I have always liked my classroom. It’s my fifth year in this particular room.
It’s big, with good display boards, a newish interactive whiteboard and lots of windows. It has a great view of what is going on. There are windows on to the field, through which I can see the office building and visitors to school.
The other way, out of my door, I can see the head of key stage’s office, and watch who is coming and going.
I’ve been a teacher for 20 years, and have been at my current school for 10 years. I suppose I would be called middle management: lots of small extra responsibilities; not much extra money. The sort of teacher who joins a working group or takes on an extra subject.
I like the large primary school I am at, I like what I teach and I will occasionally admit that I think I’m quite good at it.
A teacher going for promotion
The school I am at does not have a large staff turnover. I was the new member of staff for at least two years.
The school also has a large and busy SLT. They like a long, important meeting – as most SLTs tend to – but they are also supportive. They can be demanding but, most importantly, they have the children’s interests at heart.
Early in 2020, my line manager – the head of my key stage – announced her departure. It was a shock, but it shouldn’t have been: 20 years in one school is plenty.
The day of the announcement, the whispers started. Who would replace her? Who would apply? Would they advertise the job? What’s going to change?
I was asked, directly – first by one teacher, then by a teaching assistant, then by another person, and another – if I was going to apply. One teacher even said "please". So I applied.
The interview: 'Not my finest hour'
As is the way of 2020, the process was delayed. But, eventually, I was asked to an online interview. This is when I found out that there were over 25 applicants. Then I discovered there were 10 interviewees, of whom five were internal. Five! No one else had admitted to applying.
The interview came. I had done some research, but not as much as I should have. There were four senior colleagues on my computer screen (well, three, really, because one didn’t bother to turn the camera on).
It wasn’t my finest hour. By the end, I was convinced I wouldn’t get it. Later that week, it was confirmed that they had chosen someone, and that someone wasn’t me.
I surprised myself with my calm attitude. I shrugged when I overheard the conversation confirming my expectations (corridors echo every word when there are only three key workers’ children in).
I laughed when the head came to speak to me. And, when I said, “Don’t worry. I knew I’d messed it up before it was over,” the relief on his face was very obvious. I congratulated the successful candidate.
I felt I had survived the first hurdle. I had smiled and nodded as everyone found out. I smiled again when the person who had asked me to “please apply” cheered when the announcement was made.
When a different colleague, who had proof-read my application, came to say how sorry she was, I hid in the cupboard to compose myself. This was the only time I nearly tripped up at work.
The fear of sour grapes
The emails started coming in from the new head of key stage, outlining the new vision and making requests for a variety of medium- and long-term plans. We were asked to write timetables, to question reading schemes.
The previous leader hadn’t even left the building. Among close friends, we questioned things a little. Then one person said I shouldn’t question things, because it would look like sour grapes. I stopped asking questions.
The summer arrived, and I felt a little relieved not to have got the job. I could enjoy myself and forget about work, and then come back in the last week of August to prepare for the new term. I had no extra work to do, no big plans to worry about, no government Covid guidance to digest.
Now it’s nearly the end of the first term of a new school year. The SLT and their newest member seem to be enjoying their frequent and long meetings.
I am still in my classroom. I take the criticism from my new line manager in the best spirit I can. I have a moan when I get home. I bite my tongue and don’t criticise or question too much, as I don’t want anyone to remember that it could have been me.
I wonder sometimes who remembers asking me if I would apply, or if the ones who said “please apply – you would be so good at it” remember saying that.
Some days, when it pops into my head, I feel a little awkward or embarrassed. When I speak to the SLT about other issues, I feel they are less interested in what I have to say than they were before this happened. Is this paranoia? Am I imagining that they think less of me, having seen me falter in an interview?
As our new line manager begins making changes, I think about what I would have done – how it would have been different. I wonder which is the right choice. Would I have organised lunch duties like that? How many staff do I think we need for after-school care?
There is no question that taking on a new job with big responsibilities in 2020, with so many complex Covid-related decisions to make, is hard. So maybe, as a good friend reminded me, this is a bullet dodged.
Of course, there were other internal applicants. We have never spoken about the situation or even admitted that it happened. They must feel strange, too, but I still don’t know exactly who they are, and doubt I ever will.
Meanwhile, I still like my room. I still like all the light it lets in, and being able to check up on children at playtimes. But I’m not sure I need to keep seeing all the comings and goings…
The author is a primary teacher in the South East of England