How to plan the interview lesson

The interview lesson is your chance to bring your on-paper credentials to the stage. With careful planning and an ability to deal with the unexpected you’ll have kids and staff begging for an encore.

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The interview lesson is a curious snapshot of your teaching on which so much can rest. You wouldn’t have been invited for interview if your application had been poor, so at the start of the day everyone is – theoretically – appointable. And though some people may be really confident in formal interviews, ultimately it will always be the classroom that truly matters.

Let’s be clear, though: no one seriously expects you to significantly impact the future life chances of children in 30 minutes. Rather, the point of this part of the day is for you to show senior leaders that you can structure learning, have high expectations and build a rapport with children. Here’s a guide to doing all three. 

Structuring your interview lesson

Your interview lesson should centre on one very tight learning aim. Sometimes the school will provide this, sometimes it will simply direct you to a theme. If you are provided with poetry, then a haiku will work better than a ballad. If you are asked to cover fractions, I’d suggest you find a real-world approach to its application.

It is useful to know some information about the class you’re going to teach – especially specific learning needs and general ability. You have to have some context to pitch towards. If this information is not given to you by the school, ask for it.

If you download something from TES’ website don’t expect it, as if by magic, to go swimmingly. This tactic only works if you adapt the resource for classes you know well. You do not know this class at all. Instead, set something engaging for them as the lesson begins (while you fiddle with memory sticks), give them one really fantastic task and ensure that you have a way to measure learning. 

Do not adapt your style. The school has to be the right place for you, so if you construct something you think they want to see but you’re uncomfortable with – say, group work – then it will show. Besides, why would you want to work somewhere that won’t embrace your style of education?

Don’t be afraid to pull pupils up

These may not be your usual children and you may be unfamiliar with the behaviour policy, but chewing gum, swigging energy drinks and having a nap is probably not the expectation you should have of the children in your lesson. Do not be afraid to pull kids up and ask them to rectify their behaviour. The gentle proffer of a bin and a quiet “Please spit out your gum”, is going to be more effective than shouting across the room. 

Find a way to encourage all children to invest in their learning during your interview lesson – immediately pick up those reluctant to start work and coerce them into joining in. This is where having something a little bit differentiated tucked away can help: a slightly more accessible task or resource may prove the right thing and it’s better to adapt as you go along rather than signal right at the beginning that you know certain children are not as able as others.

If some children rush or finish early, make sure you know what the extension is without it seeming like more work. I’ve sat in many a lesson where students are clearly more able than the interviewee expected and it becomes a thumb-twiddling exercise.

Expect the IT not to work. It would be lovely if everything ran to plan but, ultimately, cables get lost, hardware isn’t compatible, some internet filters are draconian and, even these days, the internet can simply crash. 

Build a rapport with the children

Some of the very best interview lessons have been stripped back to the bare bones and have relied upon the rapport between class and interviewee. Rapport does not mean best of chums; this is a school and the desired relationship should be teacher and student. We are looking for professionals who enjoy being in the classroom and interacting with young people. We will ask the class after each lesson how they thought it went – and we want to hear the children clamour for the employment of interviewees. We want the kids to be your advocates.

It is worth practising your delivery. I have sat in rooms where the interviewees have yelled at the class, whispered at the class, spent the whole time red and sweating, and some who never came close to cracking a smile. I have heard some tell X-rated jokes, threaten to “bitch slap” someone and another who said, “Bloody hell, if I was as stupid as you, I’d shoot myself”.

Such things are unlikely to convince me that you’re the right person for the job. I want you to inspire, motivate and educate the young people at my school, not terrify them or let them run riot.

Expect the unexpected

Nothing will ever prepare you for the unexpected. I’ve seen an interviewee knock over his bottle of fizzy drink but open it regardless and spray the first three rows of the room. I once taught my entire interview lesson with half the buttons of my top undone – at least the kids were quiet; shocked into silence. My colleague once referred to a student by the female pronoun for the entire lesson, only to be told at the end that the student was a boy. 

Oddly, we were all appointed to the roles we had applied for. I guess some things can be forgiven, especially if they provide a fun anecdote afterwards.

Keziah Featherstone is headteacher of the Bridge Learning Campus, Bristol, co-founder of #WomenEd and a member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable