Interview day will almost certainly mean having to teach a demonstration lesson, which will last 30 minutes on average: long enough for you and the pupils to get some momentum, but short enough to fit into what may be a busy schedule for both you and the school.
In this blog, we outline top tips and recommendations based on where many falter.
This is your time to shine, your chance to demonstrate how you fire pupils’ enthusiasm for your subject. But nerves do strange things to us all. For example, a burst of inspiration comes to you on the drive to the interview that morning or when you see the pupils for the first time. You then decide to change your lesson plan at the last-minute, knowing full well that’s a high-risk strategy.
Stick with the tried and tested: “Here’s one I made earlier”
Teaching is, in many ways, like entertaining guests at home. Trying out a new dish on important guests isn’t to be recommended. Far better to serve up the tried and tested or, better still, one of your signature dishes.
If you have time, road test the lesson with pupils in your current school. Alternatively, you could record key elements of the lesson on video and watch back, preferably with trusted colleagues and mentors. This will allow you to critique strengths and areas for development, along with potential pitfalls or issues with timing.
Don’t be overambitious
Trying to do too much in too little time is one common mistake. Work within time constraints.
If you’ve been asked to teach a poem, you may plan to focus on certain elements in particular: diction, imagery or sound effects. Let “learning”, “progression”, and “precision” be your watchwords. Your lesson objectives should build on and advance the lesson brief, while showcasing your insight and subject knowledge.
Be clear about your lesson structure
However little time you have, divide it up into starter, main activity, and plenary. Each has its role to play.
The starter is your hook and sets the tone. The body of the lesson drives the learning forward. The plenary seals the deal. It’s the varnish on the work of art.
Always give yourself time to sum things up and thank the class at the end.
Take your time
However little time you’re given, don’t be in a tearing hurry to show off all you can do. That would be impossible, and students don’t learn much when they’re being hurried.
Plus, ten minutes is enough for experienced observers to get a sense of what a teacher is like around young people.
So keep calm. You’ve got this.
Positive body language makes an immediate impact
You can make a great impression simply by the way you carry yourself.
Smile, stand tall, adopt a composed demeanour. You’re the teacher; you’re in charge. Watching video footage of your teaching will help with this.
You don’t have to be wildly original
This advice cannot be overstated. Too often, desperate to impress, candidates overreach in terms of trying to be too wacky or quirky or original in terms of subject matter or approach. Remember Mozart’s immortal words, “I never tried to be original in my life”.
It’s important to stand out, but doing the basics brilliantly also sets you apart.
Play to your strengths
Schools aren’t trying to trip candidates up. They want you to do well. They want you to show them what you can do. To that end, some briefs – though not all – will be rather loose: they want to give you freedom to be creative. For example, primary teachers may be asked to tell a story or introduce the idea of the water cycle. (Note, you’ll always be told what year group you’ll be teaching.)
So, again think in terms of signature dishes and what you’re good at and enjoy. Bring your talents into play to make learning memorable. That may include your ease with EdTech, a gift for acting or impressions, or other party tricks. As long as it enhances learning and progression, and isn’t bolted on or shoehorned into proceedings, it’s worthwhile.
Above all, show your human qualities – empathy, authenticity, a sense of humour.
Play to their strengths
If you’ve not been told about ability levels, ask. As we said in a previous blog, “Teaching interviews: what to expect on the day”[link], this will show initiative.
Ask what the class has done recently. What do they already know about the topic or skill you’re being asked to teach? Are there SEN requirements to consider? Is English a second language for some? Will a TA be present in the lesson? If so, work with them on the day, build a rapport – decision-makers may well ask the TA’s opinion about the lesson you taught.
If the school isn’t forthcoming, there’s your starter activity: ask the pupils themselves: “Write down three things you know about x. What’s the most important thing to know about z? Imagine you’re explaining the concept of y to an alien who’s just arrived on planet Earth (yes, very conveniently, they speak fluent English!)
Pitching the lesson just right is integral to effective teaching. Teaching starts with what the pupils know, not what the teacher knows.
You’re well aware of the importance of differentiation. A year of teacher training has drummed it into you; it’s now written into your teaching DNA.
Differentiation means there’s something for everyone, so there’s an easy entry point for weaker students and lots in reserve for bright pupils who may well romp through all the material.
To return to our hosting analogy, your lesson plan is a buffet that caters for all tastes, types, and appetites. And, whatever else happens, you don’t want to run out of food.
Discipline shouldn’t be too much of a worry
The school is likely to select pupils who will show the institution in a good light, so you’re likely to get a nice enough group of students to teach. Furthermore, with at least two adults in the room – you and at least one observer – they’re unlikely to play up. And we all know that pupils behave better with strangers.
All that said, should you encounter unhelpful or unpleasant behaviour, use your good judgement.
If necessary, ask the other adult in the room, quietly or for all to hear, what possible sanctions are available to you. There may be a merit or demerit system, which you can easily and painlessly deploy.
Don’t be too quick to pounce, however. One surprisingly effective ploy can be appealing to their sense of fair play, and they need to be seen as good sports: “Come on, guys. I’m a guest in this school. I’m here for an interview. I was rather hoping you’d help me out.”
Prepare as much as you can before the day itself. The school may be happy to print off worksheets but, then again, it’s just something else to worry about on the day.
Memorable resources are a good way to stand out, and concrete details bring learning to life and make ideas stick. The best teaching is multi-sensory.
Not using costumes or props with drama or storytelling is a missed opportunity to show your imagination, creativity, and sense of fun.
Even something as simple as playful or stylish stationery – colourful post-its, say, for displaying answers on the board – are easy crowd-pleasers. (Do we ever grow out of a love of stationery?)
The venue itself
You may not have the classroom until the last minute, so you shouldn’t be too reliant on particular seating requirements. You may even be waiting for a little time in the corridor for the room to be made available.
Then again, that’s your time to strike up a rapport with the pupils as they slowly arrive. Get chatting, forge some connections, find your allies.
Top tip: learn names really quickly: this impresses both the pupils themselves and whoever is observing. Knowing names is so important for building a rapport early on. We all like being addressed by name.
If learning names isn’t your forte, rather than faffing with name badges, one easy solution is to hand out sheets of A4 for the pupils to fold lengthways twice and then write their names on, clearly in capitals – “so it’s visible from outer space,” tell them.
Have a plan B
The best-laid schemes of mice and men go oft awry. It’s great to show your ease with tech know-how. But though you may wish to do something whizzy on the interactive whiteboard, or have a fantastic PowerPoint up your sleeve, it makes sense to have an alternative, not rely on it too much, and imagine the lesson running without tech.
Don’t forget, they’re not expecting a perfect lesson.
If things don’t go to plan, you’ll have the chance to evaluate in the interview, just as you do for every observation lesson. If you miss anything, mention it then. Many schools schedule the lesson before the interviews in order to give you this opportunity.
If you’re able to show a reasonably detailed plan, with a clear sense of learning outcomes and assessment techniques, you won’t go far wrong.
As much as you can, enjoy the lesson. Teaching is your trade. You’re an expert. This is your vocation.
Still feel daunted? You’re not alone. For most applicants it’s the most stressful part of interview day.
Proper preparation prevents poor performance, so the saying goes, and action is the antidote to anxiety: in other words, get busy and you’ll feel less nervous and readier for the challenge.