On Teachers Walking Away

Teacher Leaving

A Guest Post by Ele Crovato

DISCLAIMER: This blog is a personal stance on a much-discussed topic; I don’t speak for anyone but myself and those that I have quoted where appropriate. 

The following is taken from page 9 of Briefing Paper 7222, 16 December 2019, available from The House of Commons Library:

“22.5% of newly qualified entrants to the sector in 2016 were not recorded as working in the state sector two years later. The five year out-of-service rate for 2013 entrants was 32.3%, the highest on the current series, which dates back to 1997. The rate has been between 25.4% and 32.3% in each year over this period. The ten year out-of-service rate for 2009 entrants was 38%. It has been between 40.3% and 34.4% in each year since 1997.

DfE commissioned research on factors affecting teacher retention 

Following a survey targeted at former teachers in January to March 2017, the DfE commissioned in-depth qualitative research into why teachers leave the profession and what would encourage them to remain in teaching. The report of this research was published in March 2018: Factors Affecting Teacher Retention: Qualitative Investigation

Amongst the findings of the research were: 

  • Workload was the most important factor influencing teachers’ decisions to leave the profession and most suggested solutions to addressing retention were linked to workload in some way. 
  • Decisions to leave the profession were “generally driven by the accumulation of a number of factors, over a sustained period of time”, but for some, there had been a specific ‘trigger’ point. 

Suggested solutions for retention offered by teachers included: improving in-school support for teachers, increasing focus on progression opportunities, reducing workload, improving working conditions (flexible working was viewed positively; pay was not a driver for most but it was stated that pay levels were not reflective of the role), professional recognition and greater autonomy.”

Roughly, one in three new teachers don’t stay beyond those infamous first five years of service; I don’t have any numbers to prove it at this point, but I’m not convinced that the teaching profession is so much different from other sectors.

In the good old days of me having jobs before teaching, staying with one employer or in one sector for a long time was no longer an expectation, even if you had been offered a permanent job; the truth is, I think, at least partially, that becoming a teacher is still seen as one of those jobs that clearly carry the ‘vocation’ label and therefore, once in, you’re in, and commitment is commitment.

In other words, you’re expected to stay no matter what (I’m being very generic here, I know) and leaving is seen as a huge deal.

I live most of my teaching life in the very limited world of EduTwitter, but I know that every time someone posts about making that big decision of leaving teaching, the post leaves ripples. I’m guessing this is normal for a number of reasons (we’re losing one of ‘our own’, if you like) and we know that retention is hard work, so I do sympathise with the upset; goodness knows that we need all the good teachers we can get. I genuinely understand why a seasoned teacher would be an overall loss to the profession.

I’ve yet to encounter a leaving tweet that speaks of dreadful children, horrible colleagues (again, being generic here), and the hate of working in a school being the reason people leave; no, let’s be honest here, people leave because teaching is a relentless job which you don’t step away from: the workload in far too many schools is horrendous, the demands on time are absurd and, quite frankly, nowhere near worthy of the money we get.

Of course I know that no one gets into teaching for the money – if that was the case we’d have no teachers to speak of – but sure enough it has to be considered at some point; and, while the bursaries for training in certain subjects look very nice, they’re also very deceiving: going from 30K as a physics trainee to circa 24K as an NQT doesn’t bode very well, does it?

In view of all of the above, it comes to no surprise that the latest input from Gavin Williamson regarding teacher retention was seen by some as gaslighting (see this TES article for details). Thing is, Mr Williamson, while we could argue that some ITT providers are better than others at their job, you know and we know that training has nothing to do with teachers staying or leaving; statistics have shown, over and over again, that workload is pretty much the bugbear here and often one of the deciding factors in choosing the school you work at.

So, in essence, if Mr Williamson continues to come up with pearls of wisdom like the one above, I fear he will manage to create an unsurmountable divide between government and the very people a Secretary of State Education is supposed to work with and for. 

Yet, I’m making what is potentially an even more controversial claim here: while it might be true that retention is an issue, it makes no sense how big a fuss we make of it. Now, before you get the pitchforks out, I’ve thought about this long and hard and I hope that you can too; for one reason or another, I’m not as insular (some detractors would say ‘institutionalised’) as other, more experienced teachers. Also, the fact that I’ve come to teaching after doing loads of other stuff might actually help me see the profession in a different way as most people that have been teaching for a far longer time than me, do.

