‘The whole world is a stage’:advice for interview lessons

It’s a curiously unique kind of situation. You are being interviewed for a teaching post, and of course your potential employer wants to see you in action, so far so good. Except you don’t know the students you will teach and they don’t know you. You’re also unfamiliar with the layout of the lab or classroom and what the usual classroom routines are. The issues surrounding interview lessons are compounded when you teach science/chemistry because of all those lab specific issues.

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So, is it best to play safe or take a risk? Here is my advice for chemistry interview lessons –

  1. Know your stuff! It sounds a ridiculous thing to remind interviewees of but you would be surprised at the number of times observers have seen incorrect chemistry trotted out… Look up the exam specification or topic description, fully research it. Read about the topic in a couple of textbooks, answer a few past paper questions on it, do some reading about student misconceptions in that area. (Try Keith Taber’s book, chemical misconceptions by the RSC). In one interview I was sat down in front of an A-level multiple choice paper and asked to give my answers to particular questions. I had been teaching A-level chemistry for a year at that point because of my training on the GTP scheme but it’s a scary prospect for a new teacher who may not have been given the opportunity to do much teaching at that level.
  2. Think carefully about the time you have. The amount of time allocated to interview lessons varies widely. Some schools will give you a normal full lesson and you can rely on some standard classroom routines to settle you and the students. Others will have 2 candidates teach half a lesson, much more difficult to pitch! In a longer lesson you could attempt a simple experiment, it’s unlikely to be a good idea with 20 minutes.
  3. Ask for the information you need. How many students? Approximately what kind of ability are they? Sets or mixed ability teaching? Any students with specific learning needs? What about teaching assistants? What is the layout of the room? Can you have a class list or seating plan from their teacher? What have they already been taught? All this information will make your life much easier in planning a lesson pitched at the right level. Schools are used to these requests but do be considerate. It is better to email for information rather than phone, the Head of Dept will need time to gather everything and will find it difficult to answer when put on the spot.
  4. If you’re going to do an experiment, make sure you have practised it and know how to deal with any pitfalls. Also, risk assess it! Think about how to reduce ‘dead time’ when students may be heating something for example, could you cut it down so they are engaged in more purposeful activity? Or could they be doing something else while they wait for the water bath? (actually just avoid water baths made using Bunsens and skip straight to kettles!). Practical work is very much a judgement call; I have been interviewed in a school who were surprised I wanted to do a practical in a 60 minute lesson on the decomposition of metal carbonates. Schools can have very different ideas about how much experimental work students should do and this isn’t often apparent in the information that is made widely available. If you do choose to do some practical work, try to make sure it isn’t the whole focus of the lesson; the observers want to see you teach, not their own students do an experiment.
  5. Have a back up plan. In the interview lesson for my current post the computer began shutting down just as I had loaded my PowerPoint, it couldn’t be restarted. I picked up a whiteboard pen and just got on with it. So visualise the worst case scenarios. What would you do if the ICT failed? What if a few students don’t bring a pen? If students are using their own electronic devices (for example in a 1:1 tablet school) then what will you do if a student doesn’t have theirs? Know your subject content enough to be able to just teach it without any aids and also so you can answer questions from particularly keen students.
  6. Good luck!
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