Or rather, why did you want to be a teacher?

Finding a your first post as an NQT is a daunting task, because becoming a teacher carries with it not just the mantle of starting a new job, but also that of a vocation, a persona that will shape your future, and, in many ways, may come to define you. But don’t let that scare you, as teaching is simply one of the best, most rewarding things you can do. Here is my personal guide to looking for and getting the job that is right for you.

  1. Get prepared – basically, get the simple stuff sorted and out of the way ASAP. If you need a new outfit and a folder for all your certificates (and all the certificates and proofs of identity you’ll need too), the sooner you get that done the better. It’ll be one less thing to get in a flap about at the last minute, and there’s nothing worse than worrying about where your birth certificate is an hour before your interview.
  2. Don’t believe the hype – there is always a buzz about certain schools, either good or bad, which is can be true, or not. When applying for posts, find out as much as you can about the school first. That may sound obvious, but honestly, it really pays to do your research, and by this, I mean go beyond the website, if you can. I’ve taught in schools on supply that bare no resemblance to the ones I read about online or heard about over the metaphorical garden wall.
  3. Find a good copy editor – however good a writer you are and your spellcheck may be, it is always providental to have someone that isn’t you to read through an application before you send it off. You read your own errors as correct (this blog is full of them, before you tell me, I know), and colloquialisms slip in that perhaps a head might laugh at, or not … There are some pedants out there who will tut and pass your letter over because of a misplaced comma or a comment about pedants moaning all the time (oops). When reading applicants’ letters for a Reception class teaching post, I was rather mystified why one of them felt compelled to mention her ability to fold napkins. Another wrote for an entire page about her love of horses, before mentioning her MA in Education.
  4. Be honest – at the application and the interview stage, this is key. Nobody wants to admit their faults, but at the end of the day if you tell a whopping great lie about being able to lead abseiling groups down Everest and canoe groups up the Amazon during weekend trips, someone will find out and you’ll get caught out. When I applied for a post in my distant past, my eagle eyed Head noted I’d been Beaver Scout leader. He asked me if I’d enjoyed it and I lied and said “yes”, when every fibre of my being wanted to say “no”. Three weeks into term he asked me to lead a Beaver Scout troup. I had to bite the bullet and ‘fess up, but I still haven’t told him, almost twenty years later, that my real hatred for Beaver Scouts stems from the fact that the outgoing leader I took over from named me “Brown Beaver” without a hint of what she’d done. It was downhill from the first two minutes. But you shouldn’t say you can, or will, do anything that you aren’t actually prepared or able to do. Presented with having to something like SATs if you never done them before, which I was, and anxious about, say so. You can say that you’re prepared to put in extra work and look for support when you need it. Say you know what your weaknesses are and that they are XYZ, but you know have the drive and persistence to help carry you through with this (if they will).
  5. Be positive and be you – reading applications and interviews, candidates that really stand out are the ones that are themselves. Obviously, that works both ways. Napkin lady made an impression on me, but she didn’t get an interview. Everyone wants to stand out from the crowd at interviews, but you only have to catch five minutes of The Apprentice to see how not to do that successfully. Sell yourself, stress what you can do, smile, be sensible and professional, talk about what you enjoy and love about life, and try to relax (then tell me how to do all that, because I’m rubbish at all that).
  6. Treat everyone warmly and with respect – at the interview stage, remember that everyone you meet isn’t exactly spying on you, but they kind of are, in a way. I know that whenever we had prospective members of staff in school when I was full-time teaching, the Head of School would always say “what did you think?” afterwards and we’d either smile or grimace at him/her, and the science teacher (always a science teacher – why?) would comment and someone would groan about the comment. So always be polite and look interested, even if whoever you’re talking to or walking past is really boring.

And now for those tricky questions…and some ideas to get you thinking (but no stealing my answers, that’s cheatering – and besides your answers are better than mine – go with the heart, is a good general rule of thumb: remember BE YOU)

Why do want to work with children?

My thoughts (as a primary teacher): Children are brilliant, wonderful beings. We work with them at the most important time of their lives; when it all begins. We are fortunate enough to see them develop and grow from learning the very basics to becoming independent, and that is a journey I want to be on with them. To help them with each stumble and tumble, and then to suddenly watch them leap forward and run ahead, calling back to us over their shoulder as they go is very rewarding. Who wouldn’t want to do that?

