Tips for Americans (and others) who want to teach in England - Part II: Interviews
In my first article, I talked about how to get your foot in the door of the schools. Again, this is directed towards US citizens who have no migration route into England.
As mentioned, I am a US citizen (and, specifically, not a British citizen) and I've been trying to get a teaching gig in the UK for a number of years. Being completely honest, I haven't been trying too hard. I'm at a time in life where I don't need to grab the first thing that comes along, so I can be a bit choosy.
That said, I have learned a great deal about the British school interviewing process, which has led me to realise that English schools may not in fact wish to employee anyone.
So, before we move on, let me share my credentials. I have a BS and an MS in engineering. I'm a licensed engineer and I have teacher certification in math (they call it 'maths' over there), several sciences and 'technology education' (whatever that is) in the state of Texas. I also have QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) for England. I did the agencies for a couple of years and got a dozen or so Skype interviews. For one reason or another, there was never a good fit. Sometimes they didn't like me, sometimes I didn't like them.
When January 2018 rolled around, I concluded that I'd 'pursue other interests'. I neglected, however, to tell the education employment agencies. So, around March, I thought I'd make a trip to England to visit some old friends. I'd booked the flights and the very next day, an agent calls and says he has a Head Teacher who wants a Skype interview with me. Figuring I have nothing to lose, I agree. We have the chat and I mention that, oh, by the way, I'll be there in a month or so and would he like a live, face-to-face interview; he readily agreed.
Suddenly, like a row of toppling dominoes, five more interviews lined up for my trip. One might think from this that schools in England are pretty keen for maths teachers…
So, on the off chance that you get a live interview at a school, here is my experience.
Tip #1: If at all possible, do not agree to teach a live class.
As mentioned, I'm a certified teacher in Texas and I've been on a couple dozen interviews. Not once, even during a follow-up interview, was I ever asked to teach a live class. If at all possible, get out of that.
Ostensibly, the interviewer is looking for two things in a sample class. The first is presentation skills (that's the easy part) and the second – and in my humble opinion, far more important – classroom management. In both cases, you're seriously hobbled.
The agency will give you a very terse request for your lesson. Out of the six classes I was asked to teach, one of them was described, literally, with a one-word description: 'factorisation'. No lesson plans, no learning objectives, no resources, no presentations, nothing. I was, as the British say, "on my Tod". After I did the class (which went remarkably well, all things considered), the head teacher asked me to teach a second class on the Pythagorean theorem. Little did I know that he was setting me up with a bunch of sweathogs; more on that later.
This information about the class you're about to teach will come, at best, two days before you teach it. That way, you'll have plenty of time to prepare, right? Short answer – No.
Next, you have no idea where your students are, academically speaking. Okay, I'm going to teach factoring? Do they know how to multiply monomials? Do they even understand the concept of variables? How far do I have to backtrack to make this lesson effective?
Also, the classroom is not set up the way you want it set up. At all six interviews that I had, the classrooms had 'smartboards'; it seems to be a national standard. The problem with them is that, in order to write on the smartboard, you have to turn your back to the class; if you have any teaching experience, you can guess what happens. Also, the resolution on smartboards leaves much to be desired. When I did my classroom presentations in American schools, I used a convertible tablet PC which uses a stylus.
My tablet PC also has an app with four fabulous features. First, it's conducive to tablet drawing with a 'point and flick' interface, rather than drop menus. Secondly, the learning curve is astonishingly low. Thirdly – it's free. And that's 'free' as in it doesn't cost anything. Last, but not least, when I use the app, I'm always facing the class. In fact, with a bit of skullduggery, I can even walk amongst the students as I do my presentation – any experienced teacher will tell you what that is worth.
Now, normally, I wouldn't put in a sales pitch but there's nothing to sell; it's free! It's called Sketchbook Pro.
So, during these sample classes in England, I wasn't allowed to plug my tablet PC into the projector. 'Security issues', I was told.
No differentiation data
Finally, let's talk about student disabilities. In the ed biz in America, every teacher gets what's called an IEP or Individualised Education Plan. It'll say something like, "Suzy has dyslexia, so do this for her...," or "Johnny has ADHD, so do that for him..." The magic word for these accommodations is 'differentiation'. You'll be asked about that. Be prepared.
Even though every school I went to asked me about 'differentiation', not one of them provided me with anything resembling an IEP – which is understandable, as that's confidential information and I'm not an employee (as yet). However, that also makes me an ineffective teacher.
Classroom management issues:
Okay, now let's talk about how teaching a sample class is worthless in terms of demonstrating your classroom management skills.
First – Rapport
Classroom management begins on day one – in fact, it should take up all of day one. When I'm teaching for a full year, I spend my first day of class telling students my rules, my expectations, and how to avoid getting into trouble, not only with me, but with other teachers. I also do my best to get them to 'buy in' to the class. Like it or not, we have to get through this and we're all in this together. With a single-day class, you don't have that, so you're hog-tied from the get-go.
