Show a bit of personality - and a bit of leg

9th May 2003 at 01:00
Interviews are about creative self-promotion - even a little exaggeration, writes Shazia Mirza

I love working with children, I want to make a change, and I like being spat at occasionally. Yes, we all know why you want to become a teacher, but working in the classroom is one thing - getting the job is something else. You could be a wonderful teacher, but if you can't get through the interview, it's no use. Likewise, some crap teachers are great at interviews.

Before facing a panel, have a wash. Personal hygiene helps a lot. You don't want to whiff like a smelly student.

Interviews are about "showing off". Remember you have already lied and exaggerated on your CV, so an interview is just an extension of that. But always remember what you've written - the last thing you need is when the head says, "So you swam the English Channel?" and you say, "Did I really write that on my CV?"

Interviews vary from school to school. Some schools are so desperate for cover staff that they'll get you to teach a lesson as part of your interview - it gives them a free lesson in the process. (Clever!) Make sure they tell you what they want you to teach well in advance so that you can prepare to go well over the top. And do a really detailed, mind-blowing lesson which you will never have time to prepare ever again.

When I was going for interviews for the first time during my PGCE, I was getting so excited at nearly finishing my course and actually being let loose into the profession that I just picked up The TES and applied for any and every job going, not really bothering to research the schools.

Alarm bells should have rung when one school called me for interview the next day, and told me to prepare a lesson which I should describe in the interview. I wrote down the words "Differentiation, equal opportunities, ESLspecial educational needs" then devised a lesson on photosynthesis around these words for a Year 10 class. In fact, I used these words so much that I think they wondered if I had any science knowledge at all.

My tutors said these were the buzz words. But it's a good idea not to use them so much that people will tell you to buzz off. And use them appropriately.

I was very enthusiastic - as you are on joining the profession - telling the headteacher how I was going to change the department.

They always like to ask you, "What do you think you can offer this school?". For example, they want to know whether you have any special skills like tap-dancing or other extra-curricular activities. This is where the exaggerations on your CV come in handy. Having written that you were good at hockey - having played it just the once - this is where they want you to say: "Oh, I'd be happy to take after-school clubs for girls' hockey." It shows that you are committed to school life.

You have to sell yourself in the interview. If they ask you to prepare and deliver a lesson, don't do a practical! You don't know the class and it won't be appropriate. You could do a demo, though. A theory lesson is always best - and try to get to know students' names.

And here you have many opportunties to show off. It is important to have confidence and look as if you know what you're doing, even if you don't. It makes the students have confidence in you. Make yourself clear when giving instructions and write clearly on the board. And make plenty of eye contact with pupils. Stick to the lesson plan and your timings, and try to forget that you're on trial for a job. Be yourself and show a bit of personality and a bit of leg. A short skirt at interview always helps. Boys, show a bit of hairy chest. If the head is a woman she probably hasn't seen one for a while - heavy workload.

You want the students to like you, so be firm but fair. I delivered a brilliant lesson at interview. I didn't get the job, but I was still great.

Find out as much about the school as possible beforehand, so you don't get Eton mixed up with the East End. It would be a shame to turn up at a school expecting students in a uniform and getting students in shell suits.

You also have to know what type of school you want to teach in. I was asked at one interview: "Do you think you work well in a team?" Of course, I said "Yes." Whatever department you work in you'll be in a team. And if asked about strengths and weaknesses, highlight your strengths and go easy on the weaknesses.

Crucially, you shouldn't be disappointed if you don't get the job. Maybe the head just didn't fancy you - it doesn't mean you can't teach. Just keep going for interviews. They're a bit like men: you need to have a few before you can understand how they work.

Shazia Mirza now works as a stand-up comedian. Next Sunday, she's appearing at The Comedy Pit, SW9; Monday, Laughing Horse, Greenwich; Tuesday, Soho's Coach and Horses

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