Interviewers need all the help they can get to choose the right new person to join their team, so it makes sense that they want to see a prospective teacher in a classroom, running a lesson. The scenario may be artificial, but you can make it work for you.
In inviting you to deliver a lesson, a good school will make the context clear, offer you information about the group you'll be teaching and what work they have been doing recently. They may even suggest a topic for you. Interviewers want to see you at your best and find the real teacher in you. Remember that all they know about you at this stage is what you've put on paper.
So what's an interviewer looking for? Enthusiasm, above all else - enthusiasm for teaching, for learning, for the subject. This is closely followed by evidence that you actually like children and can build good relationships with them. Good subject knowledge will clinch it as long as you have the other qualities. But how do you communicate all that in a single lesson, and with a group you've never met before?
Keep it simple
Have your resources ready, and don't rely on complicated equipment. Videos and overhead projectors are fine if you're sure they will work, but be ready with an alternative approach. Remember that it is the quality of your interaction that is being observed, not your mastery of the remote control.
Keep it active
There are no points for showing that you can keep kids silent for 50 minutes while they write about their last holiday.
Be well prepared, but not over-prepared
You mustn't be so anxious about sticking to your plan that you miss the opportunities students offer you. Have a clear idea of where you want to go, but be ready to change the route if you're offered an opening. Give the interviewers a copy of your plan - check for spelling errors. Make sure you have a plainly phrased learning objective and some motivating activities that will allow the kids to meet it.
The secret lies in the way you manage the classroom
Before you set foot in the classroom, make sure you know and follow established school policy about starting lessons. Do kids line up outside the classroom? Do they stand up quietly and wait to be told what to do next? Get that right and you'll have shown that you are ready to fit in with the way the school does things.
Try to make sure that children know who you are and why you are there. Unless they are unregenerate hooligans (this is unlikely - the school is trying to project a positive image, too), this knowledge should help to bring them onside.
Be very explicit indeed about what you intend to achieve in the lesson. Spell out the new skills and understanding that children will acquire. Put the learning into context - "You can use what you learn today to help with revision/your next test/reading poems." Make sure that you give your observer a written copy of your lesson plan, too - if nothing else, this will give them something to follow up in the interview.
As this is a one-off lesson, it's likely to be self-contained, predominantly oral, and active. Your first task is to get everyone involved. Use question and answer first to establish prior knowledge on which to build your lesson and your relationships. Show that you value contributions by asking children's names and using them.
Move quickly on to the active, exploratory phase. Don't hand out resources yourself - have a class member do that. This will offer more evidence that you can build relationships. Keep the activity simple, make the task clear, set a time frame, and be sure that everyone knows what feedback you're expecting - oral reporting, probably. Move around the room, talk to kids as they work, distribute yourself evenly, and make sure you have spoken to everyone and been seen to have done that.
In the final phase, draw the class together, draw conclusions from the activity and summarise the learning.
Spell out to them and to the observer what they now know that they didn't know before. If you have a particularly lively student, have him or her record the comments on the whiteboard so that you have simultaneously harnessed the excess energy and are free to manage the contributions.
Try to imply that you've offered something of continuing value and interest by leaving the class with suggestions for extending or practising what you've taught them - ideas for further reading, or a few related web sites they could visit.
Tips from teachers
Get to know the class
Remember you are not going to teach a lesson - you are going to teach children. Introduce yourself, tell them something about yourself, ask their names, engage them. Give them name stickers and use their names, look at them when you are talking to them and listen and respond to their answers.
Teach something you feel comfortable with, that is appropriate to their age and ability range and that (with luck) will be a successful lesson. The lessons I have observed that made my heart skip are those where the teacher cares about the young people and helps them all have a good time and feel good about themselves while learning.
Liz Wilson-Chalon, Somerset
Take a few risks
Your lesson needs to stand out, so don't go for the safe option. Think of some exciting science experiment, an art activity that will have the class buzzing, or poetry work that will make them laugh. Acknowledge on your lesson plan that it could get noisy, but that you want the children to be enthused and to discuss the activity in animated terms.
Don't go for a lesson that involves handing out endless bits of paper; the children can become restless. Plan an activity that does not need a lot of setting up. Try to bring all that you need to the school yourself - apart from paper and pens - and don't give them a long list of requests. Think carefully about timing; make sure your lesson has a clear end to it and that you do not run out of time.
Finally, don't just choose a core subject for the sake of it; choose something you are enthusiastic about. When you talk, show that you are excited and interested. Children respond to this. You might also enjoy the experience more yourself.
Fiona McDonnell, Cambridge
Keep it simple
Connecting positively with the class is important. When I was interviewed for my first job, the head was impressed that I asked the students to say their names as they volunteered answers to questions. Keep your lesson objectives simple and don't plan too much. The observers want to see that you can introduce a topic or skill, teach about it and assess if the class has understood. Always have an extra extension task up your sleeve in case the students race through your lesson, having covered the material a few weeks earlier.
Laura Seabright, Lewisham
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Author details: Harry Dodds is a freelance writer. He also teaches at Gosford Hill school, Oxfordshire
I found this really helpful! I got the job I interviewed for by bearing this in mind - great advice, thanks!
Excellent advice, now here's hoping in preparation for my interview tomorrw
Great advice, thank you. I have been told I will be teaching a yr 5 class of average/ above average children. Not sure about differentiation and whether I should call the school to ask about ability groupings?
Thanks great advice. But what if its a 20 minute lesson? I recently had to do a 20 min problem solving lesson with a set of level 2 to 3 year 4 pupils. I was barely had 5 mins to set up and get used to the room.I just about managed to get my memory stick inserted and whiteboard up before the head walked the children in. The tiny room was set up with chairs n tables in a square and many had backs to the board. I learned a lot of how I should have done it but too late for that 20 min slot even though I chose an activity that ofsted had given me a good for ... But very different results in that set up...I definitely lost my teaching mojo.
Formally write up a lesson plan with targets and AFL targets. Don't post it ahead to the schoolbecause then they can scrutinise it in advance. So if you don't finish the lesson in the time (I had 20 minutes) at least they can see what you had intended to teach. Also if you don't get short listed you have evidence of what you had done and where you were going. I say this because I turned up to my show biz lesson and didn't have a lesson plan - it was another applicant who told me this :) best advice ever. Needless to say I didn't get short-listed :'(
Thanks Harry for the invaluable advice. It seems like only yesterday that you were teaching me GCSE English, but it was 1991! I have just switched careers and am going into teaching at 38. I'm about to finish School Direct and have my first interview this week. I feel more equipped to plan my interview lesson after reading your article!
Interviews are actually my nightmares. Whenever I have had interviews, what I do is spending the whole fortnight in church or any other religious places just to make my mind calm and cool. These tips have actually helped me to cope with interviews.
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