Almost all of us have experienced that much-feared moment during an interview when—oh no!—you have absolutely no idea what to say. Don’t worry, we are here for you. Find out what to do to prevent this from happening, and how to turn it around if it does.

Keep in mind that there is a whole lot you can do to prevent freezing up during the interview. Take your time to prepare for this important event. You will thank yourself later.

Simple Strategies to Overcome the Freeze-up

Don’t panic. Believe it or not, it happens to everyone at some point. Regardless of the question the interviewers have asked, these strategies will guide you through those scary moments.

  1. Take a deep breath or two, which may seem like an eternity to you, but it won’t to the interviewers. This will likely calm you down, possibly enough to provide the mental clarity you need in order to answer the question thoughtfully. It also signals to the interviewer that you’re a critical thinker — thinking through the best response; so really, it’s a win-win.
  2. If the question is about your own experience, don’t be afraid to look over your resume. It may jog your memory.
  3. If, mid-way through your response, you aren’t sure you are answering the question, simply ask, “Am I answering your question?” If you aren’t, this gives interviewers the opportunity to rephrase the question, biding you more time — and saving them some of theirs.

Problem Solved: Specific Interview Scenarios

There are many different reasons a teacher might freeze up when asked a question. If you respond properly, it can actually work to your advantage. Let’s explore some common problems that may arise, and tips on how to turn it around.

The Problem: You don’t understand the question.

Example: They ask what strategies you use during instruction. You aren’t sure whether they are referring to classroom management strategies, questioning strategies, ways of checking for understanding, etc.

  • Pro Tip: Ask the interviewer(s) to rephrase the question. Or, rephrase it yourself using your own words, and ask them to confirm. It happens all the time, and it will make you appear confident and diligent.

The Problem: You aren’t familiar with a concept or term they are using.

Example: They ask you, “How familiar are you with Eureka math?” You feel your face heating up because you know literally nothing about Eureka math.

  • Pro Tip #1: Don’t be afraid to be honest. Say what you do know: “I know it’s standards based and organized into modules”. If you know nothing at all, try this response: “I’ve never used it. Can you tell me a little bit about their approach?” Note: If you researched the school you might have already familiarized yourself with their approaches and you can avoid this problem, or at least have some basic knowledge.
  • Pro Tip #2: Relate by using what you are familiar with: “At my current school, we use in-house curriculum that’s very student-centered and based around developmental stages. Tell me about Eureka.”

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The Problem: You get “caught” contradicting yourself, or say something that isn’t aligned with the school’s model.

Example: You explained how you prioritize higher order questioning during instruction, but later refer to using multiple choice exit tickets to assess. They express to you that this may be a contradiction. Note: If this does happen, be grateful. If they are addressing this during the interview rather than discussing it after you leave, you have the opportunity to clarify. You want this opportunity.

  • Pro Tip: Start by acknowledging their concern by saying “That’s fair”. Then, after taking a moment to gather your thoughts, defend your answer respectfully: “I think it’s important to assess in different ways. Sometimes it’s easier to use data to drive instruction when it’s easily collected, as in with a multiple choice exit ticket.”

The Problem: They ask you to provide a specific example of a time you X and you can’t seem to recall an example that fits.

Example: They say, “Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a colleague”. You either have trouble remembering one, or prefer not to speak about it.

  • Pro Tip #1: Say something that has happened that is similar (conflict with a parent or student, for example).
  • Pro Tip # 2: Explain why you haven’t had this experience “I have friends at other schools who have had lots of conflicts with colleagues. I feel very lucky that teachers at my school had such a strong bond. We collaborated on everything, and any issues we had with each other were resolved quickly and quietly.”

The Problem: The interviewers inquire about a topic you aren’t particularly proud of.

Example: “What percentage of your students passed the Regents last year?” and, despite your best efforts, the percentage is very low.

  • Pro Tip #1: Focus on the positive: “They improved by 20 percentage points last year!”
  • Pro Tip # 2: Explain how the experience has improved your practice - or what you have learned: “I wasn’t using the assessment data to drive instruction the way I should have throughout the year…”

The Problem: They ask you if you have any questions for them, and you don't because you feel that they have covered everything.

  • Pro Tip #1: Research the school beforehand and take note of something you found interesting.
  • Pro Tip #2: Let them know that while you don’t have any right now, you will most likely have a question or two later. Confirm that you may contact them if this happens.

Above all, make sure your love of teaching and positive energy come through during the interview. Positive energy is contagious! And after the interview, if you still don’t feel confident about a response, don’t fret. Most likely, one less-than-stellar response will not blow your chances. Your job is to present your best professional self during your interview. If you have done this, then you are bound to find the right school or you.

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