Angela Taylor is Director of Finance and Business Services at Teach For Australia.
A little while ago our Development team sent around an email asking for volunteers to assist with mock interviews for Year 11 students at the Pavilion School. A secondary school in Melbourne’s inner north, the Pavilion School seeks to provide the highest standard of education for students who have been disengaged or excluded from mainstream education. Melanie Henry (Cohort 2011) is a Lead Teacher at the school, and she designed and implemented a program to help Year 11 students prepare to enter the workforce by participating in mock job interviews.
As part of the Finance and Business Services team, my role at Teach For Australia is generally quite inwardly focussed – so I jumped at the opportunity to step outside of my day-to-day and be a part of our mission.
It was a Thursday afternoon, and I drove out to Bundoora, where the interviews were taking place at La Trobe University. The Pavilion School is located in Preston, but to make the experience more authentic, the interviews were taking place in an unfamiliar location.
As part of the program, students had selected from various job profiles for which they interview, such as legal assistants, programmers and in retail. Each student in the class then attends a “mock” interview with a volunteer (like me!), where we ask ten standard questions which most applicants would encounter in an interview situation. I was on a panel of four volunteers from Teach For Australia, including one of our Incoming Associates for Cohort 2019.
Before the students arrived and the roleplaying began, the volunteers were briefed on the feedback that was expected of us. We were to pay attention to how the “job seekers” engaged with the interviewer via their initial handshake and eye contact, as well as the general response to the questions posed.
The mock interviews occurred in three rounds, with each interview lasting around ten to fifteen minutes. After each interview, we (the volunteer interviewers) provided feedback to the student, sharing with them what we thought were strong parts of their interview as well as which parts needed some more work or practice.
The students came from a range of backgrounds and varying personal circumstances. Some of these students had to overcome huge internal hurdles to find the courage to participate in the process. Even if you’ve participated in plenty of job interviews, they can still be a daunting experience. Yet for many students, this was the first time they were participating in an interview. But they all gave it a go, did their best to engage and embraced the feedback. I was humbled by their bravery and courage.
As each round progressed, I could see the students’ confidence growing. They felt much more comfortable making eye contact, handshakes were firmer and their responses became more and more solid.
The mock interviews were just an afternoon of my time, and I didn’t expect to witness such improvements first-hand. I signed up hoping to be a bit of help for a teacher running a compelling program, and yet, even in the small engagement I had with the students, I could see the positive impact the volunteers had on a young person’s life.
Of course, the teacher had been working to prepare the students for this day for several months, and I just got to witness and partake in the end of what was surely a long and arduous process. Teachers don’t often see such great progress within just a couple of hours, but it was remarkable to me, as someone who doesn’t work inside of a classroom, that even I could have a tangible impact on the students.
For the second time that day, I felt humbled – but this time by the teacher. My time spent with the students reinforced to me the power of positive influence our teachers can have on young people’s lives, and therefore how important it is that we give our young people access to excellent teachers.