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Getting Your First Job: The Interview

This week's guest blog is provided by Jenny Wright,  one of our Recently Qualified teachers and former School Direct Trainee.  In this post she describes her experience of seeking her first NQT job and offers some words of advice to current trainees.

It is getting to that time of year when trainees en-masse are applying for jobs. It can be, and usually is, a very stressful time. You want to find the right school for you, to help you develop and grow as a teacher. But also you want to get a job quickly to avoid the stress, anxiety and sleepless nights. We have all experienced this feeling.

I have been through many interviews, and it was a learning curve: quickly I discovered a “magic” formula for lessons that they liked and a way of interviewing that impressed. I sadly missed out on a few excellent posts due to: experience (or lack thereof) and fitting in. I will get to the last part at the end of this. It is important to stay positive.

Get the Lesson right

From training you will know what works; either from your mentor nodding at the back or from the natural feeling you get when a lesson has been amazing. Rapid progress, sustained and young people on task clearly engaged and even enjoying learning. Honestly each school is slightly different, has different foci and looks for different things in potential staff. There are commonalities that join schools together however:

  • Enthusiasm for your subject
  • Subject knowledge
  • Interest in the children
  • A good lesson

 Schools know you will be entering their departments as an NQT- they are looking for potential, someone with a grounding in the subject who will be easy to support to reach higher echelons. Have a genuine enthusiasm for the subject you teach and this will reflect in how you teach the students alongside the lesson. Does the lesson naturally flow as well? Is their learning a journey that goes from one place to another in a logical manner, to help them make sense of the content? Are you stood at the front watching or are you moving around smiling and interacting?

You have a mentor and a senior mentor, and a university mentor. Approach the one you feel comfortable with to go through the lesson with you. They can pick out areas that might not be suitable and offer advice before the big day.

Pupil Panel

Most schools have a pupil part of the interview, where students will ask you questions and reflect about you and your answers. I have been on both sides of these: recently I ran the pupil panel section for a History job interview at my school. It gave me fascinating inside knowledge to what the students want their teachers to be:

  • Enthusiasm for the subject
  • Ability to control a class
  • Takes an interest in them
  • Is funny and interesting

A common trend in the interviews I sat in and then fed back from was class room control. The students thought some of the candidates were lovely, but their answers on behaviour and how they teach made it seem as though they wouldn’t do well in front of a large class of students. Body language is key: sit up right, don’t be afraid to smile but also don’t be afraid to appear strict- they like strict. The best answer for them was: “My lessons are engaging meaning there will be minimal disruption and I praise often, but if a student is having a bad day, I will warn then take to one side to check they are ok. If their behaviour doesn’t improve, and stops the lesson I will look to escalate further.” They really picked up on the fact that the candidate understood that people have bad days.

They also knew immediately the candidates who didn’t really care for them as individuals. Some of the candidates, asks the students how the felt about school, what did they enjoy and what other subjects they did. The students liked this taking an interest and therefore liked that candidate.

The Headteacher Panel

There will be a table, chair, water and sat opposite you a roster of people. Usually the Head Teacher, followed by a member of SLT, maybe a Governor, Head of Department and Head of Faculty. It seems like it you vs them. It isn’t though.

They think your lesson was good and now want to know whether you will ‘fit’ the school. This might make little sense at the moment, but as you grow and develop it will. There are jobs that I didn’t get because I simply wouldn’t have fit in. They want to get to know you as a teacher but also you as a person.

You will be asked questions, from each person and maybe even twice. You need to think about your answers and attempt to structure to stop yourself from waffling. You need to get immediately to the answer, use evidence of your own practice as back up and explain it will without waffling.

  • You will always be asked a question about safeguarding and how you would deal with it: “What would you do if a student disclosed information to you about themselves or others?” Make sure you read Keeping Children Safe in Education and are aware of safeguarding routine at your school and NEVER promise confidentiality.
  • “Why this school?” You should have done some research about the school. Know their ethos, know what they are “about” and use that in your answer.
  • Subject specific or department developing- how can you contribute? What will you do to help the subject get more numbers or develop lessons? Can even be an extra-curricular activity.
  • “What do you think makes an outstanding lesson?” There isn’t a right answer here; they genuinely want to know what you think one looks like. As a rule of thumb; relationships with students, high expectations, appropriate challenge and differentiation.
  • “How would you deal with X behaviour in your lesson?” Be honest and use an example. No doubt in your training you have had to deal with behaviour. What is the best way to ensure that behaviour doesn’t happen?
  • “What can you offer us?” They want to know how you can develop the school and students inside and outside subjects. What makes YOU different from other candidates? Why should they hire you and not the person sat waiting outside with the same qualifications? Don’t be afraid to blow your own trumpet here; have confidence.

Don’t be disheartened if it takes you longer than others to secure your first job. Most likely that schools just wasn’t right for you. The interview process is draining and hard: try and stay positive and don’t let it get to you.

And remember you are fine just as you are.

Good luck.