As we approach the recruitment season, it is time to consider how you can best prepare yourself to apply for Languages teaching positions. While the selection process varies between schools, it is common for schools to shortlist only a few candidates for face-to-face interviews.
Show that you can write concisely, correctly and critically in English—even though you are applying to teach a language other than English. People tend to believe that all Languages teachers should uphold a high standard of grammar and vocabulary for every language they speak.
Be reflective and modest in your tone. What have you come to discover about yourself professionally through your teacher education course and placement rounds?
Sound passionate, but remain professional. Many schools are concerned that young teachers applying for their first full-time position may not be quite ‘job ready’. Your written application needs to reassure the selection panel that, despite your inexperience in schools, you have a high level of maturity, specialised skill, and professionalism.
Discuss what you can bring to the Languages team by including specific details that reveal your understanding of the school and its Languages program. For example, if you are applying to a small school where there is only one other Languages teacher, you may want to show that apart from simply teaching in the classroom, you are also capable of ‘advocating’ for the program by organising opportunities such as excursions, culture days, and overseas trips.
Prioritise opportunities to show your suitability over ability. Not all appointments are 100% ability- or merit-based. Schools never make employment decisions with an isolated view of the position. For example, the selection panel may prioritise a candidate who can fit in personality-wise with the current team and promote better collaboration.
Include photos of yourself, students you have taught, or past student work.
Overestimate your ability or suitability for teaching all age groups and student groups (i.e. both background and non-background speakers). Show that you have identified your own strengths and weaknesses, and leave the judgment of your ability and suitability to the selection panel.
Use buzzwords (e.g. differentiation, intercultural understanding, communicative approach) without elaboration or examples to back up the statements or claims.
Have a consistent layout and be pedantic with editing. The level of care you take in adhering to a stylistic approach says a lot about you.
Specify the programs, year levels and target audiences taught at each of your placement schools (or during any previous teaching experience).
Restrict the list of duties for each job to a maximum of four or five dot points. Assume your selection panel knows what a typical graduate teacher placement is like. Cover the basic duties of your placement rounds in one or two points, and then focus on what made your experience different—or representative of the strengths or experiences you mentioned in your cover letter.
State whether you have any curriculum writing or leadership experience, and be prepared to show documentation.
List a disproportionate number of experiences unrelated to teaching.
Write “Referees available upon request”. Instead, list two or three referees and include their position titles, the names of their organisations and their contact details. The Languages teaching industry in Australia is small, so having good connections or mentors can take you a long way. Make sure you consider the reputation your referee has in the industry, as it may not be to your advantage listing someone who is viewed as untrustworthy.
List referees without having asked them for permission. You never know when the reference check will take place in the overall process of the application.
Assume that listing more jobs is better. This can make selection panels wonder why you have moved between jobs so much, and what that may mean for them if they employ you.
The format of face-to-face interviews varies greatly between schools. Below is a typical list of questions used by selection panels, along with tips for responding and an explanation of the purpose of each question. Please note that Languages teacher candidates are often expected to answer some questions in English and some in the Target Language, so be prepared to discuss all the points below in both languages.
What do you know about our school/the Languages department at our school?
Show that you have done your homework by talking a bit about the history and values of the school, the structure of its sub-sections (e.g. definition of Junior, Middle and Senior Schools), and the demographics of the students.
Understand the selling points of the school (in the case of my school, Haileybury, the panel would expect you to understand what is meant by “three-year VCE”, “parallel education”, “small class sizes”, “Pre-Senior program”, “one-school approach”, “the three pillars” etc.).
What is special about the Languages program at the school you are applying to? What are its current goals (e.g. retention, specific teaching approach, VET vs. VCE?) Have staff from this school presented at recent conferences?
Why do you want to work at our school/our department?
This question is never intended to be an opportunity for you to feed the ego of your selection panel, so be very careful not to simply say “because your school has an amazing reputation”, or “because you have really good kids”. Statements like these feel egocentric, as they only focus on you and what you can get out of this.
Use this question as opportunity to discuss how you see an alignment in your values and interests with the schools’ values and interests. For example: “In the Languages teaching industry, your school’s Japanese program is well known for its academic rigour and the use of Comprehensible Input as an approach in curriculum development. I am a strong proponent in this method because . . . . . . ., and therefore I believe not only that I would be an excellent fit for this position, but that this position would be an exciting opportunity for me to contribute to the development of such a teaching approach.”
Do you think boys and girls learn languages differently? If so, how would you cater to them differently?
While there is no correct answer to this question, there is an incorrect answer. To say “No, there is no difference” or “No, everyone learns the same way” would probably be a bit extreme—not to mention an over-simplified view of what goes on in a typical class. You may certainly argue that you believe gender is not a good categorisation, but a failure to recognise diversity of learning processes, preferences, habits and abilities would not work in your favour.
This is also not an opportunity to promote gender stereotypes. Too often, the only substantial argument the selection panel gets is that hands-on activities are better for boys and that individual reading-based activities are better for girls.
