You’ve worked tirelessly through your teacher training, whether that be a degree or a PGCE and now comes the time to secure your first teaching post. Here are my top tips to help make the process as smooth as possible and hopefully lead you to a successful outcome- Mr T’s NQT Support.
Visit the school – Or perhaps contact the school, depending on whether you are in the middle of a pandemic or not. Schools want you to visit! They want to meet you and start the interview process. In the current situation lots of schools are encouraging you to phone and speak to them. They still want to get a feeling for you early in the process. Crucially though this is also a great time for you to decide whether it is a school that you want to work in. What is the environment like? Do the children seem happy? Are they smiling? Does it give you the feeling of ‘I could be happy here’? If you are in the middle of your training getting to a school within the working day can be tricky, but going after school can still be beneficial. Are teachers chatting jovially in the corridors or are they surrounded by barricades of books in the classrooms? Is the car park emptying by 4.30pm or are staff still beavering away at 6pm? There are many different types of school and many different types of teachers it is important you find the right one for you. Remember you are picking the school that will judge and support you in your NQT year! When you do visit/call – Listen! Do not be the ‘chihuahua’ yapping away at the heels of the head teacher trying to share everything you have done on your placements. Heads want to know you are listening, ask questions, but link it to what you are seeing/what they are saying. If it happens to come up you can say, ‘Oh yes I found that really useful in my last placement’ – if the head wants to know more they will ask.
So you’ve decided to apply – now comes the lengthy application form! Most schools will ask for you to complete the standard local authority form, or their own version of. Most of the boxes are straightforward, the personal statement box is the one to give your focus to. Schools will look at grades and employment history (they have to for safer recruitment purposes – make sure you explain any gaps between education and employment or between jobs) but the main focus will be the personal statement. This is your chance to shine. Keep it to a maximum of 2 sides of A4 – but make sure you sell yourself!
a) Every single person applying will talk about lessons they’ve taught, their views on managing behaviour etc. What you need to ensure is that you demonstrate the impact of what you have done. So you implemented a new system for tidying up whilst on placement – what was the impact on the children – how has it influenced your practice?
b) Make sure that you read the person spec and cover all those aspects. Ofsted will review the paperwork for the most recent appointment, and it is key that they demonstrate that processes have been followed accurately. So, if the person spec says someone who delivers lessons that engage pupils – make sure you include that. If you miss an essential criterion it may mean you don’t even get called for interview regardless of how good the rest is.
c) Personalise it for each school. You will be able to use the same examples each time, but make sure that you match the wording used in the advert.
d) Demonstrate that you have done your research in your application, by saying why you have applied to the school and how your skills/values/ethos match with the school’s. Why will you be a good fit for them and why would they be a good fit for you?
e) Some schools may also ask for a covering letter as well as the supporting statement in the application. This would be where you would personalise it to meet the school and really sell why you have applied and show what you already know about the school and how you would be able to add to it. The more generic stuff can go in the supporting statement then.
f) Make sure in your supporting statement you share about you as a person. What do you like to do away from work – if it links to an extra-curricular activity you can offer, even better. Remember schools don’t just employ teachers they employ people. Will you as a person be the right fit for their team? I worked for 2 heads that had polar views. One said, ‘the right person is more important – we can support anyone with their teaching – we can’t change a personality’. The second felt that ‘it’s about the right teacher – I don’t care what they are like as a person, it is about the job they do’. One of the schools was a much happier place to work than the other.
g) Get someone to read it through for spelling and grammar errors.
h) Make sure you get it in by the deadline (if you have only just discovered an advert close to the deadline, call and speak to the school explain the situation. They may say that if you get it to them by a slightly delayed date, they would still consider it). But show that you are organised by submitting in plenty of time.
3. You’ve secured an interview – woohoo! Now the next lot of works start. There may be tasks to prepare for – presentations, examples of planning, there may be unknown tasks on the day (more on those later) a panel interview and of course a lesson to teach.
a) Whatever task you are set, get it done in plenty of time and keep going back to the brief you have been given. Most presentations will be about you, or something you have done. Don’t overload the slide with text (if you have slides at all). Make eye contact and ensure that you keep within the time frame you are given. Most will set a timer and stop you at the time limit. Rehearsal can be key. Bore everyone in the house with it!
b) If you are interviewing online, it is important that you practice and get used to seeing yourself onscreen. Make sure you are mindful of your body language at all time. Dress smartly (bottom half as well – just in case you need to go and fetch something), utilise the area around your screen for hints tips and motivational quotes, #YouGotThis!
