Why this matters

Special needs students react in different ways, so the appropriate disciplinary approach will depend on their specific condition. A one-size-fits-all approach won’t work in the classroom, so your new hire will need to get to the bottom of every situation in order to react appropriately and effectively.

What to listen for

  • Candidates should provide examples of common frustrations they’ve encountered and how they dealt with them.
  • Top answers will acknowledge the need for using different methods for different students and focus on identifying the cause of the problem behavior to find a solution.

Why this matters

Unlike most teachers, special education teachers cannot simply hand out standardized tests to gauge students’ progress. But at the same time, many states have regulations for recording and reporting evaluations. Your new hire must understand the regulations and be able to individually tailor assessments to effectively evaluate the strengths of every student.

What to listen for

  • Candidates must demonstrate patience, guidance, and understanding.
  • Experience coordinating plans with others is highly valuable, as the child's well-being often includes a network of caregivers.

Why this matters

Here, you want to know that your candidate is aware of a range of established teaching methods and recognizes how these vary from other classrooms. Specifically, their answer should mention individualized education plans (IEPs) and discuss how strategies will differ from student to student depending on the case.

What to listen for

  • The ideal candidate will have experience working with children with a wide range of special needs and disabilities.
  • Answers should show knowledge of goal setting and modifying methods to match the student’s abilities and needs.

Why this matters

Special education is a difficult field and each classroom scenario is different. Some lesson plans that work for one group of students are not effective with others. Ideal special education candidates will not only recognize failure and be willing to talk openly about what they learned from it, but are able to come up with alternative solutions, all while keeping a cool head.

What to listen for

  • Look for cues that the candidate is a thoughtful problem-solver who can quickly identify viable alternatives.
  • Answers should mention how they communicated with others during the process, including higher-ups at the school.

Why this matters

Themed days, costume contests, holiday-related lessons—a good special education teacher will embrace fun events like these to entertain and educate the students. Since this job can sometimes be emotionally taxing, being able to have fun with the students is very important.

What to listen for

  • Look for candidates who are truly creative with lessons and like to think outside of the box.
  • Answers should demonstrate that they have a sense of humor and a real passion for working with children.

Why this matters

Establishing supportive and healthy relationships with the students’ parents is almost as important as fostering good relationships with the students themselves. Parents may not always agree with the teacher’s methods, so avoiding friction is important. At the same time, teachers must be able to stand up for themselves and be advocates for their students.

What to listen for

  • Strong answers will show an understanding of the parent’s perspective, a calm and polite demeanor, and a general attitude of respect.
  • A balance of assertiveness and thoughtfulness is key.

Why this matters

The field of special education can be difficult but incredibly rewarding. It’s also not for everyone, so understanding what motivates a candidate can help you gauge their fit. For example, a candidate may mention that they have family members or friends who have special needs, which may better equip them for the pressures of the job.

What to listen for

  • Answers should indicate that the candidate is highly empathetic.
  • Strong answers will reveal the candidate’s passion for the work and their love of making a difference in people’s lives.

Why this matters

Managing a full classroom of students with multiple IEPs takes agility and organization. Candidates will have different methods for organizing schedules and tasks, but the best ones will be able to demonstrate a number of effective strategies. If they have an aptitude and an appreciation for diligent scheduling, they won’t get easily flustered.

What to listen for

  • Candidates should provide specific examples of strategies they use to plan their day and avoid dropping any balls.
  • Look for signs that they are able to get quickly back on track when plans or circumstances change.

Why this matters

Careers in special education can be stressful. It’s important that candidates recognize this ahead of time, or it may be tough for them to handle the pressure. Humor also goes a long way in this field, so a candidate that displays a good sense of humor and a willingness to laugh at themselves may be better equipped to keep the mood light and have fun in the classroom.

What to listen for

  • Look for candidates who provide examples of how they kept a positive attitude in a difficult situation.
  • Strong answers will show a balance of leadership and open-mindedness—and genuine concern for the kids.