Saturday, 5 July 2014

The One About the Interview: Part the Second

Preparation the Twitter Way: The interview.

With a spot of Googling.

The Monday after I'd submitted the application, I found a message on my voice-mail requesting that I come for interview Thursday that same week. THAT. SAME. WEEK. CRIKEY. The interview would comprise of:

a) a 15 minute 'micro-teach' - (What the flock was that?) about 'An introduction to Spoken Language Analysis' although no information was give as to WHO I'd be teaching or as to what level. Cripes.

b) an interview

Like Goose in THAT bit of "Top Gun" I went into a bit of a tail-spin. I had to go for a walk or have a swim to clear my thoughts, and work out how best to prepare. I think I emailed the HR lady several times asking, 'Is that really it, REALLY?'.

Thankfully, Twitter once again proved invaluable.

I started by Carolyn O'Connor (@Clyn40) who I had met at #StarkeyFest in Leeds in the Easter holidays. She suggested I read the 'Wolf Report' which was about how FE needs to develop for the post-16 sector. I also had to ask her "WHAT the heck is a 'micro-teach' and what are they looking for?". I think she told me to make sure your objective is clear, keep it focused and just teach. They are looking for how you interact and potentially develop relationships with your pupils. Sound advice.

I then set about contacting Sarah Simons (@MrsSarahSimons), another ace person I'd met at #StarkeyFest tweet up in April, about both the interview and the blessed 'micro-teach'. Sarah gave me ample advice about the interview, advising me to think about barriers to learning in the post-16 sector.

My other FE saviour was Dan Williams (@FurtherEdagogy) who sent me DM after DM about what to expect in the interview - typical questions, what they actually mean, things to consider, what they are looking for and once again, like Tom Starkey, got me to think about how my range of skills in Secondary Education can transfer easily into FE.

Still in a mild state of panic I contacted Jamie Warner Lynne (@deadshelley) about the lesson content for the micro-teach, and god bless him, he sent me some resources containing 3 very short conversations, and told me how he used them. Embarrassingly, I spent about 3 hours faffing around with the resources, (my GOD planning a lesson is hard when you don't know WHO you are delivering it to) and wrote what can best be described as the most epic lesson plan ever written for 15 minutes of teaching. Ironically, neither my interviewers or I even looked at it or referred to it on the day. Talk about over prepared.

The Googling bit:

1. I found and read their Ofsted report - which was very positive - and gave me a sense of some of the differences between sec' ed' and Post-16 education.

2. I looked for 'FE Teaching interview advice' on Google and found a great Pdf document from an established FE trainer. It contained much good advice about what the interview is actually like, and the kinds of questions asked. I made notes of the questions - merely so I could think about them, rather than write scripted responsed.

3. The Wolf Report - easily Google-able and a useful read, thanks Carolyn.

Lastly, I read the College website very thoroughly, both for writing the application letter and for interview preparation.

I stopped interview faffing at around 9pm, watched some kind of television, got out the interview outfit ready (for the fashionistas: a cotton navy shift dress and linen nave jacket)and went to bed in a futile attempt to sleep.

Interview Day: 15th May 2014
Interview Time: 10:30 am
(I feel that deserves a Patrick Stewart as Jean Luc Picard voice-over).

I got up stupidly early to do my ablutions, then force fed myself some breakfast.  Knowing and feeling my anxiety bubble up, I thought it wise (or OK, or at least not a bad thing) to take some of the anxiety medication I'd been presribed months ago, but had yet to use.

I arrived at the college, a good 40 minute drive away from me, just after 10:00 am and sat in the car to: check my 'phone and found lots of lovely good luck messages (thank you @rlj1981, @Chocotzar and @betsysalt and for @oldandrewuk's Vulcan like logic telling me,"It's your first interview for a job for September, so no need to put all your eggs in one basket and worry."; look through that stupidly epic lesson plan, my notes about possible question, and do some calming breathing exercises before walking to the college reception. I signed in at reception, got my ID badge thingummy, waited then figited, just a little.

One of my favourite good luck messages was from @fleckneymike - who is normally ascerbic, cynical, arrogant and a damn fine Media Studies teacher. If you easily take offence at @oldandrewuk, for God's sake don't follow @fleckneymike.  However, his tweets were so LOVELY I took a screen shot of them: (Forgive me for this Mike!): 


Observations about the FE Interview process

Now, what is worth noting here is that no other candidates were waiting with me. If there were any, we were being seen consecutively as individuals, rather than the secondary school "Hunger Games" approach. This very much gave me the impression that I was being judged on my own merits, rather than pitched against others directly.

The interview lasted, literally (and I am using the word correctly here @oldandrewuk) just over an hour and went as follows:

1. Met in reception by the A-Level admin support lady. I tried to engage her in chat as we strode up the stairs to the next floor. She struck me as supremely efficient through her economy of language, when I asked her what she did, she replied with, 'Everything to do with A-Levels.' When I pressed her for more information, once again, I had, 'I do everything.' So then preceeded with admiring observations about the building, which, built in 2012, to my eyes looked very sparkly and new.

