A staple of the itinerary for virtually all teacher interviews is the dreaded ‘interview lesson.’

On the face of it, this makes complete sense. If appointed, the successful candidate will, after all, spend a considerable amount of their time in the classroom teaching kids. It is, after all, what teachers are trained to do – teach.

However, it could be argued that the interview lesson is possibly the most contrived, artificial and ultimately pointless activity there is when it comes to the interview process.

How successful they as a measure of a candidate’s teaching ability is certainly debatable.

The pros of the interview lesson

It can’t be all bad, surely? Why else would everybody do it? Well, skilled lesson observers will be able to glean various bits of useful information from an interview lesson. They will be able to tell if a candidate can relate to children. It should be possible to measure how confident the teacher is, and at least a glimpse should be seen of how an individual responds to the needs of a group. Aside from this, the interview lesson is a test of how well an individual can plan a set of activities to last for a given amount of time.

And that, unfortunately, is about it!

The cons of the interview lesson

Now, if any of the above are all the interview panel are expecting to see in an interview lesson then, fine – it can be a worthwhile activity. However, there are so many potential pitfalls.

Regardless of how much data has been given to candidates, they do not know the students they are teaching. They don’t know the dynamics of the class. They don’t know the school behaviour policy. They will be unfamiliar with whatever equipment there is in the classroom. The layout will be unfamiliar too.

Good teachers own and command their classrooms. This is virtually impossible to achieve in an interview lesson.

How to improve interview lessons

Schools are going to want to see teachers teach. That much is obvious and this means that the interview lesson is unlikely to be going anywhere soon.

How successful the process proves to be is largely down to the planning – not by the candidates, but by the school itself.

The logistics – which classes are to be used, the topic, and what information is given to candidates beforehand – will make or break the interview lesson as an activity. It can make it worthwhile, or render it useless.

But one thing will improve the interview lesson immeasurably. The real value is gained from asking candidates to reflect on their own teaching.

It’s fairly standard practice to ask a candidate how they felt their interview lesson went. However, often this is fairly perfunctory. It would be far better to give more detailed feedback to the candidate (much as you might with a formal lesson observation) but then build some time into the itinerary of the day for the candidate to act on this feedback. They could re-plan an activity, plan the next steps or a sequence of lessons.

This would make the whole interview lesson process far more meaningful. Skills of self-reflection and acting on feedback are far more important than how a teacher might perform for 20 minutes in an unfamiliar classroom.