Why do you want to teach?

My thoughts: Teaching, for me, is the family firm (I’m the sixth out of eight teachers in my family), so it’s in my blood and education was dining room conversation as long as I can remember. The thread of knowledge is a powerful one and why now, I have also become a storyteller. The ability to pass on what we’ve learned to someone else, even if it is only one person is a gift. It is something that connects us and binds us. By teaching someone to read, or write, or to solve an equation, or about our history, is to empower them, to enable them to do whatever they want to with their lives, to create, to think beyond where we are now, and to link them with all those that have gone before, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. To teach is to open doors to the future. This is why I teach.

How do you handle classroom behaviour? OR WORSE… How would you deal with a class that is having issues with behaviour? *alarm bells ring in your head*

My thoughts: With this type of question, go with the Head, literally, the actual Head of School. You’re bound to get a policy type of question, so I’d respond with a “refer to school policy, talk to the Head/mentor/school safe guarding team (delete as appropriate), and take whatever immediate action I deemed appropriate and safe for the children and staff under my care, because they are paramount.” During one interview, I was asked about my experience of working with difficult members of staff. I was honest again. I said that I did what was best for the children and I always placed them above everything. Take care when citing examples, because you never know who knows who, who is related to someone and whose mouth you’re about to put your foot in, so never ever ever ever say names of children or schools, obviously.

Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?

My thoughts: Honestly, what a daft question!? An ex-boss of mine insisted on asking that in those Reception teacher interviews despite my teacher stare*. I don’t know where I am going to be in five months, let alone five years, but bosses like to ask that to find out what your career aspirations are and if they’ll have to replace you because you’ll be abseiling down Mount Everest in five years’s time or something. My guess is that there are a lot more wrong answers than right ones, and the worstest answer is the Costa Del Sol after robbing a bank. But who knows?

*If you are an NQT and you have yet to perfect your teacher stare, work on it now. You use a mirror to begin with, then have a go on the neighbours’ cats before trying out on small children. It also works on ne’erdowells at the local disco once perfected.

UH-OH. They didn’t give you the job. Don’t panic. There are many reasons why you may have not been selected for an interview or a post. Schools may have someone in mind already (it may not seem fair, but it happens), a certain set of skills (every school needs a Liam Neeson), or they are being run by idiots (sad, but true). I’ve been interviewed by eight people that wanted an infant teacher with an English specialism that appointed a Key Stage 2 with a PE specialism, and I sat in a room with fellow candidates while a headteacher and governors argued noisily in the room next door about which one of us got the job. Honestly, don’t fret if it’s not you. It’s them. There are jobs out there. Keep looking and the right one is out there. Trust me.

UH-OH. They did give you the job! Don’t panic! The first moments of euphoria are quickly replaced with horror, fear and the sheer shock of suddenly being that thing you’ve worked so hard for all these years. First of all, don’t feel compelled to take a job if you aren’t 100% sure that it is the right thing for you. I was offered a job that on reflection was so opposite to everything I stood for, that even my mercenary granny felt compelled to tell me “don’t do it, love” and that was that. The compulsion to have your own class and to get started is strong, but make sure that you feel comfortable and that you are going into a school that will support you in the right way and is in area where you will be happy to live in. Got those? Fab! If you are still in a flap, remember that you will have that support, a mentor and the community on social media to give you the extra bits of advice and love you need. Teachers are on your side, because that is the nature of the profession and we are here to help you. We are all human and can be grumpy and tired, so allow us that sometimes, but most of us will be here if you want to ask us something or lend you an idea or two.

It’s easier to say than do, but try not to panic. Everything will be fine.

That is all my misinformed and misjudged advice for now, but please do get in touch if you have any questions. Please, please, please take everything I have said here with this in mind – these ideas are my OPINION. There are no rights or wrongs here. Someone else will tell you the exact opposite and will be completely right as well. There will be something vital that I have missed off, there are things here I’ve got totally wrong. I’m offering what I’ve learned, as a teacher, to you, as a teacher. Whatever you do and whatever happens, good luck!

Contact me directly on emma@emmisstories.org or on Twitter @emmisstories

My next blog will be: NQTs – preparing for your new post

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