Interview Answer: "Why Did You Decide to Become a Teacher?"

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Image by Evan Polenghi © The Balance 2019

When you’re interviewing for a teaching job, you should expect to be asked about what inspired you to become a teacher.

This question is popular because it gives the interviewer insight into your feelings about your career. Your answer will also necessarily reveal a bit about your career path – how you got to where you are.

The best answers to this question are positive, displaying a passion for teaching and a love of being in the classroom. You should also try to use your answer as an opportunity to show that you have the qualifications outlined in the job listing.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Your answer should show the interviewer that you’re excited about teaching in teaching in general, and that you’ll connect with this job in particular. To demonstrate the latter, come prepared with an answer that reflects your teaching philosophy and career path, as well as your skills and qualifications.

Most likely, every person interviewed for a teaching position will have a different answer to this question. That's to be expected as your career path is a personal one.

How to Answer "Why Did You Decide to Become a Teacher?"

As with any interview question, it'll be easier to respond to this interview question if ​you prepare beforehand. That way, you won't feel on the spot when this question comes up. Take some time to consider why you gravitated toward teaching.

Consider providing a personal anecdote. Share stories of how you made a difference to a child in a classroom or how you successfully taught a challenging lesson as a result of what you learned from that teacher.

Examples of the Best Answers

The best teacher I ever had was my history teacher in high school. I preferred English and science to history, but she was able to see past the dates and facts and make the subject come to life beyond the basic curriculum. For instance, we looked through old newspaper articles about historical events and then wrote our own blogs as if we were journalists living during that time. I was inspired by her unconventional techniques, and I strive to bring the same passion for innovative ways to learn to my classroom.

Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate recognizes how an inspiring teacher changed their life and formed their values. It also reveals that the interviewee understands how unconventional methods can help them connect with students – presumably something that would be valued at this school.

The assistant principal of my high school was a real inspiration to me, and she is one of the major reasons I pursued a teaching career. Her ability to guide students, her fairness, and her sense of justice made me aspire to bring these things to my own classroom.

Why It Works: In this reply, the candidate shares not only an anecdote about an inspiring teacher, but also the values that drive the candidate’s work today. 

While I was student teaching, I had the opportunity to take a student aside to help him with a, particularly difficult math concept that he was having trouble understanding. When I was able to show him a different way to approach the problem, and he “got it,” I knew that I had chosen the right field!

Why It Works: Probably every teacher has had that “ah-ha” moment with a student. Assuming that the interviewer is also a teacher, this answer allows the candidate to establish a connection.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Here are some strategies for framing your response:

  • Be Honest. What's driving you to become a teacher? One of the reasons interviewers ask this question is to get a sense of your motivations. Be genuine and thoughtful in discussing the considerations that led you to this profession.
  • Give Examples or Tell Stories​. Were you inspired by a teacher of your own? Did you read a story in the news that made you realize how big an impact a good teacher could have? Incorporating anecdotes or memories in your answer may make it more powerful.
  • Reasons to Become a Teacher. Many teachers discover that their love of children draws them to teaching, or that their own love of learning makes them passionate about teaching. Some teachers enter the profession because they're eager to make a difference—people tend to remember their teachers for an entire lifetime, long after school is over. Others are inspired by a teacher earlier in their education who had a positive impact on them. A teacher may be seen as a leader, a mentor, or even a surrogate parental figure.
  • Describing a Favorite Teacher. It might naturally lead to a related interview question about the best teacher you ever had, or who your favorite teacher was and why. This question addresses more than just your chosen career; it also shines a light on how you function as an employer since a teacher is essentially the first boss or manager of your work, albeit in an academic environment.

Did you respect your teacher because she was patient and tolerant or perhaps because she took the time to offer you extra help? The interviewer will be interested in your explanation as to which traits you admired in your teacher because it lends insight into what kind of management style you prefer and what approach enables you to thrive.

No one ever forgets a meaningful teacher who had an impact on their life. It is a rather personal question, and so your answer should be personal too. It is also a chance to indirectly slip in some positive qualities and strengths of your own that you possess as a result of this teacher's guidance.

What Not to Say

“I’m Really Excited to Get the Summer Off!” Do not frame your answer to this question around job benefits (such as short days or summer vacation). That may be a motivating factor, but it will not make you appear dedicated, and won't reflect well on you as a candidate.

Anything Dishonest. This should go without saying, but your inspirational story should be true. If you try to fake it – either by stretching the truth about an interaction with one of your own teachers, or by making up your story – you won’t achieve that connection with the interviewer. You might also need to ask yourself why you don’t have a genuine story to share.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Bottom Line

TELL STORIES Share anecdotes about teachers who’ve inspired you.

MATCH YOUR QUALIFICATIONS TO THE JOB Use your answer to highlight your teaching philosophy, classroom management skills, etc.

BE HONEST Be genuine and thoughtful in your response.