Agony Aunt: Are all teachers perfect?

Nic Ponsford

Nicole is the digital leader of @WomenEd, leader of @WomenEd_Tech and founder of @gendercharter. Previously, she was an award-winning AST in Media and New Technologies. Nicole is passionate about gender equality being the ‘new normal’.

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Although the exam season is very much upon us, and many of us start to see the light at the end of the tunnel (aka summer holidays), many educators are trying to begin their careers in education. For some, the spark is put out before they have even begun.

Here is a question from one such teacher in training:

"I am trying to take teaching as a full time job. Earlier I was teaching on and off and tutoring too. I have good subject knowledge and am fond of Maths and Physics. I am doing my DET and tried to get a job... in interviews they just look for mistakes and I am not selected for one or two mistakes. Are teachers perfect?" - Amarnath Annathur

In a word Amarnath, ‘No’.

However, as a teacher, you have to get used to being observed and learning from your mistakes. You do not need to be perfect, but you must be able to explain your choices through an action or a word.

It would be helpful to know what feedback you have been given – is there a theme or pattern to the comments? You sound angry and hurt. I understand, but I disagree with your line of questioning. Don’t brood over your mistakes, instead learn from them.

School leaders will not be looking for you to make a mistake, they will be looking for potential in new candidates and working out if you would engage their young people. If you were on the interview panel, you would be looking for the best. My advice is to take a few deep breaths, try to take it professionally rather than personally, dust yourself off and get your solution-cap on. I think you need to flip this passion from the fault being with others – and to yourself. Then you need to decide what you are going to do about it.

  • Did you choose the wrong school for you?
  • What was the difference between you and the winning candidate – was it an internal placement, a less experienced/cheaper appointment (you mention you have taught before)?
  • Was the key mistake when you were before a class, or was it your 1:1 interview that needs a little polish?

Give yourself time to reflect on your experiences and turn the negative feedback into something that you can work with to improve.

You mention that you have done “teaching on and off”. I would definitely say that the bar has been raised in education when it comes to acceptable levels of performance, especially at interview level. I have even heard of teachers being told to retrain after several years out of the classroom. Again, watching and working with other good/outstanding teachers will help you get your eye in – what is important now in the classroom and what is important to that school. Look at their school improvement/action plans on the school’s website. Get a feel of their next steps following an inspection and consider how they are representing the teaching profession – innovative, personalizing learning, narrowing the gap or how they work with local schools (supporting or being supported). Then use this information in your interview – either in how you plan your lesson or what you focus on in your application / on the day.

Another idea to help you prepare would be to film yourself. Scary I know, but it will help you to see what others do. Try it – I have. It made me realise how much gesticulating I do (like an octopus to begin with) and the frequent ‘Ummming’ while thinking that I did. You will then know how to improve your self-presentation and illustrate a greater level of self-awareness and confidence in front of a class or interview panel. It is another way to improve your personal toolkit as a teacher.

In the meantime, as you know, teaching is much more than subject knowledge. It helps – obviously – but it being a good teacher is also about being organised, being a role model and being conscientious among other things. I would suggest you observe as many teachers as you can, as well as reading the inspirational articles that we have on this site. Try and choose different schools to help you – observe different ages groups and abilities, and also sit in on subject teachers outside of your chosen areas. The more you see, the more you will learn. Look beyond the subject knowledge – if you are comfortable with this – and see how they present the information, how they personalize the content and how they engage the learners. Choose two elements per lesson and really focus on how they get this right (or not).

The main point is that the biggest learner in the classroom should be the teacher. You have a real reason to learn as much as you can, so take every experience and squeeze the learning out of it. Remember, as James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery”. And, boy oh boy, is teaching a way to discover yourself!

If you want to get in touch, Amarnath, with responses to these queries, please do, and I will give you more focused support. Or if you are a trainee teacher or member of an interview panel and you would like some advice, please send us a line either in the comments below, or on our social media platforms.

Get in touch with editor James Cain at [email protected] if you have questions for Nicole.

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