Prospects spoiled by mayonnaise

I PUT on my best suit and set off for the interview in good time, because I didn't know how difficult the parking would be. As only happens when you are early for an appointment, I slid straight into a space.

There was plenty of time, so I found a little cafe and grabbed a sandwich.

As I took the first bite, a chunk of tuna shot out of the back of the bread and slid down my shirt, leaving a trail of mayonnaise. I mopped up as best I could, but the only option was to button up my jacket, despite the heat.

The interview was for a mentoring job. I'd had a good experience of mentoring with an initial training student. I now imagined myself in the role of patriarchal figure bestowing the benefit of my hard-won experience upon the eager novice and decided this may be the way to develop my career.

I'd signed up for a mentoring course, although I hadn't really got deep into this yet. Still, I knew quite a bit of the theory, and the interview started out quite well. I can talk the talk, which fools some of the people some of the time, but I didn't have much practical experience.

"We're going to give you a little role-play," they said. Disaster threatened: would I be able to walk the walk, or would I fall flat on my face?

The scenario was that a lecturer had been observed and had put in a good teaching performance but failed to produce a lesson plan. Said person had therefore been referred for mentoring. Grade 3 is the new grade 4. It is no longer satisfactory to be "satisfactory".

The job, they explained, was to "mentor" anyone awarded a grade 3, and the way it was structured didn't sound at all like the kind of job I had in mind.

I was hot, buttoned up and distracted by the role-play partner's perfect imitation of someone I know quite well. This lecturer is a good teacher, well liked by students in areas which often defeat lesser mortals. But she is inclined to adopt a hurt voice and defensive body language when faced with unreasonable demands, and bureaucracy comes high up on her list. In a perfect take, my nemesis slumped her shoulders, whined about not seeing the point and not having time for all the paperwork.

Now I know that I should have praised her good points, elicited her agreement on the areas for development, set a Smart target and closed with further praise.

But showing empathy is also a good trait in a mentor. Not, however, if you decide to say "We both know that you have to do a lesson plan whether you like it or not, so let's agree that you'll do it, then you can get your upgrade and we can both get on with all the other things we have to find time for."

Needless to say, I didn't get the job. But then I knew I was doomed from the moment the mayonnaise hit the fan.

Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills

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