What the selection panel is usually looking for is a level of sensitivity in your observation of different learning needs. For example, do you find that boys tend to find deduction of rules from raw language data easier than girls, while girls prefer process-driven application of rules? Do you find that boys tend to thrive from having greater ability to communicate in an expanded range of functions (often spontaneous) while girls tend to thrive from the mastery of a set boundary and fluency (in rehearsed situations)? From these observations, maybe give an example of how the same concept can be taught differently. It is highly likely that your selection panel does not consist of languages specialists, so keep the idea simple, but the logic straight and the thinking transparent.
What does a typical class for you look like? What would I see if I walked into the middle of a class you are running?
This question does not assume that you will be delivering the ‘best lesson ever’, nor is this an opportunity to show a deliberate avoidance of anything “traditional” or “old-fashioned”. An overemphasis on your classes being fun and completely student-driven may seem trendy, but could also signal to the selection panel that you may not have a realistic view on the academic and reporting requirements of the school.
Good teaching is characterised by purposeful scaffolding, visibility of thinking, and sensitivity regarding diversity. To demonstrate these criteria effectively, teachers must be able to exhibit school leadership in the classroom.
If the purpose of teaching is to take students to the next level, then focus on what ‘academic rigour’ in Languages learning means for you. What will that look like in your classroom? How would someone know that your students are engaged in learning, being extended, and thriving from a sense of achievement?
Demonstrate your knowledge of the teaching approaches endorsed by current curriculum documents. For example, in the case of the Australian Curriculum, you might typically see the teacher leading a discussion in English about how a particular linguistic concept works differently between English and the target language. Students may then proactively offer examples of these concepts drawn from their learning. By reflecting upon these similarities and differences, the teacher may also prompt students to consider the validity of certain cultural assumptions that may have arisen out of the discussion, or that are prominent in the society.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? How does this position fit with your overall career ambitions?
This question offers an excellent opportunity to show your commitment, modesty and desired career directions. For example, you may consider yourself a quick learner, and see yourself becoming a very effective teacher after three years before taking on some sort of leadership position (pastoral or curriculum) by your fourth year. Others may see an increasing breadth of year levels or subjects as part of their ongoing teaching portfolio.
Try to set the scene in a way that implies stability. While schools do not necessarily assume that you will stay for the long haul, most schools are reluctant to take on graduate teachers who intend to leave within two years, or who see their school as a stepping-stone to somewhere else.
Ideally, you should leave the selection panel with the impression that you are clear-headed and goal-oriented. Make it clear that you are able to work with a clear sense of direction, but avoid sounding over-ambitious or inflexible. Selection panels love hearing that you are always ready to embrace new opportunities.
For you, what are the broader societal goals of Languages education?
Depending on the year levels you are applying to teach, this question is an excellent opportunity to reflect on how you are an important tool for the promotion of societal multilingualism and intercultural understanding. Would your sense of purpose be different if you were an educator teaching in the compulsory years (often up to Year 9), compared to the post-compulsory years (Years 10-12)?
Some key questions you may want to consider: Why is important that the next generation of Australians receive quality Languages education? Is it more important that they know how to conjugate French irregular verbs, or that they appreciate how another society views the world differently, as shown through the structure of their language? Does it matter which language Australians choose to learn?
This question is also an excellent opportunity to reaffirm your ability to negotiate your identity as a teacher. Someone who is able to reflect on his or her practice both inside and outside the classroom is likely to have a greater impact on the students, as well as to demonstrate leadership potential. The reality is that most schools are simply not interested in teachers who don’t take their job seriously, so make sure that you are prepared to offer your stance on philosophical questions like this.
What are your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher of the target language?
The most obvious answer discusses the default strengths and weaknesses of native speaker vs. non-native-speaker teachers. For example, it is unlikely that a native speaker teacher will have any inaccuracies in pronunciation. Such a teacher could also offer more native speaking immersive experiences—although at times, behavioural management in English, or appreciating the Australian classroom culture, may be a challenge.
However, a more in depth answer should focus on how you are developing skills to make up for your weaknesses. For example, a non-native speaker teacher may discuss how he or she currently maintains proficiency in the target language, while a native speaker teacher may discuss how they develop greater sensitivity to grammar, patterns in learner errors, and cultural interpretations of the language.
Be prepared for these, especially if you have made big claims about your knowledge and understanding in your cover letter.
How is the current Australian curriculum structured?
What are the eight sub-strands? As a teacher, which strands do you find most challenging to teach?
What characterises ‘intercultural language teaching’?
What are the key phases of ‘intercultural language learning’?
Can you identify any trends in the VCE exams for your subject over the last 3 years?
These are rare, but be prepared. Many schools may ask you to do a demo lesson, from which they can evaluate the following:
How do you teach speaking/listening/reading/writing/grammar/vocabulary?
What role does English play in your Languages classroom?
What is your take (evaluation/critique) on AIM/complete immersion/CLIL/TCI-TPRS?
How do you incorporate technology in your language teaching?
What is your view on peer observation?
Stanley Wang is Head of Languages at Haileybury.