Recruiting your TOK team

A school’s commitment to fulfilling the IB mission can be measured to some extent by the way in which it appoints TOK teachers. Schools that advertise specifically and actively for TOK teachers - and even more so, TOK coordinators - are generally the ones that have more awareness of the importance of the subject, and understand that those who deliver the course require certain skills and experience. On the other hand, schools that regard TOK as being an add-on to a teachers’ primary subject are less likely to give recruitment sufficient importance and prominence. This is definitely one area where effective TOK coordinators can play an important role - ensuring that the right people are recruited!
It’s worth establishing a protocol that you can draw on to help establish a great TOK team. Here are a few recommendations that might help you do this.

Success in having raised the profile of TOK is essential

Ensuring that your TOK department is a successful, vibrant, and significant part of your school is the first step towards ensuring that recruitment is taken with the seriousness it deserves. Of course, there is something of chicken and egg logic here - to be successful, vibrant, and significant, you need to have the right team. But assuming you follow our advice in both this section and Part 1: Creating your TOK department, you will discover many other ways to achieve this.

Taking responsibility for recruitment

It’s vital that you take a leading role (or the leading role) in deciding on who makes up your TOK team. Your school will have wider consideration points and practical details to bear in mind (do candidates have the necessary qualifications, are they experienced educators, are they likely to stay at your school beyond their initial contract, do they have the right visa status work in your country, etc.), but - given that you will be working closest with them - ideally, you need to be the person who has the biggest say in whose CV is worth following up with an interview, and gives the green light to an appointment.

Skills and experience

The point of TOK is that it should be compatible with any of the DP subjects, so it doesn’t matter what the background of your TOK teachers is - mathematics, history, science. It’s great to have a range of these different areas of knowledge, but if you are all from a similar background, you can always compensate by drafting non-TOK teachers to give specialist talks. So, what should you be looking for? Here are six characteristics of excellent TOK teachers:
  1. 1.
    Teachers who are used to thinking beyond their curricula, and
    challenging the sources of knowledge utilised in their subject
  2. 2.
    Teachers who appreciate having their authority positively
    challenged, in whose classrooms debate and discussion is the norm,
    and...
  3. 3.
    ...enjoy, in turn, challenging their students, making them question
    their own assumptions and biases and work harder to establish an
    understanding of the world
  4. 4.
    Teachers who believe that the DP should be an integrated,
    interlinked educational programme, and like to promote the
    overlaps of their subject with others
  5. 5.
    Teachers who approach education in a creative, original way, who
    innovate and renovate their courses every year
  6. 6.
    Teachers who are used to - or prepared to - deliver unfamiliar and
    challenging concepts to students

Interview questions

You should open with a question about what they think TOK is, in terms of its aims and structure. Answers that aren’t too clear shouldn’t be viewed unfavourably - this is definitely preferable to a candidate viewing TOK as being something it isn’t (like philosophy, or a course in study skills) - but they should have an awareness of the broader ideals of TOK.
We’ve outlined six characteristics of great TOK teachers above; guide candidates onto a discussion of these points, seeking evidence on each one, and helping them to see why each one is important for the delivery of TOK.

Preparing new recruits

We look in more detail at the process of inducting new teachers into TOK here. You should definitely stress to candidates the challenges of teaching TOK, to prepare them for how difficult it can be (as well as, of course, stressing how wonderful it can be!). Here are some points worth making before they accept the role:
  • TOK is a mandatory course, and students can occasionally resent this
  • TOK deals with unfamiliar concepts that are difficult for students to grasp and, again, this can lead to resistance
  • TOK is assessed in an unusual way that is not based on a concrete curriculum and this can be unnerving to some students
  • Whilst other DP subjects are esteemed in part by the 7 points they’re worth, TOK can be viewed (incorrectly) as representing only 1.5 points and this can lead them to undervalue the course. See more of our thoughts on this in the Aims of TOK
  • The essay and the presentation involve a lot of autonomous effort. Some students adapt to this well; others struggle. They need to be able ready for this challenge