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Deportment matters

TWO TRUE stories.The first one is of a faculty head in a big Midlands secondary school - an excellent teacher and a good manager. Her manner and appearance are well in tune with her post. She wears tasteful, top-quality business clothes. Her hair always looks immaculate, and she speaks quietly, in the accent that used to be described as "educated". Not surprisingly she is tipped as one of the few who will make it to headship without first being a deputy.

Then, at a meeting in London, one of her colleagues is taken aside by a teacher from the north of England. "I couldn't believe it was her," says this teacher. "She's so different. But it really is Molly - when she was with us, she had a broad Yorkshire accent, no clothes sense and a voice that could break the crockery. The kids loved her, but we knew she'd never get on till she sorted out the way she came across."

The second story is of a very able young teacher who wants to be a head of year. He has ability and impeccable references, but he never gets past the interview. One day, when he's missed selection yet again, a governor has a word in his ear.

"I'd have picked you," he says, "but the others said you were too young. They just thoughtI well, here's a good-looking lad who might have been one of their daughters' boyfriends come to tea. It doesn't help that you grin a lot and fidget. My advice to you is to think yourself 10 years older."

So he does. He buys a dark three-piece suit, has his hair cut in a conservative style and tries to frown thoughtfully from time to time. And sure enough, he begins to move up the ladder.

It all sounds facile, but give or take a bit of tampering to protect identities, these are both real people who, at crucial points in their careers, made deliberate decisions about the image they were portraying. The woman made the more radical change because it was permanent and long-term. She wasn't just out to impress interview panels, but wanted to adopt a style that was more recognisably in tune with what she perceived to be her underlying qualities of efficiency and authority. And that's important - had she been using dress and accent to cover up the fact that she was useless, she'd have felt uncomfortable and soon been found out. As it was, she discovered that she wore her revised image more easily than her old one - simply because it fitted her better.

Of course, you don't have to do any of this. If you're happy to wear jeans and a nose ring on parents' evening, confident that your underlying pedagogic genius is what counts, then don't let me stop you. If you really are as good as you think you are, then you're bound to make progress.

In the end, all I'm saying is that it is possible to offer nature a helping hand. Maybe the best advice is this: in any gathering of teachers, you will tend to find that the senior people, the heads and the deputies, are usually easy to spot - even if they're younger than many of their colleagues. So watch and learn.

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