Teaching interviews are one of the most bizarre and testing interview formats there are, and a wise old colleague once said to me that every teacher should put themself through the process at least once a year. I’d go further and say that all teachers should try and have at least a couple each year. The last thing you want to do is see a job you really want, take the time to apply, get shortlisted, and then get there and realise it’s years since your last interview and you’re out of practice and consequently your depth, freezing in terror. Interviews, in my opinion, are great CPD opportunities, building character and resilience by testing your professional mettle, whilst at the same time giving you the opportunity to have a good look at how another institution does the job. I think in the last 5 years I’ve probably had about six or seven interviews; there’ve been ones I’ve wanted and not been offered and ones I’ve decided I’ve not wanted and been offered. I had one that I felt I’d have to take if offered due to the calibre of the institution, and was very relieved to get the phone call the next day to say I hadn’t got it. But from all of these I’ve had really useful feedback that has helped me prep for the next one.
In my first ever interview for a teaching post, ten years ago in June, I was told I looked too relaxed and comfortable, which translated into arrogance. Later, I was glad I didn’t get that job; the following year the school went into special measures and the following week I landed another job where, at the interview, I consciously worked on not looking too relaxed; I still take care to heed that advice and have never had a negative interview since. What follows are my thoughts on being interviewed, honed by ten years of being interviewed.
1) To job-hunt or not?
Every professional person should take a keen and active interest in the job market. I’ve always been happy in the jobs I’ve had, but this is the best reason to be always on the lookout. If you don’t desperately need or want to move you will be much more relaxed at interview as there’s no pressure to get the job. The compulsion to get a job if you really need to move puts unnecessary strain and pressure on you and forces you to view the interview in a skewed perspective, possibly attaching a virtually life or death weighting to the outcome.
2) Choosing which job to apply for.
If you keep abreast of the jobs within your commutable area, you will begin to see patterns in job advertising and learn to read between the lines in the adverts themselves. Why does that post have an R + R attached to it? Why has that same job that was advertised last month been advertised again? If you see a job that looks too good to be true, it probably is. But if you see anything that you think you might fancy, put in an application; it can’t do any harm, can it?
3) Writing a letter.
Tailor the letter to the job. As you apply for jobs, you’ll begin to amass a bank of application letters that you can use again. Some you’ll be able to use wholesale for different jobs, most you won’t. But you will be able to cherry pick appropriate paragraphs that fit the jobs for which you’re applying. When you write your letters, make sure that you focus on the relevant skills for the job. Applications for classroom teaching posts should focus on your ideas about pedagogy and be firmly rooted in practical examples; HoD type posts should include this but also focus more on your own ideas on leading others and middle leadership in general. Get your colleagues to proofread what you write, especially if those colleagues are in a similar post to the one for which you’re applying or ones senior to it.
4) Preparing for interview.
If you read widely and are generally interested in education, this bit should be a doddle. You need to be able to spend a whole day talking professionally about matters relating to education, and if you read a lot you will already be in a position to do this. If you’re going for a leadership role, it would make sense to brush up on theories of leadership (I got some feedback from an interview a bit ago that I hadn’t mentioned Maslow when asked about leading a team, which I found quite peculiar). But the key reading you need to do is anything you can find about the school itself. This will obviously include the school website and Ofsted reports, but you should also look for newspaper articles, school newsletters, and anything else you can find. It looks great if you can squeeze a mention of a recent school event into an interview as it shows that you’re genuinely keen and curious and is evidence that you do your homework and are thorough and conscientious. In terms of preparing a lesson, don’t prepare anything that can go horribly wrong. Prepare a really good “bread and butter” lesson with a variety of interesting tasks neatly chunked that clearly demonstrates the kids have learnt something new. Make sure that students are aware of the success criteria and have clear, simple learning objectives that are easily measurable (I like to phrase mine as questions: if the students can’t answer the questions at the start and can at the end then they’ve made progress). Ask for any available data on the class you will be teaching so that you can explicitly show differentiation and, as with any lesson, aim to challenge the top end and differentiate down. Put a lot of thought into your body language too and even practice the body language you want to exude on interview around your own place of work.