c) Unknown tasks are likely to be based around assessment, planning or subject knowledge. Depending on the year group they may be easy to identify. In year 2 and 6, you are most likely to have an assessment using the teacher assessment frameworks. Equally you may just have some work to mark and identify strengths or next steps. Internal data is now less of a focus for Ofsted but lots of schools still use this to monitor progress. You may have a class or group set of data to look at. Again, it would be about identifying strengths and next steps for the children. You may be given a stimulus to plan from or a topic map to create (you can’t always pre-empt these surprise tasks, but remember no one else who is being interviewed can either). You may even have questions from SATs papers to check your subject knowledge. You may even be asked to write a story demonstrating a range of writing skills (more likely for year 6, but not unheard of in any year group interview).
d) The panel interview! You may have 2 of these during the day one with school council and one with the main panel. The school council one is probably the hardest. When children are given the chance to come up with questions, you never know quite what you might get. Expect anything from; “Tell us your favourite joke” (have a clean one pre-prepared. Honestly you won’t be able to think of a clean one in the moment!) to “How would your current class describe you?”. You may also get – which “Mr Man character would you be?” all the way to “How would you make sure the other children in the class were well behaved?” – Like I said unpredictable.
e) The main panel interview will be with a selection of SLT and most likely a governor. There will be a wide variety of questions. You can expect a question on Safeguarding. It may be something obvious like – ‘what does safeguarding mean to you?’, or something like ‘what would you do if a child asks you to keep a secret’? They’ll be listening for you talking about – not promising to keep their secret if you need to let other people know to help keep them safe, following the school’s safeguarding procedure and reporting to DSL. The rest of the questions are often linked to the school priorities. But you can expect a question around what good/excellent/outstanding learning looks like for you and about your strengths and areas for development. They may even use the word weakness – I would always suggest you think of something that you have had limited experience of, rather than something that has been a disaster on placement! For every question link it to a real-life example and share your personal experiences. It makes the question come to life and gives you confidence in what you are talking about. The final question you will be asked is that, ‘if they were to offer you the job, would you still accept?’ – at this point say yes. If you go away and change your mind, you can politely decline if you are offered the post. Oh and be prepared to reflect on how you felt your lesson went!
f) You will be given the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the interview. I would always ask about NQT support (if you don’t know already) you can ask specific questions that interest you about the school or something you have discovered on the day. Equally the best question I ever got asked was, ‘Why do you enjoy working here?’ It will let you establish, on a personal level, why the school is a great place to work.
g) The lesson – this is your chance to shine. Always stick to the brief you are given and if you have 20 minutes, keep it to 20 minutes. You can always talk at the interview about how the lesson might have developed further with more time, or how it fits into a bigger picture of learning – you may be asked to do this anyway. In the lesson the observers will be looking mainly for your relationships with the pupils and how you engage them in the learning. Make sure you introduce yourself to the children- you’d be amazed at how many candidates don’t! The observers will be looking at your explanations of the task and how your input prepares the children for the activity. Plan some key questions that you can use to check children’s understanding or challenge those that are grasping it quickly. Being able to adapt during the lesson is great – but you do only have 20-30 minutes. Some schools will provide a TA for the lesson, some won’t. If you have a TA, make time before the lesson to prep them – another quality the school will be looking for is how you develop working relationships with colleagues! Another thing that schools sometimes will do is to be deliberately vague about the make up of the class. You may just get ‘plan a lesson for a year 4 class’. Others may give you ‘plan a lesson for a year 4 class where there are 3 children on the SEND register, 5 EAL’ etc. The schools that leave it vague may be wanting to see if you will call for more information, or just go with it and adapt on the day. Other things to consider – have 2 copies of a Powerpoint on 2 separate devices (just in case) also consider saving it as an older version again just in case. If you can, print out any paper activities that you need for the lesson before you get to the school. If you don’t have that facility, contact the school and ask if you are able to use the copier on the day. Also if there are any specific resources you need, make sure you contact the school in advance or bring them with you. Things like paper, pencils, whiteboards and pens would be a given in the classroom. But if you want to use numicon, or a specific resource contact the school beforehand. Don’t leave it to the morning.
Well hopefully those will have helped you secure your job offer. Good luck with your next interview – let me know how you get on @MrTs_NQTs .
Mr T of @MrTs_NQTs has been an NQT mentor for the past 10 years and has mentored 16 NQTs during that time. These NQTs have ranged in their abilities but have all been supported to make them the best teacher that they can be, drawing on their individual strengths and personalities. He is currently seeking to support a wider range of teachers in their early career through his twitter feed and continue to support as many teachers as he can to achieve what they are truly capable of.
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