In my school we currently have a number of Teach First trainees. I had never heard of TF before getting onto Twitter, and I’ll admit that their reputation – not always positive – precedes them. So far I’ve heard that TF trainees are trained for SLT, are trained to leave, are trained to go into bigger and better things, with the overall feeling that they basically don’t stay in teaching.

This might or might not be true and I’m not interested in the TF rumours being proven or otherwise because I’m sure that, one way or another, the organisation reflects the variety of outcomes of all ITT providers out there. So, for example, while I stayed on as a teacher after my training, one of my fellow trainees decided it wasn’t for her; once again, the overall reaction to her decision (from me included) was one of commiseration but of recognition of her bravery. Believe me when I tell you that, when I left my job as a team manager at Esso, no one made a fuss and told me how brave my decision was.

But back to TF. 

One of the trainees we have is in my science department and this is her second year with us; this is obviously not the norm as we’re used to trainees coming and going as they move on through placements. The TF trainee and I have some wonderful conversations about all sorts of stuff; I’ll call her Hannah just to respect her privacy, even though she’s fully aware of me using her as an example for this blog.

Hannah and I spend some of our PPA time debating and discussing education stuff, anything from making resources to abandoning PPT for booklets to the best cake for tedious meetings. Recently she talked to me about her future plans post QTS and I was not surprised to find out that she wishes to go on a gap year but I was actually surprised to find out she doesn’t intend to return to the teaching profession after that.

As you can expect, my reaction was the usual one of commiserations and of mourning the loss of a really decent teacher. Of course, I probed a bit more and she was happy to discuss her views of the teaching profession as it stands; a further disclaimer should go here and I should remind anyone reading this that I’m relaying Hannah’s personal views, but she definitely found me in agreement with many of her points.

Hannah mainly mentioned the well-known retention factors that we all know about: unrealistic workload, as well as demands on time that go well beyond the school hours and lack of support from some SLT. She recognises that the way we do things in our school is much different from other schools, and what I mean is that, as teachers, our workload is the absolute minimum, we don’t mark books, we have centralised detentions, we don’t chase parents nor children, we are consistently supported by a lovely and very visible SLT, and that makes a huge difference. However, both Hannah and I know very well that this is not always the norm, at least not at this point, and we appreciate that changing schools might also mean giving up some or all of the nice stuff we have at our own school. 

Hannah also bemoans the unrealistic expectation of having to find new resources to teach with, indeed of not having some sort of centralised database for each topic which we can access and use at leisure; she finds the lack of a more standardised approach to running a school just as baffling; she cannot quite fathom the fact that some schools are criticised for being strict with behaviour expectations, something which was basically a given among her peers during her schooling (she’s in her 20s).

In short, she has found too many negatives in her day-to-day teaching job to want to come back as a qualified teacher; she knows that demands will possibly get worse once she’s an NQT and beyond and therefore she’s stepping away from the profession altogether. When I asked her if she would consider returning she said no, not unless considerable changes and improvements were in place.

As she was speaking about all this, I found myself nodding along in agreement a lot; because of a number of reasons, this is my fourth year in the classroom and I’ve seen some wonderful schools and some terrible schools, so I really do know what is out there.

Yet, the thing that struck me the most was her reaction to the responses she gets when she says she will not continue teaching: she doesn’t get the sympathy nor the commiserations, and she doesn’t get why it’s a big deal. She got me thinking and you know what? She has a point. Hear me out.

In every other profession or job I’ve ever been in, leaving is not a big deal. I mean, sure, if you’ve been in a job for a long time and you have some lovely colleagues they’re bound to miss you and you miss them. However, I’ve lost count of the times in which I’ve seen a post about a teacher fully leaving teaching and being told that changing schools might help (yes, I’m also guilty of this, I will do better): why? Why do we say this? Instead of saying something encouraging, we sort of turn the tables. Look, I know this is the kind of comment made with the best intentions, I do. But it still sounds odd, somehow. Put it in the context of any other form of employment and you’ll see what I mean.

