Interview Question: "What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?"

Image by Theresa Chiechi © The Balance 2019 

When you apply for a job as a teacher, you may be asked about your teaching philosophy. This is not the sort of question you should fumble or improvise on the fly – you’ll look unprepared for the job if you don’t have a ready answer.

On the other hand, if you have a succinct and clear philosophy, the hiring manager will be impressed by your ability to think about the methods and goals of your teaching practice.

Before the job interview, make sure you have a philosophy that you can neatly articulate.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

The interviewer wants to know that you have a teaching philosophy, that you can articulate it and that your beliefs about teaching and learning are a good fit for the school.

What is a teaching philosophy? It’s an explanation of your values and beliefs as they relate to teaching. Your philosophy is often a combination of methods you studied in college or graduate school and lessons learned during any professional experience since then. It may also draw upon your own experience of childhood education either as a parent or as a child yourself.

Tip: If you don't know what your teaching philosophy is, try writing down a few key statements you believe to be true about education, and then proceed from there.

Think about the methods you apply in the classroom, and your goals for your students. Also consider how you have put your ideas about education into action, and what principles are demonstrated by your work in the classroom. What makes you proud to be a teacher? What lets you know you’ve done a good job? What standards do you set for yourself and why?

A personal teaching philosophy is different than a pedagogic theory, although obviously the two are related. Waldorf or Montessori education, for example, involve very different approaches to teaching (pedagogies) than the mainstream American public-school system utilizes, and yet teachers from each system might articulate very similar philosophies.

Teaching styles and methods often change over a person’s career, so review your philosophy from time to time, update it, and make changes when necessary.

How to Answer “What Is Your Teaching Philosophy?”

If you’ve never put your teaching philosophy into words, this three-step process can help you articulate your beliefs.

  • Begin Simply
    Begin with one or two sentences that neatly encapsulate your thinking.
  • Then Elaborate
    After giving your initial statement, you can elaborate on what your philosophy means in practical terms.
  • Then Include an Example
    You can also provide an example of how you apply your teaching philosophy in the classroom. This will help make your philosophy even more concrete.

However, only share an example if you have enough time. If you have already been speaking for a couple of minutes, or if you feel that the interviewer wants to move on, you can skip this part.

Examples of the Best Answers

Now, let’s apply our three-step system and look at some sample answers.

I believe the classroom is a living community and that everyone, from the principal to the students to the parents, must contribute in order to maintain a positive atmosphere.

Why It Works: This statement is simple, straightforward, and easy to absorb. It takes a position – the classroom is a living community and everyone contributes – and conveys it well. While you don’t need to fit everything you believe about teaching into a single sentence, it’s important to be able to express the most central part of your ideas and priorities as a teacher. Let the rest be implied.

All students are individual and everyone learns in their own unique way. I use multiple methods of teaching (linguistic, visual, auditory, kinesthetic) to reach students, so that no one is left behind.

Why It Works: This explanation makes clear that this teacher believes that effective teaching brings everybody along together. You can also make brief mention of educational theories or scientific studies that support your philosophy, or you can refer to other educators who exemplify your philosophy. You are trying to make it clear to your interviewers that you think carefully about how you teach and are well-educated on educational practices.

Everyone in the classroom contributes as a student, teacher, and thinker. I learn from students as much as they learn from me. One way I emphasize this philosophy in my classes is to incorporate regular feedback from students. For example, I ask students to fill out a mid-course evaluation of the class, in which they reflect on the course goals and provide feedback on whether or not the course is helping them meet these goals thus far. Students have been so insightful, providing useful information for me on what is working in class, and what I can improve upon. I believe we never stop learning, and I want my students to know we can learn from each other.

Why It Works: This answer provides specifics about how the teacher sees their role. It also shows that the candidate is receptive to feedback and able to incorporate that into their approach. This is a good answer to give if there’s time to elaborate. If you sense that the interviewer wants to move on, don’t provide more detail.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Determine your teaching philosophy before the interview. Think about your teaching methods and goals. How have you put your ideas into action? What principles are demonstrated by your work? Remember that a teaching philosophy is different than a pedagogic theory.

Get to the point. Make sure you’re able to articulate your beliefs succinctly. Ideally, you’d be able to sum up your teaching philosophy in one sentence, if you had to. (Although of course you should have specifics to offer in case there’s time to speak in-depth.)

What Not to Say

Avoid wordiness. A poorly organized or less-than-succinct statement will be hard for other people to understand and could hurt you. The interviewer wants to see that you understand your teaching philosophy and can describe it well.

Skip the clichés. Also avoid generic and self-evident statements, like "everybody deserves a chance to learn." Sure, it's broad and applicable to many classroom situations, but that very universality and obviousness makes the phrase a problem. Simply put, if your philosophy is a truism or a cliché, it’s obvious you didn’t put much thought into it.

If your educational philosophy actually is that everyone deserves a chance (or something similar), then be sure to make your statement unique by explaining how you see the principle of equality as relevant to education. A provision to keep in mind is that if you can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with your philosophy (that is, disagreeing intelligently, for well-thought-out reasons), then you’ve probably landed on an obvious truism.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

  • Why did you decide to become a teacher? – Best Answers
  • What’s your classroom management style? – Best Answers
  • How do you handle stress? – Best Answers
  • Tell me about a time when you handled a challenging situation. – Best Answers  
  • What strategies do you use to motivate your students? – Best Answers
  • How have you used technology in the classroom? – Best Answers

Key Takeaways

Prepare your answer prior to the interview: Practice describing your beliefs, goals, and methods.

Be succinct: Summarize your philosophy in a sentence or two. Be able to provide more detail if required.

Avoid clichés: Be able to show how your statement relates to your unique point of view.