Getting your first job in teaching

Author: Aly Spencer
Published: 01/10/2019

A guide to getting your first teaching job

Choosing the right place to work in your early career is fundamental to your future in this profession. Too often I hear horror stories about early career teacher experiences, and this can only be contributing to the reported mass exodus of teachers from the classroom. The early years are important for establishing healthy habits and positive working relationships. But do you truly have control over where you work after achieving qualified teacher status (QTS)?

The answer is: yes, to some extent.

No teacher training provider can guarantee a permanent position for you. The uncertainty can be a trigger for stress and anxiety, especially in the primary sector where jobs come out later and there are larger numbers of candidates competing for the same position. Getting your first job is about timing, information gathering and a ‘best-fit’ approach.

Here are my top tips for securing the right job for you.

1. Remind yourself that you don’t have a crystal ball

Neither you nor your programme leader will know exactly where or when the jobs will be advertised. You might hear whispers in the staff room of potential pregnancies or promotions, but nothing is official until it’s advertised as a vacancy with terms and conditions. You don’t have a crystal ball and there is no benefit in trying to predict when or where jobs will come out. The reality is that staffing schools is reactive. So, take your time, get alerts on your phone from job vacancy sites, and only act on facts.

2. Do your research and meet real people to find the best fit for you

We’ve started to use the phrase ‘best fit’ much more when we recruit staff across our partnership now. Reflect on your placements. Consider what sort of culture you want to work in and what you look for in leadership.

To find your best fit, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do I want to work in a faith school? Why or why not?
  2. Would I suit a school with very able students, who I could stretch and challenge?
  3. Does my developing teaching persona suit a more challenging school?
  4. What do I have to offer a school? What sets me apart from other candidates?

A recent trainee told me she didn’t want to apply for a post because she had heard the school was a bad place for early career teachers. I advised her to contact the headteacher and arrange a visit so she could find out for herself. The opinions you get from colleagues may be informed by their own bad experiences, or simply by rumours. It doesn’t mean that it won’t be the right place for you. After her visit, the trainee ended up applying, was successful at interview and is starting in September. It was certainly worth doing her own research.

Use the Find and compare schools in England website to compare all of the schools within your commute area.

If you go for a visit, prepare yourself with knowledge. Read their Ofsted report but also read their website, headteacher’s welcome and any other material you can find. Look beyond the judgements and read between the lines. Know their mission statement and core values to see if they match your own philosophies. While you are there, talk to students and staff. Ask:

  • What do the students enjoy most about being at this school?
  • How is workload managed?
  • What professional development opportunities are available?
  • What support is in place for early career teachers?

3. Stand out from the crowd in your application

Follow the instructions provided when you’re applying for jobs. This may seem obvious, but different schools have different templates and different requirements.

  • If you’re not asked to send a CV, don’t send one!
  • Most adverts ask for a cover letter.

Jobs on websites usually including a candidate information pack, a job description and the school’s recent Ofsted report. Download all of this and use it to build your cover letter. Pay particular attention to the school’s language and their core values.

4. Tips for your cover letter

  • Address your letter to the headteacher and spell their name correctly.
  • Keep it to two pages but cover all of the key skills and qualities they are looking for in the job description.
  • Keep to short, succinct sentences with reference to data and impact.
  • Quotes from mentors or programme leaders to endorse your practice are often more effective than your own reflections.
  • If you’re a career changer, draw on the transferable skills, knowledge and experiences that you are bringing to the profession. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge your previous life ­– just keep references relevant.
  • End with your unique selling point. What makes you different from other candidates?
  • Always ask someone to proofread your letter and application form before you submit it.
  • Gaps in application forms do not look good. Make sure you put something, even if it’s just: ‘Please see cover letter’.

5. Tips for the interview day

  • Plan your outfit and journey to make you feel comfortable and in control.
  • Consciously control your breathing. Use an app to get you started, then you should be able to do it anywhere. Breathing is so very important in managing your state.
  • Don’t over plan. You cannot predict what the assessments will involve so keep an open mind and be prepared to think on your feet.
  • Use the job description to spot some clues about how you will be assessed on the day. Notice in this example that lots of the skills are assessed in the interview and/or ‘task’.
  • The task could be a group activity where you have to prioritise daily duties, or a written task where you have to explain how you will perform your role if you are successful.
  • There are lots of variations and practices out there, so ask around for more examples.

6. Tips for the micro-teach/mini-teach

  • Email and ask if there is any additional information about the student panel. Some schools will respond with basic data. Others might not respond at all due to the GDPR restriction, but it’s good to ask.
  • Take simple stickers for the students to write their names on and use their names during the lesson.
  • Don’t over plan. Use a template that suits you and concentrate on the key concepts you want students to know/demonstrate by the end of your lesson. Some schools will give you an hour, others only 20 minutes. Have a clear learning outcome, possibly written as a question for students to answer at the end, if the slot is shorter in length.
  • Do not rely on technology.

7. Handle the outcome

When you go for an interview, there are several possible outcomes.

You are offered the position and asked to accept it.

At some point during the day a member of the SLT may ask if you are still a firm candidate. This is your chance to leave the process if you don’t think this is the right school for you.

You are sent home at the end and they will be in touch with a decision.

This is quite common, especially in the post-16 sector, so be prepared to play the waiting game. It’s not a pleasant experience but it does give you valuable reflection time. There is nothing more you can do except wait.

You are unsuccessful.

If you really wanted the job, rejection can be a crushing blow. It’s even worse if you’re on placement at the school and you have to come back the next day. Please do not let the situation stunt your development as a teacher. Hopefully the school will provide careful, pertinent feedback to help you in future applications. Pick yourself back up and learn from it.

Ultimately, your first year in the job is an exciting time and something you will look back on fondly in years to come if you have the right mindset from the start.

And remember, your first teaching position is not a lifelong commitment. You should move every few years to seek out new opportunities. Good luck!


Aly Spencer

Aly Spencer is Head of ITT for the Fylde Coast SCITT and teaching schools, and co-chair of a network of ITT providers across Lancashire. She has a special interest in the progress and wellbeing of early career teachers.