were encouraged to use paper markers that they’d created for visual and tangible representations of numbers. We used circle learning, and the objects were placed into or removed from the center space to simulate addition and subtraction.
This was highly effective, and the students showed over a 25% improvement in these concepts following the lesson. In the future, I would create the paper markers in advance and have the students simply decorate them in order to use time more effectively.”
How would you normally work with a student to integrate them into a mainstream classroom?
There’s no doubt you’ll be asked a question similar to this one about integration, as this is a major goal of special education. When students are ready, integration can be a hugely important step in their progress. But it can also be incredibly challenging. Your answer should address this and give a brief, general outline of the steps you would normally take.
Expect to be asked for more details in follow-up questions or even for a specific success story.
An initial answer might look something like this:
“Integration is hugely important and not something to be rushed. In general, I would first assess a student’s progress to see if they’re ready to join a mainstream class, whether part- or full-time.
Next, both the classroom teacher and the other students must understand and appreciate the specific challenges the student faces. This can be done through a meeting with the teacher and a presentation to the class, either from myself or the teacher, to create a safe and understanding environment.
If possible, I would find a classroom buddy or seating partner who can provide positive support for the student. I’d then make periodic follow-up visits to the class to sit in or speak with the student and teacher about how the process is working.”
What are the main teaching strategies you use, and why?
With this question, the interviewer is trying to assess both your professional knowledge and your teaching style in one. I recommend that you choose two or three of the strategies you use most often and discuss why you think they’re effective.
Here’s an example talking about a single strategy:
“One of the strategies I employ in the classroom most often is forming small groups. Groups can be tremendously effective in helping students focus versus front-of-class teaching. It’s also a great way to personalize instruction.
I can give all students some basic work to practice and then teach more advanced material to each group. This gives the students more contact and allows them to ask questions and for me to see how each student is doing individually.”
How do you ensure there is discipline in your classroom?
This is straight down the line. The interviewer wants to check your professionalism and teaching style with this operational question. Showing an effective strategy is a great way to answer it. For example:
“I find that discipline issues normally arise when the expectations of the teacher and students are not in sync. For that reason, I always work with students to create our list of classroom rules and consequences that everyone can agree are fair.
Then we all commit to following the rules, and this gives students ownership over classroom discipline. When they do act out, this makes it easier for them to understand why their behavior is an issue.”
Practical / Behavioral Questions
Practical questions are designed to help the interviewer assess how you would react in a number of hypothetical situations. This lets them form a more rounded picture of your teaching style and professionalism.
Most of these questions are phrased as “What would you do if…?” questions. For that reason, your specific responses to them are going to be very personalized. You will base them on your training and experience. Therefore, I won’t provide sample answers here.
The STAR Approach…
However, what follows is a list of questions touching on the most common issues that you may encounter as a special education teacher. A great strategy to answer them is the STAR approach (Situation, Task, Action, and Result). You can use this framework to give an example, tell how you dealt with it, and how things turned out.
How would you communicate a student’s unexpectedly slow progress to his/her parents?
What would you do if you noticed that one of your students was being bullied or picked on in another class?
How would you deal with an incident of violent behavior in the classroom?
What could you do to improve your relationship with a frustrated parent?
Just Starting Your Teaching Career?
So, you want to be a teacher, that’s great news! We’ve found some insightful books that can help guide you.
For preschool teaching, you should take a look at the Unpacking the Pyramid Model: A Practical Guide for Preschool Teachers, Training Teachers: A Harvest of Theory and Practice, the PRAXIS 5691 Special Education Preschool/Early, Making Preschool Inclusion Work: Strategies for Supporting Children, Teachers, and Programs, and the Skills for Preschool Teachers available online in 2021.
Or if you’re studying to be a teachers assistant, try the NYSTCE Assessment of Teaching Assistant Skills ATAS 95 Test: The New York State Teacher Certification Examinations, or the NYSTCE ATAS Assessment of Teaching Assistant Skills 095 (XAMonline Teacher Certification Study Guides) to practice for your exams.
There are also some amazing guides on how to improve your teaching skills. So, check out the Motivating Students Who Don’t Care: Proven Strategies to Engage All Learners, Second Edition (Proven Strategies to Motivate Struggling Students and Spark an Enthusiasm for, the 101 Answers for New Teachers: Effective Teaching Tips for Daily Classroom Use, or Hacking School Discipline: 9 Ways to Create a Culture of Responsibilty and Empathy Using Restorative Justice also available online today.
Lastly, if you feel that Childcare is your calling, why not take a look at my job descriptions such as Child Care Provider Job Description, Childcare Teacher Job Description, or my Childcare Assistant Job Description to help you decide which direction you’d like to go in.
Getting ready for an interview can be nerve-wracking or exciting, depending on your outlook. A great strategy to prepare is working through this list of special education teacher interview questions.
Plan some answers, and then actually practice them with a friend or partner. This allows you to try out your answer, make changes, and tweak things, so they’re at their best.
In general, use your professional training and experience to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to add your personal ideas and actions to the mix. After all, the school wants to know not only if you have what it takes professionally. But also whether you’ll personally fit in with their programs.
All the very best with your Interview!