Whatever you say, Guv

14th January 2000 at 00:00
After 20 years of interviewing teachers for jobs in primary and secondary schools, Bernard Davies gives a governors' eye view of the selection process

What part do governors play in appointing teachers?

Governing bodies are legally responsible for all staff appointments. Many governors take this seriously and are closely involved in staff selection. Deciding who to employ can be one of the most important decisions they make. Consequently, good governors ensure they receive some training in staff selection and interviews - which is good for you since it means they have probably learnt the important skills of putting candidates at their ease, starting with easy questions to get you started and giving a fair opportunity to show what you know and can do. The headteacher, responsible for day-to-day management of the school, is almost always involved - with sometimes other staff such as the head of department and a small group of governors.

Are governors always involved in job interviews?

No. In some schools they may be rather more remote and hands-off in their oversight of the school, or lack the confidence or competence to get closely involved in employment decisions. In these schools, the appointment of classroom teachers may be left to headteachers, though technically it remains the governors' responsibility. Even if such governors attend they may play little real part in selection .

Is it true governors ask bizarre or sexist questions?

Governors who are not closely involved with their school may not understand its needs and so may have little idea what to ask you. And if they have not had any preparation or training they may not know how to behave appropriately. They may feel as nervous asking a question as you do answering it. You, after all, are the trained professional, not them. I have heard stories of governors asking questions which seem completely irrelevant or suggest inappropriate assumptions about gender or race. But I can only say I've never seen that myself in 20 years of governing and hundreds of staff interviews. As the chairman of appointment panels, I always make each panel member - staff or governor - agree beforehand what each will ask and even practise phrasing to ensure questions are unambiguous. But some panels may not prepare so thoroughly.

What should I do if I am asked an unfair question?

Try to stay calm. Ask for the question to be repeated to make sure you have correctly understood it. If you have, and you object to answering, politely decline, giving a short but honest reason for doing so. If you wish to pursue the matter afterwards, seek advice from your union about how best to do this.

Are governors involved in shortlisting for interview?

Sometimes. So you should assume they will play a part both in the shortlisting and the subsequent interviews.

That means you will need to explain any technical terms and not make too many assumptions about their grasp of acronyms or jargon. Even if governors are up to speed on teacher-speak, they may be looking for evidence that you can communicate with those the school is meant to serve: parents and pupils.

What should I put in my letter of application?

Before you even begin to put pen to paper read all the information available about the job and ask yourself:

* what kind of school is this?

* what does the job entail?

* what kind of person are they looking for?

Teachers are not appointed according to the length of their application letters. Whoever reads it (possibly among several hundred other similar letters) will not thank you for umpteenpages of irrelevant verbiage, however erudite.

How long should my letter of application be?

Provided the application form allows you to say everything you need to about your qualifications, background and experience, the letter of application need be no more than two or three succinct but enlightening paragraphs on:

* why you would like this particular job * why you are well suited to do it (showing you understand what it requires) * what you have done in the past to demonstrate that suitability.

Then get someone else to read it before you send it off. Better a friend points out the glaring spelling errors and unintended lunacies than someone on the selection panel looking for easy ways to reduce a long list of otherwise equally eminent candidates.

Should I handwrite the letter?

Not unless you have to. Better to show your grasp of word processing.

Should I spell out my personal philosophy of education?

The interview panels I have served on have always given priority to what candidates can do rather than their theories and beliefs about education or the meaning of life. Of course we want someone who can think clearly and independently and who will contribute ideas. New teachers in particular are valued for the fresh thinking they bring. But we also look for evidence that as a junior teacher you will accept and apply the policies agreed for the whole school. A staff has to be a team working together towards the same goals.

What can I put in my application to impress governors?

The truth. Never claim interests or skills that you are not able or prepared to talk about at the interview. It calls into question everything else you have written if it becomes obvious your exploits, hobbies and pastimes are fictitious inventions or exaggerations. But governors are impressed by well-rounded people with enthusiasm and commitment, even if these relate to things outside the classroom.

What do governors look for in interviews?

The real you. They may have an ideal person in mind to fit the job description and of course you must be able to match the basic requirements. But most candidates invited to interview will be able to do that. The choice between them after that will rest on such things as their enthusiasm, liking for children and commitment . Governors ask themselves:

"Would I want this person teaching my child?" That is, taking responsibility not only for their learning but for their personal and social development, their safety and happiness. Be ready to enthuse about some success or interesting project in your teaching practice if you get the chance.

How should I address governors?

With measured confidence. Try to regard them as equals, even if they seem a lot older than you. Everyone is a bit nervous at interviews - and that probably includes the governors who have to make a very difficult choice and live with the consequences.

But if you want them to have confidence in you, then you will need to show that you have some confidence in yourself - without, of course, coming over as an over-arrogant know-all.

Should I ask them questions?

Many interviewers may ask you if you have any questions. It's not a trick but an opportunity to ensure you have every opportunity to consider the job's suitability for you, as well as yours for it. By all means feel free to ask anything you don't know or understand about the school or job.

Ask for clarification also if you are asked a question you do not understand or if you feel your answer might be different if you knew how the school tackled certain things.

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