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Best of times, worst of times

Dr CHRIS NICHOLLS, headteacher of Moulsham High School, Chelmsford, Essex

"I come from a working class background and I'd always respected teaching and thought it was a proper thing to do. Secondly, I saw it as a way forward, to aspire to a better lifestyle.

It seems ironic in view of the current debate, but at the time, if you grew up in a working class home, being a teacher seemed a pretty good thing to do.

I tried it on a day-a-week basis when I was doing my PhD. I went into a school that was turning comprehensive at the time, in 1972, and I was totally unprepared for what I faced. Being thrust as a raw, untrained student into an embryonic comprehensive school in the 1970s proved more than I could take. As a pupil I had gone to a boys' grammar school, where my experience of the classroom was very different to being thrust into taking children of much lower ability than I was used to.

That experience put me off: I didn't think I could b a teacher.

I went into the Inland Revenue as a tax inspector. I got in through quite a tough selection procedure, but I hated it. I lasted 10 months.

I was surrounded by friends from university who had gone into teaching, mixing with them a lot socially. At the time, they were all quite excited about what they were doing. After about 10 months I decided I needed to give this a try.

My first job was at a girls' grammar school. I did my PGCE part-time in the evenings while working full-time in the day.

I haven't had any bad experiences with job interviews. Where I've gone along for competitive interviews, I've been largely successful.

I have learned more about the interview process from working with my predecessor. He had an unerring instinct for a good teacher. He was very good at probing and testing people and finding out, and didn't make too many mistakes and I think I learned a lot by watching him.

Martin Whittaker

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