The Interview Lesson

Part 2 of 2 from @_theteachr

Quite a few years ago when I was in my early years of teaching, a colleague of mine told me that he was invited to an interview for a job. Part of the interview procedure was something new. It was something very unusual and not part of the normal selection process. It was quite innovative…

He had to teach a lesson. Yes, that’s right, he had to actually teach a lesson. In a school that he had never been to, to a class he had never met. And he would be judged on that lesson as part of the selection process. I had mixed feelings about it, but overall it seemed fair enough.

In fact, the more thought about it, the more it made a bit of sense. Nowadays it’s virtually impossible to avoid teaching a lesson when applying to a school for almost any position. The only way you might avoid it is if it’s a new school with no students yet.

Since that first encounter with the idea of teaching as part of an interview over 20 years ago, I have been on both sides of the process several times, as an interviewer and an interviewee. Here are my reflections, all packaged into five tips to help reduce the anxiety that an interview lesson can cause and to help you make the lesson as impressive as possible.

The first thing to bear in mind is that while it can help to test the mettle of any new member of staff applying to a school, it’s pretty obvious that the interview lesson is a very artificial situation – of course it is. As a teacher in your current school (or teaching practice) you know the students. You know that one student writes really slowly and that another one comes across as quite stroppy, but you know what to say to get her working. You know a student who is not confident and just needs that little extra bit of encouragement. And you know another who will either shoot through the work or do nothing. Yes, you know your own students very well.

Unfortunately, for the interview lesson, sometimes, all you get is something like this:

‘… a year 9 class, set 3 out of 4 with target grades ranging from 3 to 5. You have 20 minutes on the topic of ‘Atoms, Elements and Compounds‘.

Unfortunately, for the interview lesson, sometimes, all you get is something like this: ‘… a year 9 class, set 3 out of 4 with target grades ranging from 3 to 5. You have 20 minutes on the topic of ‘Atoms, Elements and Compounds‘. Click To Tweet

What are you supposed to do with that? Straight away, you have questions. How many in the class? Any particular behaviour issues I should know about? Will I have a seating plan? Do I seem pushy if I ask these questions about the class? Can I ask for a list of students?

You may or may not get answers to some of these questions but whether you do or not, you’re still going to have to impress.

So, here are some tips on how to ensure you perform to the best of your ability on the day.

 

  • Plan carefully. Yes, it’s obvious, but it’s the first step in showing a potential employer that you know your onions is to have a thought out and well-presented plan. Make sure it has the key elements – objectives, outcomes and how you might extend or help students. Also, be realistic in what you might want to achieve especially if you only have 20 or 30 minutes. It’s better to really get them to understand a small topic than race through a ton of content.

 

  • Don’t try to be too fancy. It’s very tempting to think up an exciting activity that will impress the kids. But then there is a danger of the focus becoming about impressing the students and the observer rather than a focus on learning. That’s not to say don’t try to engage the students with a demo, a picture or a short clip, but engaging them with something interesting is very different to planning your whole lesson around a wow-factor activity. I’ve seen various things, envelopes stuck under stools, balloon popping, animal specimens in jars, all sorts. Fun for the kids but what is the purpose? That’s my first question when I see this type of lesson.

 

  • Be prepared. By this I don’t mean your plan. Be prepared for the things that could disrupt the flow of the lesson – you only have a short time. Have a backup plan in case you can’t get that picture off your memory stick or you can’t login to your cloud account. Also, you might need a minute or two to get set up and that might mean fumbling around while the students sit and stare at you, or worse start chatting, or even worse, start shouting instructions at you for how to work the computer. Why not give a quick task, even if it’s to write their names on a piece of paper? Also, have a small supply of pens, paper, and spare sheets. So the minute a student says, “I’ve mislaid my pencil and my book seems to have gone amiss”, you can instantly get them on task, zero fuss. Oh, and something that I’ve seen before is that by unfortunate coincidence, you walk into your lesson and the topic you are about to launch into has just been covered by the previous interviewee. This can happen when the title for the lesson you were given was very broad, for example, ‘Atoms, Elements and Compounds’. Don’t let this phase you, just acknowledge the fact, and carry on with a comment like ‘good, let’s have another look and see what you have learnt’. Then pace your lesson accordingly because remember, you planned in some extension work.

 

  • Connect with the students. For this tip, I’ll say this up front. If you do none of the other things mentioned here, do this one. You have to establish a rapport with the students. You will be nervous, yes and this might make you behave differently, but you really have to show you can connect. This might seem easier said than done given the situation. If you over-connect (too many jokes or worse, try to be cool or down with the kids) you could be seen as a pushover. If you under connect you might look a little out of touch. So, what can you do? Firstly, and this is my number one connect-with-the-class tip: make sure you use the names of the students. Of course, you won’t learn all the names in 10 seconds flat, but you can learn, or at least use correctly, quite a few over the 20 or 30 minutes that you have. As suggested earlier, you could ask the students to write their names on a piece of paper/sticker. (Let’s assume the presence of the classroom teacher and/or a senior member of staff will encourage students not to write fake names). When you ask questions, ask students to give you their name first (and remember it for later questions). Or if you are walking around the room helping with a task, you might notice a name on a planner or exercise book. And later, when you say, ‘Francesca, what do you think?’ just watch the impact that has on how the students feel about you. Knowing names is very simple and very empowering, in all new situations. The other way to connect of course is humour and while you certainly don’t want to try to be a stand-up comedian, a little appropriate humour can go a long way. If you manage to connect with the class, it can make up for all manner of minor errors in other parts of the lesson.
  1. Be reflective. Let’s face it, the lesson is not going to be perfect – this is something I can tell you for sure. But, there will be parts that go well and some that maybe don’t go so well. Be prepared to think through and talk about those parts in the interview. And if you feel you had a really bad lesson, the best way to rescue the situation is being able to talk reflectively on what went wrong in your eyes (don’t look for things that went wrong for the sake of it, that would just be shooting yourself in the foot) and most importantly, what you would do next time to make it go better.

Keep in mind that neither you nor the other candidates will teach a perfect lesson. Don’t be phased by the chap who turns up with a truckload of fancy gadgetry, and try not to be nervous. Easier said than done I know, but contemplating the above will help. It really will.

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