Sunday, 4 March 2012

Job interviews: lessons to be learnt from dating

My first teaching job interview was a failure. I thought it had gone pretty well. The feedback was that I had taught, 'by far the best lesson', but that I had not asked the right questions in the interview and not seemed interested in the school.
I was gutted. Now I see it as one of the best things that ever happened. Why would you want to work in a school where they valued ability to interview well above ability to teach?
The thing that a lot of NQTs forget is that job interviews are a two-way thing. You have to make sure the school is the right place for you, or you are going to have a truly miserable first year (it's hard enough in the right place). It is really difficult not to leap at every opportunity to get a job at this time of year, especially as everyone else on your course seems to be finding that 'dream' placement, but sometimes the right thing is to wait.
I got my first job in July. The school had flooded overnight and it was as the HOD and I splashed through the corridor, knee deep in water, laughing, that I knew I really wanted to work there. I found out later that he had made up his mind to offer me the job at that point too. I'm still in the same place 13 years later.
Just like dating, it is not enough for one of you to fancy the other. It has to work both ways. I realise that now sounds like I fancied my HOD, but that really isn't what I mean!
Having been party to lots of interview lessons over the years, I have a bit of inside knowledge that might prove useful about what we look for at my place (this is inspired by an ex-student who is now looking for his first teaching job). There are plenty of websites with lists of questions to help you to prepare for the interview, but the day is about so much more than that.
1. The interviewers are looking for someone they can work with, who fits in with, or complements, other members of the dept. Never underestimate the break time 'meet the department' session or the student interview panel / guides. Their opinions on you will be sought after the event. Smile, be pleasant, be your (professional) self. Hard as it may be, don't sit there worrying about your lesson. Equally, alarm bells should be ringing if you aren't invited to meet the rest of the department - why on Earth not?

2. The lesson is perhaps the most stressful aspect of interview. When I'm observing, what I am looking for is a connection with the students, an attempt to use names, listening and responding to the children in front of you. Essentially, I'm looking for someone who is not going to be cooked and eaten by the natives, but also someone who is there to teach children and not just their subject.
3. Bearing in mind the above, the lesson itself does not have to be all singing and all dancing. It MUST for fill the brief though, so if you are teaching poetry to 'Top' set Y9, find out exactly what that means. Is that level 5/6/7, or a mixture of those? It needs to be pitched at the right level, and some thought about differentiation is essential.
4. Ask questions beforehand. Get a class list, find out about SEN/ G&T, the resources available in the room, what the class has been studying recently, all things you would do if they were your real class. This might seem pushy, but I would be impressed by the thoroughness of the applicant who did this. It is also going to help you plan and teach a better lesson.
5. Use the people around you. You have access to loads of people who would be willing to help by discussing your lesson, checking your lesson plan, lending resources and doing mock interviews. It amazes me how many student teachers seem to think they have to do it all independently, that having an AST, mentor, or HOD checking their interview lesson is somehow cheating. It really is silly not to use their experience and expertise.
6. Ask if you can have a copy of the school's preferred lesson planning format. It will help you see what the observers may be looking for. For example, if the school uses MUST/SHOULD/COULD, WILF/WALT, Bloom's taxonomy, etc. it is a good idea to show you know how to do it too.
7. Go prepared to withdraw if it is not the place for you. The first opportunity is usually after the tour of the school. Where they take you and what they show you is very important. Did you see a range of groups, subjects, facilities? Why/why not?
8. Ask about how they support NQTs / new staff. At our place we have weekly training for 30 mins after school on a Tuesday which covers everything from report writing to SEN, praise to plenaries. We also have CPD every Wednesday afternoon from 2pm to 3.30pm (I am aware that either sounds really onerous, or incredibly supportive depending on your mindset!).
9. Make sure you get feedback afterwards on all aspects of the day. It is really useful, but don't forget, it is about finding a match. Just because you don't get one job, it doesn't mean you are a bad teacher. You just didn't fit with what they were looking for - your perfect match is still out there. Also, jotting down the interview questions before you forget them is a great idea. That way you can think of an answer to any tricky ones before the next interview.
10. Don't wear an amusing tie.

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