Short, simple steps to success

14th July 1995 at 01:00
Kevin James on how he chose 20 applications out of a mailbag from 100 newly-qualified teachers.

Dear Newly-Qualified Teachers,

Thank you for the 100 applications that you submitted for the one-year temporary vacancy at my school. I realise that the line in the advert - "Applications from Nearly Qualified Teachers would be welcomed" - probably gave you hope. Even if you did think we were just after someone cheap!

First, the good news. At last the universities are giving you some advice about your letters of application. You all wrote at length about your philosophy of education - OFSTED would be delighted that you all mentioned long, medium and short-term planning, differentiation and assessment. You also told me in great detail about your course content and school practice. As always, I admire the fact that so many of you have been Sunday-school teachers, scout leaders or worked with the mentally handicapped in your spare time.

And now, the bad news. You still all sound the same - very bright, competent young teachersIbut not much difference between you.

All I had to go on, at this stage, was your letters. I had seven days, mainly evenings, to read your 100 applications and arrive at a long list of about 20 before a meeting of the staffing committee of the governors. It was then their task to select about six candidates for interview. But did you whet my appetite so that I was intrigued enough to want to meet you?

If you weren't one of the successful candidates, here are a few suggestions:

* Keep your letter short, no more than two pages.

* Please don't give lots of detail about your course. If you've attended an accredited course the content is laid down by the Government anyway.

* Tell me about an aspect of your teaching practices that excited you. If you went on a trip to a castle as part of your Normans project, show how much it taught you about the importance of children learning through first-hand experiences. I would prefer this to the dry facts about which school, what year group, etc - I want to know how your school experiences affected your development as a teacher. I am trying to "see" you as a teacher in my school, with my children. I need lots of practical examples that help me build that picture.

* Be careful not to claim greater experience than you really have. To say that you have "taught the full primary age range" after 18 weeks teaching practice would be, to say the least, an exaggeration.

* If you are going to write a separate paragraph on your philosophy, please try to make it sound as if it is what you believe rather than something you have copied out of a book. Beware particularly statements such as "Children learn best if they are able to follow their own interests". That is your opinion, not a fact you can prove. And you do sound blissfully unaware of your own inexperience.

* Make the application to my school sound a bit special. Try to read the details I sent and make some reference to something I have said.

When you have convinced me that you will make a good teacher I will be looking for something that will tell me what you would add to my staff team. I want to see your personality shine through. Do not, for instance, just tell me that you play the flute (grade 7). Tell me how much you loved playing in the orchestra and how you would pass this enthusiasm on to my children.

Finally, I am sorry that you were not shortlisted. But please take another look at that letter. Five minutes making a few changes might just make yours sound different from the rest.

All the best for the future.

Kevin James is headteacher at Hadrian Park First School, North Tyneside

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