Every job in the world carries a probation period, however long, and teaching is no exception; to be brutally honest, I’ll go one more and say that teacher training, as it stands now, is misleading; the most you teach is about 70% of a full timetable and the responsibility of the classes you teach ultimately rests with the actual teacher so yes, I think misleading is a fair assessment. No, I don’t have a solution and I fully understand why ITT courses are setup the way they are, but they are nevertheless unrealistic. Many people told me that my NQT year would be so much easier than my training year but that was definitely not true for me, or rather, that was far too simplistic a way to put it.

The reality of being in a classroom, in charge of – on a typical five-period day – about 140 or so kids is terrifying and a huge responsibility! And the truth is that we don’t know what that is actually like until we’re well into our NQT year. And the even more obvious truth that sometimes we ignore is that it takes time to try out a job, any job, but especially a complex one as teaching; complex not necessarily because of what we do, which of course is not rocket science as such, but complex because of the constant plate spinning that comes with the job. Someone once compared the skills you need when teaching to the ones you need when driving a car, which is fair enough, except the car is on fire and you’re driving on two wheels on the edge of a precipice. While I can agree that in time things get better, this is true of some aspects of the job, but not all of them; in fact, my argument here is that some get worse as responsibility increases: eventually something has to give to restore balance.

So, with all the respect I might have for Mr Williamson, he’s once again off the mark and appears to operate in a parallel universe where teachers have no lives outside school, no families to worry about, no agency, no voice; quite frankly, no amount of training will ever solve the number of ludicrous loops we make teachers jump through.

While I’d agree that the vast majority of people hold teachers in high esteem – despite all attempts to convince them otherwise from far too many sources – it’s really important that, for at least once, you read the room, Gavin, seriously. If not the room then read the reports the government you belong to commissions. Honestly, we deserve someone who knows what they’re doing.

But, and this is a sizeable but, to me it seems also true that we make a rod for our own back in the way that we view those who choose to leave the profession, for whatever reason. We might not do it willingly or in a way meant to cast doubt, but we still do it and I think we should stop; we should consider the kind of implicit message we might be sending to others who are doubtful of their place in the classroom.

Overall, it feels like we’re very good at recognising the things that make us want to leave teaching, but we often fail to accept that teaching is just like any other job and we should be able to come and go, so to speak, even if training is hard work, even if we give it a proper try but still it doesn’t work out, even if we take as much as two years (as in Hannah’s case) to actually make a decision about it.

We should be able to just leave it or take it as with any other job without the burden of guilt hanging over us because we are left feeling that we didn’t try hard enough.

Ele Crovato

Science Teacher and #TeamTransition Science Lead

On Twitter as @Illwriteitdown

With special thanks to Hannah for her patience and honesty, to Towers for being an awesome school, and to Andy McHugh for bravely hosting this blog.

Mentoring Trainee Teachers: A Practical Guide

Mentoring

Six strategies for getting the best out of trainee teachers and their mentors

This article first appeared in HWRK Magazine in December 2020.

I love mentoring trainee teachers. It’s one of the greatest joys and privileges in education, as it’s my greatest opportunity to influence the future of our profession. But this isn’t the only upside. Mentoring trainee teachers makes me a better teacher too.

If you’ve mentored trainees before, you’ll know that the demands of the role can push us to the limits of our patience, workload and resilience. So it’s vital that, as a mentor, I have an effective strategy in place to head off problems before they occur and to make the training process as efficient as possible.

Here are some of the strategies I’ve developed over the years, to help me to mentor trainee teachers more effectively.

1. Build their subject knowledge

Imagine completing a degree in English, only to find that none of the books you studied are used by your placement school. Or that having covered particular time periods in your History degree, it still doesn’t help you with your Year 9 lesson planning. You might not be familiar with the latest way to teach phonics or long division. And your understanding of different sports might not help at all when teaching quidditch for the first time (I’m joking about that last one).

Setting aside time to help your student teacher learn new subject knowledge is therefore vital. Your role is to help to move them from novice towards expert, not only because it will help them teach to a higher standard, but it also instils confidence in them, a quality they will rely on when things invariably go wrong, somewhere down the line.

Also, savvy students can see through a teacher who doesn’t really know their stuff. This can bring with it a whole host of problems, both behavioural and academic. Prevention is better than the cure on this one. Let’s equip our trainees with knowledge.

