I did a lot of interviewing over the years. Nervous candidates often answer like a robot to questions they were expecting to come up. But I was always most impressed by the candidates who could smile and keep going when answering the questions they weren’t expecting.
Having said that, even the questions you have prepared for can sound like curveballs when you’re feeling nervous. Never mind, just prepare as best you can – and rehearse and practise some sample questions - and always remember to smile.
I can’t guarantee these questions will come up at your interview but here’s a selection of questions I used to like asking Early Career Teacher candidates. I’ve added some of (smiley) answers I’d like to hear in response…
If I walked into your classroom during one of your best-prepared and most outstanding lessons, what would I see and hear from the children?
You’d hear lively and vibrant discussions, with the children asking each other questions, agreeing or disagreeing respectfully, complimenting each other on contributions and suggestions others make, writing things down, offering to help or explain, showing that they are engaged in the questions and tasks I’ve set them and showing that they’re making progress by the enthusiasm and recall for what they’ve learned. You’d also see the classroom displays showing the progress and achievement of all the children.
Why do we teach history in schools?
(Your interviewer may choose any subject, like English or RE – irrespective of primary or secondary - it’s an exploration of your educational values not your subject knowledge.)
I think we teach history… (… or another example) because it helps us explore and identify who we are and what kind of people we want to be, what kind of career we may want to pursue, what kind of skills we want to acquire and improve upon, what kind of knowledge makes us feel strong, powerful and active in the world and how to become an independent learner. Teaching and learning history… (for example) can enhance understanding and interest of other subjects and develop a child’s literacy, numeracy, ICT and analytical skills; it can encourage team work too and help develop self-discipline, memory and inspire life-long learning in that subject as well as motivate pupils to gain qualifications for employment and improve their career prospects as well as discovering the sheer joy of being interested and good at something they love, for its own sake.
Tell me about a successful behaviour for learning strategy you have used in the past that has helped engage a challenging pupil or group of pupils?
You can ask your mentor or class teacher on teaching practice for a good specific example to use, if you don’t have one of your own. Personally, I like to hear candidates talk about ‘accentuating the positive and minimising the negative’ – in other words, you always try to focus on positive behaviour that reinforces ‘behaviour for learning’ and you always try, as much as possible and as hard as it is, to ignore irritating annoyances (unless they are disrupting others’ learning) and look to give out worthy compliments and praise as much as you can. We all need to be endorsed and affirmed – it’s inspiring.
If you overheard the parent of a child in your class talking about you to other parents, what do think they would they say?
I’d like to think they’d say I worked hard, cared for the children, made them feel safe and happy, was diligent and conscientious about setting appropriate levels and quantities of work that was interesting and challenging for their child; but that I also made sure they understood things or could confidently speak up if they didn’t. I’d like to think they’d say I had time for every child in the class, not just theirs.
Why do you want to work in this school?
This is the question that shows whether you have done your homework, so you need to have read the school’s website, the latest Ofsted report and the DfE information about the school. This gives another dimension as it makes comparisons with schools of a similar profile – absence rates, trends in performance etc.
But don’t jump to conclusions - you won’t necessarily be happier or better supported in a school with a string of “Outstanding” Ofsted reports. Don’t assume either that schools in challenging circumstances need to be avoided at all costs - often they have the most committed and hard-working teachers who will inspire and encourage you – so that’s something you want to be a part of right? So say it.
Your visit to the school prior to interview is crucial in getting a feel for the place: the children, the staff, the building and the local area – the atmosphere: how you were greeted with warmth and consideration, which made you feel welcome and valued; that the teachers seemed to be having fun with the children and they seemingly were keen to get back into class; that the relationships between teachers and children reflected respect and courtesy. Who would not want to work in a school that could like this? It’s motivating isn’t it? So say so.
You’ve said in your supporting statement that you are passionate about… literacy… (or special needs or mental health or science or ‘giving every child the best possible start in life’…) Everyone we interview says they are 'passionate' about something. Tell us what your passion actually means for you.
Supporting statements have become very formulaic and most people will make some grand statement of idealism. That’s good – but be prepared to back up your grand statements with what it actually means for you.
What are the key qualities you think children look for in teachers?
This is a question about the virtues and values of teachers and teaching – so you’ll need to clarify what they are for you. However, children should be able to see that their teacher loves teaching and they love being with young people; that children want to know that their teachers are fair, consistent and have a sense of humour especially about themselves; that they have a passion for their subject; that they are considerate about the way they communicate and are good at explaining new concepts and ideas; that they are able to make new topics seem interesting and relevant and that they are able to make everyone in the class feel comfortable and confident about contributing.
If we did not to appoint you, what would this school be losing?
This is a question you can prepare for - so rehearse it like a script. It’s also wide open and enables you to sell yourself and really tell them what you are about. Blow your trumpet but don’t sound arrogant. If the interviewers don’t ask this question, you can make your answer a grand, confident and final statement at the end of the interview, when they are bound to ask: “Finally, is there anything you’d like to ask us?” – then you can say: “No questions, but I would like to tell you what you’d be missing if you did not appoint me today…” That would be a very impressive way to end your interview.
Alan Newland worked as a teacher, teacher-trainer and head teacher in London for over 20 years and then for over a decade with the DfE and the GTC. He now lectures and writes on professional values in teaching and runs the award-winning social media network newteacherstalk. You can follow him on Twitter at @newteacherstalk.
His new book: ‘Becoming a teacher – the legal, ethical and moral implications of entering society’s most fundamental profession’ will be published by Crown House Publishing this summer and can be ordered here.