I am an expert in not being the one who gets the job. I always have been, for some reason. Even before I was all grown up and applying for the sort of jobs that would pay my mortgage as opposed to pocket money, actually getting the job (and then keeping it) was a skill that eluded me to a great degree.
Once I was qualified and had the PGCE in my pocket, I kind of assumed that a job would be forthcoming. Back when I was sweet sixteen, as wet behind the ears as they come, a man sat us down in a classroom, when I went for a look around the local college, and told us that if we went to university and got degrees we would be guaranteed a better job (subtext: a better life). It turns out he didn’t quite tell the truth. He reckoned without 1992, and ’93, followed by ‘4 and ‘5, or 2010 and 11. Financial downturns have dominated my employment chances right from the start.
When I read about recruitment crises in teaching, I can’t help but wonder where they are, because I’ve never seen hide nor hair of any. Maybe it’s because I’ve always lived in the kind of places that are both nice places to live and containing an overabundance of teacher training colleges churning out lots and lots of competition, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s me. I’ve always been the wild card. The candidate who has to prove a point, the one you have to take a chance on. The one who doesn’t quite tick all the boxes.
At first it was my Letter of Application. When I came back to work after my long absence, I had to get a couple of head teacher friends (while I was busy having babies, they were busy getting on with careers) to look them over and tell me where I was going wrong. ‘Nancy,’ they said. ‘No-one will care one way or the other what you have been doing for the last few years. The only thing head teachers care about is whether your experience relates to the World of School. No-one cares what happens outside of that.’ They were right, too.
Once I started down-playing everything I had been up to, the interviews started coming – and I started realising how much the landscape of education, if not the reality of life in the classroom, had changed. (I can categorically state here that primary children are much the same as they have ever been – even down to the smell – and they still need to learn much the same things, like the names of shapes and how to spell.) Back in 1994, when I was taking my first steps on the Interview Trail (once I had got my application letter sorted), it was a half hour interview with some Hard Questions, and you were in, or out.
There was none of this going home and staring at your dead phone, jumping out of your skin while you waited for it to ring with the news of success or failure. Back then, the nervous candidates had to sit in the staff room together, making small talk and comparing questions and answers, looking either terrified or smugly self-satisfied, until the Chair or Governors came out of the head teacher’s office and called one of you in. I got so used to being one of the also-rans that the day I actually did find myself offered a permanent contract as a class teacher I sat there for a while in a sort of stupefied daze, feeling awful for the girl I had promised a lift home to.
It was always the Chair of Governors who came out to give you the bad news. They were always terribly nice about it, always encouraging, and I got into the habit of asking for an appointment to call the head for feedback later, which, over the years, proved very useful. These days, you know you haven’t got the job when it is the head who gives you a call. The giving of the bad news has fallen to the most senior member of staff. The offer of feedback comes right at that moment when you are feeling at your least polite and most disappointed.
And it isn’t a half an hour interview (or 45 minutes if it’s going well) any more. These days, there’s a whole ‘nother set of hoops through which the job seeking teacher must jump in order to gain the prize of employment. And, as a seeker of the most rare of all things in the primary teaching world, as rare almost as the droppings of the rocking horse, the permanent part-time post, I’ve been to a rather larger number of the things than you might expect.
I’ve taught 20 and 30 minute lessons to unknown children, where I haven’t been at all sure what it is the observers are actually looking for. Do they want me to actually teach something meaningful, or are they wanting to see how I interact with children? Do they want differentiation? What subject would they like? After watching me teach a bunch of strange children, what do they want me to say about it afterwards? That it all went well? That the children learned loads? That it was a disaster? (No one wants to look arrogant.) I never know, partly because, in 20 minutes with a group of children you have never met before, what can you know?
And then there’s the Interview With the School Council. I may have done myself out of a job the day I was asked for my best joke (What’s brown and sticky? A stick) and whether I was strict or not (yes). Or the written task, or the lunch with the staff and school tour with more members of the school council. I don’t mind doing an in-tray exercise for an SLT job, but for a part time temporary intervention one or maternity cover it all seemed a bit much.
And then there’s the interview itself. Should I crack jokes? Probably not. I’ve had those interviews where everyone had a good time (well, what was I supposed to say apart from cakes when I was asked what I could bring to the staff room?) and no-one was appointed. I’ve been left in some sort of cupboard for what felt like hours while the panel wondered what had happened to one of their members and nobody felt like telling the candidates. Thankfully I’ve yet to experience one where half the candidates get sent home before they even get to that stage, because, frankly, at the level of job I’m going for, that would make me a bit cross.
Because, you see, I don’t like to have my time wasted. I’m a busy lady, what with having three children of my own and a home to run and a job to hold down (and a blog to write) and I can’t bear the thought that I’m just there to make up the numbers. Oh, I’ll be keeping my eyes out for the next opportunity, I suppose. I feel a bit flat at the moment, no one likes to be the reject, after all, but I shall pick myself up eventually, dust myself off and carry on.
Because I don’t believe what they said. I don’t believe that experience outside of school, not mine, where I live and breathe SEN, where I’ve learned all sorts of things, all sorts of outside of the school world kind of things, has no relevance.
I’ll be back.