2. Teach effective classroom routines

Effective classroom routines can make all the difference to the nature of the lesson. Students do appear to prefer routines, as they know where they stand with them and once embedded, they will pretty much stick to them (with the odd exception).

One particularly powerful routine that I find especially useful is used at the end of lessons.

Students have a sixth sense for when the bell is about to go, or the lesson change-over is about to begin. Despite you being the teacher, your instructions are often ignored, or at best forgotten by a large proportion of well-meaning students. They’re far too busy thinking about and doing the “next thing”. You then get annoyed, stressed and end up calling out the bad behaviour of the students, who then feel unfairly treated, as they thought they were doing what they were supposed to do.

We can avoid this, however, by starting our instructions with the behavioural cues we want to see. For example, instead of giving out your instructions, then adding in your command for good behaviour at the end, you should begin with a clear behavioural cue first:

“Nobody pack away. Before you do anything else, you need to write down your answer to this question from the board, on your paper and then place it on my desk. Only once you have completed all of that, may you pack away quietly. Now, write your answer.”

By setting out your expectations, or parameters for the conduct of students, before they begin the task, you ensure a higher level of compliance with the behaviours you want to see. You will encounter fewer behavioural issues, have to answer fewer logistical questions about what Doug Lemov calls the “means of participation” and your focus can remain on the learning, rather than on the behaviour management of the class.

3. Be specific about what you expect trainees to demonstrate

Trainees need to demonstrate a lot of skills and attributes, as evidence that they are meeting the Teachers’ Standards. This isn’t necessarily a problem, after all, we’ve all been through that training ourselves and the Teachers’ Standards are vital in upholding the professionalism of teachers. However, it can be difficult for trainees to know what they should prioritise at various points in their training year.

I recommend setting a focus on specific points for the trainee to work on, each week. This can be as a pre-planned schedule, or in a more responsive way, depending on how the training is going. After all, some trainees may need to focus more in a particular term, on their lesson planning, the quality of their questioning, or their behaviour management. This should also be reflected in the focus of their lesson observations and in the feedback they receive.

Setting a focus for questioning in an observed lesson, for example, allows the observer to devote much more time analysing and reflecting on that one thing, so they can give much more deep and useful feedback, than someone who spreads themselves too thinly and tries to respond to twenty different pedagogical aspects.

4. Plan for “professional conversations”

Trainee teachers will make mistakes and they will fall below the standard you would expect of a qualified teacher from time to time. It is a natural part of the learning process and it is why they have you, their mentor. So you need to anticipate where these mistakes could occur, so that you can prevent, mitigate or address them in the right way and at the right time.

To hold these “professional conversations” (I hate calling them “difficult conversations”), it can be helpful to frame the issues you want to discuss in the right way.

This requires two things: clear evidence to support your claim regarding any perceived underperformance and also a separation of the trainee as a person and their actions.

By focusing on the “issue”, e.g. “there was no SEND provision in that lesson”, or “the level of challenge was too low for Year 7”, you can remain largely objective in your assessment. Furthermore, it becomes about a feature of the lesson, rather than the quality of the teacher.

By doing this, you remove an incentive for the trainee to react defensively, as you aren’t calling their character or effort into question. Just remember, to follow up with a practical solution, otherwise they may not know what to do to improve next time.

5. Keeping an eye on wellbeing

Teacher training can be a gruelling slog at times and we sometimes forget that as we gain experience. We need to remember to check in with our trainees regarding their general mental and physical wellbeing. We take a lot of our skills for granted, but our trainees struggle (as we did) to gain those skills and it can leave trainees feeling drained. We wouldn’t want our own children to be taught by someone who couldn’t provide a high-quality education because they themselves weren’t coping. Check in on them.

Building a good relationship with them so that you can ask them whether they are getting enough sleep, or to see if they are finding time to unwind at the weekend can be invaluable. After all, if the answers to these sorts of questions flag any issues, it’s likely that  performance in the classroom will suffer at some point.

The recruitment and retention issue in education is well-known and we do have at least some ability to prevent it from worsening.

Just because our trainees are independent adults, it doesn’t mean they don’t need us to look after them from time to time.

