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Primary Education News
News Interview tips for teachers: how to avoid the common mistakes
Teach a simple lesson, sell yourself and don't drink too much coffee - teacher Orla Douglas shares her interview experiences
I'd been job hunting for four years before I got the promotion I wanted. I went through four cycles of applications and interviews to finally become head of history and found the process really gruelling. Looking for a better job can be a very stressful thing if you're a teacher.
Firstly, in order to apply for a job I have to tell the headteacher and my line manager. Mostly they are encouraging and supportive, but it's still all a bit uncomfortable. Then come the application forms, often completed late at night, after a long teaching day, at the expense of a massive stack of marking you ought to be doing.
If you are lucky enough to get an interview, how do you manage it all? Teachers are under so much pressure, I barely have time to plan my own lessons. You are often given very little background information before the interview. With such little time on your hands there is still the expectation that you can produce an outstanding lesson.
In January this year I prepared my lesson as best as I could, but inevitably ended up being a sweaty anxious mess on the day. I'm sitting in the staffroom, drinking too much coffee and making unnecessary trips to the toilet. All the while, I'm trying to avert eye contact with other candidates who look much smarter and more experienced.
How do we survive this process? Here are my tips, based entirely on my own mistakes at interview.
Don't over-prepare your lesson
Keep your lesson simple, have a clear objective in mind and don't try to cover everything. Try to focus on an interesting part of the topic that you can be enthusiastic about. I once taught a terrible 50 minute lesson to year 7s on church paintings, and have learned this the hard way.
Include lots of questioning and student talk in the lesson
Don't worry too much about having them do some writing. Heads are more interested to see you demonstrate your enthusiasm and good relationships with the students.
Take everything you need to teach, board pens, pencils and paper
Be prepared to start the lesson immediately, you may not get any preparation time. Many times I have gone in wanting to project a picture of a primary source, only to find that I'm expected to start the lesson at a moment's notice. Print out what you need instead.
I always seem to buy a brand new outfit. This is expensive, but also uncomfortable and often sweat-inducing. Obviously we want to look smart but you also need to know how your clothes will be and to be comfortable the last thing you need is to be worrying about an itchy skirt or a top that is unexpectedly riding up.
Find out about the school
Know where the school is heading and the areas where Ofsted said it needed to improve. Read the Ofsted report and think about what you could offer the school as part of its targets. Have a look at its GCSE and A-level results and any policies on the website. But don't over-do it. Hours spent obsessing about the school are wasted on the day. The lesson is the priority.
Have in mind things you can sell about yourself, particularly areas you've been responsible for or things you initiated. Once at an interview I was asked about an area I had led on and mumbled something about tidying the staff room. The next interview I had, I was prepared for this question.
Be friendly but aware
Don't assume that anyone you speak to is there in an informal capacity. In my experience, everyone showing you round, eating lunch with you or even supervising your group in the staff room is watching how you behave. We all sat in the school library in an interview I had three years ago. The librarian turned out to be the vice principal.
Don't be intimidated by the opposition
They may look scary, polished and ambitious, but this doesn't guarantee them the job over you. I remember an interview last year where an assistant head was offering to step down to become head of history and it utterly crushed my confidence. In the end the school didn't want this person and gave the job to an NQT. What did I learn? Never worry about the other candidates in the room.
Orla Douglas is a TeachFirst graduate who has worked in both mainstream and independent schools. She writes under a pseudonym.