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How to ace your teacher training interview

You get an invite to your teacher training interview. You smile, you’re buzzing. But with any interview it’s natural for the nerves kick in too; you wonder what to expect and how you’ll perform. We asked our teacher training interviewers how best to prepare and what to do to shine on the day.

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Be encouraged! An invite to a teacher training interview means that you met the entry requirements and that your written application has already demonstrated many of the qualities needed to be a teacher. The next step is to fully prepare for the interview. By preparing, you will feel much more in control. You'll be able anticipate what you might get asked and ready to talk about the curriculum.

Three candidates collaborate on a group task

What are the interviewers looking for?

Teachers need to have strong communication, interpersonal skills, and organisational skills. They also need good subject knowledge, and your future trainers will be looking for these things in you.

Your teacher training interview will be led by university tutors, who most likely used to be teachers, and/or by current teachers. They want to get a feel for you as a teacher. The big questions on their minds as they interview you are: Why now? What experience have you got? How have you come to this point of wanting to be a teacher? What skills can you bring to the role?

Kate Brimacombe, Associate Professor of Education and Associate Director of the Teacher Education Partnership at Plymouth Marjon University, explains what her team are looking for at interview:

“What we're looking for is motivation, and the reason you want to teach. We want to know what you think makes for a good teacher. We're also looking for an understanding of the curriculum and the classroom - what it looks like and what it feels like. We're not necessarily looking for experience. While experience is great it's not a prerequisite. If you don't have experience is then we want to know that you've done your homework, you've read the curriculum and you've looked at education and school websites.

“We’re looking for the potential to teach, but at a beginner level as we are here to develop and support you. We're looking for a baseline, the raw skills that we know we can work with.”

It’s natural to think about the questions you’re likely to be asked and how you want to answer them. It will help if you read our in-depth look at teaching training interview questions. You’ll also need to be able to think on your feet. Make a list of the qualities you’ll bring to teaching and relevant skills that you’ve developed to date, especially any skills from working in education or with children and young people. For example, teachers need to be organised, self-reliant and proactive. They need to be strong communicators, equally able to engage the class and listen to them. They need to be adaptable, with empathy and patience for others. These are the skills the interviewers are looking for so make a note of examples were you put them into action. Keep your list of qualities and skills top of mind so that you can apply them to a range of interview questions.

The interviewers will be trying to establish that you’ve really taken time to think about becoming a teacher. In summary they will want to know:

  • Why you chose now to become a teacher?
  • Why you chose primary or secondary teaching? And if secondary, why have you chosen your subject?
  • How will teacher training fit alongside your other commitments?
  • Do you have a realistic view of the challenges and rewards of a career in teaching?

Your future tutors don’t want you to drop-out, so they’ll ask you about how you plan to do things. Teachers need to be prepared and resilient, so be ready with answers to practical questions about how you are going to make this work. It’s a two-way conversation, the interviewer is considering whether they can provide what you need. For example, if you’re a parent looking after your family then relocating for your teaching placement probably isn’t an option, so you need something local. Or if you can’t drive, then you need teaching placements that are accessible on public transport.  They also want to know that you’ve got the funding in place; have you got a plan to pay the mortgage? They are absolutely not trying to catch you out; they want to be sure this is going to work for everyone.

What are the Teachers’ Standards?

A primary school teacher and his pupils are laughing whilst looking at something on the computer

The Teachers' Standards are a set of eight professional standards for teachers. Trainees must meet them to gain Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). QTS is the professional qualification for teachers. It is required to teach in state-run primary, secondary and special schools. Being aware of the Teachers’ Standards is one way to show that you are a committed and well-informed candidate.

Introduced in 2012, the Teachers' Standards are underpinned by the idea that teachers must make the education of children their first concern and that they must demonstrate certain professional attributes and skills. That’s why you are required to interview for teacher training courses. You must be suitable for it and you must have the drive and motivation to want to be a teacher.

Teachers come back to these standards throughout their career to review their own progress as teachers. The Teachers' Standards as published by the Department for Education, are:

1. Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupils

2. Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils

3. Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge

4. Plan and teach well-structured lessons

5. Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils

6. Make accurate and productive use of assessment

7. Manage behaviour effectively to ensure a good and safe learning environment

8. Fulfil wider professional responsibilities

Those are part one of the Teachers’ Standards. Part two says “A teacher is expected to demonstrate consistently high standards of personal and professional conduct”.  This second part is about your professionalism as a teacher, upholding trust in the profession by treating all pupils with dignity, respect, and tolerance, as well as safeguarding them.

