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In an ideal world

Peter Greaves on meeting - and keeping - a cool head

Had I sat down a few years ago and written the advert for my ideal position in my ideal school, I would have pretty much portrayed my current job. The path to this appointment, however, was not straight. Rather it weaved round all the ifs, buts and maybes that spice up our careers.

For example, I wouldn't have this job if I'd got the other one. When I interviewed for but didn't get a deputy's post at a vibrant, going somewhere school, I was gutted. It had been a difficult day, a 15-minute presentation to give at 20 minutes notice, a 45-minute interview, an in-tray exercise, and two letters to write. I felt good about how the face-to-face stuff had gone and fortune seemed to be smiling on me when the in-tray exercise was the same, word for word, as one I had practised with my headteacher.

What's more, it was my birthday. What could stand in my way? Well, it turned out to be an internal candidate called Rhianne, who I have since had the chance to work with and was exactly the right person for the job. At the time though, I was miserable, so, stuffed my face with birthday cake in a comfort-eating kind of way.

But if I'd got the job, I would never have had the debrief. Always ask for a debrief. The head invited me in and gave me an hour and a half of his time, going through each part of the interview. He managed never to suggest that I had been anything other than excellent, but gave me ways of improving on every point. He showed me how to give examples of undesirable practice without it seeming like I was dissing my current school, and how to blow my own trumpet without sounding conceited.

As he shook my hand and wished me well, I reflected on the mixed blessing the experience had been. He had been the reason I wanted to work there, now he had empowered me to look elsewhere.

The empowerment and renewed interview skills were essential for my next interview, but I nearly blew it because of some lousy plumbing. I had spent the morning looking round the school and absolutely loved it. I had had lunch with the kids in the dining room and Olivier had given me the low-down on everyone and everything from a 10-year-old's point of view, and he seemed to think the school was pretty cool. I had five minutes before this presentation and decided to go to the toilet one more time.

Standing at the urinal, I rested my head on the pipe running down the wall from the cistern and prayed for a cool head. Instantly, my head did feel cooler, as did my neck, back and shirt. With a start I realised that the pressure of my resting head had caused water to gush out of the cistern joint and soak my hair and shirt.

I got on my knees in front of the hot air dryer. Had anyone come in during those frantic four minutes as I tried to get myself dry and presentable, I'm sure the rumours would have gone round and my chances disappeared.

Luckily no one did. I got away with an "Are you OK? You look a bit hot" as I went into the room. The secret was mine, and by the end of the day, so was the job.

Peter Greaves is deputy head at Dovelands primary, Leicester

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