Be a natural selection

10th January 1997 at 00:00
You may turn out to be the best teacher in the world, but first you have to get the job. James Williams shares experience and explains why some candidates go wrong.

All schools are looking for good teachers, ones that will be committed and who will provide a good education for their pupils. So, just how do you select a job when the annual hunt begins for suitable newly qualified teachers?

Getting a good job is not just a matter of picking up the paper and taking the first thing that comes along, there are a number of stages that you must go through in order to secure a post that fits you as a person and does not put you into a situation where your talents and skills are misdirected and under used or where you are simply exploited.

Looking for a job The obvious place to begin your search is in The TES. The appointments section carries many hundreds of jobs. But before wading through all of these you must first decide on a number of things: * What age group do you wish to teach?

* Is there any particular geographical area you mustwould like to teach in?

* What type of school are you looking for?

* What type of job are you interested in?

Write down on a piece of paper what your ideal school would be. Decide if you wish to teach in the state or independent sector. It is possible to get a slightly higher salary in the independent sector, but promotion may be more limited. What about a grant maintained school? It would be foolish to think about a job in one if your views are fundamentally opposed to the notion of GM status. Do you want to teach in a large or a small primary school and do you have a preference as to which year group you want to teach?

The location of the school is also important. You may be prepared to travel and move to the other side of the country for a job, but if you do you will have to think about relocation expenses, the cost of living in that area and the ease with which you will find suitable accommodation.

Once you have your ideal school in mind, turn to the appointments section. If you are lucky it will be there somewhere, but you will probably have to select a few that closely match what you want and then apply to them. Look at the advert carefully. Is it a permanent or temporary post? Don't turn up for a temporary appointment thinking it's permanent.

For NQTs, posts will normally be under the sections labelled CPS (common pay spine) for each type of appointment. Some will have in their description "suitable for NQTs" or "suitable for a first appointment". See whether you are required to apply in writing, with a CV, or get an application form from the school.

If the job is in an area where an extra allowance, above the CPS, applies it will normally say if it attracts an inner, outer or fringe allowance.

If you write asking for an application form, keep the letter short and to the point as it will be one of the office staff who usually deals with such requests and sends out a package including an application form and details of the job. The important letter is the one that accompanies the returned application or CV. Some appointments do not need an application form filled in immediately and they will ask for a CV.

The appointments section of The TES has its busiest times from March through to June and then in September, although there are jobs on offer during other times. August is the least likely time to find a job. Advertisements also appear in the Guardian on Tuesdays and the Independent on Thursdays. Local education authorities often issue internal notices of appointments, so contact them directly for these.

Applying for the job You might expect to find with your application form: * information about the school * a school brochure * information about the job on offer * details of the departmentfaculty offering the job * examination results and statistics about the size of the school and staff numbers.

Read this information carefully and see how your experience fits in with what the school has on offer. Look carefully at the application form. What information do they want and, crucially, what have they not asked for that you might want to tell them about? Some advertisements will ask you to enclose a CV, and unless the ad states that a CV is not necessary, you should include one.

Your CV should be plain and simple. I have received everything from bright, fluorescent coloured CVs to photographs and those with every conceivable typeface, from fancy to unreadable. Make it simple, concise and include only relevant information. Here is not the place to extol the virtues of child-centred learning as your philosophy of education. Keep it down to two or three pages at the most and make sure it is up to date.

It is a good idea at this point to make sure that your referees are alerted to the fact that you are applying for jobs. Usually your college tutor will act as one and the other could be a past employer, the head of department on your block practice or an independent person who is willing to act as a referee.

In your covering letter, or in the personal statement in your application form, you need to impress the people who will vet your application. The way not to impress them is to send in a sloppy, badly constructed and incorrect statement or application form. Even though you may be applying for several jobs, think about tailoring each application you make to different schools. It is easy to spot standard letters. Use the headteacher's name when replying - "Dear SirMadam" is a dead give-away that this person has simply printed or copied a standard letter.

The following example is taken from a real application for a post as science teacher in my own school: "Dear SirMadam, I wish to be considerd (sic) for the post advertised. I am an excellent teacher and wish to be in charge of my own school. I enjoy working with kids and I feel that they respnd (sic) to my friendly manner."

I agree that you should push the positive aspects of your commitment to teaching, and applying for a job is no time to be shy and retiring. But a statement such as "I am an excellent teacher" does not sit well if your only experience has been a one-year PGCE:who says you are excellent? I would prefer to see that as a statement in a reference, written by someone who knows an excellent teacher when they see one.

Spelling mistakes do not go down well either. A word processor will usually have a spell-checker. The final draft should always be scrutinised for mistakes. Spelling, grammar and attention to detail is important, regardless of your subject.

In another application the following phrase appeared: "As you will note, I am very highly qualified, with a PhD in material science. I feel your pupils will benefit from my knowledge and experience and I will be able to offer them educational opportunities only found in the independent sector."

Being condescending is not a good way to make people like you. The whole tone of this applicant's statement was wrong. He tried to make us feel that we would be very lucky to get him and that we should be grateful he applied. In the state sector and the independent sector there are all manner of teachers who are qualified to very high levels.