Trainee teachers are tracked against these standards to see how they are getting on and they need to meet all the standards by the end of their course.

How is the interview structured?

We’ll explore interview structure by outlining what teacher training interviews look like at Plymouth Marjon University, but you’ll get something very similar with most UK teacher training providers.

As a prospective trainee teacher, you will typically have a group and one-to-one interview. In the one-to-one interview all candidates will be asked the same questions. It will likely be a panel interview with both a university tutor and a senior teacher from one of their partner schools.

The group interview differs for primary or secondary candidates. Primary candidates will be to prepare a five-minute activity in which you teach a small group of your peers – it could be something like making cake in a mug or a simple crafts activity. This is your chance to show you’re well organised so make sure you prepare and bring everything you need. Have you brought enough pens, or did you assume everyone would have one? Do you have a back up of any digital resources in case of tech issues? Have you got handouts ready to go ahead of time so that everything flows?

For secondary candidates, there is a ten-minute presentation on why your subject matters. This is your moment to shine so show your passion for the subject. Be sure to include some real-life examples because they help people to learn and hint at your subject knowledge.

In these group interviews the interviewers are focusing on your interpersonal skills, things like eye contact, how clearly you instruct, how you deal with questions and how you make the learners feel.

Back to Kate Brimacombe, to explain more: “What we're looking for in that teaching activity is not the teaching so much but the interaction – the eye contact, how you respond to questions and how you support others. We're looking for engagement and motivation too. While the candidate is interacting with adults, we can still see them stood in the classroom and what they’re like around other people. It’s not necessarily about their teaching of fronted adverbials but it's the finer skills, the interpersonal skills, that we're looking for at this stage”.

All candidates are also asked to create a lesson plan. This can be produced any way you wish and should include what you are going to teach, what pupils will learn, how you will teach this and what you would teach next. You want to include what you would do if any issues arose during the lesson, for example if the pupils have not retained knowledge from a previous related lesson or they find a specific aspect of the lesson particularly hard to grasp.

    What might go wrong in your interview?

  • Lack of subject knowledge - read the curriculum and exam specification.
  • Lack of awareness of issues in education - follow the news to keep informed.
  • Unease as a speaker - practice what you’ll say ahead of time and visualise yourself saying it.
  • Safeguarding concerns - anything inappropriate will be an immediate no.

If your interview doesn’t lead to the offer of a teacher training place, then it’s not necessarily the end of the road. You can ask for feedback, do the work to address it and then reapply. The fact that you reapply won’t disadvantage you, it will actually be looked upon favourably as it demonstrates your commitment to becoming a teacher.

How to prepare for your interview

Teachers need to think ahead. They must be prepared and be able to organise for large groups of pupils. Your interviewers will be assessing whether you’re the sort of organised self-starter who can do this.

    Tips to help you impress at your teacher training interview

  • Do your research, read around on your subject and the national curriculum.
  • If any pre-reading or tasks were requested, make sure you complete them in the time frame.
  • Dress like a teacher and PE candidates should bring PE kit too.
  • Bring notes if you need them and any resources needed for your group interview, such as glue or scissors, enough for multiple participants.
  • Be ready with a back up copy of any presentations or assignments – on a USB stick or online.
  • Be punctual and allow time for unexpected delays in your journey to the interview. But get in touch if you’re going to be late, not to do so reflects poorly on your communication skills.
  • Switch off your phone – it’s not helpful for your phone to ring during the interview. But if you need to leave it on for any reason then mention this so no-one is surprised when it rings.
  • Bring a drink or snack to keep you sharp.
  • Bring any educational resources you have created for children so you can ‘show’ as well as ‘tell’.
  • Make eye-contact as this shows confidence (but don’t stare!).

Don't worry if you’re nervous. Everyone will be. Back to Kate Brimacombe one last time to end with some reassurance:

“Do your homework. I can’t say that enough. I don't think we ask anything you won't be expecting us to ask but you'd be surprised how many candidates go “Oh, I don't know about the primary curriculum” or “Oh, I haven’t thought about what affects behaviour in the classroom”. Do your research and read around, it can make all the difference.

"Also, we all have complicated lives sometimes, and we're realists, so keep in touch if something goes wrong. If you’ve left your bag on the bus, or your child is ill, or you’ve really struggled to free up enough time to do the work then it’s worth telling us. We’ll work with you as best we can, after all, you’re invited to interview because we like your application, we’re rooting for you”.

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