job interview


It’s the time of the year you’ve been in denial about since you started your training. It’s the time where you have to do something in order to receive monetary compensation: It’s the time of the year where you finally have to become an adult and get a job.

So you finally visit some schools, get your covering letter sorted, send off some applications and are chuffed when you received the letter titled ‘Interview.’

What now? You had a good covering letter because your friends and mentor practically wrote it for you, and you impressed the school with your dazzling personality and chiselled good looks when you went to visit. But do you actually know what kind of stuff they’re going grill you about at the interview? Would you know what to say? Allow me to fill you in. Make notes on what follows:

Stop waffling

The panel will most probably be interviewing 5ish people on the day so it is important that your answers are succinct, memorable and illustrated by examples. If you remember these three gems, you should get on fine. Many candidates end up selling themselves short because they give longwinded, scattered answers which the panel cannot make sense of and it also indicates some cluelessness on the side of the candidate: it’s as if they are saying ‘Here’s what I have to say. The answers in there somewhere.’ Don’t do this! It’s better to begin answers with, for example, ‘There are three things I can say about that, firstly . . .’ and remember that is perfectly fine to say ‘Please can you repeat the question,’ or, ‘May I think about that for a moment?’ Just don’t overdo it.

So what are they going to ask me and how should I respond?

There is no robust list of questions that every school sticks to. However, there is a list of questions which it is worth having a set of solid answers for, as these answers can be applied to similar questions. In addition to this, the same question can be asked in literally hundreds of ways. Here are some common ones:

How did your lesson go?

The key thing here is honesty: You’ve just finished your training so they are looking for good potential, not perfection. Tell them exactly what was good and exactly how you would make it better, were you to do it again. A candidate who can self-evaluate is better than a candidate who has plagiarised somebody else’s all-singing, all-dancing lesson plan, but cannot see their own mishaps. Don’t over-dwell on one point, rather a series of different points will show that you have a holistic approach.

Describe a lesson which you are proud of? What made it special?

This is your chance to shine. Here’s an example of a good answer:

‘I was very proud of a lesson I did recently when I taught ‘Energy’ to a low ability, pupil premium majority year 9 class.  I used boxing to explain potential, kinetic, heat and sound energy.  It was special because this low ability group with behaviour issues were engaged, enthused and learning. Keywords such as ‘transferred’ and ‘transformed’ were correctly used and tangible progress was demonstrated. My AfL indicated that the majority of pupils understood content which was at least at their target grade. I felt the pupils’ passion for science was evident, most probably because I made an effort to make it relevant to their daily lives. I believe lessons are a lot better when the teacher makes their subject relevant and has a strong positive relationship with the class.’  See how many boxes you can tick with one answer?

 How can we raise attainment of children who find it difficult to engage with . . . ?

As schools are under constant pressure to maintain or improve results, you can guarantee that you will be asked about intervention strategies for your subject. Here are some possible strategies you could mention: consistently good/outstanding teaching; offer of incentives; finding out why a particular pupil is underachieving and determining their needs; parental contact; extracting pupils from lessons; working to build a positive relationship; the use of support plans with focused SMART targets; after school revision sessions; the importance of praising and not condemning underachieving pupils; having a low tolerance for laziness. It also helps if you can give examples of occasions you have used these on. If you deliver it well, you will convince them that you are the world heavy weight champion of intervention:  sock it to ‘em.

Some of our children can be quite challenging.  What strategies have you found work for you in dealing with challenging or disruptive behaviour? 

At most schools, behaviour is not naturally good: it has to be managed. They want to know that while your classroom management is firm, you won’t go in there all guns blazing, making the kids hate you! In addition to mentioning all the strategies you learnt on the PGCE as well as from Sue Cowley’s – Getting the Buggers to Behave, your interviewers will want to be certain that you are sure of three things: shouting is considered inappropriate (mostly), a sanction is a final resort, and relationship building is your strongest tool for behaviour management. Have these in mind when you plan your answer and make sure you can give examples of whatever strategies you decide to explain.

What was it that particularly interested you about working at  . . . . ?

They want to know that you’ve done your homework and you’re not just after the first job that lands in your lap (even if you are). Familiarise yourself with the school website, particularly the Headteacher’s statement, which should give an outline of the schools ethos. Describe some characteristics you possess that make you suited to promote that ethos across the school and explain how you would accomplish this. For example, ‘I am familiar with the reputation of  X as a school which ‘achieves through endeavour.’ In addition to promoting an excellent work ethic during my teaching, I have also ran 3 half-marathons, putting me in a good position to talk about the importance of endeavour from another angle.’ Make sense?

In addition to your teaching role, what else could you bring to the school?

Ladies and gentlemen, ‘just’ being a teacher is seldom enough. Most schools will want more, so have a couple of after school clubs ready, together with an explanation of the impact you hope to make. You could say, ‘After my first half-term, I aim to start a boxing club as I consider this to be important for relationship building, particularly with disengaged boys. The discipline developed in boxing can also be transferred to normal lessons.’ Try a similar spiel for your origami classes.

If you mess up a question . . .

Or even if you don’t and you just want to show off some of your best stuff but the questions didn’t enable you to, at the end of the interview say: ‘Please may I share something in support of my application?’ Then let them have it. They won’t say no, and you never know, you may just tip their decision.

Any questions?

They will ask if you have any questions for them. In this instant is important to know what not to ask rather than what to. Don’t ask anything which would suggest you want an easier life, for example ‘How often do I have to mark my books?’ or ‘How often do you do learning walks?’ Find these out the old school way- through gossip. Feel free however, to ask whether or not you will have your classroom, form, or whether or not you can keep a pet snake in your classroom.

Other questions?

In case the above isn’t enough, here’s a list of other questions they might hit you with. Get pondering but don’t get crazy. Not every question can be robustly planned for and that is ok! You can rely on your ability to think on the spot.  

  • How would your colleagues describe you to me?
  • What made you want to become a teacher?
  • How do you create/promote a positive learning environment in a classroom?
  • What would you like your line manager to say about you over the next two years?
  • What is it that enthuses you most about your subject?
  • Describe a poor lesson you taught. Why was it poor and what did you learn from it?
  • Describe how you typically differentiate in a lesson. 

For additional, less obvious advice on how to secure the job you want, check out chapter 10 of the The Unofficial Teacher’s Manual. (Guidance in the blog and book are not repeated). 

By Omar Akbar


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