A well-constructed statement in support of an application may include the following: * an appreciation of team work as an important factor in teaching * an ability to relate to young people * an appreciation of the need for differentiated work * knowing how children learn displaying an enthusiasm for teaching * any work with children that may be relevant, for example, scouts or guides, or voluntary work * any extra-curricular activities you may be able to offer.

The main thing is to keep it to a page of A4 at the most. A 3,000-word essay on education is another sure-fire way to go to the bottom of the pile. Make a copy of your application and statement: you will need them if you are invited for interview, you need to know what you have said about yourself and your attitudes and aptitudes.

Finally, don't be late with your application - the closing date is there for a reason, don't miss it!

Preparing for the interview When the letter arrives inviting you for interview, reply to it with a phone call to confirm that you will be attending. Then do some research.

Go back to the information sent out, or request some if you weren't sent any. Carefully look at the school's brochure, staffing structure, philosophy and facilities. Locate the school on a map and check that you know your way there. Being late to an interview is not a good start. If possible make a dummy journey, decide which route is the best if you are going by car or what the times of the buses and trains are.

Think about what questions you may be asked in the interview. Read your statement again, you will be asked to elaborate on things that you have said. If you made a statement about your opinion on discipline, be prepared for someone in the interview to ask you about this.

Your teaching practice will almost surely be mentioned at some point, so put together some comments about this experience. In particular, think of examples of good and bad lessons you have had and, more importantly, what made it a good or bad lesson.

The interview panel will usually comprise the headteacher, the head of department for your subject (in a secondary school), a deputy head and a governor. The actual mix of the interview panel will vary from school to school.

Before the interview there is usually a tour of the school. Often you are told that this is not part of the interview, but from the moment you enter the school you are "on interview": impressions about your manner and your body language will be gained and will have some small part to play in making a decision.

Before the interview the panel normally decide on who is asking which questions. The senior management team may ask about teaching practice, aspirations in teaching, specialisms and interests, the qualities of a good teacher and pastoral issues, for example the role of the form tutor. A head of subject may ask about classroom organisation, assessment and recording, teaching styles and strategies and subject specific issues (for example, health and safety in science or aspects of A-level teaching if it is on offer). The governor may ask about the wider community, extra-curricular activities and other non-specific issues. You must prepare some thoughts and ideas on all these aspects before you go to the interview.

The following questions are ones that were asked during interviews in my own school. They are followed by the criteria or key words and ideas I look for in reply: Could you outline briefly what steps need to be taken in order to provide effective learning experiences for children?

Key wordsideas: good planning and lesson presentation; differentiated work suited to the pupil's ability level; regular testing to discover degree of progress; evaluation of pupil activities; review of work to test understanding.

Could you outline your views on the role and purpose of assessment in teaching?

Key wordsideas: assess effectiveness of teaching; assess progress; to help evaluate teaching strategies; to reflect and support the aims and objectives of a course; to provide evidence to enable a professional judgment of a learner's achievement.

The interview Body language is important. Try to be relaxed but not sloppy. Sitting wringing your hands or folding your arms tightly to your body are not good signs, neither is swinging your leg over the arm of a chair. Make yourself comfortable and try to have a relaxed manner. Smile, it should be a good day.

Listen carefully to what questions are asked and look at the person addressing you. Eye contact is important, but don't stare at the person: when you answer questions begin by talking directly to the questioner, then open it up and glance around the panel, don't exclude them from your replies.

Using gimmicks in interviews is rarely a good idea - don't magically produce an apple from your pocket to demonstrate the concept of gravity as one applicant did. Bringing along examples of worksheets you produced may be appropriate for some subjects. If they are asked for, make sure that they are well-produced and accurate.

Don't be over-friendly or familiar - treating the panel like old chums doesn't work. Don't be shy: a quiet, mouse-like teacher needs to be a bit more than that in front of a lower set Year 10 group of difficult pupils; the panel needs to know that you are a clear speaker and communicator.

Have a sense of humour in the interview, but don't try to be a stand-up comic. If you have strong political or environmental beliefs, be aware that the classroom is not the place to talk about them, neither is the interview.

Above all else you should be yourself or, as one student teacher once said to me, "be yourself, but on a good day". If you are false you will not be able to convince the panel that this is a true reflection of you as a person.

What you wear is also important. Outrageous clothes, suitable for a nightclub, are not suitable attire for the classroom or the interview. Neither is the laid-back jeans and sweatshirt approach. Most schools have a dress code, even if it is unwritten. You cannot tear a strip off a pupil for wearing trainers and no uniform when you are wearing sloppy clothes and a pair of dirty trainers yourself (PE staff excepted), you will earn no respect from your pupils.

At the end of the interview, you may have an opportunity to ask questions. Don't ask them for the sake of it, but now is your chance to ask about syllabuses taught, terms and conditions, whether there is an NQT induction programme, etc. During your tour of the school, try to store some ideas for questions.

And if you are not successful, ask for a debrief. You may not feel like knowing why you failed to get the job, but all interviews are an experience from which you can learn.

James Williams is head of the science faculty at The Beacon School, Banstead, Surrey

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