First Step - What do you know?

12th February 2010 at 00:00
You want to gain teaching experience but no one will take you on because you have none. It's a classic Catch 22, but there are ways around it

How do you get experience when you have none? This is the question on many new teachers' lips. Applying for your first teaching post and being turned down due to lack of experience can be incredibly annoying.

Elizabeth Redfern* has experienced this first-hand. "I have applied for 16 jobs and been invited to nine interviews," she says. "Although the headteachers liked my teaching style and praised me for being so at ease in the classroom, I was turned down. Each time, the school decided to go with a teacher who had more experience."

It might be useful to get some trusted advice about interview style, suggests Elizabeth Holmes, NQT and trainee teacher expert at Teachers TV. "Go to your initial teacher training institution for advice to make sure you are putting over how great you are for the job each time," she says. "We can only gain from these exercises - either we learn that what we are doing is fine and it is just a matter of time before we're successful or we get some great tips on how to tweak performance and nail that job."

Where competition is strong, you need to make your application and your experience stand out from the crowd. "Read the job specification carefully and ensure your application is diligent in addressing it," says Debra Myhill, head of the graduate school of education at the University of Exeter.

"As a receiver of applications, it is always a little off-putting to read an application that is clearly doing the rounds to other schools."

The most important aspect of your application will be the quality of your teaching, so be very specific about what you can offer.

"What can you say about planning for effective learning, differentiation, groupings in classrooms, stimulating student interest and assessment?" says Professor Myhill. "If you use terms that are current educational buzzwords, avoid dropping them in casually but explain what you have done in these areas in very concrete ways. It's easy for applications to be all icing and no cake."

Try to make your application express your personality - your philosophy about teaching your subject and what you are like as a colleague.

"I once received an application with a teabag clipped to the corner, inviting me to take time with a cup of tea to read the letter," says Professor Myhill. "This is a high-risk strategy, but in this case it worked."

Although it may be difficult to nail that first job, there are things you can do while you are looking. "At the moment, I am doing supply work when I can get it," says Miss Redfern. "Although I am really getting worried at the prospect of not being able to get full-time work or even work that will cover one or more terms, it is a good way to stay on top of my teaching."

Another option is to look at ways of widening your net when it comes to applying for jobs. It might not be possible, but it's worth trying.

Many NQTs find that doing some voluntary work is a good way of getting valuable experience. "Teachers in this position could spend one day a week in a local school so they can build relationships and experience," says Mrs Holmes.

"This is a great way to network, too, and you may get to hear about upcoming jobs before they are advertised. Admittedly, this approach isn't for everyone, especially if you need to bring in an income each day, but if there is a way to do it, it's definitely an idea worth pursuing."

*Name has been changed

Things To Think About

- Get trusted advice about interview style from your initial teacher training institution.

- Read the job specification carefully and ensure your application addresses it.

- Be specific about the teaching experience you have had and what you can offer.

- Try to get supply work while you are looking.

- Voluntary work is a way of gaining experience.

- Try to network so you can hear about upcoming jobs before they are advertised.

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