For this month’s career content, I’m focusing on that inevitable question any future-educator will receive, “Why do you want to be a teacher?”
I’m an educator and love it. It’s a great career and a solid financial path despite what most people believe. But that’s not a good reason to become a teacher, and not a great answer in an interview. Let me prepare you to nail this common teacher interview question.
“Why do you want to be a teacher?”
You can be absolutely certain that this question will show up sometime in your journey to become a teacher. It may be part of your application to college, a formal part of the teacher interview, or a seemingly casual conversational question from another educator.
As a school principal, I don’t ask this when hiring a teacher. I do, however, ask it of any student teacher candidates we host. I know our district uses a version of it in applications for our Grow Your Own Program.
Whenever it’s asked, your answer will contribute to the impression other educators have of you.
I’m going to help you form your answer. I’m not going to give you a “hack” because you can’t and shouldn’t fake your way into the profession. It’ll backfire on you.
But, if you really want it, we’ll make sure you’re able to describe why in an impactful way. Even better, clarifying this for yourself will help keep you motivated.
Table of contents
- Why Do I Want To Be A Teacher?
- Putting It All Together Into Why You Want To Become a Teacher
- “Why Do I Want To Become a Teacher?” Examples
- Why Do You Want To Become a Teacher Essay
- Summary – How to Answer Why Do You Want To Be a Teacher?
Why Do I Want To Be A Teacher?
To help you formulate your answer, I suggest you sit down and think through these three things. They’ll enable you to create both a tight impactful answer and form the foundation for a longer response.
The Path That Led You To This Point
Since you’re reading this post, I’ll assume you’ve already decided to be a teacher. You may even be well down the road and preparing for interviews. Fantastic! We need good teachers in the profession.
Sit down and write out how you ended up at this point. Trace your education and career path. Just sketch it all out. List as many different choices and paths as you remember.
Here’s an example of what that may look like:
- Planned to be an astronaut – read science books all through elementary school
- Parents split – poverty
- Became obsessed with making money
- Paper route in middle school
- Worked at the local convenience store
- Studied economics in high school
- Worked weekends at a home improvement store
- Went to college for economics – looking to make lots of money
- Ended up in an office job. Hated it.
- * Volunteered in teacher friend’s classroom *
- * Felt drive to do something that mattered *
- Enrolled in an MAT program
Look for those pivot points, the moments that set you on the path to teaching. Highlight those. (I marked two above with *bold*.)
Your story will be different. Some people knew when they were very young that they wanted to be a teacher. They may have fewer points. That’s great, too!
You can’t make it clear to other people why/when you decided to be a teacher unless YOU are clear. Moments matter, and we’ll talk about that more in the next step.
A Fulfilling Moment With A Student or Teacher
Moments matter. Both for individual motivation and for stories. Indeed, Chip and Dan Heath wrote a whole book on it: The Power of Moments.
I’ve witnessed dozens of times how a candidate sharing an impactful moment hits the interview team. Many teachers are driven by those personal moments and interactions, so they resonate deeply with educator panels.
Don’t wait until you’re asked to try and think of a moment. Take time now and write out a few moments in education that had an impact on you.
It can be something you experienced as a student with a teacher, or a moment you’ve had in your education path with a student. Both are equally impactful.
Make sure it’s authentic and personal. Scripted obviously fake moments stick out and work against you. But real moments are gold.
Oh, and while I always advise keeping things as positive as possible, it’s okay if a moment is a negative experience that led you to want to do it better.
A few examples:
In 3rd grade, my parents split. As the oldest kid in my family, I suddenly had a lot of responsibility. I walked around like a zombie, but somehow my third grade teacher Ms. Holland noticed and asked me what was going on. She was the first person I told. She said it was probably hard at home, but it was okay to be a kid at school.
In 10th grade, my US History teacher challenged me to be the first person in our school to ever get a 5 on the AP US History exam. I’d been struggling with self-doubt and the matter-of-fact way he assumed I could do it changed everything.
While I was volunteering in my friend’s classroom, she asked me to read with a first-grade student who was struggling. I’d go in a few times each week and we’d read together. For several weeks, the student (I’ll call her Sara) was quiet and sad. Then one day, I came in and she sprinted to me with a book in her hand. “Ms. Jones taught me to read! I’m going to read this book to you now!”
You will not use all of your examples, but your answer to this question (and others) will benefit from having thought through and clarified these examples.
Moments matter. Make sure you have a few clear in your head and ready to go.
Impact – The Key Ingredient
Moments matter, but your personal inspiration isn’t the primary reason you’ll be selected to be a teacher. Liking kids isn’t enough (though it matters.) You need to be driven to have an impact on students.
As a principal, more than anything else I listen for this in a response. Even if you nail the first two, if your “why” isn’t firmly embedded in making a difference for students you have missed the mark.
While the first two are personal and require reflection, this one may require deeper thought. Answer these questions for yourself:
What will change because you become a teacher?
Why did you choose the subject / speciality level that you did?
How will you know you’ve made a difference after a year, ten years, or a career?
A moment will hook people. A strong statement of impact will seal the deal.
Putting It All Together Into Why You Want To Become a Teacher
Okay, now that you’ve written out your thoughts you have all you need to prepare your best answer. Before I get to the examples, here are important things to keep in mind when framing your answer:
This is true in all interviews, but remember to frame your answer in positive language. You want the listener/reader to know you believe that things can and should be better.
Focus On Kids
Why it matters to you is important, but not everything. Teaching is a service profession and your answer should be grounded in students and why you will be good for them as a teacher. An incredibly inspiring story that doesn’t mention students will crash and burn.
