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Ask Tom

Teacher, TES Connect blogger and behaviour expert Tom Bennett puts on his agony uncle hat and answers your education questions

I recently got turned down for a job because I took my jacket off as I sat down and because, as the interviewer said, "if I wanted to hire a zookeeper I'd find one with experience" - I have a zoology degree. Is there anything I can do to address this completely unproductive and ridiculous feedback?

A teacher, via Twitter to @tes

Unless you felt that you were explicitly discriminated against on the basis of one of several protected characteristics, such as gender, then all you can do is send a letter of complaint. I'm not sure that sarcastic, inelegant snobbery - unpleasant as it sounds - is covered by any of them. I'd chalk it up to experience. You had a lucky escape. Would you want to work for an institution that is so clownishly condescending?

I keep getting kids telling me I am racist when I try to tell them off. Clearly, I am not. But the accusation puts me in a really uncomfortable position. How do I field this sort of response?

A teacher in London

Ah yes, the old "you're bare racist" gambit, so beloved of students with nowhere else to turn in their defence. Racism is a serious charge and a vile slur on someone who is blameless. It isn't the same as "I didn't do nuffing". It's a grim, ghastly accusation and anyone making it needs to know that it won't just go away. I would get senior staff involved. Make an appointment with the head of year or someone relatively senior and get the student to repeat what they said. Or ask them to fill out a racist incident log and take it from there. Push this all the way. And then, once their accusations have been proved groundless, call for a serious sanction, as befitting a student who makes a false allegation. Then they will never say it again. When you consider the real racism that goes on, it's an insult to bandy it about as a weapon.

I spent most of this weekend working on stuff for school - this is not an exception for me any more, but normal. Am I working too much or is this just part of the job now?

A teacher, via email to

Yes to both. A huge workload is now a common expectation and many schools have a problem separating your core role from tasks that have little meaning or utility. It was always a hard job, and with the data-obsessed, target-driven culture we find ourselves in, it's harder than ever before. That said, there are many things you can do to improve your situation: start saying no to people; delegate when you can; prioritise; ask for help; stop doing anything you don't have to; occasionally set homework that requires only minimal marking. And the next time someone says you're "free" because you've got a non-contact lesson on your timetable, feel free to roll your eyes, kiss your teeth and slouch off with one dead leg, holding the waistband of your jeans as you leave.

Tom teaches full-time at Raine's Foundation School in London. Do you agree with his advice? To have your say or ask a question, visit www.tesconnect.comasktom or email

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