Good cop, bad cop

11th December 2009 at 00:00
You have made it through the interview with the head, but now the pupils have some questions for you - and they are not taking any prisoners, says Steven Hastings

Being interviewed for a new job is daunting at the best of times. But when a boy from Year 7 says "if you were an animal, what kind of animal would you be?", you can't just fall back on your usual spiel.

"When I found out I was going to be interviewed by pupils, I was a little bit worried," says Paul Pollard, head of house at Fulston Manor in Kent, one of a growing number of schools to involve their student council when recruiting staff. "Actually, it turned out to be my favourite bit of the day, because it gave me the chance to be my natural classroom self."

When it comes to impressing pupils, being yourself is important. The head might want to know about your experience and qualifications, but pupils are more interested in finding out what you are like as a person.

"We look for teachers who are friendly and talk to us on our level," says Elishia Brooker, a Year 10 pupil at Fulston. "We want to find out what a teacher would be like in the classroom, so we outline different scenarios, and ask them how they would react."

Pupils are looking for teachers who will manage behaviour effectively, be fair and even-handed, and make learning enjoyable. And according to Peter Kent, head at Lawrence Sheriff School in Rugby, they are uncannily good at spotting them.

"Pupils are the experts. They have a very clear idea of the kind of teacher they would like to be taught by," says Dr Kent, who often sits in on interviews. "Young people ask very direct questions, and it's interesting to see how teachers handle that. I once saw a candidate try to take charge of the interview, by turning it into a teacher-led discussion. Needless to say, that didn't go down well."

Getting the tone right is not easy. If you sound patronising, pupils will resent you. Start spouting management-speak and they will lose interest. It's a tricky balancing act, especially when a panel includes pupils of different ages. But remember, as a teacher, communicating with young people is what you do. Just because the balance of power is not what you are used to, it doesn't mean you should change the way you behave.

One of the best things about being interviewed by pupils is that it gives you an insight into a school. You can find out what pupils are like, and what their concerns are. And the very fact that pupils are involved in recruitment tells you that you are in a school where young people are listened to and encouraged to think for themselves.

"The worst mistake teachers can make is to think that the interview with the school council is just an add-on, and that it's not that important," says Michael Davies, who was appointed head of Ysgol Y Preseli in Pembrokeshire after being quizzed by pupils on his ideas for a new sixth form centre. "We always take pupils' views into account. And in the vast majority of cases, we reach the same conclusion they do."

How to do it

- Take it seriously.

- Talk to pupils as you normally would. Be honest and open.

- Don't be fazed by off-beat questions.

- Even if there is no formal interview, if pupils show you round the school, they may be asked their impressions later.

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