Career-move case study: the deputy head
Teacher: Victoria Schaefer, secondary school leader in Essex
In our latest careers advice series, we speak to teachers who have been job hunting, interviewing and preparing to start their new roles during the coronavirus pandemic.
In this instalment, we speak to Victoria Schaefer, who has just landed a position as deputy head at a secondary school in Essex.
Schaefer has been working as an assistant head but is ready for a new challenge.
She secured her new job as a deputy head just before lockdown, and is now preparing for her new role, not knowing whether schools will be open or not when she begins.
Switching teacher jobs in the coronavirus lockdown
When Schaefer was looking for suitable roles, it was important to her to find a school that shared her own vision for education.
“I approached job hunting slowly, carefully and methodically,” she says. “Moving on to deputy headship is much more about your own vision. My first stage was reflecting on my own role, and my successes, and then considering my visions and beliefs.”
Another important factor in Schaefer’s job hunt was the school's location. She needed to ensure that the school was somewhere that suited both her and her family.
“I’ve got young children and didn’t want to be commuting long distances,” she explains.
However, Schaefer was also keen to make sure that she wasn't excluding herself from opportunities because her criteria was too narrow. This meant taking a flexible approach when she was reading through job descriptions.
“I was looking for a best fit. I didn’t mind if I didn’t meet all of the criteria,” she says.
The deputy headteacher interview
Once Schaefer found a role that she liked, she applied and was called for interview. As with most teaching jobs, her deputy headteacher interview was split into different stages.
The first panel interview was on teaching and learning; Schaefer felt that her passion for this topic helped her to answer the questions that were posed to her.
“I actually really enjoyed it,” she says. “I got into the flow of the interview, and felt I could respond in detail to the questions. The interviewers were receptive and responsive, and I felt like I had given a confident performance."
However, the second panel interview proved to be a very different experience.
“The headteacher was being deliberately provocative, trying to unsettle me,” she says. “[They were] stony-faced and not even nodding or giving anything back. There were really tough questions, and it was certainly less enjoyable, and more challenging.”
Despite feeling unsettled, Schaefer recognises that this is all part of the process, particularly in the current context of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“These are incredibly unsettling times for everybody. Schools are still trying to do their best in very difficult circumstances," she says. "So my advice is be brave. Be courageous.
“It’s likely you’re going to have to do a video interview, and that is perhaps more difficult than face to face, but if you’re serious there is that old adage that rough seas make the best sailors, so go for it. At this point, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain from the process.”
A bright new start
Moving up the leadership ladder does mean more work and responsibility, but the pay-off for that (along with a salary increase) is the fact you can have a bigger influence over the direction a school takes.
For Schaefer, there is a lot to look forward to.
“I’m really looking forward to having an impact on whole-school teaching and learning," she says.
And, like many teachers at the moment, she also can’t wait to get back into the classroom.
“In the present climate of isolation, I think I’m also looking forward to going back and working with staff and students. It’s a privilege to work with passionate people,” she says.
Advice for job hunters
What guidance would Schaefer offer to others pursuing a deputy headship right now?
One piece of advice would be to dedicate time to researching and rehearsing typical interview questions for this stage of leadership.
“I researched interview questions online, and then prepared to answer them," Schaefer says.
“Although not many of the exact questions came up, this preparation was still beneficial. You are thinking on your feet during the interview, but having practised some key phrases and clarified your own thinking around topics really helped.”