If you’re thinking about teaching – or you’re approaching the end of your studies – then you will no doubt be thinking ahead to your first teaching job.
What the children will be like, how you will approach certain lessons, how you can engage the children to make them excited about learning.
However, before you get as far as the classroom, you need to complete the course and then apply for jobs. The recruitment process for teachers differs slightly from that of a traditional job.
Under normal circumstances, you are interviewed – during which time you are asked a host of different questions. If you’re lucky you might get shown around the building.
You then go home and wait. If it’s good news; it’s either a job offer or a second interview. After which the negotiations over salary and benefits begin.
As a teacher, on the other hand, you will have an interview – which can be a panel made up of staff and students. They will quiz you on a range of areas.
Then you may have to deliver a lesson to show your teaching style and demonstrate your competence. It’s also customary to state whether or not you want to work at the school – or not – before the end of the interview.
If you don’t like the school, you are within your rights to say so and leave with no hard feelings or bridges burned. Otherwise, it’s assumed you want to work there.
But before you get that far, you need to ace the interview. Below are some of the most common questions asked during teacher interviews to help you with your preparations:
How to Answer Questions
Before you start rehearsing your answers, you need to learn to structure your answers.
This is something that most job applicants struggle with, not just NQTs. Structuring your answers allows you to answer concisely each time. Without running the risk of forgetting the question, going off on a tangent or not answering the question adequately.
By structuring your answers using the STAR method, you will find you are able to fully answer the questions asked. It works like this:
- Situation – What’s the context?
- Task – What were you asked to do?
- Activity – What did you do?
- Result – What was the outcome?
Keep your answers as concise as possible and always frame them in a positive way. Even if the outcome wasn’t what you wanted, there’s something to be learned from that.
If you’re an NQT and your experience is limited, be honest about that. Don’t try to shoehorn an experience to fit the question. Instead, be clear you don’t have direct experience of that scenario but lay out what you would do if it presented itself.
On to the questions…
Why do you want to be a teacher?
This question can be worded in a few different ways, but the intention is the same – to determine whether teaching was your first-choice career. Or if you chose it as a job because of the holidays and that it’s a largely recession-proof profession.
This question is all about demonstrating your passion for teaching and for wanting to help children achieve. Examples from your time in school are essential here.
Including specifics about what you enjoy most about teaching. General statements and the usual clichés won’t wash so avoid them where possible.
Why do you want to work in our school?
A fairly obvious and reasonable question. Research is key to answering this question successfully. You need to have learned all you can about the school from its Ofsted report to its staff.
Think about what makes you a good fit for the school based on the requirements of the role and who you are as a person. Relate that to the school’s ethos, values, mission statement, long term objectives and anything else you can find.
What experience do you have?
This can be a tricky one for an NQT as the honest answer will be – relatively speaking – minimal.
Look through the job specification and identify the level of experience the school is looking for. That will give you an indication of the kind of examples they are looking for.
Again, it is important to be honest and to draw on your past experience of working or observing in a school. Expand on your answers where possible to include what you’ve learned from the experience and how it improved your teaching.
What are the core skills and qualities of a teacher?
Based on your experience what makes for a great teacher? Think about teachers that made a difference in your life. Or a lecturer who mentored you through your studies.
What qualities made them so good at their jobs?
Was it their enthusiasm, their knowledge, their personality, or empathy?
Chances are it was many things. Now reflect on the qualities you have and why they could be valuable to your potential school. Talk positively about your achievements and how they have shaped you as a person.
Be mindful of how you phrase things. You’re not laidback, or chill, you’re calm. You’re not bossy, you’re assertive. Frame your traits and qualities positively – now is not the time to put yourself down.
What core skills and qualities do you think pupils look for?
The answer isn’t sweets and turning a blind eye to truancy. The truth is – depending on the age of the pupils or students – they may not know. Or at least be able to put it into words.
A better way of looking at it is what do pupils need to thrive in school? Again, every child’s needs are different, but every teacher will exhibit some – if not all – of the same kind of qualities when working with children.
Draw on your own experiences to give examples, or assets and resources you have created to help engage your pupils or students on a particular topic.
How will you manage challenges at work?
Headteachers like optimism but they also expect realism and a level head. This is a good opportunity to talk about the challenges you have faced during your training and what you did to overcome them.
Balancing study and work is a perfectly acceptable answer as it talks about a real-world example where you had to balance multiple demands while not letting the quality of your work suffer.
Remember to use the STAR method and be sure to highlight what you learned and what you would do differently.
Safeguarding and equal opportunities
Safeguarding will almost certainly come up in a teacher interview simply because it is so important. The headteacher or the panel will want to know you know what to do look out for and what to do if there’s ever a safeguarding issue.
You will need to be able to explain:
- What is a teacher's responsibility in keeping children safe?
- How you dealt with a safeguarding issue in school.
- What would you do if a child disclosed a personal issue?
Familiarise yourself with the safeguarding policy of the school. If that’s not available, try to get one from a school you’ve worked at in the past.
You will also get asked about equal opportunities, so you need to be prepared to explain what the term means to you.
You can expect to be asked how to approach teaching a class of mixed-ability pupils – especially in a primary setting, and how to handle a situation where a pupil was being treated differently by a member of the faculty, a pupil or a parent.
Where possible draw on any first-hand experiences you may have had in the past.
How do you evaluate your lessons?
Don’t confuse this with ‘describe one of your lessons’. This is about being able to reflect on your performance as an educator and identifying what you could improve upon.
This could be anything from a presentation you built not working as smoothly as you expected to losing your temper with a difficult pupil.
To be a successful teacher you need to be humble enough to admit that you don’t have all the answers, nobody is perfect, and you too are on a learning journey.
Resources you’ve made, lesson plans that went particularly well or examples of parent/pupil feedback are all acceptable to bring with you to demonstrate your ability.
How do you manage challenging behaviour?
Disruptive children are part of the job. If you’re lucky they just need a bit of additional support. If not, they can have behavioural issues, a troubled home life, a history of abuse, and more.
There is no catch-all way to dealing with disruptive children in your class. Give examples of how you have handled a disruptive pupil.
Describe the situation and what strategy you adopted to resolve it successfully. Or not. What would you do differently next time?
Talk about effective behaviour management strategies you are aware of and any you have put into practice.
Why should you get the job?
There’s nothing quite like being put on the spot and being asked to sing our own praises. It’s not something that comes naturally to many.
Summarise your skills and experience, your qualifications and some of your better anecdotes. Round it off by explaining how those things combined drive you to be a better teacher and the asset you can be to their school.
It’s also good to prepare some questions yourself. Such as what are the long-term plans for the school? What areas of the school/teaching will be developed next? What additional training/support is made available to staff?
The objective isn’t to catch anyone out but shows that you’re already thinking like a teacher in that school. Rather than someone going through the motions.
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