Don’t make things up and don’t fake emotions. I’ve seen some really awkward attempts at this. It always shows.
Be honest, and stay within your personality. If you’re cheesy – feel free to be cheesy. But if you’re a quiet person, respond authentically and earnestly.
You’re reading this post to make sure you’re prepared. Part of being prepared is forming a tight answer that has impact. Include all the important information, but do it in a way that flows quickly and focuses the listener/reader on your answer, not a thousand extraneous pieces of information.
Never Include These Things In Your Answer
Yes, I believe that teaching is a solid choice for a career. It’s the point of this site. However, that’s not a reason to be a teacher. There are better professions for your finances.
Most importantly, the vast majority of educators view education as a calling. They don’t want to hear you say it’s about the paycheck.
Implications Of The Fallback
If you entered education as part of a career change (like I did) then frame it as being called to service. Don’t imply that you’re looking to become a teacher because you couldn’t find anything else to do or are looking for an easier route.
Yes, teachers do get summers off. You’ll be surprised to find that your summers, especially the early ones, are busier than you expect. (Teachers don’t get paid in the summer!)
Summers off aren’t a good reason to choose a profession. Don’t include this in your answer. Just don’t.
“Why Do I Want To Become a Teacher?” Examples
Okay, with those things in mind, let’s look at some example answers and why they work.
Example 1 – Why Do You Want To Be a Teacher?
“I think I’ve always wanted to be a teacher. I remember as early as 7 years old running a classroom for my younger brother and sister. My decision was affirmed again and again by great teachers I had in middle school and high school. I used to watch and take notes on what worked and didn’t work. During high school, I took career classes and worked on the weekends at a child care center. I’ve never wavered in my desire to teach, and know that I can make the biggest difference at elementary school. I know there are huge disparities in outcomes by race and believe we can change that by eliminating the gap as early as possible.”
This works because it combines the old standby of “I was born to be a teacher” with specific examples of focusing on the craft and skill of teaching in addition to the passion. It closes with a specific desire for impact related to choosing elementary teaching as a focus.
Example 2 – Why Do You Want to Be a Teacher ?
“My parents split when I was young, and my mom worked hard to take care of us. But, we were poor and I hated it. I spent my years in high school and college obsessing over how to become rich. Then I started down the finance career path. It felt hollow and empty. I was making money, but it didn’t really matter. To give something back and do something that mattered, I started volunteering in a friend’s classroom. I still remember the first time one of her first-graders flipped from non-reader to reader. It was magic, and I wanted to learn to be a magician. Every kid we can give the gift of reading to is worth any million dollars I could earn.”
This answer starts with a personal detail that draws the listener in. Then it has a career pivot with a specific student story. Finally, it emphasizes the power of teaching and the drive to make a difference.
Example 3 – Why Do You Want to Be a Teacher?
“I had some great teachers as a kid. But, as a black boy, I saw how differently some teachers treated us. I’ll never forget in fifth grade when they named the TAG (talent and gifted) students in the grade. Not a single black or brown student was on the list. I knew some of us were just as smart. I watched friends fall away and become disillusioned or drop out. Not me, I became determined to be the kind of teacher that lifts up all students. I know only ⅔ of students of color graduate on time in this district, and I’m ready to be part of changing that.”
This is a real answer I heard a candidate give. As a teacher, it made me immediately want to work with him as a colleague. It starts with a negative story that moves quickly into a drive to make impact. Finally, it closes with a specific piece of data that links the story to the real world and a need for change.
Why Do You Want To Become a Teacher Essay
I’ve been asked to complete an essay version of this question three times in my life. First, when applying for graduate school to become a teacher. Second, in an education philosophy course. Finally, in one of my early teacher job applications I had to submit this as an essay.
Each time, my essay got a little better. But, I have to be honest, I don’t think any of those versions would meet my expectations now. I want to make sure yours does.
Use the three building blocks we discussed above. I’d advise starting with the moments to establish your path and desire for becoming a teacher. Moments hook.
Then, use the remaining space in the essay to focus on impact. Research data points and strategies and describe the steps you plan to take. This takes the essay from what some might perceive as “fluff” to inspiration with real world action.
If you look at the previous examples of short-form answers, you can probably see how these could be expanded into a longer essay or statement.
An example outline for such an essay (using example 2) might look like this:
- Childhood of poverty
- Working hard in school – inspired to action by teachers
- Working in a dead end job with no meaning
- Volunteering – “aha moment” with a student
- Statistics about how reading changes education trajectories
- Prison populations predicted by third-grade reading rates
- Only x% of students in our community are reading at grade level by third grade
- Passion for learning and teaching effective reading strategies
- Impact of reading strategies at early grades
- Excitement to implement these strategies
- Teaching young students to read changes lives and improves the community
Using the simple framework, but expanding the stories and (most importantly) adding research on impact and strategies will produce a strong essay that hooks the reader and presents a clear desire to make a difference. Trust me, you will stand out.
Summary – How to Answer Why Do You Want To Be a Teacher?
Whether it’s an interview question, an application statement, or an essay, you will undoubtedly encounter this question in your journey to become a teacher. Be prepared and increase your chances with the following steps:
- Build clarity by writing down the following
- Your career path (note the pivot points)
- Personal moments / stories with teachers or students
- How you will have impact
- Prepare your statement using the three building blocks. Don’t forget to:
- Be positive
- Be authentic
- Focus on kids
- Keep the statement tight (Don’t ramble)
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll clarify for yourself and others why you want to become a teacher. Your answer will keep you motivated during the challenging times AND stand out in any selection process.