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Special Education Teacher Interview Questions

POSITION SUMMARY

Special education teachers work with a wide range of students who have mental, emotional, learning, and physical disabilities. They typically teach basic subjects such as math, reading, and writing, and they also help their students develop social skills.

Special education teachers are responsible for assessing their students' skills, adapting lessons to meet their students' needs, and preparing them to transition from grade to grade. They also meet with parents, counselors, teachers, and administrators to discuss student progress and whether specialized education is needed. 

RESPONSIBILITIES

Special education teacher responsibilities may include:

  • Designing specifically tailored curriculums for each student’s needs
  • Assigning homework that is appropriate for the student’s ability
  • Monitoring student progress throughout the school year
  • Facilitating field trips and other events to maximize learning
  • Communicating student progress to parents

 

SKILLS

Students with disabilities need extra attention to prepare them for the world. In order to provide their students with the tools they need, a skilled special education teacher will:

  • Effectively assess student strengths and weaknesses
  • Utilize empathy to communicate with students
  • Possess a strong work ethic to dedicate as much time as a student needs
  • Utilize creative thinking to keep students engaged
  • Communicate clearly with administration and parents


QUALIFICATIONS

To secure a position as a special education teacher, candidates will need at least a bachelor’s degree in special education and sometimes even a master’s degree. In addition, they will need to acquire a teaching license and complete a special education exam.

If you’re getting ready to interview for a position as a special education teacher, you can prepare by researching the company as much as possible. Learn about the 9 things you should research before an interview.

 

SALARY

Salaries for special education teachers range between $34K and $85K with the median being $59K.

Factors impacting the salary you receive as a special education teacher include:

  • Degrees (bachelor's, master's, PhD)
  • Years of experience
  • Location
  • Reporting structure (seniority of the department head or school administrator you report to, number of direct reports such as teacher aides & counselors)
  • Level of performance - exceeding expectations
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SPECIAL EDUCATION TEACHER INTERVIEW QUESTIONS:

Question: Can you describe a recent lesson plan you created and implemented in the classroom?

Explanation: This is an example of an operational question which the interviewer will ask you to get a feel for your level of professionalism and your ability to do the job for which you are interviewing. The best way to respond to this type of question is to provide a brief overview of the lesson plan, how you implemented it, and whether it was successful. You may also want to note anything you would do differently next time.

Example: “I recently created a lesson plan for a small class of special education students that focused on improving their reading skills. The initial part of the plan included an assessment to determine each student’s reading level. I then created a schedule that included classroom instruction, group reading, individual reading, and tutoring. We were successful at elevating each student's reading level by approximately 20% and bringing the entire class up to a level comparable with their peers in the mainstream classes.”

 


Question: Which teaching strategies do you use most often, and why do you prefer them?

Explanation: This is yet another operational question seeking to determine your competency in teaching and learn about the strategies you employ in your profession. Again, answer this succinctly and directly, providing an example if it will help illustrate your point.

Example: “The key strategy I employ in the classroom is empowerment. By this I mean providing students with both an opportunity to succeed as well as the chance to fail. If they succeed, I acknowledge this and praise them for their work. If they fail, I recognize their effort, determine the cause for the failure, and provide extra instruction for that particular skill. The key to this strategy is ensuring the students know that no matter what happens, I will be there to support them and help them to ultimately succeed.”

 


Question: What experience have you had with individualized education plans, and do you think they are effective?

Explanation: By asking this question, the interviewer is indicating the school either uses individualized education plans or is considering it.  If you have experience in this area, the question is relatively easy to answer. If not, acknowledge it, describe what you know about the plans and whether you think they are effective or not, and explain why.

Example: “In the field of special education, an individualized education plan is more mandatory than optional. Since by definition our students have special needs, we must create plans for each of them. The purpose of the plan is to address any issues with their education up to this point and then create a curriculum that will bring them up to a targeted level. Naturally, the plans also have to take into account the educational goals of the entire class and integrate into the class curriculum.”


Question:  What steps do you take when integrating a student with learning disabilities into a mainstream classroom?

Explanation: You should anticipate being asked this question in every interview since the primary goal of special education is to mainstream the students when they are ready. Your answer should reflect this and guide the interviewer through the process you use to accomplish integration. Be prepared for follow-up questions exploring challenges and the eventuality that the plan may not be successful.

Example: “As you are probably aware, our primary goal in the special education program is to mainstream the students as soon as possible, but not until they are ready. After performing an assessment and determining the student is ready for mainstreaming, I follow a specific plan to implement this. The plan includes meeting with the teacher to discuss the student’s challenges, having the teacher assign a classroom buddy who is enthusiastic about helping, and assigning the student a tutor from a higher level class. I then do a brief presentation to the class without the student present in order to explain the challenges the student faces and request their assistance to make them feel welcome and help them integrate into the classroom. After the student joins the class, I will periodically meet with them and observe the class myself to make sure everything is going smoothly.”


Question: How do you maintain discipline in your classroom?

