Interview Questions for a Special Ed Teacher
Whenever you are preparing for a job interview, it can be helpful to review potential questions related to your particular field of special education, general questions, and other considerations for topics ahead of time. It can also be beneficial to consider what to bring, such as a portfolio with examples from school and/or previous teaching positions. All of the credentials in the world will not compensate for a mediocre interview. It's important to be well prepared.
I have broken this article down with specific sample interview questions and some of the most common answers for them. I have also included other considerations and tips for a special education job interview. Best of luck!
What is the key to being a great special education teacher? / Describe how you use and adapt lesson plans and materials.
This is one of the few special education interview questions that has one consistent answer: differentiated instruction. No matter what level of special education and age group you will be working with for the given position, differentiated instruction will be a huge component of the job. Be prepared to talk about specific adaptation methods, such as creating modified materials with pictures, and how you will incorporate these materials into various types of lesson plans.
Who are your students? Know your special education classifications and jargon.
There are a wide variety of special education classifications, such as ADHD and autism. There is also a lot of frequently used special education jargon, such as IEP. Some terminology will vary in different states, such as the terms used to describe the special education referral process. You are certainly not expected to have a wide understanding of every term under the sun. However, you should be familiar with many of the most commonly used terms.
- Tiptoe Walking and Autism
The incidence of persistent toe walking and tight heel cords were found to be higher in children with an autistic spectrum disorder but lower in children with Asperger syndrome.
- Girls with ADHD
Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without the hyperactivity component, is not just diagnosed in boys. Read the list of easily identifiable symptoms that plague many female students; often gone undiagnosed.
Why do special education teachers need to work well with others?
Collaboration is a key aspect of any teaching position. This is especially true for special education, as teachers frequently collaborate with teacher aides, general education teachers, speech-language pathologists, and more every week. Emphasize your cooperation and team skills during the interview and give specific examples of positive collaborations that you've had in previous positions.
INCLUSION: Collaborative Team Teaching (CTT) in 3rd Grade
What is an IEP?
If you are coming into an education interview out of state, you don't need to sweat the specifics for topics like IEPs that will have some differences in different areas. Instead, focus on the basics of all IEPs, including the following:
- a general understanding of how to write an IEP
- why you need to understand the needs, goals, strengths, and weaknesses of a student to write an effective IEP
- how IEPs impact the general education setting and how you will structure this general education setting time
Writing a Measureable IEP
What types of assessment have you used?
There are numerous possibilities for assessments, many of which are valid and reliable. Whenever it is possible, bring examples of assessments. If you haven't had a teaching position yet, bring school assignments in which you designed assessments and any student teaching work that includes assessments.
- The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: Why IDEA is Crucial to Bridging the Gap
There is a lot of criticism regarding the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), frequently stating the cost of education, questions of efficacy, and concerns about mainstreaming children with significant disabilities.
Describe both successful and challenging experiences that you've had with general education teachers.
Be honest about the difficulties and challenges that you've had with general education collaboration in the past. If your new principal or boss (i.e. special education coordinator) is part of your interview team, hopefully he or she will be able to help advocate for you and decrease such problems in your new position.
Describe one of your most challenge students and how you dealt with him/her.
Again, be honest about your difficulties and challenges. Good administrators understand how challenging some of your students will be and will do their best to provide the support that you need for them. Also, clearly illustrating how you rose to these challenges and had successes with these students will be a big asset for you.
Why did you choose a career in special education? / Why do you want to work with special education students?
Many teachers are very idealistic. There is nothing wrong with expressing your idealism, but you also need to be realistic about your expectations for this job and your students. Just a few of the reasons that people choose a career in special education include wanting to help others, assisting students with reaching their goals, and watching student progress.
What skills and qualities will you bring to this job? / What are some of your strengths as a teacher?
Some of the most important qualities of the special education teaching position include flexibility, organization, and keeping an open mind. If you believe that some or all of these qualities are your strengths, make sure to highlight them. If they aren't your strengths, be honest with yourself. There are lots of other qualities, such as focused and hard working, that you can choose to highlight instead.
How will you utilize and assess your teacher aides effectively?
Effective strategies include creating schedules, creating a work basket that aides can take from as they have time, and keeping the lines of communication open. Give your aides the opportunity to talk to you 1:1 without any students around as needed. Discuss specific examples of techniques that you have used before or will use the future whenever possible. Additionally, don't be afraid to discuss techniques that weren't effective and why you'll be using different strategies in the future.
Describe your methods for communicating with parents.
Most teachers are not expected to communicate with parents on a daily or even a weekly basis unless there are ongoing problems. However, as many special education students have difficulty communicating or cannot communicate verbally, special education teachers are often expected to provide regular communication. Consider what will work best for both you and your parents. You don't necessarily need to use the same method will all parents. For example, some may prefer to write in a communication notebook while others may prefer to communicate via e-mail.
Popular Parent-Teacher Communication Methods
Form Letters to Customize Each Day
The CEC SmartBrief is a great way to stay on top of special education news.
ASCD Conference Schedule
- ASCD Conferences
Founded in 1943, ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization dedicated to advancing best practices and policies for the success of each learner.
Check out NASET!
How will you stay up to date in the field of special education?
Be realistic and only discuss the handful of items that are applicable to you and/or that you anticipate doing during the next couple years. Methods for staying up to date in the field of special education can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Graduate school/higher education
- Other classes
- Networking with other special education teachers
- Professional organizations
- Professional journals
While there may not be questions that directly address the following aspects of special education, it is good to keep them in mind for the interview.
- Knowledge about the referral/staffing process for special education. If possible, talk about your past participation with this process.
- Stress Least Restrictive Environment (LRE). LRE may come up during a variety of interview questions. Be prepared to talk about how you will support it.
- If you completed student teaching recently, be prepared to answer questions about it. Be honest about your experience. Share specific examples whenever possible.
- Don't be afraid to share stories about particular students and specific events. Giving clear cut examples is more credible than providing vague generalizations.
- Keep in mind that most questions don't have a single right answer. This article is designed to be a guide for helping you to prepare for an interview. You don't need to memorize the exact information here.
- Whenever possible, bring a portfolio and/other examples. Discussing specific lesson plans, materials, etc. is great, but if you can show examples in person, that's even better. Portfolios may be able to highlight other aspects of your professional life as well.
Great tips for the interviewing process.
- Prepare for a Teaching Interview - Land that Teaching Job!
Get that teaching job of your dreams with these tips and tricks from a teacher who's been there and done that. Learn about portfolios, resume tips and much more.
Teaching Special Needs Children : Tips on Teaching in a Special Education Classroom
Some more of my resources for special education teachers.
- Survival Tips for First Year Special Education Teachers
In this article, I outline survival tips for first year special education teachers. My survival guide includes advice about planning, IEPs, networking, prioritizing, and more with resources as it is appropriate.
- Tips for Collecting and Organizing Alternate Assessment Artifacts
This article details my tips for collecting and organizing Alternate Assessment artifacts. It is a great resource for all special education teachers who have to complete this process.
- Occupational Therapy: Handwriting Fine Motor Skill Work (K-1)
This article includes a number of suggestions for supplemental occupational therapy handwriting fine motor skill work. These activities are geared for kindergarten and first grade students.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Can you incorporate music therapy with special education to motivate and encourage students with disabilities how to adapt and appreciate music?