When you’re interviewing for teaching jobs, it can be hard to determine whether a school is the right fit for you. Lots of schools can feel similar, and many conversations don’t go beyond a surface level. Sometimes, however, there are warning signs of a toxic or dysfunctional environment. We asked teachers to share their job interview red flags, and here’s what they had to say.
1. They said, “we’re a family.”
“From experience, I know ‘we’re a family’ is always a warning sign. It means they expect to be prioritized on and off the clock, including unpaid night/weekend/summer hours. I *have* a family. It isn’t you.” —Tammy E.
2. The principal SNAPPED his orders.
“As I was sitting waiting to be interviewed, the principal literally snapped his fingers and pointed at me as a way to say it’s time for an interview and to follow him. Later found out everyone hated that man. Everyone. Was very glad I did not hear back, despite desperately looking for a job at that time.” —Rachel H.
3. The school didn’t know its own mission statement.
“I had an interview for an outside classroom—all nature oriented, animals, orienteering, etc. The principal asked how I would incorporate technology. I said it was counterintuitive to their mission statement. She asked what their mission statement was.” —Melissa M.
4. The hiring manager took a personal call during the interview.
“At one school where I interviewed, the person interviewing me took a phone call during the interview that was personal and not an emergency. Then a coworker ‘just stopped by for a chat,’ and they talked and laughed for a few minutes while I just sat there. I left in shock of how unprofessional it all was.” —Jill B.
5. The office gave out late passes like candy.
“I had to wait in the counseling office for my interview. While I sat there, the bell for next class rang. A minute later, two students walked in and demanded a late pass from the administrative assistant. She gave it. I knew I didn’t want to work there.” —Kris W.
6. The principal wore high heels—and a whistle.
“The principal walked the halls in her stiletto heels and a whistle. She tooted that whistle with all of her lung capacity for every infraction. Poor kids.” —Brenda H.
7. The principal fell asleep DURING the interview.
“In my interview, the staff told me to pretty much run before I was interviewed by the principal. He fell asleep after asking me one question. I didn’t wake him; I just packed my things and left. I never heard from the school.” —Rachael A.
8. They told me I had to get my husband’s permission before accepting the job.
“In another interview for a summer school and night school position, the principal would not let me accept it until I spoke to my husband about it. He thought my husband wouldn’t approve of me having to drive further to get to work. He would not accept my acceptance until the next day. I was desperate for the extra money.” —Cassie M.
9. They were 20 minutes late for the interview and didn’t apologize.
“It’s the little things that add up and create a toxic environment. Not apologizing for running 20 minutes late was a warning I should have picked up.” —Jennifer O.
10. The interview ran 60 minutes over.
“The principal kept me an hour past when the interview was supposed to end. I kept hinting that I needed to leave to pick up my husband from work, but she kept going on. I should have recognized it as a red flag, that my personal time wouldn’t be respected for the five years I worked under that principal.” —Sarah B.
11. They refused to let me talk to current staff.
“They wouldn’t let me talk to a current teacher, and the teachers didn’t send their own kids to the school.” —Maggie T.
12. They called students “low.”
“They had me do a lesson to an existing class, but when I asked about any learning needs, they just said the kids were ‘low’ and didn’t mention that half the class had one-on-one aides.” —Kat P.
13. The school was not maintained.
“There was massive build up of dirt and grime on the ventilation grates and gobs of dirt built up around the feet of the desks and furniture. Mind you, the school the district held the job fair was brand new, but the school they wanted me to teach at looked like it had been neglected for decades. I turned down their job offer.” —Theresa F.
14. They made it clear I could never take a day off.
“I had to write an essay on what my plan was if my personal children woke up sick and couldn’t go to school. As in, how would I still come to work if they needed to stay home.” —Susan P.
15. They refused to answer questions about salary.
“I was actually told, ‘Jobs are currently hard to come by. Do you want a teaching job or not?’ when I tried to press them to answer.” —James T.
16. They asked if I’d tattle on my coworkers.
” I said, ‘no, that’s your job.’” —Sharon C.
17. They told me there was no money for books.
“I was interviewing for a school library position and asked the retiring librarian what the book budget was. She told me they hadn’t had a budget for five years, but she goes to yard sales and used bookstores to find books for kids. No thanks!” —Marcia D.
18. There were posters everywhere saying, “there is zero tolerance of violence by staff or students.”
“I remember thinking, ‘do they have a serious problem with violence in this place?’” —Ria S.
19. They referred to their school as a “pressure cooker.”
“The principal kept emphasizing high standards and referring to the school as a ‘pressure cooker’ and saying things like ‘not everyone can handle the pressure cooker.’ It was an elementary school! She was later forced to resign because she was caught cheating on standardized testing. I guess she couldn’t handle the pressure cooker.” —Frances B.