2. I was taken to the A-Level teaching corridor and met my interviewers J and K. They were (I'm wording this so very carefully) mature ladies, who were not suited and booted, who turned out to be welcoming and friendly.

3. J and K explained to me the running order to the interview (note, NOT day) which was 1. Micro-teaching and as the students were all busy with exams, they were to be my pupils. (Here I think the anxiety medication really did me well, for I did not panic, smiled and replied with an, "Oh, excellent, how interesting, I think I'll enjoy this." and did not flap too much). 2. The interview which would comprise of a standard set of questions that would be asked to all candidates.

4. The Micro-teaching synopsis: a) read through transcript 1 between black man and police officer, can they work out which is which speaker and why? What else did they notice about the relationship between speakers

b) Read through transcript 2, from a play, what did they notice about the dialogue, what indicated it is constructed rather than spontaneous speech? Disucssion ensues.

c) Hand out a small spoken language terms glossary, work in pairs to find examples of forms of spoken language in transcipts read so far - point out identifying features is a lower order thinking skill, higher order stuff to follow.

d) read and analyse 3rd transcript, 2 men discussing football, what does the language tell us about the relationship between speakers? How do they know? Compare to transcript 1.

e) Draw conclusions - have they changed their minds about any of the transcript/speakers/language from assumptions made at the beginning - an interesting discussion ensued!

f) I thanked them for being good students and said how much I'd enjoyed teaching them - both of which were true. I was SO happy I had enjoyed teaching for those 15 minutes.

5. Interview questions: There were about 10 in total. Most not too different from secondary school ones e.g. Describe a lesson that showed stretch and challenge (or something like that) - where I narrated Year 8 analysing the 'Lonely as an oyster' simile from Scrooge, taken from my blogpost 'Let's Keep Things Shrimple' (ahh, the benefits of blogging, so good for memory!) and a lower ability Year 10 class's fascination with Oliver Twist. I nearly came a cropper on the 'Safeguarding' question about a pupil seen to be consuming alcohol during a school production, almost forgetting to say, 'and refer the incident to the member of staff with Safeguarding responsibility' but got it in there before the final question on 'barriers to learning' which I found easy to answer, and the answer came very fleuntly. The interview ended, telephone numbers were exchanged and I was told I'd find out that evening or the following morning.

6. I asked to have a tour around the site as that had not happened earlier on in the day, so the uber-efficient A-Level admin lady showed me around the rather nice building and its facilities. (It has a gym I can use for free!). I felt she had softened a bit the second time she met me and we had a much warmer chat as we walked around. We bid each other goodbye and she told me she had to get ready for the next candidate.

7. I signed out and ambled back to my car quite content as I could feel it in my bones that it went as well as I could have hoped. PLUS the nerves and anxiety, although present, had not lead me to self-sabotage my way out of a possible job. All I could do now was hope that the other candidates, were, *cough* a bit pants.

I came home and lord knows what I did to occupy myself the rest of the day. I think I went to the gym or swam that evening to distract myself. Later that evening, as I had just finished eating my dinner, my mobile phone rang. It was J. I briefly stopped breathing and my heart thudded a little too loudly.

J, "Hello, Gwen?"

"Hello J, thank you for calling."

J, "I am pleased to say, we'd like to offer you the position of Lecturer for GCSE and A-Level English."

Slightly too high pitched and excitable, I respond with, "Oh REALLY? You've just made my day!"

I think I may have punched the air at this point.

J, who was a little taken aback by my enthusiastic response replies with, "Oh. Well, my pleasure." This next bit surprised me a little, "the others really didn't come close to you, so you have nothing to worry about there." 
A little taken aback, I reply, "Oh, goodness, thank you." 

J, "We'd like to start you on the upper end of the Lecturers scale and we maybe able to offer you more hours. The start date is mid August, is that OK for you?"

In an attempt to regain some composure, I finish with, "Yes, of course, I'm sure that will be fine. Thank you very much for calling and letting me know."

Even lovelier than this, was after I tweeted my successful offer of the job, I received hundreds, LITERALLY hundreds of congratulations messages, all so full of warmth and joy for me. I LITERALLY couldn't keep up with my timeline. Just utterly wonderful. Thank you team Twitter, thank you.




The One About The Interview: Part the First

I hope you forgive me, as this all occured over a short space of time in May, however the timing to write and post about this is just about right, right now.

A little context.

At the start of May I had decided to resign from my school (for reasons that are too complex and too sensitive to put on here). I had written the letter and handed it to my Headteacher without a job YET to go to. It was all getting rather frightening.  That same week I found a job advertised for a near-ish FE college wanting a 'Lecturer for GCSE and A-Level English' 0.7 of a full timetable. It was very appealing because it was a totally new educational sector to me AND it was part-time. I can honestly say I am totally drained from teaching a full time-table in Secondary Education for the last 12 years. I wanted this no more. I'd take a lower income over a higher one that invlved working in a way that is bad for my health.

