How To Answer: Why Did You Decide To Become A Teacher?

By Chris Kolmar - Dec. 1, 2020
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Teaching is one of the most important professions in our communities. You may have chosen to become a teacher for any number of reasons. Whatever the reason, you must understand it well because, during the interview, you are likely to be asked, “why did you decide to become a teacher?”.

The interviewer asks this question because they want to know several things about you. They want to see how passionate you are about the job, how you articulate your skills, how your experience qualifies you for the position, and learn more about you to see if you are a good fit.

The most successful candidates are the ones who can combine all their reasons into a concise and engaging answer. So make sure to be sincere and positive while also highlighting your professional abilities when you answer.

What to Say

The first step is to be honest with your answer. Job interviewers are very good at detecting authenticity, and a fake response will come across poorly. The interviewer may be concerned that you are not fully committed to a career that needs high levels of personal investment.

However, you do not have to share everything, and some discretion is advised. It will not look good if you answer that the perks of the job, such as long vacations, are your main reasons. You should find an honest answer that acknowledges the educational role you are to fulfill.

So to begin, be honest with yourself. There must be some sort of passion or inspiration that draws you to the career of teaching. This is what you want to build off of, a motivating factor that will help the interviewer see that you are dedicated.

From there, frame your reason as a personal story. Engaging conversation through storytelling is a particularly important skill in education. Plus, a story is an opportunity to be unique and stand out from other applicants. With the right kind of story, you will be able to leave a memorable impact on the interviewer.

Still, your answer should focus on the fundamental role of education. You can discuss your love to help others learn. You can talk about how someone in your past inspired you to become a teacher. You can mention how teaching is part of your nature.

Whatever reason you pick, it should show that you have a clear understanding of a teacher’s importance and role. Research the top skills of a teacher and see if you can incorporate them into your answer.

Finally, answer with positivity and grace. Even on their worst days, teachers need to be approachable, so show how you are a welcoming spirit. Warm up to the interview as you would a classroom experience.

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Examples Of Good Answers

“When I was moved to a new town during the middle of fourth grade, I had a hard time adjusting. My teacher took extra time out of her day to make sure I was doing alright. Not only was she concerned about my academics, but she would also ask me how I was doing with making friends or understanding the school and the town.

I was very lonely then, and she did a lot to make me feel welcomed. Her support gave me the confidence I needed to start making new friends and also keep my grades in check. It stuck with me my whole life and inspired me to do the same for others.”

This is a good answer for several reasons. It shows how the applicant understands a common challenge for new students and how important it is for teachers to be mindful of the transition. The answer also highlights how the role of a teacher goes beyond academics. With the right level of detail, such a personal experience will stand out among applicants.

“In high school, I needed community service credits to graduate, so I volunteered at an after school program for middle schoolers who needed homework help. I found I got along easily with the kids. I had a knack for breaking down problems into smaller sections, and I loved the funny conversations we would have along the way. It was then I figured, ‘why not do this for a job?’”

This answer works because the applicant applies teaching skills and shows both an interest and knack for the job. The formative experience also reveals that the applicant made a conscious choice to pursue teaching. Note that the answer also highlights an innate ability for the candidate to educate others.

“After I graduated as an English major, I worked as a journalist for an education magazine. During my time working, I found that I got really excited teaching others about journalism, so I signed up to become a substitute teacher at a local school. Soon I found that my love of writing gave me great energy to teach others.”

This answer uses the passion of the applicant and combines it with a passion for the job. Some of the best teachers are ones who love what they teach just as much as how they teach, so this answer hints at that potential.

Tips For Giving A Good Answer

  • Be positive. Nothing will concern an interviewer more if you are cynical and pessimistic in an interview where the job requires a strong sense of empathy and selflessness. This does not mean you can’t, nor should, ignore the challenges of the profession. If you can reframe these difficulties with a positive mindset, a “can-do” attitude, you will strengthen your impact in the interview.

  • Be concise. A long-winded, rambling answer may give the impression that you have not considered the question ahead of time. That said, if you rush through your words, you may concern the interviewer as well. So, don’t be afraid to take breaths or have moments of silence, but choose your words carefully and effectively. Concise communication is a huge part of teaching, so here is an opportunity to highlight that skill.

  • Use personal experience. It can help to bring in a personal touch to the response. This creates a unique answer that can help you stand out among other candidates. The personal experience may also reveal a moment of inspiration, pointing towards why you chose to teach as a career.

  • Remember the job description. Use the skills required in the job description and apply them to yourself as you explain your interest in the field. Integrate them with care; you are not trying to restate your resume. Instead, consider how your skills have developed over time and how that relates to your interest in teaching. Remember, skills are developed through some kind of interest too.

  • Research the school. Wherever you are applying to is going to have unique characteristics. Perhaps you will be working with low-income students or students with disabilities. You may be able to bring this into your answer. Even if you do not, it is still good to give you context. By understanding where you’re applying to, you strengthen the explanation of why you are applying.

  • Practice your answer. Before the interview, practice this answer, preferably with someone else who can give you feedback, such as a friend or family member. However, if you do not have that opportunity, practice in front of a mirror or, better yet, record yourself on your phone and listen back to what you said. In the end, you want to “train” for this question by allowing yourself to run through it a couple of times with the chance to tweak your response.

What Not to Say

  • Anything negative. A negative response will be a red flag for the interviewer. If you are one to complain or see the worst in a situation, this will make you a problematic coworker in an already difficult field.

  • Focusing on money or self-serving gains. Even if the wages and vacation time are an attractive feature of the profession, mentioning this as a reason will hurt you. The interviewer is looking for an answer that goes beyond your own needs.

  • Unrelated anecdotes. Don’t get caught up in telling stories about education that have nothing to do with you. Remember to keep things relevant and concise.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

“Why did you decide to become a teacher?” will usually segue into other questions such as:

It is good to prepare for potential follow-up questions. If possible, connect your answers with an overarching theme. For example, if you are passionate about fostering curiosity and creativity, your answers can reinforce one another. This will help you stand out because the interviewer will be able to sum up your interview experience succinctly.

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Chris Kolmar

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Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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