I have been for ten interviews for teaching jobs in the last month, which I suspect makes me extremely fortunate. Victorian government schools have to interview me because I have something called compassionate-transfer status. This means that I get an interview for jobs that I otherwise wouldn’t be shortlisted for, but it doesn’t make the best match for the job, as evidenced by the fact that I am still looking.
I don’t think that anyone enjoys job interviews, but the process is actually pleasant enough, and the format is very consistent. Someone rings you to give you the interview time, between one day and five weeks ahead of time. Typically I have had three or four days notice, which works okay for me.
When you arrive, you normally get five to ten minutes to see the questions and prepare your answers, which I think it good practice because it rewards being thoughtful rather than able to respond without any notice at all. The questions are different at each school, but the following types of questions are very common.
- How do you deal with a disengaged and disruptive student?
- How do you use data in your teaching?
- What can you contribute to our team?
I have seen three questions and I have seen ten.
You then sit with the panel, typically a principal, a leading teacher, and a regular teacher. They take turn asking you the questions and you respond, while they take notes. The panel members are dressed neatly and the men wear a shirt and tie as often as not. They are friendly, nodding and smiling you explain your answers. They take notes.
About half the time, they will ask some clarifying questions or invite you to ask questions. Then they thank you and you thank them.
Eventually, you get the call telling you that you were not successful. Of course, I’ve gotten the other type of call in the last seven years, but none recently. They are friendly and encouraging on this call. About half tell you that you can ask for feedback once the two-week appeals-process window has closed.
And, I hasten to add, I have been very impressed by the warmth and professionalism that I have encountered at almost every school I have interviewed at. I know that I’ve said this before, but there are some great operators out there, in both the fully public and not-entirely-government-funded schools.
I have been wondering what sort of assessment all of this recruitment makes. The things that are done right is that it is consistent, friendly, and relatively predictable.
My concern is that, like so many school assessments, you cannot know what the right answer is so you just have to give your best answer and hope that it’s a good match. This is largely because schools embrace different things. Some have school-wide behaviour management programs that are detailed and others have guiding principles instead, while others have specific rules. Some schools focus on relationships and other focus on guiding students into people who have little contact with teachers. Some value assessment as learning over assessment which is predominantly of learning. And some school use specific programs, which are sometimes both commercial and commercial-in-confidence, that it is hard to talk confidently about until you are in the school, which favours existing short-term staff. Some school encourage the use of visual resources and spaces for visible thinking, whereas other go so far as to bans boards and displays to encourage verbal communication.
There is, in short, no right answer in many of these cases.
In short, it is more a test of your cultural knowledge than your skills. And perhaps that is, on some level, intentional. Because schools do have quite distinct cultures and it can really throw things into disarray when someone clashes with that culture. But it does make it hard to bring new blood and news ideas into your organisation when your assessment invites in only the most culturally similar. Changes then tend to only come from new principals, which can be its own culture clash with its own consequences. Even then, because many schools choose their own principals as well as their own staff, they tend to choose someone who already shares their culture.
Perhaps the risk is that the questions are so narrow that they really ask, “Have you worked here or somewhere nearly identical to here?” rather than, “Could you work effectively here?” or even, “Could you bring something valuable here?”
Still, it is what it is. I am an effective teacher and pretty soon a school will interview me and I’ll be the right fit for what they are doing, which is very much what I want.
So, dear and gentle reader, is this assessment achieving what is good for schools and, if not, how could we do it better?