First things first: Who are you?
Faced with the challenge of finding a school where you will be happy in your work, where does a newly qualified teacher begin? Well, begin with yourself. Ask yourself a series of fundamental questions: Why did I choose to teach? What type of school am I most likely to feel at home in? And finally, where do I want to live, and with whom? Only once you have answered those questions honestly for yourself can you begin the task of searching for the school in which to begin your career.
I began teaching because I loved English literature. I had no burning desire to improve social mobility; rather, I wanted a job where I got paid for talking with young adults about Shakespeare. I wanted to live in Brighton. I knew I could cope with a relatively posh environment because of my time spent as a youth in the golfing world. Eastbourne Sixth Form College, the former boys’ grammar school, was a perfect fit. Five A-level groups in my first year, as well as assistant football and cricket coach, and I was perfectly happy. A round peg in a round hole.
The second stage: What is going on when no one’s looking?
Once you have understood your motivations, you need to begin searching for schools. In the world of social media, there is a myriad of ways to be alerted to the vacancies that might be the right fit. Once a vacancy comes up in a school that you think might be right for you, request a visit. A good look round a school when it is operating in a typical school day is the best way of sensing whether it is for you. I believe that the only true test of a school is what’s going on when no one’s looking.
A tour of the school with the person who will be your immediate line manager is pure gold, because not only will you get a sense of the school, but you will also spend 30 minutes with the person who will potentially make the weather in your area of school life. Ask lots of questions, but don’t be burdensome. But remember that when you visit, you are, essentially, on interview. Be cautious when asking about the school’s behaviour policy; such questions can ring alarm bells, as they suggest that you cannot manage behaviour in your classes. The thing is, when you are on tour, you’ll get a first-hand sense of what behaviour is like in the school and the level of purposeful industry in the classrooms.
One thing to find out about, if you haven’t been able to before you visit, is the training for teachers. How importantly is CPD valued at the school and what is the department working on at the moment in its department time?
Thirdly, the application: Do what it says on the tin
One of the most irritating things for someone shortlisting from a batch of applications is one that does not address what is required. Read the information for candidates very carefully. Ensure that your application is signposted so that the reader does not have to search for what they are looking for. And make sure that your application demonstrates that you know the school; something that irritates shortlisters even more is a generic application that has been carelessly adapted and references another school. Having appointed literally hundreds of teachers, I can assure you that I read several applications a year extolling the virtues of a school other than ours.
Two other pieces of advice about applications. Firstly, ask someone who can punctuate accurately to proofread your application. Anyone who can differentiate between ‘its’ and ‘it’s’ goes up in my estimation when I am looking for a teacher. Secondly, shape your paragraphs thus: educational philosophy, supported by what the evidence says; specific example from your own practice; supporting commentary. You might write a paragraph on mixed attainment teaching: why you think it works best for socially disadvantaged students; how you teach mixed attainment classes to ensure that students of all levels of prior attainment make good progress; and a final sentence about how difficult it is to teach mixed attainment classes.
The teacher recruitment market is a buyer’s market. You may well be offered a job after your first interview. If you are a mathematician, you may well lose your hand before you realise, the desperate head teacher having bitten it off. Do not rush your decision. If you need a night to think about accepting the offer of a job, take it. If the school will not allow you 24 hours to make such an important decision, then it probably isn’t the place for you anyway.
Once you’ve secured an interview, prepare for it in advance: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/jobs-and-work-experience/job-sectors/teacher-training-and-education/teaching-interview-questions.
John Tomsett has been teaching for 30 years and a head teacher for 15 years. He leads Huntington School in York which is a national Research School. He is a blogger and writer, and his book, This much I know about Love over Fear, describes how he strives to create a culture for truly great teaching at Huntington.