5) The interview.
This is the bit where many of us fall down, and I would honestly put this down (most of the time) to a lack of practice. Think about how we constantly tell our students that the only way to perfect anything is to practice it deliberately and reflectively, learning from mistakes and acting on feedback. It’s exactly the same for us on interview. Before now, you should have practised and hopefully perfected being the teacher that you aspire to be so that on the day it’s not a case of putting on a show. On the day you want to be calm and in control and keen and interested. It’s a cliché, but remember that you’re interviewing the school as much as the other way around. The best bit of advice I can give is to treat an interview as day of CPD where you’re looking at how another school works and engaging the staff of that school in dialogue about your approach to teaching. Think carefully about body language well before the day; when you get there you want positive and calm body language to come naturally.
6) After the interview.
If you’re offered the job and you’re impressed enough with the school to want to work there, pat yourself on the back and have a good drink; you’ve earned it. You’re in for a few days or even weeks of elation tailing gradually away to a constant feeling of warmth and happiness (at least till you start the job). If you wanted the job but didn’t get it, probe whoever you’re speaking to for as much feedback as possible and note all this down to use next time. Learn from your mistakes and try not to repeat them. If you’re offered it but have decided you don’t want it by this point, be totally honest and candid with the school. Let them know why, in the end, you didn’t find them attractive. They will want to know how a fellow professional from outside their institution views them, just as much as you will want to know what they made of you.
Overall, I think the key thing is to see the job market as something that you are a permanent and active agent in. Don’t see it as something to painfully and grudgingly dip into when you have to; rather, be in control and be part of it. It’s really nothing to worry about once you know it well enough.
Let’s not get hung up. Don’t don a lab coat. Put the microscope away. Bin the Bunsen burner. I’m not asking you to become some kind of Einstein-esque experimenting guru. Rather, what I am asking is for you to work out what didn’t work in your practice last week and then use the web to find ways to avoid it happening again. In the current fervour of educational improvement there is so much written evidence to draw on that to sit on our laurels is to do a disservice to those that rely on us i.e. the kids.
Flashback ten years: it was acceptable for kids not to learn if they were quiet and unobtrusive. Three part lessons were the way forward. Starters, mains and plenaries (read desserts) were the only way kid could learn.
But since then teachers have been blogging. Sharing good practice. Letting one another into the secret. Spilling the beans so to speak.
When I became a novice, great teaching was like a hidden secret. Certain gifted individuals were able to pull it off, but the majority probably couldn’t. Sometimes these individuals became ASTs; they had access to a sacred knowledge that the rest of us could only aspire to. HoDs pointed us towards them: “watch this and aspire to it. You won’t ever be able to do it, but please do aspire!”
But good old democracy took over. Hattie and Wiliam published their stuff. Suddenly it wasn’t rocket science anymore. It became accessible for every educator. Tell them what they need to know; give them the means to succeed; show them an example to aspire to; make success criteria explicit and provide a variety of routes to make it happen.
Twitter and the blogging sites have meant that the practice of teaching and CPD have truly become accessible for all of us in the profession. Suddenly we can learn not only from our own experience (which often doesn’t happen anyway due to a lack of dedicated deliberate reflection time) and from those “gurus” who visit on training days bandying about “the silver bullet”, but from the true experts themselves, those who teach 20+ hour per week and who are the real gurus. The future of the art and craft of teaching have never looked so rosy.
Clearly I’m preaching to the converted here. So, if you can, try to introduce a colleague to Twitter and blogging this coming week. It may be that the experiences they have in the classroom could be just what somebody hundreds or thousands of miles away needs to inspire and improve their own practice. You could probably learn from them yourself.