Explanation: This is an important question because the perception is that very little learning occurs in a special needs classroom due to the constant need for discipline and correcting the students’ behavior. In reality, this isn’t true. However, there are disciplinary challenges in any educational setting, and the solutions used to address these are similar in all classrooms. The best way to answer this question is to state how you maintain discipline.

Example: “Maintaining discipline is one of the biggest challenges we have in a special needs classroom. It only takes one student being disruptive to change the atmosphere of the class and encourage other students to misbehave. I have found that being consistent in reminding the students of appropriate classroom behavior and immediately correcting them when they misbehave is important. I also make it a point to acknowledge and reward good behavior and model that myself at every opportunity.”


Question: Tell me about how you involve the students' parents and the school’s support staff in the educational process.

Explanation: This is another question that is not specific to special education teachers but rather is applicable in any educational setting.  Parental involvement is critical for student success as is utilizing the other resources available within the education system. You should be able to easily describe how you include parents and other support staff in your classroom plan.

Example: “Whether it’s a special education class or a mainstream one, parental involvement is a key element to student success. If the parents are not engaged in the education process, the student must assume responsibility for their progress both in and out of the classroom. To foster parental involvement, I make it a point to meet with each parent at the beginning of the year to discuss my expectations and provide guidance for how they can best support their student. I also maintain an open-door policy so parents can contact me at any time during the school year to discuss any concerns they may have. Concerning the support staff, I make an effort to get more than my fair share of the resources they offer since my students are challenged and need additional assistance.”


Question: Without violating confidentiality, can you describe a difficult student you worked with and what you did to help them to succeed?

Explanation: This is a behavioral question which addresses a specific situation you are likely to encounter in this job. Behavioral questions are best answered using the STAR framework. This stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. This will enable you to walk the interviewer through your answer in a logical manner. The key is the result which can either be positive or negative. If negative, it can be an opportunity to learn how to handle the situation better.

Example: “One of the most difficult students I was challenged to teach had several disabilities that compounded each other. Not only were they difficult to instruct, they were also disruptive in the classroom. My task was to educate them while keeping them engaged with the rest of the class. The tactic I used was to assign them non-educational classroom responsibilities. This provided them with a sense of worth as well as a stake in the classroom’s function. It also required that I provide individualized instruction when the other students in the classroom were otherwise occupied. The result was that the student was able to matriculate along with the rest of the class and didn’t exhibit the same behaviors in subsequent semesters.”


Question: What do you do if you notice a classmate bullying a student with a moderate mental disability who can’t defend himself?

Explanation: This is another behavioral question seeking to understand what you would do in a specific situation and whether it would be within school policy. As a special education teacher, you’ve probably encountered this in the past, so you can rely on that experience when you answer the question.

Example: “Unfortunately, this is a common occurrence in a special needs classroom. Sometimes the bully is also a special needs student. The best way I have found to handle this is to first separate the students so the bullying stops. Then I make sure the student being bullied is okay, and I have one of the aids work with them or assign them a task which will keep them busy. I then address the bully by explaining why the behavior is not acceptable and what the consequences will be if they were to continue it. If necessary, I engage the school administration to take further steps.”


Question: Why did you choose to work with special needs students, and would you choose to do this again, given the opportunity for a do-over?

Explanation: This is a role-specific question which the interviewer asks to gain some insight into your personality and your commitment to this type of work. Working with special needs students is a challenging career and not suited for everybody. You should communicate your passion for this profession and state one or two reasons why you enjoy it and are rewarded by it.

Example: “When studying for my education degree, I explored several disciplines within the field as a student teacher. By far, I found special education the most challenging and yet the most rewarding type of teaching. Witnessing students struggling with tasks the other kids easily perform is heartbreaking. However, seeing them finally get it and witnessing their breakthrough provides me with immense rewards that are hard to describe. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than work in this field.” 


Question: What do you hope to contribute to the special education field and our school?

Explanation: This is another role-specific question. The interviewer is interested in the contributions you can make because this will provide them information about why you do this job and why you’re applying for the position at their school. An honest, straightforward answer is the best way to respond. Keep in mind that you are trying to make sure this opportunity is a good fit for you as well as you being a good fit for the job. The interviewer’s reaction to your answer to this question will provide you some insight into this.

Example: ”As a special ed teacher, I hope I’m making contributions each day in the classroom. My most important mission is to help every student learn based on their needs and abilities. If I accomplish this each day, then I am very satisfied. What I bring to the school is my experience and skills in this area. Not only can I teach the students in the classroom, but I also hope to optimize the school’s special ed program to make it effective in achieving the educational goals of the school and the district.”


 

Additional Questions:

  • What would you do if you encountered a parent who was upset about their child’s performance in school?

  • Why did you decide to go into education? More specifically, why did you want to become a special education teacher?

  • Describe a way you solved a problem with a difficult student.

  • Can you tell me what the IEP process is and its component parts? Can you detail what is needed for each portion?

  • Do you have experience working with ESL students?

  • What is one piece of tough feedback you've been given about your teaching? How did you respond and implement that feedback?

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