Why fielding job interview questions from children is awesome!

Image used by Tina Vega used under creative commons licence

My job interviews are from mundane. My first teaching job interview was a group interview while the next one was via skype where I fielded questions from some  amazing year 7/8 (that’s 11/12 year old) students.

As a brief detour can I proclaim my love of Skype? Aside from being able to interview for schools you aren’t in physical proximity to you, you can also sit on your bed with PJs from the waist down for a interview and no one is the wiser. There is a possibility that something might happen which might require you to get up like the phone rings which is why I wouldn’t advocate PJs for Skype interviews. But yah for technology bringing the world a bit closer and back to the topic at hand, children on interview panels.

As an ex student rep my first thought when I heard I would have some students interviewing me was wow that’s so cool! I sat on my first interview panel as a 16 year old student representative on my school’s Board of Trustees. Since then I’ve helped select high-ranking university officials, NGO employees and diplomatic workers in various roles. In fact I think I’ve spent more time on interview panels than in front of one.

So I understood from the outset what a massive learning opportunity the students were in for. Especially since they were a lot younger than myself when I found myself interviewing candidates many years ago. Through being a student rep I learned how interviews worked from the other side which makes it a lot easier to apply for jobs now. It also made me feel a lot more confident in being able to relate to adults with more power than me.

But I also remember how intimidating it was even as a 22 year old to be asking questions to people far older and more qualified than myself during interview panels. So I spent the interview feeling more nervous for the students than I did for myself! For their part the students asked wonderful questions which I think answered well. It did help that the Associate Teacher at my first placement had students give feedback for my appraisals so this seemed like a natural next step in the learning process for me.

But much like how the group interview interview was an interesting test of how well a teacher can collaborate, having students interview prospective teachers is a way to make applicants who espouse a child-centered philosophy put it into practice at a time when it is inconvenient to them.  Even just a student rep’s presence is an interesting litmus test. Usually interview panels are made up of people far more senior than an applicant so you know how to react, with the utmost respect.

But a student on a panel mixes things up a bit, there’s someone junior in age and experience so the rules change which makes the situation a test of character. It’s like when you go out on a first date and the person is nice to you but rude to the waiter, or to others, then you know that they are not a nice person. Because it is easy for people to treat people who have power with respect especially when they are trying to impress them. But treating the regular folk, the admin, caretakers and especially the students with respect is a vital component to keeping a school functioning well.

Even the idea of having kids on the interview panel is likely to  reveal a lot  would-be teacher. Kids can be brutally honest at times and that scares people. Putting your trust in the kids to do the right thing is part of becoming a teacher, some people never get there but embracing the unknown is what I think makes teaching so exciting.  If an applicant doesn’t feel they need to impress a student in real life, then they generally they don’t know how to react in this situation.

For my part as a student rep I would often go into bat for candidates who I felt listened to me and would comment if I thought I was being treated with disdain. And I think that scares some people too, the idea that someone they perceive as  more junior gets a say in their career.  But ultimately given that the kids are the ones I’ll spending my days with, it makes sense that they ask questions and give feedback to school leaders about my application.

For anyone who faces a student on interview panel I have one piece of advice. Always make sure when you are asked if you have any questions that you have one for the student/s as well as the important people. Even something as simple as ‘what do you think makes your school special?’ can get the kids sharing and they will tell you stuff adults might not. But more importantly you are showing that not only do you value student voice but you are willing to back it up by creating opportunities for that voice to be heard.

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