6. Show them their journey

Finally, it helps for our trainees to see not just where they are going, but also where they have been. It’s too easy for them to be uber-busy, planning lessons, dealing with behaviour incidents, giving feedback and learning new subject knowledge for tomorrow’s lesson. Sometimes,  they simply can’t see the progress that they’re making. Set aside some time to step back with them and with a smile on your face, show them how they have grown since the beginning of the course.

They’ll appreciate it and it might just be the one thing that helps them through that next tricky practical lesson, period 5 on a windy Friday afternoon in January.

What Should Trainee Teachers Look For When Observing Lessons?

Trainee Teacher Observing Lessons

[Updated 27 Oct 2020]

I remember being a trainee teacher back in 2005 and going in to observe lessons. The lessons were pretty good, by whatever measure you might use. But I didn’t learn a lot from being there. Like someone with no technological knowledge inspecting the inside of a mechanical object, I just didn’t know what I was looking at.

I mention this because I think observing lessons is actually brilliant. I learn a lot from observing colleagues and I gain a lot from the feedback I receive, when they observe me. So why doesn’t this work for trainees, or even Early Career Teachers for that matter?

I think it comes down to experience. When an experienced teacher observes someone, they can watch the lesson and decide what they would do differently and why they would do it that way, drawing from their own classroom practice.

A trainee or inexperienced teacher cannot do this anywhere near as effectively or independently, in most cases. This is problematic for our trainees. We expect them to go into lessons, taught by our colleagues and expect them to soak up all of the good practice they witness, without realising that they simply aren’t equipped to do so.

So let’s equip them.

Here are some useful questions for trainees and Early Career Teachers to consider when observing. Hopefully, by getting them to reflect on their answers, we might help to focus their attention on what matters.

Lesson Observation Questions

  • Has the teacher demonstrated that they have high expectations for behaviour and progress? How did they convey this?
  • Does there appear to be a routine being followed? If so, what is it?
  • Is the classroom environment suited to the task? (e.g. grouped tables, equipment, use of space, etc)
  • How long does the teacher allow the students to work for, before checking progress?
  • Does the teacher model answers for the class? (If so, what was good about the modelling?)
  • What standard of answer does the teacher expect from the students?
  • How variable is the standard of answer from the students (and how does the teacher respond to this)?
  • When challenged by disruption, rudeness, etc, how does the teacher respond? How effective was the behaviour management strategy? (Did it work? Quickly?)
  • How many students are checked for progress during the lesson?
  • How often does the teacher ask questions? (What follow-up questions are asked?)
  • How could the students’ learning be stretched further?
  • How could the students’ learning be supported further?
  • Are strategies being implemented to teach specific groups, such as boys, Pupil Premium, SEND, high prior attaining students, etc?

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it gives students something to concentrate their attention on. When they begin their own teaching, these questions will naturally form part of the feedback on routines, expectations, behaviour, progress, differentiation and assessment. Having clear anecdotes to return to from their own observations, will help trainees and Early Career Teachers to compare their practice to the practice of experienced staff.

With any luck, they might even learn from us.

Recommended Reading

The one thing that all trainee teachers need to get to grips with early is effective behaviour management. Without this, learning suffers and so does the overall classroom experience of everyone involved. Mastering behaviour management strategies, therefore, no matter what school they teach in, is vital. Tom Bennett’s book, Running the Room, is THE perfect resource for solving behavioural issues as they arise and gives excellent advice on how to create a classroom culture where behaviour incidents are prevented before they happen.

What other questions would you add to the list?

Leave a reply below, or send me a tweet!

You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

[This post contains affiliate links]

Becoming A Research-Informed Teacher

research-informed teaching

Becoming Research-Informed

I’m writing this after returning from the hugely inspiring ResearchED Durham 2019. Brimming with ideas about how I can be more research-informed and improve my teaching, I’m dying to see what quick wins I can implement and what cultural changes I can affect, at least in my own classroom. But the trouble is, my enthusiasm isn’t enough. Nor is the random assortment of notes that I took while listening to the speakers. I know fine well that by Monday, some of that enthusiasm will have waned and that I’ll have forgotten the context of those pithy quotes I wrote down, in the hope that they would make me look and sound clever.

Come to think of it, I probably haven’t improved that much at all.

So, what was the point in attending?

