Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Interviewing potential PGCE students

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to be on the interview panel for prospective PGCE science students at Leeds University.  The University regularly asks for us to go along, they like to have a university tutor and a teacher doing the interviews, but some schools are reluctant to let staff out, with all the cover implications.  I was lucky, I had a class that could be left to get on with some work and a year 12 class who were loaded down the day before with past examination questions, so cover was minimal.  So off I went....

I met up with the university tutor about half an hour before the start time.  Again, I was lucky, one of my ex-colleagues and lovely friend works in the school of education, and I was paired with her for the afternoon.  We caught up on a lot of news in between things!

There were four candidates, two for chemistry and two for biology.  Obviously I can't say what each of them was like, or what the outcome was but I can say that their passion and commitment to science and teaching was amazing.  Obviously they were a bit naive-sounding at times, but nearly all had spent at least two weeks in a secondary school and knew what they were expecting in terms of workload.

My friend gave them a quick introduction to the course, and then they were sent off to do a written test, a reading test and prepare a two minute talk on some effective teaching they had seen.  We interviewed two candidates and then got them back together for the presentation and group discussion part, and then did the remaining two interviews.

I learnt a lot. I was worried about whether I would know what to say or do - again, interviewing is another new thing for me this year - but I had a list of questions to follow and did a lot of encouraging, reassuring nodding and smiling.  Above all I enjoyed it. I loved meeting these enthusiastic people and trying to find out if they had the personality and skills to train to teach.  Apparently I was calm and confident, and I got an answer out of one candidate that might have sealed it for them!

Some top tips then if you're thinking of applying:

  • Get into a school. Get into several different types of school. You're looking for at least a fortnight.  Spend time with staff and pupils and make sure this is really what you want to do. 
  • Go into it with your eyes open, yes teaching is rewarding but not all the time.
  • Remember, your experience as a kid in school is probably very different to what happens for most kids in most schools.  Not everyone is going to want to, or be able to do A level sciences and save the world from global warming... what do these kids do?
  • See a range of subjects. You might really want to teach biology but what does your average pupil do in maths and english? How is science different?
  • When you see good teaching try and work out why it was good. What was the teacher doing? What type of person was the teacher? What were the pupils doing?
  • Obviously you will want to prepare for an interview but please get off your script. Rehearsed answers that you've learnt off by heart sound just like that and don't allow your personality to shine through.  You won't be able to script all your lessons.
  • Read up on things about teaching, for example in the news.  You might want to look at some educational policies but be careful - chances are the interviewer knows more than you do and you don't want to get things really wrong.  If you know it all now, why do you need a place on the course?
  • Good luck.  The PGCE is possibly the toughest year of your life, there will be highs and lows like you rarely experience anywhere else.  You will always be tired and there will never be enough time to do everything you want to do (let alone need to do). You will survive and the staff in your placement schools have all been there too - we all want to help you.

My first go at leading training (and my second too!)

My Head of Department asked me to organise some training a few weeks ago.  I've never been asked to do anything like that before, so I was a little nervous.  I  know that I need to be more of a leader, even though I've no official responsibility or role, so it was good to start with something I'm enthusiastic about.  The brief was basically something on teaching and learning, based on the Passport to Outstanding programme, to take place during our weekly departmental meeting, and I also had to get three more colleagues involved (who were ace!). There was a bit of emailing went on, and a couple of conversations grabbed at lunchtime, but we got there in the end.

One borrowed the school ipods and showed us how to generate QR codes as well as explaining what all the mysterious ones around the department were for (a great year 9 revision quiz). We practiced using the ipods to read the codes we were given, and then followed the instructions - a few were turned into paper aeroplanes, a few given to someone else in the department and so on.  I liked this website for putting pictures in the middle of the codes.

Another colleague talked us through how to run a Marketplace activity, something that she does a lot, very successfully. I think they can be a bit worrying the first time you try them so having someone talk you through is really useful.  We've also been trying to use this type of activity more as it's felt that it can increase literacy skills, something we're focusing on at key stage 4.

My other amazing colleague talked about how she has been learning to "let go" more during lessons, letting the kids get on with activities and not feeling that she has to control every aspect of the hour.  It doesn't sound much, but it's very difficult to do, and I know I'm guilty sometimes of wanting it all my own way during a lesson.

My little bit of training took me hours to prepare! I finally got round to getting some hexagons laminated so I spent the evening before cutting them all up....  I gave them to my colleagues with the challenge to pick a topic (they used particle theory, the nervous system, electricity, space) and write out the key words onto the hexagons (using whiteboard markers). Then they organised them into the patterns to show the links.  It was amazing to see adults go through the same out-loud thinking process as the kids do - "I'll put this one next to this one because..."  Since then at least one colleague has been back to me several times to thank me for showing her this - she is using it with lots of classes and has started to turn it into a memory game, snap, and even making one massive class-sized pattern.

The best thing was that I really enjoyed doing it, showing other people a new thing, and then having them come back to me once they'd tried it to tell me how useful it was to them.

It turned into such a hit that the following week I tried to get the department onto twitter to show them all the great cpd they could access (asechat, ukedchat and so on).  I think this might have been less successful, possibly because it requires people to use their own free time in the evenings, and some are already swamped in marking and planning.

All I need to do now is think of the next great thing to share...