Sophie Ruane is an assessor for Now Teach - she interviews candidates applying to join the network. She is also Head of English at Saint Gabriel's College. Here she sets out what she's looking for when she's interviewing.
When I left my advertising agency and stepped into the classroom, I felt like I’d come home. I couldn’t have articulated what made me a good candidate at the time, but I knew in my gut it would be right for me and it was.
I’ve now had the privilege of interviewing over a hundred potential Now Teachers, and hearing many career-change stories. Most of them far more interesting and nuanced than my own. The upshot is that there are a host of things at play – people are complex and so is the job - but there are commonalities among our great candidates. Here are some of them…
They want to teach teenagers in a secondary school.
For me, this is the big one. And hopefully, this is obvious. I rarely find myself doubting if Ms X, Lab Supervisor, will enjoy teaching Science. More often, I wonder if Ms X will enjoy teaching it to 11-year-olds. Far more often, I wonder if Ms X will enjoy daily Tutor Group with 8B.
You can know in your heart if you like young people or not. They’re everywhere: your friends have them; they’re on the bus; they’re on the TV; you were one. In the strongest possible terms – you’ve got to actively want to work with this age group. They’re not a tricky client that can be avoided; they are the work.
They want to ‘contribute’.
"It might sound corny but..." is something I hear all too often. Whatever comes next is usually not ‘corny’ but something that makes a great candidate. Be it a desire to: contribute to society; develop young minds; provide opportunities to disadvantaged learners or whatever is personal to them. This sense of motivation really sets strong candidates apart. Please don’t be shy to share this with us. Remember your audience - you've come home.
They are well motivated.
A desire to ‘contribute’ is far from the only reason a great candidate might want to teach and there are no ‘ideal’ reasons. Because you’ll be great at it; because you admired your own teachers; because you love your subject; because it sounds really fun (which it is!) - all these and more are valid.
There will probably be more ‘selfish’ and practical reasons in the mix: more job security or a desire to be close to home. There will almost certainly be 'push' factors: you no longer enjoy or are not challenged by your current job. These certainly applied to me. While all of this is normal, great candidates are not just pushed away from one thing, but very decidedly pulled towards this career.
They understand educational disadvantage.
Not all candidates have to want to change the world. Teachers certainly shouldn’t have to become martyrs to the cause. That said, all young people have a right to a fair and equal education and, if teaching in a comprehensive school, you will teach disadvantaged students. Candidates don’t need to know how to tackle this and ‘close the gap’ just yet, but excellent candidates are ready and willing.
They love their subject.
I’m a Head of English but my degree was in Psychology. Primarily, I wanted to teach young people; the choice to teach English came second. However, I really do adore my subject. Great candidates are sometimes experts and sometimes keen to become experts. They are always able to talk with enthusiasm about how they would bring their subject to life and why it is ‘important’. Children are intuitive and teachers set the weather in the room – if you don’t love what you’re sharing, your students will know and they won’t love it either.
They’re humble and excited to learn.
Great candidates might be confident, authoritative and credible, but always humble. They don’t just ‘accept’ that they ‘may have to take feedback from someone in their 20s’, but they are eager to do so because they want to be the best teacher they can be. Great candidates are excited to share their experience and just as excited to learn from experienced teachers. Great candidates are invigorated by the opportunity to up-skill in this way.
The team at Now Teach provide fantastic support throughout the entire decision-making process. And it is a process. Once at interview stage, though, great candidates are those that show commitment to this path. They might have natural questions, concerns or anxieties but they have made a firm, informed decision and are committed to seeing it through, even when faced with the inevitable challenges. If one were to opt for a different/better/easier option four months in, the consequences for their students would be dire. What is also true is that this sense of purpose and being needed is what makes teachers feel so fulfilled.
They’ve done their research.
This is an area in which great candidates shine and show their commitment. There's a great deal more involved in the role of a teacher than planning lessons and marking. The role is strategic, analytical, specialist, creative and rigorous. In fact, these are the areas in which your transferable skills will be put to use and career-changers can really excel. Like any profession, you can find out more about the role without being in a school - starting with the school experience library on our website.
They have personality.
Great candidates are strong communicators and engaging individuals. Building rapport with young people and providing inspiration is, unquestionably, important. I am surprised by the number of candidates who have asked “Am I the right sort of character?” “Do I have the right personality?” My answer to this is always: there is no cardboard cut-out, perfect teacher persona and nor should there be. If anything, a child’s - particularly, a disadvantaged child’s - sphere of reference can be too small so diversity of thought and character can only benefit young people.
'There is no cardboard cut-out, perfect teacher persona and nor should there be.'