For me, it’s about developing good habits. In this case, I mean that I’m trying to develop the habit of using research-informed strategies to influence my teaching. Attending a ResearchED event has been on my to-do list for a long time now. But as a one-off instance of CPD it isn’t enough. To really make the difference to my practice, I’ve started to read more academically about what works and to apply some of that research in my daily teaching activities. Attending ResearchED is only one piece of the puzzle (albeit an invaluable one).

[Contains affiliate links]

It’s easy to see why many of us teachers feel overwhelmed at the number of edu-books currently out there as “must-reads” and I’ll even be recommending a couple in a moment, so brace yourself. (Also, you can read a few of them on Kindle Unlimited for 30 days for free!) With all those titles telling us that our go-to strategies are either a waste of time or even counter-productive, you could be forgiven for putting off that “change” that might just be needed. After all, it’s comforting to think that after a few years of hard slog in the classroom, that you’ve managed to “nail it”.

But that’s not how we grow.

Sometimes we need to think back to why we wanted to go into teaching in the first place. We wanted to make a difference. We loved our subject and wanted to share our knowledge of it. We wanted to guide the next generation to success. And we still do!

So, with that in mind, I want to offer you a tiny little challenge. It only takes a couple of minutes.

How to begin…

Here’s something I do, once a week, to add something to my arsenal of effective teaching strategies and to remove strategies that have now been proven to be less effective.

I want you to read something. It could be a blogpost, a few pages of a book (here’s a few you can try), or an article from a magazine. Take one thing from whatever you read and implement it during your first lesson on Monday morning (or as close to that as you can).

That’s all.

If we want to become the research-informed and the most effective teachers that we can be, while maintaining our sanity and work-life balance, then small steps are needed. Just implement one thing. Otherwise, the hurdle will seem too high. The trouble with educational research, as @EmmaAlderson pointed out at ResearchED Durham, is that so few teachers engage with it. Many even see it as a threat, or worse, just a fad.

It’s something I’ve been doing for the past few months and over time it hasn’t only improved my teaching (verified by my students’ attainment data). I’ve also become more engaged and reflective about my teaching. It’s given me a much-needed boost in job satisfaction and has allowed me to ride this year’s teaching rollercoaster with a sense of joy, rather than fear.

Give it a go. Choose joy.

Here’s a couple of really accessible ones you can dip into to get started:

Tom Sherrington’s practical guide to using Rosenshine’s Principles is probably the easiest book to read, to improve your teaching. In the book, he gives simple advice on what works well, according to Rosenshine’s research and how we can implement it.

Peps Mccrea’s book is short and sweet, but packs a punch. You could easily devour this in one sitting and come away with a sack full of ideas to help your students learn more effectively.

Your journey to becoming research-informed begins here. Let me know how you get on.

Andy

P.S. You can find me on Twitter @guruteaching. Say hi!

Answering Questions at Teaching Interviews

Answering Questions at Teaching Interviews

Does the thought of answering questions at teaching interviews fill you with dread?

For many, the answer is a resounding YES! Not only is the application process extremely time-consuming, but if you are lucky to reach the interview stage, you will deal with on-the-spot pressures too. Most schools will observe a lesson you’ve prepared before moving to formal interviews. If you reach this stage then you’ve done well. However, this is often the point where candidates struggle the most. After all, you can prepare a lesson, knowing to some degree how it will go. But how can you predict what will be asked in an interview? (Sometimes it doesn’t go well at all! click here to see what to do next, after being turned down for a teaching job.)

Answering questions at teaching interviews is a skill you need to develop. Fortunately, there’s a way.

Thankfully, most schools look for the same sorts of qualities in a candidate, regardless of the subject, or level of responsibility. The questions asked by schools then, are broadly similar, or at least they aim to draw out the same elements from candidates’ responses. Schools want to appoint someone who is hardworking, dependable, honest, self-evaluative and looks to develop their own skills and knowledge.

If you are applying for a Leadership position, then you should prioritise extra qualities that are more specific to leading staff. These include having a clear vision and priorities for the role, developing successful strategies to solve problems, being able to lead teams of colleagues and being analytical and self-critical.

How would you deal with interview questions without preparing a detailed answer in advance? For most of us, the answer would be ‘requires improvement’. But in reality, with a little self-reflection, you will have an arsenal of anecdotes that you could bring out to demonstrate your capability in all of these questions.