Second – Names
Names have power and not just the student names, but the names of their legal guardians. Saying, "Johnny, get back in your assigned seat or Nana 'Thena is gonna take your iPhone for a week," strikes a lot more fear into the heart of a student than saying "Hey you, back where you belong."
Again, as a one-day teacher, you don't have that power.
Third – School Policies
For effective classroom management, you must know the discipline policies of the school – especially bathroom policy. It's amazing how the most indifferent student can turn into Clarence Darrow when school issues are being violated. When I tell a student that they have a future in law, I make sure that they understand that it was not meant as a compliment.
And, if it turns out that they're in the right, and you're in the wrong, that undermines your authority.
Again, you don't have that knowledge.
Fourth – Assessments
Now, if you make your lesson plan carefully, you can put informal assessments throughout the lesson. However, as you're only there for the day, the students will know that it doesn't count. As a result, they won't be inclined to pay attention or participate unless you have something really interesting to teach.
Tip #2: Make videos of the class you are currently teaching
So, let's say the agent sends you an email and says, 'You're at such-and-such school tomorrow and you'll teach a class on so-and-so." How do you tell him, "I'll do the interview, but I won't teach the class."? Well, there are a couple of alternatives:
If you are currently an active teacher, set up a webcam and record a few of your classes. Then cherry-pick the best scenes and offer those as samples. Then you can argue, "Hey, here's a video of me teaching a class, and you can see I have good rapport with my students, good classroom management and good presentation skills."
Tip #3: Provide lesson plans and materials
If you're teaching, you probably do this anyway, but put together a good lesson plan, along with any materials for the class. These could include reinforcement activities (i.e., exercises), PowerPoints (with notes) that you've made, and manipulatives.
Be sure to mention that you created the material. If you go to live interviews, buy a few dozen cheap thumb drives, put this on them and distribute them to anyone that asks for it. In this way you can create a portfolio of your teaching skills.
Tip #4: Be prepared for these uniquely English questions.
There are common questions in teaching interviews.
However, as with any field, there will be the usual idiotic questions that are asked at almost any interview.
"What are your strengths and weaknesses?"
"Use three words to describe yourself."
"Is a tomato a fruit or a vegetable?" Yes, I was actually asked this question.
But, being an American in England, you'll get one or two more pointed questions, such as...
Why England?" Or the UK, or whatever.
I point out that I have worked in England before, as an engineer. I have actually been on the other side of the fence (or Pond) and I can see that the grass is actually greener. Then I'd make a little joke that I've always wanted to live in a country where everyone spoke a foreign language.
"No, seriously?" they would persist. I explained that, in Texas, students are legally allowed to bring firearms into my class. Concealed firearms. "No, seriously," I would add. This raised some eyebrows.
This might not apply to you, of course, but expect this question and have a ready answer.
"What is your expectation in terms of compensation?"
This is actually a gag among teachers in the US; salary is dictated by certification, degrees and years of service; they're publicly posted. The only "negotiation" is if one agrees to coach or sponsor an extracurricular sport or activity. In fact, the joke is that a spouse will ask his teacher partner, "Why don't you just ask for a raise?" Hilarity ensues.
Now, put some thought into your own answer, but my response was that I would work for free if I could enrol in the NHS – the central message being, I wasn't concerned about money. After all, who goes into teaching for the money?
Tip #5: Mention your extra-curriculars and provide some displays of your work.
As an avocation, I do 3D CGI and digital art, so I include some of my work on the thumb drive that I gave out like hot cookies and, of course, I nudge that into the conversation, gently suggesting that it might become an extracurricular activity. So, if you coach a sport or sponsor a robotics team, document that with some videos or photographs.
Just as an aside, I found some thumb drives that looked like military 'dog tags'. I got quite a few comments about them – all positive – and during a later telephone conversation, the agent mentioned that I was the teacher with the dog tags.
Tip #6: If you must teach a class, thank the students
If, in the end, you get roped into actually teaching a sample class, thank the students at the end of your presentation and say something nice, like they were well-behaved or you admire their participation. During my regular classes in America, I did this on a daily basis for every single class; it seems a little thing, but they do notice. During one of my trial classes, the students had worked very hard, so at the end, I took a bow and said, "Thank you. You've been a lovely audience." I, literally, got a standing ovation from the students. Sadly, I didn't get the job.
In my next article, I'm going to offer a little advice about moving to and living in England.
About the author
Frederick Leeper BSEE MSEE PE is an American (for which he apologises) who grew up in Louisiana. An engineer by training and an educator by calling, Fred has a BS and an MS in electrical engineering and is a licensed engineer, as well as being qualified to teach in two countries (if you count Texas as a country). Frederick has taught secondary and post-secondary STEM courses in the US whilst engineering in the maelstrom that is telecoms, and as an instructor for engineers.