Why do you want to be a teacher?

It’s the standard type of interview question, usually the first (sometimes adapted to say ‘at this school’) and it is almost always answered with little real or deep thought. But it is a really important question, far too important to be brushed over. In many ways I am starting to think it is the most important question we ask at interview.

Recently, I supported a local Teacher Training college by being part of the panel for ‘mock interviews’ – getting the candidates ready for the Job Interview season. It was an interesting experience. Seeing so many PGCE students batched together ready to go forth and get that dream job got me thinking. I was fascinated by one candidate who had been an army trauma nurse before choosing the teaching path. This must be right up there in the tough jobs list. She was, as you can imagine, very calm in the interview situation. So, when she began to say how tough her teacher training had been and shared the many challenges she needed to overcome to get to this ‘mock interview’ stage I was a little taken aback. But, in retrospect maybe I should not have been because I have been saying for some years now that I am worried about the resilience needed in teaching today. In fact, I am deeply worried about our profession. I see teachers leaving, walking out and saying things about the profession I did not hear 10 years ago. This is clearly ignored or patched over by games played within the politics (party and pedagogical). But my experiences are telling me a different story. If someone from the army recognises this so clearly in teaching at such an early stage – what hope is there for less resilient people?

Maybe Twitter saturation is why we hear more about negative teaching experiences but I also feel that the political climate is dark. Teachers have always bemoaned their lot but something has changed. The air is thick with mistrust, fear and confusion. At a time when I also feel there is real progress at grass roots level in our thinking, practice and understanding. Will we look back at this period as the beginnings of an educational Renaissance?

So, why was this bunch of PGCE students deciding that this was their future? They were full of enthusiasm and hope. It was great to see. Kind of liberating – removed from my reality into this suspended place of wide eyed hope. Hope ready to be crushed under the steel-capped boots of marking, mocksteds and Ofsteds, crazed SLTs, deadlines and data, the ills of society, Mad academy chains and out of control behaviour… If Twitter is to be believed a tour in Afghanistan may just be slightly less stressful than being a teacher.

So when I ask the very likely ‘Why do you want to be a teacher at our school’ type question I need to see through your hope and enthusiasm. I want to know what keeps you going when times are tough. Maybe a better preparation would be a Bear Grylls approach. Blind fold all the candidates and drop them into random classrooms with nothing but their wits and the directive that we want clear proof that ALL the children have made progress – Five hours later we check in to see the poor dehydrated souls weeping over piles of marking sobbing, “What does progress even look like?” A colleague sometimes thinks a Hunger Games approach could work in most aspects of school life. In all seriousness I want a teacher who can survive in the role as it has become. I know as a senior leader I have a massive duty to make it manageable but this pressure comes from many directions. Though I try, I really do, I cannot wrap my teachers up in a blurred reality. I cannot lie and say the role is easier than it is. I cannot carry ALL the blame.

So back to the question:

Why do you want to be a teacher?

When thinking through this question think why you want to be a teacher in any school – think what would push you over the edge and make you leave teaching. I always ask the, “What do you hate most about teaching?” question. If your first answer is marking, planning, long hours or assessment you are likely interviewing for the wrong job. What will you do when the feedback you get seems hard hitting and critical? How do you pick yourself up? I say this because there is no doubt you will have to face up to all this and more in teaching – hopefully done in a supportive environment but sadly not always.

Teaching is tough. It was tough when I was a teacher. I think it is tougher now. Not dodging bullets on the front line tough whilst saving lives but if you want to be a teacher go into it knowing that you need to understand why you have picked this type of work and why you want to work in the school that has asked you to interview. If you can’t get past this question (it’s usually the first question in the interview remember) it might be prudent to look elsewhere because you may have picked the wrong career or at best the wrong school. Teaching is no longer a career that you do because your A levels were unexpectedly poor, or you felt you could fall back on it because you didn’t know what to do when your Humanities degree finished. It is a serious decision from the point of training.

If you can get past this (don’t leave in the first year) and you know what to expect – warts and all… Then you will be on a journey as good as any career can offer.