The terror of teaching interviews....

OK, the sub-heading is a tad hyperbolic, but if you narrate the experience of a teaching interview to a non-teaching friend (I DO hope you have some of those, they do keep you grounded amongst the storm of education-land) they will look at you askance, whilst thinking about their own experiences of being sat in an office having a chat with people behind a desk.

So, for those of you unfamiliar with the process, I shall give you a quick run-down. So, here it is, "The Hunger Games" of job interviews.

1. Arrive, exhausted because you have not slept at all, and sign in at reception.
2. You'll sit and chat awkwardly and warily with the other candidates, asking questions about where they are from, how long they've taught etc.  It appears to be idle chit chat, but essentially, like Katniss Everdean, you are weighing up their strengths and weaknesses against your own.
3. Meet the head teacher or SLT member in charge of the interview day. They sat out their stall, or vision of the school. You are scrutinising their words for subtext and how often the word 'Ofsted' or 'Outstanding' is mentioned, they are scrutinising you like you are bacteria on a petri dish.
4.  A tour of the school is given by a chirpy pupil on the student council. You can look at the state of the school buildings, mooch past classroooms to see how ordered or not they are and interrogate, I mean chat, to the pupil about their opinion of the school and teachers.
5. You teach your lesson. This may involve two observers staying for the duration or a few people nipping in and out of your lesson. It could be part of a lesson, or a whole lesson (I prefer the latter). As with performance management lessons observations it is all highly contrived and even more difficult because you a) don't know the pupils in front of you b) you are controlling your nerves and urge to vomit bile into the nearest bin.
6. Break time - an 'un-assessed' part of the day (yeah, right) where you once more chat awkwardly with the competition and potentially meet members of the faculty you maybe working in.
7. Interview 1 - Student Council members will ask you various questions about you and you as a teacher.
8. Interview 2 - with a member of SLT or Head of Faculty discussing how your subject is run.
9. Lunch - where you force feed yourself the dinner provided whilst simultaneously trying not to regurgitate it out of stress. Then, like the Velocirapotors in "Jurassic Park" you once again suss out your competition, and your potential new colleagues. The Velocoraptoring (made up word) flows strongly between candidates and school staff.

If the field is large, it is here that some cutting of the wheat from the chaff may occur. Some will stay for the final interview with the Headteacher, SLT & governers, others will be sent home or may choose to pull out. If you are lucky, you can get interview feedback before trudging back to your car.

10. The final interview with the Headteacher, SLT and governers - which can feel like being up a gainst a firing squad. not always, but it is nevertheless intimidating.

11. You wait, and wait, and wait, to find out who has been appointed. The first person called for in the staff room will be the sucessful candidate. The rest of you do the 'Leonardo Di Caprio: I'VE STILL NOT WON AN OSCAR' smile and nod.

12. You make your way home. Get home, eat whatever comes to hand, and like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey slowly power down as the stress adrenaline leaves your body, and you...are...utterly....exhuasted. And lo! You begin an epic 12 hour sleep.

So, this is what I know of teaching interviews. Sometimes I have coped admirably, sometimes I have been utterly overwhelmed by nerves s and anxiety (the Huntington interview last academic year was definitely that) and sometimes it's all rather serendipitous and goes swimmingly.

THIS is merely for a classroom teacher's position. A Headteacher's interview can last at least two days, imagine, TWO whole days! Actually, don't imagine, read Keven Bartle's blog, 'Secruing Headship as a Member of SLT' here or talk to @ChocoTzar who got through an equally gruelling two day Headship interview in Bristol, whilst in the throws of the most EVIL of stomach bugs. Heroic, no?

Preparation the Twitter way: The Application

The application for this post was all online - sometimes it saved my content, sometimes it didn't, so sometimes I wanted to throw my laptop out out of the window. The 'data' part of the process (qualifications & work history) I had grown quicker at, although it still felt laborious. The nub of the application still rests on your personal statement (or application letter if done the old school way), and thanks to quite a few previous applications and LOTS of input from @deadshelley and @Xris32, I had quite a few versions of a letter of application to draw on. The structure and body of the personal statement came from these previous drafts while the opening and ending paragraphs that book-ended the statement or letter, were edited more specifically to suit the place I was applying to and the post I was applying for.
  Cheekily, I once again drew on the help of @deadshelly and badgered new Twitter chum @tstarkey1212 (an FE stalwart of many years) to check though my personal statement. I had some useful feedback from Tom Starkey about tweaking the letter to show awareness of the FE framework and how my Secondary School background would be advantageous to a move into FE. That done, the statement was copied and pasted into the online form and I clicked 'submit' a good 48 hours before the Friday deadline. Then gulped.

Part the second to follow in the next blog post.