Take a look at the questions below and see how you would respond:

Popular Questions at Teaching Interviews

  1. Tell me about yourself.
  2. Why do you want this job?
  3. How would you deal with a difficult colleague?
  4. What would you do if a student disclosed X?
  5. How would you deal with apathetic parents of an underperforming student?
  6. How would you teach topic X to a more able / less able group?
  7. What was the last book on teaching that you read and how did it impact your teaching? (Read this post on my Top 19 Teaching Books for some inspiration!)
  8. What is your biggest weakness?
  9. How do you think your observed lesson went?
  10. What value do you bring to the department?
  11. Tell me what an outstanding lesson looks like?
  12. Describe an “outstanding” school?
  13. What is more important: attainment, progress or achievement?
  14. How would you deal with a student complaint against a member of staff?
  15. What would you do if you disagreed with an instruction given by a senior member of staff?
  16. Do you have any questions to ask us?

General tips for answering questions at teaching interviews

  • Be authentic. Tell the truth and justify everything with reasons based on actual experience. Headteachers and governors can smell a “fake” response a mile off.
  • Don’t just tell. Instead, show. Use examples of how you have dealt with situations from your own experiences. This could be about managing the expectations of students, building relationships with colleagues, overcoming a personal challenge regarding a teaching method, etc.
  • Go beyond your teaching experience and show how you have dealt with similar situations outside of school. In other words, how do you demonstrate the values the school wants, in your personal life? (Be careful not to over-share though!)
  • Be reflective. The best teachers can evaluate their performance, showing how they could have dealt with situations differently. As always, have examples at hand. Are you still evaluating? how many times have you altered your practice? (The more the better!)
  • Show that you pay attention to detail. Have examples that demonstrate how you diagnosed an issue leading to underperformance and then show how your response to that made an impact. You can read this post on Black Box Thinking For Teachers for some inspiration!
  • Do your research on the school. The role you are applying for is at THEIR school. If they have specific priorities then show your knowledge of them. This could include closing the attainment gap between boys and girls at Key Stage 4, or it could be gaining more A/A* grades at Key Stage 5, for example. The fantastic Caroline Spalding (@MrsSpalding) wrote an excellent post on this and other ideas about preparing for interviews here.
  • Use data. Instead of saying “I have excellent results”, say “last year my classes achieved X% in their GCSE exams. This demonstrates your attention to detail.
  • Work out in advance what YOUR vision for the role is. Keep referring back to that vision throughout your responses. The more your vision comes through, the less doubt there will be over your character (a MAJOR point that interviewers consider).
  • Structure your answers using the STAR technique. Click here to see how this works.
  • Be a “Purple Cow”. Lots of candidates will give the same sorts of responses to standard questions. Be memorable by answering the questions in a unique way.

Recommended Reading

There are a lot of good books out there on answering questions at teaching interviews, but having read a lot of them, they often aren’t useful for teaching interviews. For that reason, I’ve narrowed down my recommendations to a couple of excellent books which will make teaching interviews a much easier and less stressful experience. I’ve included affiliate links to both books below.

My first recommendation is 50 Teaching Interview Questions & Suggested Responses: For Primary School Teaching Interviews by Mark Thomas and Lynne Ryder. This book contains most of the commonly asked questions and gives excellent guidance on how to respond in a way that maximises your chances of success. The authors have decades of combined experience as headteachers, so if they tell you to mention something at the interview, then you’d better do it!

My second recommendation is Why You?: 101 Interview Questions You’ll Never Fear Again by James Reed. Whilst this book isn’t specific to teaching, the questions he asks and answers within it are often asked in teaching interviews. James covers the main areas usually examined in the interview, including character, experience, career goals, competency and even those curve-ball questions like “If you were an animal, what would you be?” Reading this will undoubtedly prepare you for interviews at any level, from NQT to Executive Headteacher.

Final thoughts…

I loved and hated interview questions at different times in my career. Hated when I hadn’t prepared or rehearsed a good enough answer. Loved when my prepared answer showed my true ability and future potential.

Share this with anyone applying for teaching positions, I promise they’ll thank you for it!

Good luck,

Andy.

P.S. If it doesn’t go well, read my 10 rules on staying sane after a rejection here!

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