The Comeback Queen

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.

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19 thoughts on “The Comeback Queen

  1. Wow, what a time you’ve had of it. It’s really interesting to learn about the teaching hiring process there. I haven’t been through it for almost 15 years, but when I was doing it, it was very different from what you describe. Being put on the spot to teach a short lesson with kids you don’t knew seems completely useless to me. Especially if they don’t tell you what it is they’re wanting to see. Honestly, that seems kind of like a put-down. As usual in education, they want you to be “professional” and then treat you like crap.

    I’m really hoping things go in the right direction for you ASAP!

    1. Thankfully they tell you if they want you to teach a lesson (which you then stress over in advance), but I am never sure what they actually want out of it… *sigh* I failed my mind reading exam, you see… 😉

  2. I live in the same county as you and have found that the selection process is, as you described it, very selective. You missed out the interviews where everybody else is invited along to make up numbers so it looks official when they appoint the candidate they were always going to.
    However…..keep on keeping on. After a few years of supply work I have just got a new contract, they are there and the right one will find you. Good luck.

  3. The right job is out there Nancy, and I know you well enough to know you won’t give up…

    I DO think that experience outside school is relevant and useful – it all goes into making up the person you are, and that’s what I was always interested in as a head. And I think in terms of teaching a lesson, selectors are looking for the capacity to build relationships (even in this artificial situation). In the formal interview I always started asking how the candidate felt the lesson went, and what they thought they had learnt from the experience (and might do differently if they were to meet the same class again). I was just looking for evidence that they were reflective and prepared to keep learning.

    It always disappoints me to hear of people being badly treated at interview, or at any stage of the recruitment process. I always said that every unsuccessful applicant is a potential ambassador for your school, and you actually want them to be saying POSITIVE things afterwards, even if they were sorry they didn’t get the job. I wanted an interview to be a generally constructive and not an unpleasant experience for those involved, despite its pressures.

    Do let me know if you ever want to talk any of this through. Hope you’re soon feeling less flat!

    1. Thanks Jill. This ego never likes to be second in the job getting stakes, even if I know with my head that I have plenty to be getting on with without adding learning new jobs into the mix! I had such a lovely time with my little Y4s today – how could I bear to leave them? (I took a painted egg into schoo, and told them we were going to play a game about it being a dragon egg, and now they are telling me that it is real!)

  4. What a daunting prospect- teaching 20 kids you don’t know, for reasons unknown. My goodness, that’s odd. That wouldn’t be happening unless they have an abundance of applicants, I’m sure. Keep the faith!

    1. It happens in pretty well every teaching job interview process, even, as Nancy says, when it’s just for a flipping temporary part time contract. And then they don’t appoint because the process doesn’t bring out the best in most people, and they end up paying through the nose for agency supply staff who have little commitment to the school and the opportunity to leave if either something better comes along or they get fed up with the school. It is madness. And as you can tell, it makes me very, very cross! Great post Nancy.

      1. I think one of the things we CAN do is to try to build interview skills and confidence. That’s on the ‘list’ for the #WomenEd residential in February. Hope it helps.

      2. Yes – and the willingness to apply anyway – even for a full time list when you want part time.
        Hm. Maybe I have too much confidence?! Not enough experience. *sigh*

  5. I have been through similar experiences recently and all this talk of ‘Things happen for a reason, the right thing will come along…’ are always small consolation.
    It can be a brutal process. Applying, asking others for references (thereby sharing the fact that you want to leave!), securing an interview, observation lessons, data tasks, assemblies, school council grilling and that’s all before the actual interview.
    I hope you find what you’re looking for.
    PS That is also my favourite joke. Along with ‘What do you call a fish with no eyes?’ A fsh!

  6. Hi Nancy, thank you for the post. I’ve worked in recruitment for several years (not in education but generally, thought I’ve helped people in education with CVs) and I like to think that the world of recruiting will grow up soon to become more humane and transparent to the benefit of everyone. It sounds like you’re getting interviews now, so this may not be relevant, but I’ve just now opened up my CV editing help beyond friends and family (at their kind but firm encouragement!) and have just posted a 1-pager here: http://leahkstewart.com/cvediting As I said, it’s probably not for you but if you’ve any feedback on the page – fresh pair of eyes and all that- I’d so love to hear! All the very best with what you’re doing Nancy! Keep going! Leah

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