Albert Einstein may be the most misquoted person in history, with Lincoln and Yeats not far behind. In the spirit of mis-quotation, the never-spoken words of Teddy Roosevelt were that ‘complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining’. Had Roosevelt uttered this line, he may well have been talking about my previous blog post, in which I provided a polemic on how not to interview. Upon reflecting that I had offered nothing which might be termed decent advice, this follow-up provides some pointers on how to impress at interview. One must be cautious that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it (Hunter S Thompson said that, by the way), so you should feel free to disregard and/or disagree with it all. Just be aware that you probably shouldn’t be too disappointed if you aren’t successful with an application to Prince Alfred College in Adelaide.
Don’t write a long letter
It was clear when receiving applications from teachers at Winchester College in the UK that there was a particular ‘Winchester style’ of letter, namely one which was short (think Christmas card from your local takeaway-length) and clearly designed to convey that teaching at Winchester was enough to be short-listed for any job that happened to be going (which to be fair, it probably was). I remember watching Darren Maddy bat for England some time in the early 2000s and the longer he remained at the crease, the more palpably obvious it became that he was not international class. Had he nicked off from ball 1, we might not have known this. If you’re writing an 8 page letter, there’s a good chance you’re also going to end up on the scrap-heap with Darren. One page, absolute maximum two, please.
Don’t have a long CV
The longest CVs I see are from those who have the smallest amount of relevant experience. Playing lead guitar for Brian Ferry’s support act in 1987 or working at your union bar will not enhance your application for any teaching job. I worked at my College bar once or twice and all it taught me that was that it was possible to be ‘paid’ in scampi fries and fake coke made from bar syrup.
Make your letter genuinely personal
Education is too complicated for there to be wholesale agreement over ‘what works’. Equally successful teachers can have diametrically opposed views on the purpose of education and how best to go about educating children. Maybe you think that education exists to solve the problems of the C21, maybe you think it’s all about social mobility or maybe you just love your subject so much that you want everyone else to gain the pleasure you do from it. Whatever the case, don’t try to find the ‘right’ answers, or the answers that you think the interviewer wants. Be honest, be yourself and be prepared to justify and defend your position.
Do some research
Putting together an application is an arduous process, but learning a bit about the School you’re applying to can give you an advantage. If they teach Cambridge Pre-U, or IB or other lesser-known courses, it’s a good idea to know this. You don’t need to have experience of these courses yourself, but to know they are offered and to express interest is a good sign. Try to pick a few things from the website that (genuinely) match your interests to show what a good fit you might be. Co-curricular activities are unlikely to be the main deal-breaker for an appointment, but they can certainly help to differentiate between candidates. If the School has a flourishing bee-keeping society and you are a keen apiarist, this just might be the cigarette paper to be wedged between you and a similar candidate.
Teach the best lesson ever
Everyone should teach a lesson on interview. There’s always going to be an element of artificiality about the lesson, but any observer will be looking for pace, purpose, rapport and whether the kids actually learned something, not that you managed to perform the party trick of learning all the pupils’ names within the first five minutes. If you have a show lesson, make sure you use it now. It doesn’t matter if it feels a bit false, but if you can’t pull out all the stops on interview, when can you? No-one is going to be critical of a teacher who came in brilliantly prepared and taught a lesson for the ages.
But…don’t rely on IT or practical demonstrations
This is just a bit too high risk. The School wifi might just be less reliable than you’re used to and spending anguished minutes waiting for your YouTube clip to load up teaches you that time really can expand. You can of course use this to your advantage if you have a wonderful Plan B up your sleeve, but make it look like you didn’t and were simply able to roll with the punches. Practical demonstrations can enliven a lesson, but I have been wary ever since a former colleague managed to throw blue copper sulfate solution all over himself during the first lesson of the day whilst on interview. With the rest of the day still to come, it didn’t make for a comfortable time when every first question in subsequent interviews was along the lines of ‘why have you got blue stuff all over your shirt’?
Prepare, but don’t over-prepare
‘How do you judge your success as a teacher?’
‘Tell me about a really good lesson you taught recently’.
‘If you could teach any book/topic/area of personal interest, what would it be?
These (I think) are pretty standard interview questions, and yet they are probably the three worst-answered. You will never be able to second guess all questions, but having thought about what *might* be asked will give you more time to think about the questions that are genuinely from left-field. The third question from the above list is always the most telling, as it tends to separate the teachers who simply plod through the syllabus year on year from the teachers who have a genuine interest in the subject they teach.
You don’t need to ask questions
Interviewers will probably give you this opportunity, but having no questions is certainly better than having a stupid question. ‘How does the School day work?’ is generally the most banal question for the sake of asking a question. The answer, by the way, is that you come in, teach, and then go home.
Don’t do something mental
I’ve never liked the idea that lunch on interview is some kind of ‘test’. I do expect that people will know to move inwards where cutlery is concerned and which one is the fish-fork, but I think it’s more important that interviewees can teach. I once interviewed a candidate for a chemistry post who, upon realising at lunch that there were no more water glasses available, decided to drink out of the large fluted vase in the middle of the table. I’m not sure what caused this aberration, but the sight of a man drinking what appeared to be a yard glass of water made the rest of us feel rather uncomfortable. He was not successful with his application. I wonder if he regretted this, or even felt it was an unusual thing to do; I think about him quite a lot.
Remember that it’s a two way process
‘I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me as a member’ said Groucho Marx, and it’s true that you should be aware of what School you will suit as well as what School suits you. Be aware of your own value and expect that the School will want you as much as you want them.