I have a few bones to pick with the traditional approach to interviewing teachers. Some of the aspects of the process could be easily improved and if I ever find myself in a position where I can change it, I bloomin’ well will! Right. Here goes.
The Interview Letter (paraphrased)
Dear Mr Taylor
In three days time you need to come to our school and teach a lesson without knowing any of our school routines or our pedagogical preferences. We also don’t mind if the lesson you teach is someone else’s “golden lesson” which wowed the grumpy Ofsted inspector back in 2012. We’d like the lesson to be on the transmission of plant diseases to a Year 10 class.
During the day, you will also complete a meaningless data task (we realise you don’t actually know any of our pupils but we’d like to see some generic waffle from you) and have a tour of the school before a formal interview after lunch. (Unless we cull you for doing a crappy lesson)
Please contact the head’s PA to confirm your attendance.
The Lesson: Problems
Plant diseases. But I’ve never taught that! Wonder who has a good lesson on it? I’ll use that. Plant diseases! Why would they pick that if they know I’m a chemistry specialist? Guess I’m going to have to learn more science.
Hmm, I wonder what the normal structure of their lessons is. If the pupils are in good routines then they might struggle to adapt to my usual approach if it’s quite different. What if it’s a really difficult class? I wonder what the behaviour system is like. If I don’t know then the lesson might go downhill! This is really stressful! There’s no way I will be at my best… probably won’t make it through to the interview. (sad face)
The Lesson: A possible solution
If you are watching someone teach a lesson, upon which you are going to base a large proportion of a £30k+ per year decision, you want to be able to see what that person’s day to day teaching might be like. Bearing this in mind, I would not tell the teacher what their learning intention for the interview lesson will be on the letter: I would write three topics for them to choose from. I would also inform them that they will deliver the lesson using our collaboratively planned resources with a 40 minute “planning and discussion” time beforehand.
On the big day, prior to the lesson being delivered the tour would take place. The pupils conducting the tour would be briefed to let the candidate know the main routines and behaviour system which exist in the school and ensure that they are witnessed e.g. line up before a lesson and any consequence system. This helps the candidate have some insight into the nuts and bolts of teaching at the school and better prepare them for the interview lesson. If the candidate feels at educational or philosophical odds with the school culture then it helps them to decide if the post is right for them.
The planning and discussion time would replace the data task. Instead of them frantically scanning a spreadsheet for PP, EAL, HAP, MAP or LAP pupils to dream up fictitious interventions based on presumed problems I would prefer to spend time with them discussing the lesson which they will deliver. I would hope that anyone working in a setting with good quality shared resources wouldn’t spend more than half an hour preparing a lesson by tweaking what is already there. This would give some insights for both the employer and the candidate as to whether the pedagogical preferences of the school are a good fit. More importantly you could have the candidate suggest how they will deliver the different phases of the lesson and probe deeply into their own philosophy on how best to enable pupils to learn. If the candidate suggested an alternative way to deliver a portion of the lesson and explained their reasoning then this becomes a really interesting conversation and also provides some insight into what strengths they might bring to your dept. They can also double check the lesson routines so that they can try use them when they teach and also be informed about any pupils with specific needs.
I feel this approach would place far less stress on the candidate: they would have some control over what they teach; they can choose the option they feel the most confident in their subject knowledge about; and they don’t have to plan a lesson! They will already have to set cover for the classes in their own school (in my experience this can take longer than planning a normal lesson!) so this could save them a couple of hours of time. It also means they won’t be able to plan in any ridiculously elaborate tasks. Instead they will have to rely on their core teacher skills of explanation, checking for understanding and managing behaviour. If they are strong in these three areas, the chances are I would be willing to employ them.
The final tweak to the traditional approach (well, my experiences of it) would be to have an observer who was in the full lesson have a 15 minute reflective conversation with the candidate afterwards. I wouldn’t want the “thinking about the lesson you taught earlier, is there anything you though worked particularly well and anything you would do differently?” to be cut from the formal interview but I think making sure that the candidate has a clear idea of what the perceived strengths and weaknesses were would make the answer in that higher pressure situation much more productive. Judging your performance in your own lesson is so difficult that leaving it until the formal interview to be able to discuss it is just mean!
It would be interesting to hear from anyone whose school does actually interview in a way similar to this or from anyone who thinks this might just be a better way to do things.
I’ve not really written this style of blog before. I’d be delighted to know how you thought it went! If you’d like to find me on the twitter I’m @MrTSci409