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.
April 15, 2015 at 6:29 pm
Reblogged this on Concierge Librarian.
April 16, 2015 at 10:10 am
Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.
April 16, 2015 at 11:29 am
Though you have not been specific in terms of teaching within the Primary or Secondary aspects of education, as a 2nd Year Primary Education student, I completely agree with the main concepts above. I see many of my cohort often complaining about the mass work load of marking and fearing the day Ofsted arrives, however should we be really thinking about the negatives? I myself (as you would probably agree) that our main focus should all be about the children within our classrooms and the life long skills they will learn from this.
Another point I often think about is that in terms of teachers having to be extremely academic. By this I mean that many students (and often tutors) have the view point that if you receive consistently high marks and ‘firsts’ in every teaching module, then you are the best teacher in the world! However I have seen the best academic writers “break down” when put in front of 30, 6 year old children. I was wondering your view on this matter as well, in relation to future job prospects?
April 16, 2015 at 7:11 pm
Lots of good points. Good academic standards do not make good teachers.we know this. Subject knowledge is key but without understanding of how to make this knowledge get into the brains of others it is pointless.
April 16, 2015 at 7:12 pm
And as you can clearly see I can not punctuate and I am a head teacher… Some of those tutors will be crying a little right now.
April 16, 2015 at 9:46 pm
When I think about all the sorts of comments given by teachers who have, or are thinking about, leaving, I sometimes wonder whether part of the problem is that the teachers themselves are products of the child-centred education system, and are therefore concerned more about their own happiness than the bigger picture. So often it is ‘Oh I didn’t get into teaching to do X, Y and Z boring, tedious and tiring things. I wanted to do the fun and creative things. This is not what I imagined, and I don’t feel fulfilled because my original dream of creating a wonderful, fun and exciting experience for all the children in my class has not come to fruition.’
Whenever I hear this, I can’t help but think of the scenario of a failed X-factor contestant who, after not getting ‘put through’, says something akin to the following: “But it’s my dream to be a millionaire recording artist and bring happiness to the world through my singing! Plus, me Nan’s in hospital!”
I think teachers are also sold a lie by the media and by society that they can change the world. It’s only a matter of time really before you discover you can’t differentiate to the nth degree, and that differentiation won’t actually cure a child of Asperger’s. Also, nobody on the bottom rung of teaching will be getting any payrises anymore because of performance pay. Yes, it is a peculiarity of female-dominated primary schools that nobody must even hint at needing a payrise or wanting a promotion, because if we ‘cared enough’ about the children then we should be perfectly happy to work for free, but actually not being able to pay the rent sucks.
Additionally, those who are hiring seem to always look for the X-factor contestant. Of course somebody who wildly enthuses about how much they care about children, and wants them to have happy, free lives with incredibly exciting lessons all the time will get the job. The one who says that they’d like to take a pragmatic approach, one that is balanced and takes a long term view and perhaps focuses on helping children get those basic English and Maths skills embedded (even if it means the odd ‘boring’ lesson where the children have to work hard) in order to have success in other subjects will never get the job.
Everyone is at fault. It is the children that suffer.
April 17, 2015 at 6:05 pm
Agree with some of this Quirky. Unless you live in London, I feel pay is decent. London sucks. I am not too sure Performance Pay has had the impact that politicians thought it would. I note the the Performance Management policy is NOT a statuary document. It is just too big a minefield for most heads I know to run through. I think there is much to worry about the X Factor teacher. But good schools can see through this.
April 17, 2015 at 7:12 pm
I agree with your statements as well Quirky, purely because of the pressures that are involved in ensuring that we both please the children in terms of highly interactive sessions, or that we focus intently on ensuring learning is being made even if this includes the odd ‘boring’ session, just like you outlined. But by being a trainee teacher I have had the experience to see these two extremes within practices, but on reflection and I’m sure professionals as yourselves would agree that we need to find a balance between the two extremes, because at the end of the day (again I’m just reiterating your valid points) it is the children that are the most important individuals.