Teacher shorts: interviews – going with your gut

In this, the first in a series of short (I promise) blog posts aimed at those new into the profession I intend to look specifically at the interview processes which are unique to teaching. Not everyone is confident enough to navigate the nuances of education so this is an opportunity to assist those who are in the dark. Sometimes teachers come unstuck with the pitfalls of protocol or make naive decisions simply because we don’t know, so I hope this offers a helping hand and a reassuring voice of support. These days we live in an evidence-based culture. It seems that we perform randomised controlled trials for everything from behaviour to brew making. Don’t get me wrong, this is a welcome shift in thinking – teachers are more discerning about how they teach and apply a more critical lense to what they are told. However, sometimes in our rush to find evidence we ignore instinct, a characteristic which has ensured the evolution and survival of the human race for thousands or years. Instinct is something which can’t be underrated, particularly when significant decisions are to be made.

The school I worked in as an NQT wasn’t the first school that offered me a job. It didn’t offer the most attractive package. It wasn’t perfect. However, it felt right from the moment I walked through the door. Not everyone is that lucky off the bat but I’ve hit the jackpot in both of the schools I’ve worked in which is why I’ve never actively sought to leave them.

My story could have been very different…

In the January of my ITT year my placement school offered me a job. The package included a retention bonus and a significant jump up the pay scale. It was difficult at the time to say no. As a twenty-two year old with no experience of the profession together with pressure to accept a (very generous) offer, I didn’t know what to do. Whilst the school had a brilliant ethos and very hard working staff, it didn’t feel quite right for me. I genuinely believe that if I had accepted the post, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The feel of a school is important and what feels right for one person isn’t necessarily right for another, like finding a pair of shoes. Furthermore, all the research in the world cannot substitute for actually being in an environment. Sometimes schools are not exactly what they appear to be, this can be both a pleasant surprise and a perilous one.

Preparation starts by getting into the school that you’re potentially applying to as much as possible (if you can). On the day of the interview, speak to as many students and staff as you get chance to, across all spectrums of the school. If you’re lucky enough to have any free time during the day try to have a walk around and take in the atmosphere of the place.

You will be expected to teach a lesson and if this goes well you will be taken through to interview. You should be yourself but it’s also important to remember that you are in a formal situation, this is especially hard if you’re applying to a school that you have done a placement in. During the interview itself, the questions you are asked will give insight into the leadership team, so listen carefully. Consider your answers but also think about whether you buy into the ethos of the school, can contribute to its culture and whether the environment is one where you will thrive. Different people flourish in different situations. Most interviews for teaching positions will generally have questions about the ethos of the school, safeguarding and will include a lesson reflection but the other topics will provide a flavour of what you may be faced with should you be successful. If the interview questions are heavily data focussed, then data is likely to be a priority for the school, if you’re asked to talk about research in your interview, it’s highly likely that teaching is driven by an evidence informed approach. It’s important to know what drives you before you go into the interview and if the questions you’re asked don’t cover your own philosophy for education then make sure you ask about them when you’re given the opportunity for questions. Obviously, this isn’t a fail-safe method but it can be tremendously insightful.

Interview protocol for teaching posts dictates that you are asked ‘Are you a firm candidate for this post?’ If you answer positively to this question it is expected that you will accept the offer of the position should you be successful. Teaching is unique in that sense, you could be faced with an awkward situation should you change your mind in the interim period between interview and offer. Also, if you’re going to negotiate pay, which historically wasn’t the norm until recently, it’s at the offer stage when this usually done. People generally go into teaching for the greater good and money isn’t the biggest motivator, however, if there’s a discussion to be had then it’s important to approach it in an open-minded way. Finding the balance between being remunerated appropriately and accepting that schools’ budgets are incredibly tight is quite a difficult thing to do. It’s also important to remember that you are at the beginning of what could be a long and happy relationship so you don’t want to set off on the wrong foot. There is no harm in asking but do it with humility and accept that you might not get the answer you were hoping for, take the emotion out of it – understand that it may be a matter of pragmatism and circumstance.

If you get the job (which I hope you do) bear in mind that schools are busy places and teaching positions are finalised a number of months in advance of the start date. Most people are excited about starting and want to know their timetable, SOWs, etc. Enthusiastic teachers are exactly what schools need but the academic year is a busy one so try not to get disheartened, paranoid or have a crisis of faith if your school doesn’t get back to you straight away. New staff are important but there’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes that you won’t even consider before contracts are offered let alone timetables are finalised. The best advice I can give here is ask the HR team to give your details to your line manager and develop a working relationship with them – remember that they are busy people too so striking the right balance between enthusiasm and professional distance is key.

Finally, good luck! Teaching can be the best job in the world, it’s just a case of finding the right school with the right students for you. Trust your gut, go with instinct and you won’t go far wrong.