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Interview Questions for Teachers in Special Education in Alternative Schools
Alternative schools offer choices outside the typical public school education. These schools might focus on students who have talents in specific areas, such as math, or they could help students who have fallen behind in their studies. Alternative schools also might focus on students who have behavior problems or other reasons to avoid mainstream classes, such as a girl who is pregnant. Students with disabilities who require special education classes could fall in all of these alternative categories, and interview questions for teachers should reflect the needs of the specific school type.
Alternative schools often function slightly differently than mainstream schools, although they're still part of the public school system. Teachers usually enjoy smaller class sizes, but they must worry about issues such as special funding. Interview questions might involve how familiar the teacher is with the alternative environment, how student success can affect funding and how he approaches individualized education plans -- many alternative schools require a committee to approve students and set their individualized education programs. The candidate might supply answers about IEPs he had recommended in the past, such as enabling attention deficit students to take tests at times when the classroom is empty -- perhaps before or after school. He could also describe how he keeps track of each student's needs so he can follow the IEPs, perhaps creating a spreadsheet to print and keep readily accessible for daily use.
Special Education Experience
Special education covers a variety of issues, including behavior problems, learning disabilities and autism. Interviewers should ask about the teacher's experience and credentials in special education to ensure they match the school's needs. The smaller class sizes often mean the teacher is alone in the classroom for much of the time, depending on the students' needs, so questions might include how the teacher manages the classroom. With the potential for several types of special needs in the same class, interviewers likely will ask how the teacher evaluates each student's progress. The candidate might respond with how she follows the goals set in each student's IEP, breaking down the goals into smaller benchmarks that allow the students to feel a sense of accomplishment as they progress. She should make it clear she doesn't compare the students to each other, as you might in a mainstream class; each student has his own special needs and educational goals, so she can describe how she evaluates the students individually rather than by the same standards.
Working with special education students often presents a challenge, as many deal with behavior issues. Some likely arrived in the alternative environment because of continued bad behavior in a traditional public school setting. Interviewers should ask how familiar the teacher is with the school system's disciplinary procedures and how he handles discipline in a classroom setting. For example, the candidate could explain how he posts class rules so they're clearly visible at all times and sticks to a strict routine that keeps the students busy and engaged to discourage bad behavior. Interviewers might ask for examples of how the teacher handled extreme behavior issues and what action he took to ensure the students understood why the behaviors were unacceptable. This might include separating the student from the rest of the class to discuss the behavior or something more severe, such as calling in the parents for a conference about the student's behavior choices.
One benefit of alternative schools is that they often encourage special education teachers to include vocational and life skills training in the curriculum. Questions might include what techniques the teacher often uses to help her students prepare for life after graduation and how she helps students feel empowered to live and work independently. On the philosophy side, interviewers could ask what role the teacher sees vocational training playing in keeping special needs students in school. The candidate could respond about how special needs students are at high risk for dropping out of school, but adding vocational elements to the education keeps them engaged, so they are necessary to the alternative school curriculum.
- Cooperative Educational Service Agency 6: Special Education -- Alternative Programs
- University of Minnesota: Alternative Schools and the Students They Serve -- Perceptions of State Directors of Special Education
- Education World: The Interview -- Principals Share 30 Favorite Questions for Future Teachers
- Western Carolina University: Sample Interview Questions
- National Dropout Prevention Center/Network: Alternative Schooling
- Indiana Department of Education: Alternative Education Q&A
- BJ Smith; School Counselor; Marietta, Georgia
Based outside Atlanta, Ga., Shala Munroe has been writing and copy editing since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the "Marietta Daily Journal" and the "Atlanta Business Chronicle," she most recently worked in communications and management for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a BA in communications from Jacksonville State University.